Early Days on Exmoor
There is little evidence left of foxhunting on Exmoor before the 1800s, but it is likely that parts of the area were hunted by small, local packs of hounds, probably of west country harrier descent. The main area of Exmoor (The Exmoor Forest) was hunted as a Royal Forest in Queen Elizabeth I’s time with hounds being kennelled at Simonsbath, but these were staghounds and the hunting and well-being of the Exmoor red deer has continued to be a very important feature right through to the present day.
In 1820 John Knight, a Worcestershire iron master, bought the Exmoor Forest from the Crown for £50,000, and spent a fortune on reclaiming the moor for very little return. All of his farms still remain, and much of the farming landscape that can be seen nowadays is a legacy from the work of John Knight, and his son Fredrick who took over from his father in 1850. Fortunately, the Knight’s were very keen on hunting and when the estate passed to the Fortescue family on the death of Fredrick Knight in 1897 the future of the chase was assured.