TO SOME it is cruel and unnecessary, to others it is an traditional rural activity steeped in history.
And that long history means that, while not everyone agrees with it, items relating to fox hunting from days gone by can fetch very high prices.
So it is for a collection of items relating to the Wynnstay hunt, set to be sold at Wingetts auction house in Wrexham later this month.
The lots have all come from the same vendor and many of the artifacts date back more than a century
Based at the historic estate outside Ruabon, the Wynnstay is one of the region’s oldest and best known hunts.
For more than 200 years, the area’s social elite have donned their scarlet coats and set out with the hounds in pursuit of the beast of the chase across Wrexham and north Shropshire.
But the hunt has not always gone well for the family who lend it its name.
Indeed, the first Sir Watkin was killed out hunting with his hounds in 1749, though we do not know what he was hunting.
The story goes that Sir Watkin’s second wife had begged him not to go out hunting that day having had a premonition in a dream that he would meet his death in a hunting accident.
Having initially agreed not to go, he was persuaded otherwise by a friend and set out towards Wrexham.
It was on his return, across a field in Acton, that tragedy struck – Sir Watkin was thrown for his horse, his head struck “the only stone in the field” and he was killed instantly.
Perhaps it is a good lesson, that we should listen to our partners, at least some of the time.
Another Sir Watkin established a hunt in 1788 which, after being broken up for a time, reconveyed in 1793 with a dinner and a ball held at Wynnstay in honour of the occasion.
The earliest known attempt to hunt a fox with hounds was in Norfolk, south east England, in 1534, where farmers began chasing foxes down with their dogs for the purpose of pest control.
The first use of packs specifically trained to hunt foxes was in the late 1600s, with the oldest fox hunt being, probably, the Bilsdale in Yorkshire.
According to T.H.G. Puleston in his book ‘A History of Fox Hunting in the Wynnstay Country and parts of North Shropshire’ (1893), no record of hounds being used exclusively for hunting the fox in this part of England or Wales are known before 1772. Hounds were kept in many parts of the country before but they hunted deer, hare and - rather surprisingly - the otter, as well as foxes.
The Wynnstay hunt covers a large area.
A record form the 1860’s describes Sir Watkin’s hunting country as: “comprising part of Denbighshire (now Wrexham), Shropshire and Cheshire extending to Market Drayton where it joins North Staffordshire. The northern extremity reaches into Chester and the eastward of this division reaches the country hunted by the Cheshire hunts.
One of the items which will feature in Wingetts’ antique and fine art sale is a map showing the hunt area.
Auctioneer Richard Hughes said: “The map is hand coloured and, I’d say, is at least 100 years old. It shows the hunt area with its boundaries near Gresford in the west and north of Shrewsbury in the east. It folds into a little pouch, it’s in very good condition considering its age and is a very rare thing.”
Accompanying the map is a book that belonged to a hunt member at the turn of the last century.
“It’s a 1908-1909 hunt annual,” Mr Hughes continued. “It’s a guide and handbook for followers of the hunt but also a diary. The diarist has written in it at various dates what the hunt got up to and that’s what makes it particularly interesting. It’s the personal diary of a pre-First World War huntsman.”
The lot also includes a collection of gilded brass buttons of the Wynnstay and North Shropshire hunt which would have adorned a scarlet jacket in the early 1900s.
Another item from the same seller also appears to relate to Wynnstay, though not directly to the hunt.
“It’s an ivory desk seal,” said Mr Hughes. “It’s unusually large and may also have been used as a paperweight.
“It appeals to people who collect desk seals - of which there are a number - also people who collect ivory, only of a certain age which this of course is - it’s at least 100 years old.
“The crest of the seal includes the initials WW which could pertain to the Watkin Wynns.”
The seal alone is expected to fetch £200-300.
Wingetts antique and fine art sale takes place on Wednesday, March 16 at 10.30am. For more details visit www.wingetts.co.uk.
See full story in the Leader