Tally Ho! A Brief History of the Epping Hunt
Chav-Man Cometh – Wicked William’s Hunt, 1813
Wanstead House – Catherine Tylney-Long’s pièce de résistance
Wanstead House first came under ‘Wicked’ William Long-Wellesley’s control upon his marriage to Catherine Tylney-Long in March 1812. Miss Tylney-Long, of Draycot House in Wiltshire, was universally recognised as richest heiress in the realm. Wanstead House – a magnificent Palladian Mansion on the edge of Epping Forest, just 10 miles from London – was the crown jewel of her vast landed estate. Catherine’s intention to reside at Wanstead was clear from the outset, for she served notice on her French Royal tenants within weeks of coming of age. Thereafter Catherine presided over a programme of refurbishment to revitalise the mansion, and she used it extensively throughout 1811 – hosting a series of showpiece events attended by a myriad of suitors eager to win her hand, (and more importantly her purse).
1st prize went to ‘Wicked’ William Wellesley-Pole (1788-1857) Booo!!!
After a chase worthy of the Epping Hunt, William emerged victorious from the pack when Catherine accepted his proposal in the autumn of 1811. Shortly before their marriage William added his wife’s name to his own and some – to form the ludicrously quadruple-barrelled new surname ‘Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley’. Not surprisingly this was soon abbreviated to Long-Wellesley by his friends, but rather pointedly to ‘Long’ by his Wanstead neighbours who rightly emphasised the surname he ought to have adopted when marrying into Catherine’s estate. An extract this contemporary ditty shows that William’s accession to Wanstead House was less than enthusiastically received.
LONG a tyrant, his neighbours presumed to annoy,
Their vexation and grief were his comfort and joy,
His greatest delight was to do others wrong
Till the people at length cried, “We won’t stand this LONG!”
From the outset the newlyweds craved acceptance from London’s fashionable elite. William believed Wanstead House could ignite his political career, enabling him to join his renowned Wellesley family relatives, whose power and influence was widely recognised. [See footnote below]
A few weeks after his marriage, and quite by chance, William discovered his hereditary entitlement to the role of Lord Warden of Epping Forest. This was an unlucky day for Essex because William’s assertion of the long-dormant Wardenship had a profound long-term affect on Epping Forest, for it shrank in size by over 5000 acres under his watch. But those years of destruction and land-grab came much later in William’s wreckless saga.
Because William believed he could never possibly spend the vast pile of cash he now possessed, his initially used the Wardenship for egotistical purposes. When he closed Wanstead Park to the public in the summer of 1812 there was a huge public outcry. Instead of negotiating with his neighbours, William reminded them that Lord Wardenship gave him powers to ‘appoint or sack forest officials’ thus sending an intimidating message to farmers and tradesmen alike – and anyone else dependent on his patronage. Despite this tangible threat to their livelihoods the people of Wanstead refused to be cowed, winning a landmark case in March 1813 – whereby the ancient rights of way were restored and William forced to reopen Wanstead Park. William lost the case because he did not appreciate the long-standing ties between Wanstead House, Epping Forest and its people, instead resorting to a crude attempt to bulldoze tradition purely for his own gain.
The Epping Hunt in ‘Wicked’ William’s day
The Lord Wardenship provided William with a second opportunity to flex his muscles, this time via spectacular gesture– a publicity stunt to convince rich and poor alike that he was worthy of admiration and respect. Yes, he decided to revive the Epping Hunt! After all, what better way could there be to promote his equestrian prowess, style and up-to-the-minute fashion sense? This was a golden chance to be admired and envied, winning over his doubters in one fell swoop.
The problem was that William once again failed to do his homework, not realising the extent which the Epping Hunt had declined as a spectacle. William may have known the City of London abandoned the Common Hunt in 1807. In fact the Lord Mayor’s appearance at Buckhurst Hill had long-since been superseded by a new Easter Monday ‘tradition’ whereby the Lord Mayor and his retinue proceeded from Mansion House to Christchurch (Newgate) & heard the Spital sermon. But aldermen and stuffy City dignitaries held no interest for William. He wanted members of the beau monde, dandies, playboys and gadabouts – and intended to spend lavishly to ensure their attendance.
William’s target audience was the fashionable London elite
Realising that a pack of hounds was an essential requisite of the Epping Hunt, William ordered the construction of new kennels on his land near the Eagle in Snaresbrook (then known as the Spread Eagle, now as the Toby Carvery). Instead of relying on foxhounds, William purchased a pack of stag-hounds especially bred for deer-hunting. At that time only the Prince Regent kept stag-hounds, and he only had a couple because of the enormous expense in acquiring them. William’s investment in a whole pack of hounds necessitated his appointment of Tommy Rounding, a widely respected local man fondly described as ‘father of the Hunt’. As far as adherence to tradition and quality of event, this was a promising start.
Modern-day Snaresbrook House stands on the site of William’s kennels
For the day in question William’s men were decked out in coats of Lincoln green with high-top boots. As for William, he was described in Bailey’s Magazine as
faultless alike in dress and symmetry, and style…With his spotless white waistcoat… and the ample tie of dark silk, perfectly adjusted and in true keeping with his dark coat.. [William] was the embodied perfection of a man of fashion, and carried his dress with that easy determination of style which is peculiar to high birth and high breeding.
One newspaper reported the sequence of events:
An uncommonly numerous assemblage of genteel company attended the Epping Easter Hunt this year. Those in carriages were chiefly of the first classes of Nobility and Gentry, and the horsemen in general capitally mounted. Mr. Pole Wellesley, of Wanstead House, having his stag-hunting establishment in this district, he is become patron of the Easter Hunt, and sent a deer to be turned out before the company. He was present on his famous chestnut horse. His Lady, Mrs. Long- Wellesley, was there also –she came in an open carriage, drawn by four greys, and two postillions with out-riders &c.; and with her company, took her station in an apartment for her at the Rein Deer, before the stag was turned out. It ran for about two hours, and was afterwards lost.
Elsewhere it was reported that while out with the hounds William scattered money freely among the village folk. He was said to have flung dozens of gold sovereigns into the throngs of spectators waiting outside the kennels upon his return. He then footed the bill for an enormous feast for participating huntsmen at the Eagle, and brought his more select guests back to Wanstead House for further hospitality and entertainment.
Sovereigns were thrown to bystanders at the kennels and the surrounding fields
As an event William Long-Wellesley’s Epping Hunt lived long in the memory and did a great deal to restore his reputation locally. But such wild and reckless flinging of sovereigns around the distressed community was more the act of a show-off than of somebody genuinely concerned for his tenants or the attending peasantry. Also his decision to begin the Hunt from the Rein Deer in complement to Mrs Long-Wellesley was reported to have caused ‘great mortification amongst numerous ladies and others in carriages arranged on the brow of the hill near the Roebuck, the customary place of turning out.’ This may have been a faux pas too far for William as it showed that spending prodigiously does not guarantee guest satisfaction.
The Eagle at Snaresbrook – where being treated to a meal once really meant something
Perhaps the most telling thing about the whole event is that within a few weeks after the Epping Hunt it was announced that William Long-Wellesley intended ‘to give up his hunting establishment entirely’ and place the hunters, stag-hounds &c up for sale. This more than anything proves that Wicked William had no long-term intentions regarding the Epping Hunt. He just wanted to make a gesture, & boy did he waste a colossal sum in doing so.
I’d like to say that lessons were learnt, but I’m afraid we all know that the spending continued and that this crazy hedonistic occasion was merely the first warning that Wanstead House’s days were numbered. It is important to clarify that William continued to hunt regularly in Epping Forest during his tenure of Wanstead House, but this was by invitation only and nothing to do with the ‘Common Hunt’ which he turned his back on..
Wicked William was powerless to stop a few feeble re-runs of the Epping Hunt in the years to 1820, though perhaps his only permanent contribution to Hunt tradition was to make the Eagle pub at Snaresbrook the primary meeting place for a strange new breed of cockney visitors on Easter Monday for many years to come
It is hard to believe that the famous cycle meet at the Eagle, which was still going strong in the 1940s, could be traced back to ‘Wicked’ William’s days at Wanstead House, and that it evolved to replace the Epping Hunt as a regular feature of the annual calendar. As London became more urbanised, the ‘cockney’ desire to master horsemanship declined, and the age of machines accelerated their separation from country-dwellers
So by the 1820s with Wicked William in exile, Wanstead house torn down and the onset of the steam age – the Epping Hunt was not only dead, but there were no mourners in attendance. Or were there? Enter one Thomas Hood…
At the time of his marriage, Marquess Wellesley (an uncle) had just resigned as Foreign Secretary in order to challenge Spencer Perceval’s for Prime Minister, Wellesley-Pole (his father) was Secretary of State for Ireland, and Lord Wellington (an uncle) was in the Peninsular leading the British forces against Napoleon.