The most famous member of the Meynell family, Hugo Meynell of Quorn Hall, will forever be associated with his 47-year mastership of the Quorn which spanned the second half of the 18th Century. He gained the reputation as the father of modern foxhunting through his scientific hound breeding and radical approach to crossing the open grassland of Leicestershire. Although Hugo will always be firmly linked to Leicestershire, his family lent its name to the Meynell Hunt operating in Derbyshire, where the Meynells’ also owned estates.
The Meynell Hunt merged with the South Staffordshire in 1970 and this week has announced that as a result of increasing urbanisation and development across the countryside in Derbyshire and Staffordshire, which have rendered many areas of the hunt’s country unsuitable for hunting, its country will be shared between neighbouring packs from next season. Those areas which remain viable to hunt will be shared between the North Staffordshire, South Notts and Moorlands Hunts and it is anticipated that the Meynell and South Staffordshire name will continue in the form of a hunt club which will continue to organise events. The hounds are currently being rehomed with other packs and it is anticipated that many will be drafted to neighbouring packs and continue to hunt in the country.
There is always a certain sadness that comes with change, but I am quite sure that Hugo Meynell would have approved. As well as his radical approach to hunting he was a Whig politician who ousted the Tory MP in Lichfield and then went on to represent Lymington and Stafford in an 18 year career in Westminster. He was never afraid of change and neither should his modern counterparts be, especially faced with a countryside that has altered out of all recognition since the current hunt was formed half a century ago, let alone from when the Meynell family took it over a couple of years before the battle of Waterloo.
With our ever-changing landscape, the decision to restructure hunting in Derbyshire and Staffordshire is a sensible, forward-thinking strategy and one which other hunts in equally pressured parts of the countryside will be watching carefully. Hunting has always faced challenge and change from the coming of the railways, to the arrival of wire fencing, to the implementation of the dreadful Hunting Act, but the passion for hounds and hunting has meant that hunts have always adapted and prospered despite the hurdles that have been put in front of them.
Some will always lament that ‘it will never be the same’, but there are new generations in the hunting field for whom the opportunity to cross country behind hounds is as important and exciting as it was for those who came before. Hunting is at its best when it adapts to the changing countryside and the changing world. The Meynell and South Staffordshire, and the other hunts that are remodelling to ensure that hunting is sustainable in the modern countryside should be praised for securing the future of hounds and hunts.