So Fair the Game …

From the Norman Conquest to 1218 most of Middlesex was a royal forest; but London’s citizens also had the right to hunt there, under charters granted by Henry I and Henry II. Today’s urban foxes are descended from those which were persecuted as recently as as 2001 when the Enfield Chace and Cambridgeshire hunts merged. Middlesex was the home of the old Berkeley Hunt (which produced the Cockney rhyming insult ‘berk’), and this up till 1842, ranged from Scratch Wood (beside the M1 near Mill Hill) to Kensington Gardens, often attended, according to one historian by a ‘swarm of nondescripts who, starting from every suburb in London, were glad to make a meet of foxhounds their excuse for a holiday on hackney or wagonette, overwhelming the whole procedure by their presence and irritating farmers and landowners, to the great injury of the hunt.’

While Middlesex was perhaps even the first English county to hunt foxes, it has an earlier tradition of stag hunting.  Henry VIII turned the 543 acres of Marylebone Fields into a hunting ground and scattered hunting lodges around London: one was in Newington Green; another was the ‘Great Standing’ in Epping Forest at Chingford which was used as a platform to take pot shots. As late as the early 19th century a stag was chased through Regents Park (formerly Marylebone Fields) and up the stairs of No 1 Montague Street, Russell Square.  Enfield Chase stopped being used for hunting in the time of Elizabeth I, but staghounds were brought back in 1885. In tribute to the park’s history, the Victorian huntsmen devised Elizabethan-styled hunting outfits. The Middlesex County History has this on the county’s history of hunting.

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