History of the Fife Foxhounds
The Fife Foxhounds are one of the most northerly packs of hounds in Scotland with no immediate adjacent packs and have been in existence for over 200 years. Some of the most illustrious names in the history of hunting in Scotland have been associated with Fife. We currently hunt an area mainly east of a line from Newburgh on the river Tay to Leven on the river Forth.
The first pack of hounds to hunt in Fife was formed in about 1756 by Alexander Scrymgeour Wedderburn of Birkhill. His nephew, David Gillespie, also kept a private pack at that time as did General Wemyss who hunted an “enormous” area of land from Wemyss Castle. John Anstruther Thompson of Charleton, near Colinsburgh took over the Birkhill hounds in 1803 and kennelled them at his home and properly established the Fife Foxhounds. He was later joined by General Wemyss. The next Master was Mr Hue Rigg of Tarvit who took hounds all over the place, going as far afield as Dunfermline, Bridge of Earn, Coupar Angus and Forfar. Finances had, up to this point, been a rather “thorny” problem but with increased followers in the different areas these improved.
Tom Crane, who came as huntsman in 1821, hunted the Fife hounds for nine seasons. He had previously hunted hounds for the Duke of Wellington, who took his pack with him to the Peninsula Wars. Admiral Erskine Wemyss was the first joint Master – first with Hue Rigg and then with John Whyte Melville of Mount Melville,
St Andrews, father of George, the hunting poet. Mr Whyte Melville was sole Master for twenty seasons, (1827 – 1848). Those were great days by all accounts. During most of that time hounds continued to visit the Forfar area where there was a Hunt Club at Sandy Ross’s hotel in the town. It is said that the members of this convivial club, after a day’s hunting, wined and dined into the wee sma’ hours. At about 3a.m. the chairman was known to “slip under the table where he was accommodated with pillows, being too fat to move”! By 1848 the hunt had run out of cash and Whyte Melville sold the hounds for £500 to the Quorn Hunt in Leicestershire to pay off the debts.
After a year without any hunting Col Jack Anstruther Thompson of Charleton, “one of the finest Master of Hounds and amateur huntsmen who ever came out of Scotland” restarted the pack in 1849 and hunted the Fife on and off until 1888. It was he who built the kennels at their present site on his own land at Harlswynd, near Ceres. He drew the plans up himself and had his forester carry out the building work. In 1864, a private joint stock company was formed within the Hunt to purchase the hounds, £1,100 being raised in £25 shares, part of this sum was used to purchase the lease of the kennels. They were later to be bought by Sir Robert Spencer Nairn and leased to the Hunt. Today the Harleswynd kennels are owned by a limited company.
During the late 19th century many followers came to Fife using the railway network. On these occasions the meet would be timed to coincide with the arrival of the train at the nearby station so that horses and riders could join the assembled field before they left for the day’s hunting. It was imperative that they should be back at the station in time for the return journey. The long gone Kilconquhar station seemed to be a favourite venue and on one occasion after a busy day from that area the travellers found themselves at Mount Melville, near St Andrews, (approximately 12 miles as the crow flies), and had to break off from the excitement to get back in time for their train. No mobile phones to call up the groom!
The twentieth century has seen some notably lengthy masterships. 1907 saw the start of sixteen seasons mastership by Col Thomas Erskine of Cambo, Kingsbarns, whose family had for generations been closely connected with the Fife. At that time Will Hanley finally became huntsman after a long apprenticeship and carried the horn for 17 seasons before eventually handing over to his son, Will Hanley, jnr. who returned from the Berwickshire. In 1920 Col Erskine was joined by the Earl of Lindsay who in turn was sole Master until 1932 when he was joined by Sir Robert Spencer Nairn. The hunt owes a debt of gratitude to Sir Robert as he remained head of affairs for fifteen seasons, during the most difficult period in the history of foxhunting, seeing the hunt through all the uncertainties of the war years before finally getting things going and handing over to his successors. During those war years Will Hanley, snr, at the age of 65, came back to hunt service whilst his son was in the army and ran the hunt with the assistance of, among a few others the young John Roger who would later be a Master, hunting a reduced pack one day a week.
Between 1958-72 the late Sir John Gilmour of Montrave, Leven was Master following in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather. Then in 1973 his son, John, joined the Mastership with local landowner, Major Henry Hutchison of Cunnoquhie. John Gilmour held the position for a record 30 seasons during which he carried the horn for 12 seasons. This brought a period of stability to the Fife. Along with Mr Robert Turcan of Lindores, he also oversaw the transition to the present form of fox control brought on by the changes to the law in Scotland. Over the years Fife has been fortunate to have as Masters other farmers in the country such as Mr John Roger and Mr Pat Laird who brought their expertise to running the country. Today the present Masters; Mrs Clarinda Foster, Mr Jeremy Billinge and The Countess of Lindsay continue with enthusiasm to ensure the future of Fife Foxhounds. They are joined this year by Mr Mark Fleming.