Founded in 1912 in Pennsylvania, Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds entered their Centennial year this season. Mr. Stewart, a Philadelphia banker, set out to find the perfect hunting country, and settled on the rolling hills, rich pasture land and extensive woods around Unionville. As one of what in modern terms could be classed as a committed practical conservationist and environmentalist, he purchased thousands of acres of land, and before he sold on the farms he amended the deeds to restrict development and nurture conservancy, clean water and habitat that today consists of 30 square miles and 26,000 acres free from ribbon residential and commercial development that has allowed the sport of foxhunting and steeplechase racing to thrive.
Mr. Stewart died in 1948, but had a worthy successor in his stepdaughter Nancy Penn Smith Hannum, who served as master and huntsman for 50 seasons, and who passed away in 2010. They both will go down in history for the legacy they left, not alone to foxhunters, but also to the owners of the picturesque horse farms, and the abundance of wildlife that thrive as a result of their generous actions. The baton has been handed on to the current joint masters and directors of the Cheshire Hunt Conservancy, but Nina Gill Stewart, who held office as joint master, sadly passed away earlier this year just short of witnessing the Centennial Year. But fortunately, it was not before she was informed that her daughter Sanna Hendrix was invited to join the team of joint masters of Russell Jones, Bruce Miller and Michael Ledyard.
Under the present management the hunt has changed with the times, building a state of the art horse barn and horse-walker, and breeding a new breed of foxhound known as Cheshire Crossbreds that have already proved that they are a more suitable hound to provide sport in the country. They are the progeny of Penn-Marydel doghounds on English bitches that are certainly sharp and keeping foxes on their toes in the Cheshire hunt country. The history of the pack has been painstakingly pieced together into a beautifully illustrated book Scarlet on Scarlet by Prue Draper Osborn.
HUNTING IN THE CENTENNIAL YEAR 2012-2013
On Saturday Cheshire huntsman Ivan Dowling, now in his 9th season together with his Professional Whipper-in Stephanie Boyer (who completed the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event CCI**** on her own horse Macloud) and Honorary Whipper-in Louis ‘Paddy’ Neilson (who won the American Grand National at 15 years of age and was Champion Steeplechase jockey for 10 years), kicked off the week long celebrations by taking hounds to Brooklawn the former home of both Mr. Plunket Stewart and Mrs. Nancy Penn Smith Hannum. There were three generations of the Hannum’s family out hunting: Jock, Jeb and young Jack. The Cheshire Crossbred hounds certainly proved why they are attracting the attention of hound breeders, running foxes all day. Representatives from 14 packs were invited to a pig roast and music by young Cheshire follower, 12 year old John Brophy and friends, courtesy of Nancy and Crosby Woods.
Tuesday saw the Elkridge-Harford Foxhounds at Wilson’s Flat. Hounds had a busy day as there was no shortage of foxes especially at Annie Jones’ farm, where both hounds and photographers were spoilt for choice. DD and Michael Matz, the trainer of Kentucky winner Barbaro and this year’s Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, entertained the followers with a sumptuous hunt tea.
On Wednesday it was the turn of the Radnor Foxhounds and their huntsman Joe Cassidy who hunted the Cheshire for 11 seasons in Mrs. Hannum’s time. Double World Eventing Champion Bruce Davidson, who has not hunted for more than a decade and who was field master in Cassidy’s time, came out of hunting retirement. Hounds got away to a fast start and were busy all day. Gretchen and George Wintersteen were the generous hosts of the hunt tea.
The Thursday meet at Scott Road was popular with the local followers as the Green Springs Valley huntsman Sam Clifton had previously whipped into Dowling’s Cheshire Foxhounds and knew every inch of the country. It was a poor scenting day but Clifton was impressive, working very close to his pack, and gave a great display of his experience on how to hunt hounds and provide sport on a difficult day. This very enjoyable day was followed by a hunt tea courtesy of John and Betsy Spence. It was the turn again of the Cheshire on the Saturday at the kennels. The hunt staff looked very smart before the meet with their horses wearing Newmarket stable rugs. Dowling’s hounds found their first fox across Newark Road, and were full of running, marking five foxes to ground in the course of the day.
CENTENNIAL HUNT BALL
After hunting on Saturday 500 Cheshire followers and their guests of all ages in a dazzling array of scarlet evening tails and stunning ball gowns took to the dance floor in the floral spectacle of Longwood Gardens for the Centennial Hunt Ball to complete the weeklong celebrations.