The story of the Tedworth Hunt begins with a man who loved his sport so much that he regularly hunted four days a week, often running two packs on the same day so that he could switch between them. Thomas Assheton Smith was born in 1776 into an extremely rich family whose fortune came largely from quarrying slate on their extensive estate in Wales. His father was reputedly one of the richest commoners in the country and his home in England was Tedworth House in Wiltshire.
Assheton Smith was a talented all-round sportsman and one of the best-known amateur cricketers of the early 19thCentury. He made his name in fox hunting’s golden age, first as master of the Quorn in Leicestershire and then of the Burton Hounds in Lincolnshire. After a brief stint with the Craven he decided he wanted to hunt closer to his family home, and in 1826 established a scratch pack of hounds at Penton Lodge, near Andover in Hampshire, where we still meet today.
He had spotted a gap in hunting country between the Craven and New Forest packs, and set about transforming the area around Andover into his own fiefdom. Not everyone was convinced it would be a success. The sporting writer Nimrod observed that ‘there is nothing but beds of flints’. The correspondent was even less complementary about the state of the coverts, describing the Hampshire woodland as ‘the worst in the known world’.
Assheton Smith was undeterred and threw all his energies into opening up the country, encouraging landowners and tenants to cut huge rides through the impenetrable woodland so he could follow his hounds. In 1830, two years after the death of his father, he moved his stable and kennels to Tedworth House, which he completely rebuilt. Around this time Assheton Smith generally like to hunt hounds on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, while his huntsman George Carter took the young hounds out on Wednesdays and Saturdays. At the same time he also managed to be elected as the local Tory MP and conduct some pioneering work in the design of steam yachts.
Such was Assheton Smith’s reputation that one March day in 1840 he took his hounds back to Leicestershire for an invitation day with his old hunt the Quorn. Two thousand horsemen and women turned out to pay him tribute, reputedly the biggest field ever seen in England.
By 1845 his Tedworth stables were home to fifty horses, including hunters, racehorses, carriage-horses and hacks, all looked after by an army of grooms coachmen and stable boys. His opening meets were so popular that they would attract hundreds of riders, together with their families, grooms, and coachmen, not forgetting the legions of followers, all of whom Assheton Smith would entertain lavishly with food and drink.
On his death in 1858 Nimrod was moved to write that Assheton Smith had undoubtedly proved himself to be the best and hardiest rider England ever saw. He was buried at Tedworth House where his kennels then housed more than a hundred couple. His childless widow Matilda donated the pack to the country and so it was that on the passing of a hunting legend, the Tedworth Hunt was born.