Extracts from the
Huntsham Court Game Book
Provided here by permission of the Huntsham Estate
'Huntsham Court Game Book No 1', to give the full title, records how many of nine types of game were shot on the Estate, by whom, where and when from 1882-1989. In addition, a column 'Various' is used occasionally for noting other animals shot such as badger, heron or teal. A final column is used to remark on the weather or on how the shoot fared. Two loose sheets are inserted that record 'vermin' shot by the Keeper in 1942/43 and 1965/66.
The earliest records, of 1882-95, are summaries placed at the back of the book. Full records begin from 1893. For social historians they provide an informed insight into how changes occurred to the game business on a small Devon estate over a period of 100 years, and during world events such as the two wars. The effects of myxamatosis on the rabbit population can be followed from 1955 and the gradual decline of birds such as the Corncrake (Land Rail). Whether the Partridges shot were all Red-legged Partridges or whether some were the now-scarce Grey Partridges, is not known. Changes in management practices over time can be deduced from some of the comments.
For family historians there is much to find about the Troyte/Acland family, as the book is compiled at first by Charles Troyte, then by his sons Hugh and Gilbert. After Gilbert's death in 1964 everything changes when syndicates lease shooting rights on the Estate. The shooters and guests vary remarkably through time, at first consisting of the friends and families of the Troytes and then business partners and associates of the syndicates. Ranking military personnel figure prominently and there are names of the Estate's tenant farmers in the 1970-80s who were invited to join the shoots. The Keeper (and occasionally Under Keeper) are constantly referred to and it is usually possible to work out their names in the different periods. Unfortunately, the book does not list the names of local beaters.
1882-95. There is a summary of each season's bag at the end of the book for these years only. The records are entered in fairly legible handwriting by 'Self', who must be Charles Arthur Williams Troyte, owner of Huntsham Estate. Regular shooters include many military people of rank, the Huntsham Rector Rev Cruddas and members of the Troyte family, especially his sons Hugh and Gilbert. The main targets were pheasants (562 in 1887/8), partridges (562 in 1887/8) and rabbits (1430 in 1887/8) but as many as 137 hares were shot in 1886/7, 22 snipe in 1894/5 and 26 woodcock in 1887/8. Pigeon did not feature highly in these shoots and few wild ducks were shot, although Charles constructed Huntsham Lake in 1891 as a recreational facility.
1893-95. Full records are entered by Charles Troyte, again referred to as 'Self'. In 1893 he remarks with some irritation on his illness preventing him from looking after the shooting and that Scutt the keeper 'was worse than useless'. And in 1894-95, 'We turned down no hand-reared pheasants , to save expense and I and the boys did the shooting for the house. Scutt hardly killed a thing, but for my sickly state of health I never enjoyed a season more'. Charles clearly was aware of making the shooting pay if possible as he comments on 17 Nov. 1893 'Parties got up by Wm Bazeley at £1/1/0 a head!'.
The beats were very extensive and presumably reached on horseback and foot, as far north as Zeal Ball Copse, Beer Down in the south, east to Bawden (Borden) Gate and west to Castle. [The locations of Darscombe, Thomas Hill, Charnes Hill, Grant's Coppice and Hague Moors are not known]. The Butts may refer to the Shooting Range marked on old Ordnance Survey maps near Perrots's. 'Bigwoods Copice' must be the modern Bidgoods Copse and 'Dowells' Dowhills.
Shooting parties were occasionally six, mainly two or three, and on many days singles only. In the 1894/95 season there were 79 outings but all resulted in small bags. Charles went out on 37 occasions and perhaps this reflected the need to maintain a regular supply of fresh meat at Huntsham Court as much as enjoyment of the sport. Hugh (Hughie) is first mentioned from 1890 when he was aged 20 whereas Gilbert was shooting at age 17 in 1893, occasionally on his own. The 'Troyte family' joins the shoot on several occasions. One Golden Plover was shot in 1893.
1895-1897. Charles must have died or become too ill to shoot in 1896 as the handwriting changes from that year and becomes much clearer. It is probably that of Hugh, the oldest of the three sons, as there are references to 'Self', Gilbert and Bertie (Hubert), the youngest son. They shoot as frequently as before, Gilbert in particular often going 'all over the place'. On the first day of the 1896/97 season 'Gilbert & Bertie, Summer holidays after tea' shot 1 hare and 103 rabbits. The Alfred and A. Acland of 1896 may be the Alfred Acland of 1893 and the 1930s, but this name cannot be found in the Acland (of Killerton and Huntsham) family tree. There are fewer military men and the Rev Hillyard has replaced Rev Cruddas. Giffords is written as 'Jiffords' confirming today's pronunciation; there was a common at Wick; Bences is variously written as 'Bensirs', 'Bencirs'and 'Benseys'. 'Herschells' is not known today but may be near Zeal Ball or Warren's Hill. Several Plover and Wigeon were shot in 1895.
1897-98. Different, neater handwriting, the mention of only Gilbert Troyte and Bertie, the absence of 'self' and the fewer shoots perhaps indicates that Hugh was absent this year. 'The Keeper' is referred to as though written by Scutt who seems to have weathered Charles Troyte's scathing remarks of 1893-94. He did, however, manage to supply 118 rabbits to the House this year.
1898-1904. There is a mixture of handwriting, including Hugh's. The initials HLAT must be Hugh Leonard Acland Troyte. There must have been some crisis in 1899 as there were only 6 shoots and none after 3d October. Unusually in those days far more pheasants (155) than partridges (3) were shot that year, Scutt accounted for 1010 rabbits and one Wigeon was shot. Perhaps no hand-rearing of pheasants was done in this period as no shooting is recorded after September in 1901, early October in 1902, although 366 partridges were shot compared with 6 pheasants, and there was no action at all in 1903. Rev Hudson is the new Rector and (Andrew) Shiels replaced Scutt after 1902 as the Keeper. No ranking military people are recorded. One shoot is at Two Pots, a cottage no longer extant, shown on old maps near Westcombe.
1904-09. The entries resume, with 'Self' in Hugh's distinctive handwriting, and the number of shoots increases steadily. Other handwriting also occurs for parts of some years. The Capt Troyte may be Hugh when he was in the 20th Hussars. There is a hard core of military people, doctors and reverends and, an interesting foretaste of female emancipation, a Miss Ommaney or Omony shoots with C. Luxmoore on several occasions, the first mention of a female in the Book. Gilbert and Bertie are mentioned, though infrequently, as are A., Robin and B. Acland, possibly cousins of the Troytes. A Dr Tracey may have been a family friend as he shoots frequently and has a separate total bag in two years. Stallengethorne and Three Gates are included among the beats for the first time. Two Pots is one of the beats in 1906 but is not recorded thereafter. The winter 1907/8 was severe; 'there were practically no partridges (as) they were all drowned or died of the cold' and C. Fetherstonehaugh was the sole shooter from 2nd September in that season. Interestingly the entries for his shoots, although made in an extremely neat hand, show an ignorance of local place name spellings. Perrot's becomes 'Parrots', Kerswell is 'Carzwell', Stallenge is 'Stallence'. Target Moor and Burnt Plantation are first mentioned.
Pheasants, partridges and rabbits made up the main bag over this period. As many as 24 Woodcock, 11 Landrail (Corncrake) and 27 Snipe were shot in a season. The Lake was also covered but little was shot: 2 Moorhen and 2 Teal in 1906, and 2 Tufted Duck in 1908.
1910-1919. There are no records for this period, perhaps because Hugh became increasingly involved in the army and no-one else cared to compile them. It is unlikely, however, that shooting ceased entirely. Hugh died in active service in the last year of the Great War.
1919-1964. The records resume with Gilbert Troyte's rather cramped and distinctive writing and become more informative as he added comments in many seasons. He clearly enjoys the sport and at first went out on every shoot, over 40 times a season, accompanied occasionally by Rev Hudson and some military persons, regularly including General Dodington. Bertie only 'came out for a little in the morning' in 1919 as though he might have fallen ill. There is no further mention of him. Charlie Acland joined the shoot in 1924 but does not appear again.
Pheasants were more abundant than partridges most years, often due to a cold and wet winter. Rabbits were an important part of the shoots but while Woodcock and Snipe were always found in moderate numbers the last Land Rail shot on the Estate (up to 1989) was in 1932/33. Surprisingly a Blackcock was shot in 1931, although these did breed on Exmoor. Ferreting for rabbits was popular and the new Keeper in 1921, (Cuthbert) Hayes, also trapped or shot several hundred each season. Not everything was shot, however, and Gilbert notes several times that hen pheasants were spared for the coming season. He remarked in 1930 that he had not seen so many pigeons since the War but only 54 were shot.
Most of the beat names are of farms, copses and brakes named on the 1834 Tithe Maps and they are mostly still in use. Cow Field is no longer used but refers to the fields just south of the village and Big Down probably refers to the large fields beyond the bridleway north of the Barton. Wick Common is named in 1927 and continues to be visited for several years in January. The number of shoots slowly declined from about 40 to 20 at the beginning of the second world war.
The first mention of pheasant rearing is in 1927/28 when Gilbert states that about 250 were reared. Three hundred were reared in 1930/31. The following year he states that the shooting (cost?) was shared with Col. Wyndham Newman who had been a regular participant since 1922 and that they 'turned down' (spared) about 800 pheasants. From 1933 it is clear that attempts are being made to make the Lake more productive as about 140 duck (Mallard?) were reared as well as some 950 birds that were put into the coverts. He remarked that 'our little syndicate worked very well'. There was apparently mixed success with the duck shooting, however, as one year Gilbert commented ruefully that 'they all flew straight away as soon as disturbed'. Dick and Bob Gould were friends of the family and visited the Court on school holidays when they were allowed to shoot rabbits with an air gun. In 1936 they went 'all round' and bagged 15 rabbits before the pheasant season opened.
The Keeper Hayes used an old loose memorandum page dated October 1872 to record various items he shot in 1942/43 and this is tucked into the Book at the relevant year. These were 'rabbits 274, magpies 40, hawkes 11, crows 38, stoates 34'. Such numbers of Magpies would be considered a plague nowadays.
The syndicate may not have lasted long as Col Newman is not referred to after 1932/33. The shooting continues through the second world war but with fewer people and fewer meets, numbering 15-20 a season. Some years only Gilbert shot with the Keeper Hayes and one or two presumed family friends such as David Quicke. There seems to have been a spate of poor seasons around this time as in 1946/47 he commented 'The worst breeding season I have ever known and this combined with a lot of vermin and some poaching resulted in practically no partridges and very few pheasants. Deep snow in January prevented me from killing a few more rooks. I guess that a lot of birds will have died owing to the very hard and long winter'. The least productive years were 1948-50 when Gilbert only went out 6 or 7 times with his friends Bilson and Fellows.
Frank Aldridge appears to have become the Keeper in 1951 and stayed until 1961 when Baker replaced him. In 1964 the Keeper was Vickery. The number of shoots increased gradually in the '50s but not with much success as there was a string of very bad years through to 1957. Gilbert complains in 1955 'A worse breeding season even than last year. Myxamtosis reached us towards the end of September and killed off practically all our rabbits'. And in 1956 'Another very bad breeding season for all game and as there were no rabbits; vermin did a lot of harm. There were not as many pheasants and partridges as none left last year. Luckily there were more pigeons than I have ever seen'. In 1958, 'The worst breeding season I ever remember. We had continuous wet weather from the beginning of May till the end of December. Very few pigeons came in and although there was a nice lot of duck they were always too clever for us'. And in 1962 Gilbert only managed to get out twice during the season, commenting 'A bad breeding season cold and wet all the summer and it was followed by the worst winter I can remember. We could not get ... ... out from Christmas Eve till after the middle of February, and there was so much snow we could not walk in the fields and in any case I cannot walk much on snow'.
The handwriting changes in 1963 when a comment added by WRB (presumed to be the Bilson who had accompanied him since 1946) said that 'Gilbert couldn't shoot and was very much missed'. Then on the same page there is the bald statement, 'Sir Gilbert Acland Troyte died 27th April 1964'.
1965-69. From 1st Feb 1965 the whole of the Huntsham shooting was taken over for a period of 10 years by Maj. T. Anstey and H. Pring heading a syndicate with Sir Robert Arundell, W. Reeve Bilson (Estate Nominee), E. A. Eden, S. Berkeley-Owen, J. W. Rothwell and O. Salaman. Head Keeper was D. H. Warren and the Under Keeper D. Bartholomew. A new tradition was introduced of giving every farmer on the Estate a brace of birds. Shoots were held regularly, more or less every week throughout the season.
The first year 1965/66 sadly was deemed 'a very unsatisfactory season; approx. 700 pheasants reared, most of them seem to have disappeared'. A pasted-in typed sheet records the total bag for the season of 1967-68 as only 203, of which 156 were pheasants. More tellingly it also records '22 foxes, 7 stoats, 4 weasels, 61 squirrels, 125 rats, 221 carrion, 228 rooks, 56 jackdaws, 39 jays, 97 magpies and 52 'various' vermin'. Things did not improve as the syndicate did no shooting at all in 1968-69.