The Times
September 14, 2006

Huntsmen and dogs were seen in Oxford Street in 1926. The last time a hunt was in the capital was in 1949, when farmers protested over plans to ban the sport (Fox Photos/Getty)

Blair to see pink as hunt rides back into London after 60 years
By Valerie Elliott

The Connaught Square Squirrel Hunt will cock a snook at Parliament's ban on their sport

THE first hunt on horseback in Central London in almost 60 years is to take place on Sunday.

About 25 men and women on horseback, and following hounds, will chase an artificial scent through Hyde Park.

The event has been organised by the Connaught Square Squirrel Hunt, which was set up to cock a snook at Parliament’s ban on the sport from February 18 last year. It is also an attempt to embarrass Tony Blair, who owns a townhouse in the square.

The last time a mounted hunt was seen in the capital was on February 25, 1949, when 60 Cotswolds farmers formed the Piccadilly Hunt Club to protest against plans to ban their sport.

They rode along Piccadilly — where the tailor Pink, who supplied hunting coats, was based — to Parliament Square.

Hunting experts believe that the last active hunt in Hyde Park was in Tudor times.

Duncan Macpherson, joint master of the Connaught, said that he hoped the meet would show that people were determined to overturn the hunt ban. He also hoped it would remind people about the anomalies of the law.

“Our hunt started because one of my friends was actually stopped by a police officer in Hyde Park last year and warned he could face a prosecution because his Jack Russell was chasing a squirrel. How ridiculous is that? That means anyone who allows a dog to chase a squirrel in the park is breaking the law,” he said.

Despite foxhunting now being illegal, the hunstmen's hounds may capture a fox or squirrel.

Hunt staff and hounds are being provided by the Old Surrey, Burstow and West Kent hunt, while riders are coming from all over the Home Counties.

The hunt is to follow a mile-long drag trail along Rotten Row in the park, though Mr Macpherson could not rule out that the hounds may pick up the scent of a fox or squirrel.

He has kept numbers tight for safety reasons.

The meet is taking place on Horseman’s Sunday, a celebration of recreational riding in the capital. The festival started 39 years ago when riding stables near Hyde Park were threatened with closure.

Since then the event, which includes a service and blessing for the horses at St John’s Church, Hyde Park Crescent, Bayswater, attracts a crowd of about 500 plus 100 horses.

The Rev Deiniol Heywood, curate at St John’s, said that the hunt horses were welcome because it was a celebration for all riding in London. “We are not for or against them because we don’t turn away anyone who rides in London.

“It is for ordinary people who enjoy riding. We see the ceremonial and military horses but not the ordinary people who ride in London.”
The hunt is to take place after the service.

Police officers will be on standby to ensure public safety.

A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: “This is another illustration of the determination of the hunt commun-ity. It is becoming more and more clear that the hunting law is not working and we’re looking forward to a future government sorting out Mr Blair’s mess. There are as many hunt supporters in London as there are in the countryside.”

Hyde Park was originally in the territory of the Berkeley Hunt, which started in the 12th century and went on to own hunting country from Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire to Berkeley Square in London.

It later became the territory of the Old Berkeley, Hertfordshire and South Oxfordshire hunt, which 20 years ago was renamed the Vale of Aylesbury.

Today there is no officially designated hunting territory in the capital.

Michael Clayton, a former editor of Horse and Hound, said that medieval London was once a centre for hunting. Land around Soho was used for deer hunting. The area was given its name after the huntsman’s call “So ho” when hounds found a deer.

Hounds were also kept at the palaces of Westminster and St James’s.

The last time that a member of the Royal Family is believed to have hunted in London was on March 2, 1848. The future Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, rode out with the Royal Buckhounds from Denham in the Thames Valley into London, passing Wormwood Scrubs and finally taking a deer in the goods yard at Paddington Station. The hunt then rode to Marlborough House through Hyde Park and Constitution Hill for tea.