In Cottonmill Lane opposite the Nunnery ruins, where Old Sopwell Gardens is today, there used to be stables and kennels for foxhounds and many residents remember seeing the hunt leave from there. Most of the land was owned by Lord Verulam. Hunting provided sport for the gentlemen of the area. Where the Cottonmill allotments are was called Sportsman’s Hall which refers to the place where the hunt goes after a day’s hunting. There is a reference to the term ‘Sportsman’s Hall’ in the following extract from Fox Hunting in the past which backs up this theory:
‘The jovial fox-hunters portrayed by Rowlandson belong to the rough and tumble days of the chase, when hardships in the pursuit by day, and hard drinking when the “brush” was brought to “Sportsman’s Hall”, were the order of the programme.’
It is thought that Lady Salisbury from Hatfield, who was known as a very keen sportswoman and was Marchioness until 1823 could have hunted with the Duke of Wellington over Sopwell lands. She was 19 years older than him but he was close to both her and her daughter in law.
John Buckingham’s father worked in the kennels in the 1920s and rode with the hunt. John said that his father wasn’t a cruel man: “He would never see anything suffer. He used to go with the hunts because he used to ride horses and he used to have a favourite horse. When it got to a river, it would sit down. I always remember him telling me that…. I don’t remember him ever saying about huntsmen…They used to go out in their red togs. Somebody said that the hunt used to go over to Wall Hall…and if you think of it you can go right through the valley to it. It’s not so far and that’s the sort of day they would have [had] – the hounds and the hunt pack cutting through. They would have gone over Brown’s farm, following the river basically and they could have cut through…”
Gerry Dunham recalls a memory of the hunt when he was about 8 years old in 1942: “On a Sunday morning they came out [to the] sound of horn all dressed up lovely. They were ever so smart with the dogs. They met down where the stables were and that’s where they started. They used to toddle off over the wasteland over the fields towards Park Street over farmland, Hedges Farm.”