Wolverton was a small town and we thought of ourselves as such. Rural life was at least a generation away and largely unknown but from time to time there were connections. During the winter months my father would often go beating on the Hesketh estate. I suppose it gave him some extra money but I think he enjoyed the company and a day out in the country. Occasionally he would bring bak a hare fom the shoot as a bonus.
When I was about 13 or 14 he took me with him and I got to experience this slice of life at first hand. We would generally gather at the gamekeeper’s cottage at Gayhurst, a few miles away on the northern border of the county. The gamekeeper was Mr. Crute, a wiry man who will forever remain my image of a gamekeeper. The beating was a simple enough activity but boring for a teenager. Various drives were organised through fields of kale, down Digby’s walk, through copses and woods to drive the birds up. If we needed to go farther afield we would be driven in a Landrover. Lunch was a box of ham sandwiches and a crate of pale ale. The beaters ate their lunch sitting on straw bales in a barn while the shooting party ate their meal by the warmth of a fire in a farmer’s house or Crute’s cottage.
This experience did expose me to the “landed gentry” for the first time. Wolverton, as I have observed before, was as close to being a classless society as was possible and there were very few middle class people, let alone families of inherited wealth. The leading and regular figures of the hunting party that I remember were Lord Hesketh himself, Tony Jackson-Stops and Brigadier General Sir Richard Gambier-Parry – “The Brig”. There was a fashion in those days for maintaining military titles in civilian life, so Lord Hesketh was always referred to as Major Hesketh, which was the rank he held in WWII. He was very thin, with very pale skin drawn tight over his face. He wore a thin moustache and his thinning black hair was brushed straight back over his skull. He was always scrubbed clean and smelled of Imperial Leather soap. He was not quite 40 when he died in 1955 shortly after my encounter with him. His eldest son, the a small boy, came into the Hesketh fortune in the 1970s and used up a lot of it in Formula 1 racing with James Hunt as the car’s driver. Jackson-Stops ran the very successful estate agency founded by his father in Towcester. Herbert Jackson-Stops managed the great sale of Stowe and thus made his fortune and the name of his company, which survives today. Tony Jackson-Stops was an outgoing personality. “The Brig”, as my father and the other men called him, was a charismatic personality who knew how to handle men. While the beaters were mostly ignored by members of the hunting party he would invariably take the trouble to come into the barn after lunch to chat with the beaters. “How are we today men?” and then fall easily into some small talk. He was much liked and respected by the country folk who made up the beating team. He worked as a senior figure at Hanslope Park and lived in Milton Keynes – at that time a small village.