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Meeting the Costs of the Hunt

Kyle Jones unearths the real expense involved in riding to hounds.

Fox-hunting in Britain now looks doomed. Or could there be a last-minute stay of execution? If it does survive, it will be by the skin of its teeth and as some form of pest control. There is one certainty. It will never again be referred to as ‘sport’.

Yet when fox-hunting was considered a sport, from its inception in the eighteenth century, it was far from an amateurish or cost-free pursuit. It demanded huge amounts of money and providing the financial wherewithal was a continual issue. The decline of the wealthy landed elite, economic shifts away from agriculture, and obstacles ranging from railways to barbed wire continually tested the dedication of fox-hunting enthusiasts. It is surprising fox-hunting survived the twentieth century at all, given the ensuing financial crises.

The history of fox-hunting finances sheds light on how its image as a ‘sport for the wealthy’ was branded. Historical examination of its associated expenses offers objective, comparative perspectives. Hunt accounts reveal whether the Victorian sport was as popular as we imagine. They show how new expenses were incurred, such as payments to earth stoppers or compensation for poultry losses, as the managing of fox populations became more purposeful, and the 11am meet superseded early morning starts. It also shows how Britain’s economy has modernised, from more deferential and patronising times.

Historically, fox-hunting was accomplished in several different ways. At times the fox was hunted without hounds. For example, one Victorian woman fox-catcher in Caernarvonshire and Merionethshire killed a noteworthy 175 foxes in her lifetime. Associated traps and poisons were banned from the 1950s.

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