Fox hunting has been a part of life in Chester County, Pennsylvania for generations and it remains an important factor in the region to this day. One of the area’s most respected hunts, Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds, is celebrating their centennial year this fall with special meets, events, and a new book recounting the hunt’s first one hundred years.
“Scarlet on Scarlet, 100 Years of Hunting with Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds” chronicles the history of the hunt through personal anecdotes, news clippings, diary excerpts and photographs. The book was written by local author and foxhunter Prue Draper Osborn.
“The history unfolds from the moment in 1911 when transplanted Marylander Plunket Stewart first drove up what is now Route 82 North past Unionville and came to a top of a hill and knew he had found his perfect foxhunting country. He bought up small and large farms, returned the planted fields to open grassland and replaced barbed wire with jumpable post-and-rail fencing. He imported and bred the finest English foxhounds and enticed like-minded friends to come hunt with him and eventually buy property from him. In a few short years he had created a legendary foxhunt that continued to thrive under the leadership of his stepdaughter Nancy Penn Smith Hannum and continues on without diminish since her death in 2010,” Osborn reports.
Osborn has written about the hunt many times over the years, and so was recruited to author the centennial book for Cheshire. “It came out of the blue. I didn’t realize it was the centennial,” she said. “I hadn’t fox hunted in 37 years, and I was not tuned in at all to the fact that this was going to be the centennial. When they asked me I was just blown out of the water. I just jumped at it. It’s the best project that I have ever been involved with.”
Osborn has her own historic connection to Cheshire. “I grew up fox hunting here and my grand father (J. Stanley Reeve) was a famous fox hunting diarist and wrote about this hunt 100 yrs ago, so it felt very full circle to me to be the one who got chosen to do this book,” she said. “He died when I was very young so I have only a fleeting memory of him. My mother was a great fox hunter in her day, and this just felt very special to me.”
Delving into that history was a big undertaking. Osborn interviewed 75 people to get their memories and impressions of Cheshire. “Every interview, people just light up when they’re talking about a sport they’re so passionate about,” she said.
She also relied a great deal on the hunting diaries of her grandfather, her aunt, and what remains of the hunt founder’s writings. “Plunket Stewart kept a hunting diary for every single day, and so did Mrs. Hannum after him, but 95 percent of those got thrown away after Mrs. Hannum died. Only fifteen diaries were saved,” Osborn said. “It was tediously fun to read those diaries and see what to use.”
Divided by Decades
The book is divided by decades, with diary excerpts and photographs included with each. In addition to the day-to-day workings of the hunt, and the events of the chase there is insight into the personalities of the people who have devoted themselves to Cheshire.
“I really felt like I got to know Plunket Stewart. He started the Hunt and he was a charismatic personality. I just fell in love with him,” Osborn said. “When I found an obituary a friend wrote for him for a horse publication, The Chronicle, it just brought me to my knees with tears. It described him to a ‘T’.”
The book give readers an opportunity to see how important the Hunt has been in individuals’ lives during a different era. “Just the whole grandiosity of the sport back in those days and how people really centered their lives around the hunt,” Osborn recalls some of the items that made an impression on her. “There were many men out there fox hunting but the women were just diehards and rode side saddle and didn’t hold back. It was just the passion of the sport. My mother had that passion and my grandmother had that passion but I never really understood it till I wrote this book.”
Osborn hunted with Cheshire as a junior but gave it up when she went to college. As a side benefit of this writing assignment, she has returned to hunting with Cheshire after 37 years, and now is hooked on the sport again, for new reasons. “I just love it more than anything,” she said. “It’s so much fun, almost more fun now because I really understand it better - what the hounds are doing, what’s going on out there – it’s not just about running and jumping. It’s about watching the hounds work and the huntsman and his staff and all of that. I can’t get enough now,” she said.
Written in Nine Months
Osborn was given a year for the writing assignment. “It was quite a daunting task. I wrote it in nine months which was like delivering a baby,” she said. “The last few months have been spent with a graphic designer putting it together.”
The book was released November 1 in time for Cheshire’s centennial meets. “So far the reaction has been positive. People are pretty happy with it,” Osborn said.
“Scarlet on Scarlet” is available through the Cheshire Hunt office by calling (610) 347-0415. The price of the book is $100 with all proceeds going to the Cheshire Hunt Conservancy.