Game shooting at Little Haugh Hall, Suffolk.
Stephen Partridge-Hicks (universally known as SPH) bought Little Haugh Hall in 1998 with 63 acres of parkland and set about restoring the hall and updating it.
He subsequently acquired 619 acres of farmland in 2003 and a further 177 acres in 2005. With the farm came a gamekeeper, Robert Frost and his family, and a well-run, modest shoot.
From 2005 SPH established a syndicate which allowed a group of friends to choose from eight days over the season, shoot as often as they wanted and bring guests.
This format has remained, with the syndicate now shooting 10 days a season and the balance taken by neighbours with a handful of days sold, usually to syndicate members.
SPH is a keen pilot and there are two grass runways at LHH, which allow light aeroplanes to land in most wind conditions.
A clean kill on this September day at Little Haugh Hall last year.
Many of the syndicate members are also pilots and it is not uncommon for guns to arrive by small plane or helicopter.
One of the consequences of being a pilot is that SPH has a hatred of power lines and so they are all buried across the farm, improving both the visual environment and flying safety.
There is also a helipad to enable those guns with helicopters to land in the garden.
The benefits of good neighbours
SPH concluded that the shoot didn’t have enough land to operate an efficient shoot successfully so started talking to his neighbours about sharing risk and their combined resources.
Richard Ballard, who owns 400 acres in Pakenham to the west agreed to share keepering as his keeper retired in 2005.
Robert and Stephen Honeywood, whose land is to the east, joined in 2006.
Meanwhile John and Roger Catchpole brought Stowlangtoft estate into the arrangement in 2009 and southern neighbour Charles Mathieson and Bill Baker to the east are also part of the deal.
SPH said: “The removal of internal borders between competing shoots results in working together to create a better shoot.
As oppose to the “traditional way” of planting game cover close to your neighbours borders and trying to steal a few birds.
This is a game that nobody wins and we are all better off if we cooperate.”
This initial experiment seemed to work well and over five years the land the shoot operates over has increased from 800 acres to about 3,500 acres.
The consequence of the cooperative approach is a much bigger range of drives, which enables differing wind directions and weather conditions to be handled successfully, and the ability to cater for days from 250 to 600 birds.
A pair of ex-military lorries were acquired for the 2005 season and converted into a gun bus and beaters’ wagon.
Terry Rogers, loading here, was the keeper at Nether Hall and a great local character, who sadly died at the end of last season. He is remembered with great fondness at LHH.
The gun bus carries complimentary cartridges (LHH branded 30gram 6s by Hull) and food and drink for the day, as well as having gun racks inside and a gun safe on the back.
On hot early partridge days the sides can be rolled up and in the winter it provides shelter.
Each landowner can start his shoot from his own home and set forth to shoot over the combined estate, returning home when the day is over, or they can use the shoot lodge at LHH as a hub.
Managing the shoot
The West Suffolk uplands are gently undulating as the Black Bourne river valley runs through them, but without any significant drops from which to launch high birds.
Consequently it is better suited to partridge than pheasant and a full scale planting of four miles of hedges, to compliment the existing hedges, has been put in across the estate.
New woods have been planted (one for each of SPH’s 5 children) and the 92-acre Pakenham wood has been thinned to encourage the regeneration of natural species.
Game coverts are planted as two metre strips of maize spaced with two metre strips of dwarf sorghum.
This holds the birds well and provides plenty of food. Mustard and sunflowers are also used where they grow well and these help enhance the diversity of the birdlife.
To cope with the increased scale of the shoot considerable effort has been put into automating the keeper’s workload.
The original small pens have been enlarged with electric fences, automated watering and hoppers of different sizes.
Robert Frost, the keeper, has a large quad bike, which tows the spinner and water tanks around the combined estate. And a 15-ton grain silo was put next to the farm grain store to enable fast reloading of the spinner.
Little Haugh Hall is a 1730s house inside an 1850s exterior.
The mix of birds put down has changed from 50/50 partridge/pheasant to 65/30/5 partridge/pheasant/duck as the total number has increased and the shoot has gone from 10 days a year in 2003 to 40 days in the 2009/10 season.
The three quarter American pheasants are well cared for and so fly very well.
In addition the shoot puts down a range of specimen birds, most of which have fines attached to them if shot.
These include Reeves pheasants, and King Charles and both black and white pheasants.
Duck flighting is possible, with wild birds topping up the reared population. There is also a healthy population of both roe and muntjac with the occasional visit by a red deer from Thetford forest.
SPH has a very clear idea of how he wants shoot days to be run here: “It’s a deliberately formal shoot (hence the LHH branded ties) but with a very informal, inclusive style.
As a consequence everyone has a good time. And all the guns are passionate about shooting and always help to pick up at the end of a drive.
Double gunning is encouraged and despite the relaxed style the competition between guns is fierce.
“I like to make a weekend out of a shoot so most guns arrive to meet the rest of the team and for a late kitchen supper on Friday night. Wives, girlfriends and children are always welcome to stay and stand with the guns, help in the beating line or just to enjoy the house.
“A proper shoot cannot start without a full English breakfast. We do shoot breakfast in the lodge, which gets us out of the hall and away from the distractions of family. We draw pegs in the form of glass 12 bore cartridges filled with home made sloe gin, allocate loaders and are ‘tooled up’ and in the gun bus by 9.15am. “My loader Ben Woods drives the gun bus and is in constant radio contact with keeper Robert. He also places the guns on their pegs and hosts the “front of house” in my absence.
“The numbering system is unusual in that odd numbers go up two while even numbers go down two. This is simple enough to remember and also allows each gun to stand beside four different people during the day. I prefer to shoot through, with a six drive day and breaks for refreshments after drives two and four, as once we are in the field I like to stick to the task at hand until it is done. It’s better for the beaters to be able to go home after six drives, rather than have them waiting for the guns to finish their lunch after the fourth drive. And as most guns are staying and we will have dinner in the Hall, we don’t want a big lunch.
“Headkeeper Robert agrees a notional plan with me (actually he just announces it and I have found no reason to disagree with him) and we follow it unless we see good reason to change it based on the weather, the bag or the guns. I have always preferred to have the entire team together, it is much more sociable, everyone gets home without their 4x4s being covered in mud inside and out and it does make the day easier to manage if all the guns travel together.
“After the second drive we typically pause for a sloegasm (sloe gin and champagne) and after the fourth drive Carlos comes out from the hall with homemade hot or cold soup according to the season, his legendary breaded partridge breasts and a selection of tasty nibbles. And my 83-year-old mother (known affectionately as Genghis) is also hard at work making sure everything runs smoothly.
“I’m often asked about my view of bag size, as in “what’s about right?” The answer must be that any day with a gun under your arm is special, no matter how big or small the bag. I have been lucky enough to shoot into four figures at La Nava in Spain, shot large numbers of doves in Argentina and have had my fair share of 500 bird days in Devon. I’ve also been wildfowling and returned with nothing more than a large amount of very sticky mud. We aim for 300 bird days, which feels like a sensible compromise, and will happily go up to 600 if the team want it on the day. Our average bag for the 2009 season was 450.
“For syndicate days, on Saturdays, we typically have a snack when we get back to the lodge and do the sweep and tips before taking a couple of hours down time before meeting back in the Hall for a formal dinner. I regard being able to call this place home as a great privilege and think the best way to enjoy it fully is to share it with both friends and friends of friends. Some guns of course have other commitments and have to leave after the shoot but most weekends syndicate members stay and make a weekend of it with their families.
“At the end of every shoot each gun is offered a brace of oven-ready birds, frozen, plastic wrapped in a chill bag. “How can we improve it?” is part of the mantra of the entire team here. And new guns get a LHH pin, with Bryn’s Douglas logo on it of course.”
The history of the estate
Little Haugh Hall is an ancient estate in West Suffolk. Records go back to 1212 when Henry I gave the land to Reginald de Demartin. The land was later held by the Abbey of Ixworth for several hundred years before becoming the home of Cox Macro, antiquarian, apothecary and rector to George III around 1730. He built a very modern, red brick three-storey Late Queen Anne style home next to the existing Elizabethan era home and filled it with the most up to date art and architectural detailing. Peter Tillemans, the Dutch painter, lived there between 1730 and 1757 and painted many of his finest work under commission for Mr Macro- some of which hang in the Castle Museum in Norwich. Cox Macro planted his estate wisely and some of his oak trees are now entering maturity after 250 years. Around 1850 Peter Hoddelestone remodelled the hall, removing the top floor and changing the main east facing façade from red brick into the much more contemporary late Georgian white stucco that survives today. He was sensitive enough to keep most of the original features inside the house, such as painted ceilings, and managed to incorporate some of Peter Tilleman’s paintings into his home. And he left the west façade unchanged. Consequently it is a 1730s house inside an 1850s exterior, with a range of styles both inside and out.
The history of the estate
Little Haugh Hall is an ancient estate in West Suffolk. Records go back to 1212 when Henry I gave the land to Reginald de Demartin. The land was later held by the Abbey of Ixworth for several hundred years before becoming the home of Cox Macro, antiquarian, apothecary and rector to George III around 1730. He built a very modern, red brick three-storey Late Queen Anne style home next to the existing Elizabethan era home and filled it with the most up to date art and architectural detailing.
Peter Tillemans, the Dutch painter, lived there between 1730 and 1757 and painted many of his finest work under commission for Mr Macro- some of which hang in the Castle Museum in Norwich. Cox Macro planted his estate wisely and some of his oak trees are now entering maturity after 250 years.
Around 1850 Peter Hoddelestone remodelled the hall, removing the top floor and changing the main east facing façade from red brick into the much more contemporary late Georgian white stucco that survives today. He was sensitive enough to keep most of the original features inside the house, such as painted ceilings, and managed to incorporate some of Peter Tilleman’s paintings into his home. And he left the west façade unchanged. Consequently it is a 1730s house inside an 1850s exterior, with a range of styles both inside and out
The shoot lodge
In 2005 the stables were converted into a the ultimate shooting lodge with a long bar, a separate dining room connected to a proper kitchen and a spare bedroom for those guns who need a nap after a heavy day in the field.
Shooting Gazette cartoonist and Help For Heroes founder Bryn Parry drew a series of wonderful cartoons for the lodge and Bryn’s “Douglas”, a partridge in the style of a spitfire with all Brownings blazing, is the shoot’s logo and adorns everything. SPH even has Douglas engraved on the lock plates of a pair of his guns. But Bryn’s masterpiece is the Battle of Britain scene which measures 20′ x 8′. The advantage of the lodge being 70 yards from the hall is that it is self-contained and can therefore be used on shoot days without affecting the hall. It suffered a severe fire in 2007 but has since been restored to its former glory.
LHH is two hours drive from Central London, 90 minutes from Canary Wharf or 43 minutes from Battersea by helicopter. Email Stephen.PH@gordian.co.uk