The shooting season is well under way in the countryside. The annual deer shoot at Ashridge is nearing completion, but no pheasant shooting takes place as in the old days, because of open access.
The last Head Gamekeeper lived in Old Park Lodge, a grand vernacular building first erected around 1619, and now part of Ashridge Golf Club. Seth Cox held the position with pride for nearly forty years, retiring in 1924 when the Estate was sold by the Brownlow family. His predecessor Thomas Bamford along with his son, held the post of Park Keeper for over thirty years. One of Seth Cox’s descendants lives nearby today and is the custodian of his Brownlow buttons. The Estate staff wore livery, and the brass buttons were worn on special occasions when visiting parties arrived made up of the great and the good. The Duke of Westminster rented the Ashridge shooting in December 1897, and staid in the Mansion with his family. The shooting parties were huge events in the life of the Estate and required numerous gamekeepers to function. They all lived locally in the cottages as far apart as Clipper Down and Frithsden, according to the census records from 1841.For the men this was the highlight of the year when they could expect generous tips from the Gentry, as did the army of beaters who were the equivalent of today’s volunteers.
The importance of the role of Head Gamekeeper, Park Keeper or Verderer as it was known in Tudor times is reflected in their stylish home at Old Park Lodge. Built in the Tudor style on high ground and situated in the middle of the Park at SP984127, the upper windows provided an uninterrupted view of the grazing area in front of the Mansion. It is a Grade II listed building and is shown on Seller’s map of 1676, when the Park was divided in two, one part for the red deer, and the other for the fallow. The Lodge sports two large wall sun dials to give the time of day, before the use of time pieces.
“It must be very difficult for people not brought up in the countryside to understand the strange paradoxical relationship between shooting, and the conservation or stewardship , of a diverse and beautiful natural habitat. It must be equally difficult to comprehend the possibility of someone engaging in shooting while at the same time having a great love of Nature and of wildlife in general. And yet this apparently strange contradiction has been a powerful factor in ensuring the survival of so many parts of the English countryside, which the town dweller now takes for granted.”
H R H Prince of Wales.