Earlier this month, the Quorn and Cottesmore hunts took separate votes on merging. The Quorn voted for, the Cottesmore against. So the merger will not take place. The fact that the Quorn wants a merger is, given its history, astonishing. For a century and a half, it was the epitome of fast, grand hunting — with too much ‘leaping’ for hunting purists, but any amount of swagger. Melton Mowbray was to hunting what St Moritz is to skiing. The place was full of louche, rich, grand persons, chancers, hucksters, poules de luxe, all so well satirised by Surtees. There the future Edward VIII met Mrs Simpson. People would take a ‘box’ nearby for the season or come up from London by train. More than 80 per cent of the subscribers were non-residential. Hunting was four days a week. As recently as 25 years ago, the hard riding fields were quite often over 150-strong. No longer. Nothing to do with the ban, or the antis, but with loss of country from big roads, high-speed railways, East Midlands airport, expanding towns and too much commercial shooting. The Quorn was never the heart of hunting, perhaps, but you could say it was its gilded head. Now it is a wounded survivor of the time when everything was grass from Nottingham to Market Harborough, laid low by urbanisation.
Why not merge, then? The Quorn’s neighbour, the Cottesmore, has a similar sort of hunting. Would there not be a synergy? Maybe, but hunt mergers are right only sometimes. The real homework must be done; the right feeling must exist. Despite its noble associations, hunting depends, almost literally, on its grass-roots. The farmers without whom it could not exist need to belong, otherwise why would they lend their land? The merged Quottesmore country would be 20 miles by 50 miles, stretching from Kirby Bellars to Spalding in Lincolnshire. Would the distances and transport costs involved be too great for local people? Paradoxically, farmers are often happier having a hunt they know on their land once a fortnight than a largely unfamiliar one once a month. Mergers tend to shrink the total amount of country hunted and reduce its connection with its inhabitants. The modest two-day-a-week hunts which are now the norm may prove more resilient than big ones yoked uneasily together. There can be no single doctrine about this. As country people will celebrate this Boxing Day, every hunt is different.
This article is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator notes, available in the Christmas issue