It was a most historic occasion, but the main protagonists just didn’t seem to be taking it seriously. Stealthy was biting Gadget’s ear; Combat was lying on his back, squirming on the damp grass; Wicket and Wishful were “speaking” rather too loudly and Startle was shamelessly attempting to fornicate with Dexter. But how else was a foxhound supposed to pass the time while waiting until 11am struck and the traditional double note on the huntsman’s horn signalled it was time to move off?
The 40 hounds were gathered outside West Sussex’s Goodwood House, alongside 140 mounted members and guests of the Chiddingfold, Leconfield & Cowdray Hunt. This was the first meet to be staged at the celebrated 17th-century house in more than 120 years and made for a magnificent sight. These days, of course, hunting packs are banned from going after a real fox in England, and so must follow the artificial scent of a “drag”. But the challenges of traversing some tricky country for a few hours at full pelt, jumping fences and fording streams, still leave man, woman and hound flushed with the thrill of a good day’s sport. And although he’d surely find the lack of live quarry perplexing, there’s little doubt that the 1st Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of Charles II, would have thoroughly approved of the gathering, since it was a love of hunting in the area that first moved him to buy a home at Goodwood back in 1697.
“In those days, hunting was just about the chicest thing you could do,” says the present Lord March, the future 11th Duke and a man well known for maintaining Goodwood as a living, working and, above all, sporting estate – just as it was meant to be. “Sport in all its forms has been part of Goodwood since the beginning – and it was in order to be able to hunt in the nearby Charlton Forest that the 1st Duke of Richmond originally bought a Jacobean house at Goodwood. That makes the Charlton Hunt extremely important to my family. It was one of the first properly organised fox hunts in the country and became very illustrious.” No fewer than 77 peers of the realm were recorded at one meet alone.
Many great tales from the hunt’s golden era have been kept alive, thanks to the fact that an extensive archive of letters, hunt diaries, meeting minutes and papers was rediscovered in a deed box at Goodwood during the early 1900s. Among the numerous ripping yarns it contained was an account of what came to be known as “the greatest chase there ever was” – the pursuit of a single fox that began at 7.45am on January 26 1739 and ended in the dark 10 hours and 57 miles later.
Indeed, such was the significance of the Charlton that virtually the entire village, which lies a mile north of Goodwood racecourse, was given over to hunting. Not only were there cottages for the huntsmen, kennels for the hounds and a canine “infirmary” to restore them to health, the great and the good also built boltholes there so that they had somewhere they could stay and make the most of their freedom from the restraints of court and London society – and discreetly entertain mistresses. In one particular (and delightfully modest) building, which still stands in its original form, the Duke of Devonshire lived in one side and Earl Harcourt on the other – while the connecting attic was occupied by a dilettante hunting fan called William Fauquier.
A well-appointed hall was also designed for post-hunt dining (by the “Architect Earl” Lord Burlington) and came to be known as the Great Room. It has long since gone, but an equally notable building called Fox Hall survives. Put up in 1732 for the 2nd Duke, then the joint master of the Charlton, it takes the form of a palladian lodge entered directly from the stable yard. The ground floor was reserved for servants, while upstairs a single, spacious room with recessed bedchamber, large fireplace and “powder closet” offered the Duke the perfect place in which to rest his weary bones after a hard day in the saddle.
Charlton remained the headquarters of the hunt until 1750, when the death of the 2nd Duke signalled the temporary demise of the pack. When his son and heir returned from his grand tour, however, he picked up his father’s passion for the sport and eventually reinstated the hunt, this time basing it at Goodwood itself, where he built the remarkable stable block that still stands beside the house and nowadays features 130 boxes.
Then, in 1787, he commissioned the celebrated neoclassical architect James Wyatt to create what has since been described as “the world’s most luxurious dog house” – complete with central heating a full century before it was deemed necessary in Goodwood House itself. That building has since become the clubhouse for all Goodwood’s sporting and social clubs, but five years ago Lord March began to formulate a plan to reinstate another high-end kennel, on the other side of the road.
Hound Lodge dates from the late 19th century, when the 7th Duke temporarily brought hunting back to Goodwood after horse racing overtook it as the estate’s favoured sport. An attractive flint building modelled on the kennels at nearby Petworth, it offered warm and spacious accommodation, individual exercise areas for each hound and substantial brick-built whelping boxes for the new mothers. After decades standing empty, however, this once well-appointed hound home had fallen into severe disrepair – but clearly had the potential to be monetised and contribute to the ongoing stability of the estate, alongside the numerous other revenue streams that include the airfield, the hotel, the farm, the farm shop, the health club, the sculpture park, the racecourse and Goodwood’s internationally renowned motoring events. And it’s largely the new lease of life that Hound Lodge has recently been given that led to the idea of bringing the hunt back to Goodwood for a one-off meet – it seemed the perfect way to mark the return to use of a building originally created for the forerunners of Stealthy, Gadget, Combat, Wicket et al.
“Dogs have always been an important part of Goodwood, so we decided to celebrate that fact by turning Hound Lodge into really high-level accommodation that is not a hotel but makes guests feel as though they are staying in the nicest possible private home – and dogs, of course, are entirely welcome,” says Lord March, who, characteristically, has cut no corners in the creation of his new venture.
The noted architect Ptolemy Dean was called in to remodel the building, which has been seamlessly doubled in size to create a modest entrance opening onto a large and warmly welcoming drawing room, with 10 ensuite bedrooms (each with a back door opening onto its own dog-friendly courtyard), a 20-seater dining room, a sizeable boot room and a professional kitchen beyond. Interior decorator Cindy Leveson, meanwhile, spent a full two years tracking down the hundreds of individual objects that she has since installed to create the perfect small country-house atmosphere she envisioned. Leveson has worked with Lord March for more than 30 years, first as a stylist during his career as a photographer and later as the designer responsible for creating many of the Goodwood estate interiors.
“I had a clear picture in my mind that Hound Lodge wasn’t going to feel like a hotel, it wasn’t going to feel like a club – it was going to feel like a home,” explains Leveson. “And that meant people had to feel relaxed enough to put their feet up anywhere they wanted and not worry about walking in with mud on their boots or allowing their wet dogs to lie around in the drawing room.” Leveson decided how the building would be decorated while the remodelling was still being planned, then proceeded to buy objects from auction houses and dealers throughout the UK until she had acquired sufficient pieces to fill two large removal lorries. “I wanted things to fit together comfortably, but also to be as diverse as possible – which is why no two bedrooms are in any way the same. The majority of pieces are old or antique and we thought hard about the history of the place when we were choosing what to put in it.”
To that end, there’s an overriding dog theme that sees each bedroom named after one of 10 hounds from the 1739 Charlton pack known as the “Glorious 23” and equipped (if required) with a dog bed and enamelled drinking bowl, while virtually every one of the 350 or so paintings, drawings and prints in the lodge has a canine element. To enhance the retro homely feel, Leveson went for eiderdowns on the beds rather than duvets, made televisions request only and kitted out the bathrooms with antique, freestanding fittings instead of built-in units. And in honour of the tradition that women – and only women – should be able to take breakfast in bed, Leveson sourced old-fashioned trays equipped with slots for newspapers and bought individual sets of vintage crockery to go with each one. “Those trays were among the hardest things to find,” she recalls. In the drawing room, which has sufficient seating for everyone to relax in comfort even when the lodge is running at its full 20-guest capacity, drinks are left on a serving table for guests to help themselves, and there’s also a smoking table stocked with cigars.
While Hound Lodge instantly instils that intended feeling of being “at home”, the quietly effective presence of butler Sam, the availability of anything, anytime, the perpetually roaring fire, the extensive breakfast menu and the general feeling of calm occasionally served to remind me, at least, that I wasn’t. “The idea is that families, friends and, perhaps, small corporate groups will stay here. Because everybody will know one another, they will settle in quickly,” says Lord March. “And all Goodwood’s facilities will be available to them; they can treat the 12,000 acres that surround us as their own.”