|Oil on canvas
|50 x 40 inches; 127 x 101.6 cms
The Boothby family, Tooley Park, Leicestershire;
Williams C A Blew The Quorn Hunt and its Masters 1898
J G Shields Old Tom of Tooley - Father of the Quorn 1998
Thomas Boothby of Tooley Park, Leicestershire (1677-1752) was the founder of the Quorn Hunt, the recognised to be the first pack organised along the formal lines recognised by the sport today. He was Master of this famous and distinguished pack for an astonishing 55 seasons, longer than any of the subsequent fifty three Masters. Hunting well into his later life the famous sportsman only relinquished his position at his death, to his son in law Hugo Meynell. The Quorn is still flourishing three hundred and four years later. Its country stretches roughly from a few miles south of Nottingham in the north, to the Leicester City boundary, in the south and from Ashby de la Zouch in the west to Melton Mowbray in the east.
In 1752 there appeared the following obituary notice in The Gentleman''s Magazine:
''August 15, Thomas Boothby of Tooley Park, Leicestershire, Esq., one of the greatest sportsmen in England.''
That tantalising brief entry is the only contemporary printed record of Thomas Boothby's fame. In 1875, however, Mr. Reginald Corbet, of Adderley, Salop, called attention, in a letter to The Field, to a curious old hunting-horn which he had inherited. (It is now in the possession of his grand-daughter, Mrs. Edmond Browne.) The horn is about eighteen inches long, and practically straight. It is actually of horn, dark green and with a wavy surface. The mouthpiece and about seven inches at the wider end are encased with silver. It bears the inscription:
''Thomas Boothby, Esquire, of Tooley Park, Leicestershire. With this horn he hunted the first pack of foxhounds then in England fifty-five years. Born 1677; died 1752. Now the property of Thomas DıAvenant, Esquire, County of Salop, his grandson''.
Thomas Boothby is credited with having altered the pattern of the hunting horn, instituting a straight instrument for that seen in old pictures, and slung round the body.
Tooley Park lies about eight miles south-west of Leicester, just to the north of the Hinckley road and Tooley Hall was a fair sized mansion, the appurtences of which included ''stabling for twenty horses; a cold bath, and a room adjoining; and a very good garden, walled round, and planted with fruit trees.''
The Boothbys had been there since 1630: the family claimed a lineage extending back beyond the Conquest and Thomas Boothby styled himself ''Armiger'' but his great-grandfather, William Boothby, was a wealthy citizen and merchant tailor of London.
Thomas Boothby, the sportsman, was born not, as the inscription on the horn states, in 1677, but, as the parish registers show, early in 1681. In 1696 his father died; so that at the age of fifteen or thereabouts he inherited the estate and may be presumed to have set up or taken over a pack of hounds. His first wife, whom he married in 1697, was heiress to a large estate in Staffordshire; his second - a cousin of the first - had an interest in a smaller estate in the same county; of his third, it is only known that she also came from Staffordshire and was ''a very handsome lady.''
Besides Tooley Park and the Staffordshire estates, Thomas Boothby owned land at Foston, Deryshire, and Peatling, Countesthorpe and Earl Shilton in Leicestershire, which had come to him from his mother Elizabeth Faunt. In middle life he bought the manor of Broadlow Ash, near Ashbourne, which had belonged to another branch of the family. His cousins, the Boothbyıs of Potterıs Martson, were also important landowners and leading men in county affairs. He was therefore a much more important personage than the ordinary run of eighteenth-century foxhunting squires and it is probable that the size and scattered area of his estates contributed largely to his fame as ''one of the greatest sportsmen in England.''
He was still famous, as ''Old Tom of Tooley'' when John Throsby went on his ''Excursions in Leicestershire'' in 1790. That worthy and inquisitive man, however, only recorded one story about him - it is the sort of anecdote that rustic memories delight to cherish about someone who has been a great ''character'' in his day.
''The Pool here (at Groby) is said to measure fourscore acres; and the people in this neighbourhood tell you a wonderful tale of a pike being taken out of Groby Pool, which weighed eighteen stone. The following circumstance gave rise to this relation:
''The old Squire of Tooley (well known a few years since by the appellation of Tom of Tooley) kept a Blossom, it is said, snugly and unknown to his wife, at Groby Pool House. Parson Pike, vicar of Ratby, who was a very fat man, and a frequent visitor at old Tomıs table, took an opportunity to inform the Squireıs lady of the amour. The Tooley Nimrod (he kept a famous pack of hounds) was soon after informed of his unlawful connexions from the still small voice of his neglected spouse. Old Thomas from this time meditated revenge against the vicar for his perfidy. He asked him soon after to attend him at the fishing of Groby Pool, where the Squire, at a certain place, took an opportunity of pushing him into the water, after which he caused the net to be hauled under him, and in that manner he was dragged to land, almost lifeless.''
Thomas Boothby's fame still lingered at Peckleton in the 1880s. The Hon. and Rev. Augustus Byron, of Kirkby Mallory, wrote as follows to Mrs Chaworth Musters.
''The name of Boothby is still had in reverence in the parish of Peckleton. It is even said that he was the donor of the present peal of church bells belonging to the place, and that he had them so pitched and tuned as to resemble the cry of a pack of hounds. Certainly the said bells are of a very melodious and cheery kind in their music.''
The story that Thomas Boothby gave the bells to Peckleton church rests on more than tradition. The bells are there, six of them, double the number than in most parish churches, and their inscriptions are unambiguous.
RESONABO LAUDES GENTIS BOOTHBEIANAE, says one of them; I will sound the praises of the Boothby family.
Thomas Boothby of Tooley Esq GAVE THESE SIX BELLS MDCCX1111 says another.
I do not know how they are tuned and pitched, but the inscription on a third - it is a tag from Horace.
OMNE TULIT PUNCTUM QUI MISCUIT UTILE DULCI - He gains every vote who mingles the useful with the pleasant.
The bells were not Boothby's only benefaction to Peckleton church. There are amongst the church plate a fine chalice and flagon, given in 1713, and bearing the name of the donor ''Thomas Boothby de Tooley Armiger''.
John Throsby's bit of scandal is also amply confirmed by Thomas Boothby's will made, with unusual providence, in 1738, when he was 57 and fourteen years before he died. In it he refers to a charge made by Deed Poll, 1736, for Catherine Holmes, spinster, and makes these provisions: his house at Groby Pool, leased from the Earl of Stamford, is to continue to be the residence of Catherine Holmes, spinster. Catherine Holmes is also to have ''the chaize I usually ride in, and the pair of horses which draws the same,² also ³the horse she usually rides, with the bridle and saddle,'' also ''my gold watch, the ring and shirt buttons I usually wear, and the crooked guinea with cross sword thereon.''
As a counterpoise of respectability Thomas Boothby may be pictured in his latest and sedatest seasons, followed by the Rev. Edward Stokes, rector of Blaby, who had been blind since he was eight years old but who ''used to hunt briskly; a person always accompanied him, and when to leap was to be taken, rang a bell.''
When Thomas Boothby died in 1752 he had run to hounds for 55 seasons and had been the Master of what is now The Quorn Hunt from 1698.
Sources: Leicestershire and the Quorn Hunt Colin D.B. Ellis.
The Field, 6th November, edition of 1875.
The Gentlemanıs Magazine, August 1752.
The Quorn Hunt and its Masters Williams C.A. Blew 1899.