My paternal grandfather and my dad both were fox hunters; in fact, the Whitford hunt is what brought my grandfather out from Philadelphia on the weekends, and is how he met my grandmother. It’s also how he came across Arrandale, the estate that he persuaded his father to buy and renovate, which is the place where I grew up.
Fox hunting in Chester county always seemed to fit in with my idea of the area. Like Emma Woodhouse’s Highfield, Chester County was home to the gentry, but it was country gentry, — what the Philadelphia Inquirer society column referred to as the “Chester County Smart Set.” (One society page reports Kate’s grandmother accepting a twenty-dollar bet to dive into the swimming quarry fully dressed. She does, “…ribbons flying prettily”, but only collects four dollars.) By the time I was a kid, the salad days had passed; the powerful McIlvaine clan had sold off their large tracts of land, and the Philadelpia industrial corridor had started to reach out past the end of the Main Line.
So I was excited when Kate’s parents invited us to join the Skycastle French Hounds, a rabbit hunt in Chester county conducted on foot with a pack of french basssets (called “fuzzies”, I think.) I’m not sure whether rabbit hunts coexisted with fox hunts, or whether rabbit hunts took over once the land became built up and unsuitable for riding. My dad remembers one long run straight from Downingtown to Paoli: a straight run over unbroken country then, fifteen miles of strip malls and developments now. Anyhow, almost all of the trappings of a fox hunt seem to be present at a rabbit hunt: handlebar mustaches, brass horns, and silver tea sets are all evident in profusion. Just check out the dress code for the hunt staff and “whippers-in”:
- Black hunt cap
- Green hunt coat with crimson collar and hunt buttons
- White shirt with stock
- Canary westcoat with hunt buttons
- White trousers with dark green knee socks and leather boots
- A lash or thong whip, no longer than a yard and a half.
For a fellow hooked on G.A. Henty books and Flashman novels, a fellow whose stated ambition this spring was to find an occasion to wear a pith helmet (which I never did, by the way), a fellow who wore his grandfather’s evening scarlet to high school graduation, this rocks! I’m walking in the steps of my ancestors, especially my maternal great-grandfather Lardner Howell, whom my grandfather once described as a “howling swell.”