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Gamekeepers and the Shoot on the Stoneham Estate, remembered by D A Bunce

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In the 1920s, the Fleming Estate, which included North Stoneham Park was still a managed estate and regular shoots took place through the woods and fields. Park Farm was a mixed farm, mainly dairy, but at times there were a few sheep and geese and chickens with a little arable nearest the woods. Parts of the woods were still being coppiced by Mr. Marks of North Stoneham village. Some larger timber was being extracted by the "Thorne" brothers from New Alresford. They had a saw mill at Park Farm and a room in the Old House where their workers slept on weekday lights, going home for the weekend. The woods were kept in good order, the Rides kept well trimmed. There were masses of Primroses, Bluebells and Wood Anemones in the Spring and it was a delightful place with which to have daily contact.

Jim Kitcher, c.1912
Jim Kitcher, c.1912
The whole was well keepered by Mr. Kitcher, the Head Keeper who lived in the cottage at Hicknor and by Mr. Snelgrove who lived in Belvedere Lodge on the Bassett Green Road. We often saw them going about their duties, dressed in breeches and gaiters, with a shot-gun under one arm and a Jay's blue feather in their hats. They kept out trespassers and shot everything which they considered a threat to the pheasants. Here and there in the woods would be a gibbet on which hung various dead predators such as Stoats and Weasels, Carrion Crows, Jays, Hawks and very occasionally a Magpie. A Magpie was quite a scarce bird in those days. These displays did nothing to deter other predators and were only there to show the Estate Manager that the keepers were doing their job properly. I would like to think that keepers are more enlightened nowadays.

In a clearing in the wood there was a cluster of small sheds and coops, well protected against Foxes, where pheasants were reared. Eggs from wild pheasant nests were collected and placed under a broody domestic hen in a coop. When the birds were large enough they were released into the wild. (Shoots took place in the autumn and winter.) On the day, the shooting party and the beaters would assemble near the Old House and come back there for a stand up lunch. A hamper for the shooters and Bread and Cheese and a bottle of beer for the beaters. It was unusual for us to see so many people around. Once the shooting started we were kept strictly indoors. When I was a bit older, perhaps about 10 or 11, I went on a couple of these shoots as a stopper. I didn't enjoy the first one very much. There were 4 or 5 boys and we had to meet Mr. Kitcher some time before the shoot commenced. I lived nearby but the other boys came across the fields from the village. Mr. Kitcher took us with him and placed us at various points in the woods or on the edge of the fields. I was the last to be left, well beyond Common Barn Farm. When the shooting came nearer to our spots, we had to rattle a stout stick against a gatepost or a sapling, holler and try and make as much noise as possible to stop the birds going beyond. I was in that spot for hours, the reports of the guns coming no nearer. Eventually, Mr.Kitcher turned up saying sorry that he had forgotten me. I missed the bread and cheese that day. I cannot remember how much we were paid, certainly not very much, perhaps sixpence. I do not suppose that the beaters had more than half-a-crown and their lunch. Agriculture wages would have been between 30 and 33 shillings at that time.

The game that were shot were laid out on a low bank near our cottage. It was never a tremendous bag, mostly pheasants, but sometimes two or three Mallard, an odd Teal and occasionally a Woodcock or a Snipe. They were beautiful birds and I would hate to see them shot today. On one shoot, one of the party, carelessly shot out one of our bedroom windows. Mr. Alan Arnold, who was in charge of the estate, was very angry and came to my Mother to say how sorry he was. Naturally she was extremely upset. He arranged to have the window quickly repaired. We heard later, that he would never let that gentleman take part in further shoots. After the shoot was over, we would hunt around to see who could collect the most cartridge cases which we played with for a few days. The smell of a freshly discharged cartridge had an odd appeal.

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