Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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The Keswick Hunt Club is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Forces responsible for its longevity include the kindness of landowners, the hard work of professionals and volunteers, and the generosity of special angels.

On December 10, 1896, nineteen foxhunting enthusiasts gathered at Cloverfields, the Keswick area home of Frank Randolph, to organize a club for “Social Intercourse and Fox and Drag Hunting.” The spirited gathering, which lasted until two a.m., elected Cary Ruffin Randolph Master of Foxhounds, and John Armstrong Chanler President.

Chanler was an eccentric philanthropist who patrolled Keswick roads mounted and armed to enforce Virginia Code Section 2139 requiring automobile drivers to give horse traffic the right of way. Halting traffic for hounds and horses nowadays requires greater discretion.

Foxhunting has been a feature of Keswick life since colonial days. According to sporting historians and family tradition, Dr. Thomas Walker (1715-1794) kenneled four couple of English Foxhounds at his home Castle Hill. Drafts from local farmer packs constituted the first Keswick pack. Some early members contributed hound puppies instead of dues―gentlemen $12/year, ladies $2/year―then claimed raising the puppies cost so much that the club owed them. Hunt club treasurers must contend with all varieties of explanations.

Higginson and Chamberlain in their 1908 Hunts of the US and Canada declare the Keswick pack, then used for Saturday drag hunting and Thursday foxhunting, of inferior quality compared to the Keswick hunt horses, which included show champions belonging to Julian Morris, MFH. They suggest more attention be paid to the canine “arm of the service.”

Little or no wire spoiled the country during the club’s early years. Jumps were high split rail fences enclosing pastures. Automobile traffic was minimal. Keswick members did not realize how lucky they were. Wire encroachment necessitated construction of dedicated hunt jumps beginning in the late 1920s.

Despite periods of scarcity, inactivity, and political turbulence, Keswick has maintained good sport and good times. Hunting in the 1950s and 60s with Roberts Coles, MFH, was always lively and fun. Following Coles was the successful Mastership of Jake Carle, who served for thirty-six years from 1964-2000. Carle expanded Keswick’s territory into Orange, Louisa, and Madison Counties. He used mostly Bywaters bloodlines in Keswick’s American foxhound pack, which remain in the kennel today.

Keswick recently completed a massive renovation and reconstruction effort. The clubhouse, built in 1898, was in danger of collapsing under the next heavy snow. The building has been reengineered, brought up to present day code and needs, while retaining its distinctive historic character. The kennels have been modernized, made more comfortable for hounds, and more easily maintained. A new staff horse barn, with huntsman’s cottage above, replaced a structure whose walls were caving in.

Present Joint-Masters Will Coleman, Nancy Wiley, and Mary Kalergis have instituted frequent junior meets which have drawn many enthusiastic participants. New young faces in the hunting field and at the clubhouse offer a promising start to Keswick’s next 125 years.

Posted January 18, 2022

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