The hunt was originally founded in 1853, when Sir Richard Sutton, finding the Quorn country too large encouraged his son Richard to hunt an independent pack in South Leicestershire.

When Sir Richard died in 1856 his son retired and the offer of local squire William Tailby to hunt the country on an independent basis was gratefully accepted by farmers and landowners. For a  time, he was also able to hunt much of the present Cottesmore country, west  of Oakham. The sport that he showed for the next 22 seasons with a succession of different huntsmen was of a very high order. These were halcyon days for South Leicestershire with long runs, big fields, a fashionable country and a very popular and well-known Master. His interesting diaries form the basis of a number of books, including Simpson’s “The Harborough Country”. The Master, who was small of stature, crossed the country in style, mounted on his large horses, and indeed continued to hunt regularly with these hounds from his residence at Skeffington Hall, until shortly before his death at a ripe old age in 1914.  

When Mr. Tailby retired in 1878 the country was reclaimed by the Quorn but a majority of landowners and farmers wished to remain independent and appointed Sir Bache (pronounced “Beach”) Cunard (of the shipping line) as Master.  The dispute was referred to the Hunting Committee of Boodles Club in London, then generally recognized as the governing body of foxhunting. In a celebrated judgment, which effectively ended this acrimonious dispute, the committee decided that the country was legally part of the Quorn, but that the Quorn should allow it to be operated independently as long as the landowners and farmers in the country wished.  Thus Sir Bache commenced his Mastership of 10 years, and only after the First World War did the Quorn finally and formally give up any claim to the country. This dispute led directly to the formation of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) a couple of years later in order to establish a more formal governing body for the sport.

When Sir Bache retired in 1888 he was succeeded by Charles Fernie of Keythorpe Hall who was to remain Master for 31 seasons (although he himself hunted infrequently after a bad hunting accident in 1906). In that period he employed two celebrated huntsmen. The first was Charles Isaac, huntsman until 1901 and also creator of some of the well-known coverts in the country – an excellent horseman. He was succeeded by Arthur Thatcher, generally reckoned to be one of the three great huntsmen of the “golden era” (Firr of the Quorn, Thatcher of the Fernie and Freeman of the Pytchley). The sport shown in that period, when the country was all grass and there was virtually no wire ( at least during the winter) was of a very high order. At that time Harborough overtook Melton as the centre of the foxhunting world. A Monday or Thursday with the Fernie was certainly a much sought-after day in the hunting calendar.  The presence in Great Bowden of John Henry Stokes, the principal horse dealer in Europe, also contributed significantly to the popularity and standing of the hunt.

Many of the famous hunts took place at this time, including the celebrated Hegg Spinney run from near Hallaton in 1911, much of which took place over the present Cottesmore country, ending in a kill near Oakham after a hunt of three hours 20 minutes and 28 ˝ miles with a 9 mile point – a hunt to compare with the Waterloo and Greatwood runs elsewhere.

After Mr.Fernie’s death in 1919, his widow continued as Master for a couple of seasons and then retired, giving the hounds to the country, which has continued to bear his name ever since. Lord Stalbridge came from Wiltshire as Master and built new kennels at Great Bowden (Mr. Fernie’s had been at Medbourne since 1878). Many of the Masters between the Wars were very rich men; these included the South African diamond magnate Sir Harold Wernher and the Scottish landowner Charles Edmonstone. The latter planted two of the principal coverts on the west side of the country and named them after his American wife and himself, Gwens and Charlies. Bert Peaker was an excellent huntsman for much of this time and kept the hunt going during the Second World War. In the austerity years following the War much of the country was ploughed up and hunting undoubtedly became more difficult, although the welcome the hounds received in the countryside has always remained as strong as ever.

Two popular Leicestershire personalities, Col. Derrick Hignett, who died in 1994, and Col. Pen Lloyd, for long the Chairman of Leicestershire County Coucil, carried on the Mastership. The hunt has been extremely lucky in the longevity of those who have served it in modern times, especially Dick Watson who was Hunt Secretary for 48 years (1941 – 1989), Col. Tony Murray-Smith who was a charismatic Master for 23 years (1960 – 1983) and Hunt Chairman for a further nine years, and Col. Derrick Hignett who, as well as 12 years as Master, served as Hunt Chairman for 26 years (1957 – 1983). Joe Cowen, who has now been Master for 29 seasons since 1972, formed a strong triumvirate of Masters with Rod Millington and Alan Hinch for 16 years (1983 – 1999). The Hunt was very fortunate in having Bruce Durno as huntsman from 1966 to 1997 and his success contributed immeasurably to the wide popularity of the hunt today.


Derek Hopkins came as Huntsman in 2000.