During the 1860’s famous names such as Lord Portsmouth, Mr Luttrell, Mr Rayer, Mr Froude Bellew, and of course Parson Jack Russell, all hunted parts of the present Exmoor Foxhounds’ country with their own hounds and at their own expense. The nearest hounds were probably those of Mr Phelps who had kennels in Parson Street, Porlock and he hunted hare in the vale and foxes on the moor with his west country harriers.
The real beginnings of the Exmoor Foxhounds began when Squire Nicholas Snow (an ardent Staghunter) collected a few hounds together and kennelled them at his home, Oare Manor, to hunt hare. The story goes that Parson Jack Russell persuaded him to draw for a fox one day from Brendon Two Gates and, after the fox had given a good hunt from Farley Water Combe, the Squire thereafter hunted only foxes with his hounds. As the seasons passed, he developed and bred a celebrated pack of mostly light-coloured hounds which gained the nickname of the “Stars of the West” and the Squire was renowned for good sport and the quiet way with which he handled his pack in the hunting field.
Following a bad fall the Squire was forced to give up the Mastership in 1889, though the hounds remained at Oare. It appears that the quality of sport declined dramatically until a young man, the Hon. Lancelot Bathurst, appeared on the scene to take on the Mastership during the winter. Although he came in for much criticism at the outset, with the support of Squire Snow and the help of the Squire’s experienced servant George Barwick the young master began to show some sport. By the time he had to resign due to family commitments in 1894 he had become a popular figure on Exmoor and was presented with a large silver bowl as a memento of his Mastership at a party held in his honour at Oare Manor.
The Mastership was now taken up by Sir William Williams who took the hounds to Upcott, near West Buckland in what is now Dulverton West country. Things didn’t work out very well from the start and Sir William soon took them back to Oare and hunted them from there until he suffered a heart attack and died suddenly in 1903.
There now followed a shaky few seasons during which there were three short Masterships and after much bickering Mr Hubert Brunskill took himself and the hounds away to the South Devon country during the 1906 – 07 season. A committee was immediately formed and the situation saved when Mr M H Salaman and Mr Ross purchased a pack and lent them to the committee. Later that season Mr Salaman agreed to become master, and the hunt prospered with this generous and popular man at the helm.
Hounds remained at Oare, and when Mr Sam Slater took over the Mastership from Mr Salaman in 1911 things were on a firm footing and sport was good. This stability continued throughout this period (despite the First World War years), with Mr Slater (later Captain Slater) as either the Master or serving on the committee until 1926. Mr A Y Thomson (1912 – 13), Mr J L Newman (1921 – 23) and Mr B C Wood (1921 – 24) assisted during the Captain Slater’s era.
Mr J L Newman, who had been a hard working secretary since 1919, and Master in 1921, took on the mastership for one season when Captain Slater resigned in 1926, and then Colonel R E Negus took up the reins until 1935. This was another period of stability for the Exmoor Foxhounds with a popular man at the helm, but it was tinged with sadness when the Colonel’s young son died while at Harrow School. He had been very keen on the hounds and spent as much time as possible helping at the kennels. A memorial to the young man was placed at Chapmans Barrows, overlooking Swincombe, and is dedicated to “Master Robin”.
On his retirement in 1935 a committee ran the hunt with Colonel Negus and Colonel R Alexander acting as field masters on hunting days, then in 1937 Colonel Alexander became Master, having been secretary since he had retired from the army in 1928. During the season 1938 – 1939 the Hon. Peter Wood joined the Mastership and hunted hounds with great skill for one season but he was later to became one of the many young men who lost their lives during World War II.
During Colonel Alexandra’s Mastership, on May 1st 1939, hounds were moved from Oare to a new kennels at Balewater. The property had initially been built to house workers who were employed by the Knight family to quarry and work slate, and to burn lime for the use in the agricultural reformation of Exmoor. More recently it had become a small-holding on the Fortescue estate. Conditions at the kennels were very basic and although new stables were built and a stud groom’s house added to the accommodation, there was no electricity, or few modern amenities. Mrs Martin, Victor’s wife, worked hard providing lodgings in the huntsman’s house for the whipper-in, plus cooking, washing, and cleaning and also doing various tasks to help around the kennels, especially on hunting days when the staff were off the premises for most of the day and often much of the night.
Miss Mabel Faulkner came to office when Colonel Alexandra retired in 1940, and she saw the hunt through the very difficult war years when the huntsman, Victor Martin, was called away on war duty. With only a tiny guarantee from the committee, Miss Faulkner carried the financial responsibilities and made the most of local help to look after and hunt the hounds. She was highly thought of by the local Exmoor people, and through her devotion to the hounds and horses the hunt was on a secure footing when Colonel Guy Jackson joined the Mastership in 1946. She was looking forward to enjoying the hunting following the end of the war but was tragically killed when a new horse she was trying fell and rolled over her while hounds were hunting near Codsend on 9th September, 1946.