David S D Jones chronicles the amazing feats of a Yorkshire landowner rated as the quickest and best driven grouse Shot of the Edwardian era
Something of an obscure figure in the annals of game shooting history, Reginald Henry Rimington-Wilson, commonly known as R H Rimington-Wilson, was regarded by his peers as the best grouse Shot on Earth prior to the outbreak of World War I. He was also considered to be the joint-second-top Shot in Britain during the Edwardian era, alongside the 6th Lord Walsingham.
Owner of Broomhead Moor near Sheffield, one of the most prolific grouse moors in England in the late 19th and early 20th century, he was acknowledged to be one of the leading experts of his day on moorland management, grouse breeding and grouse driving. He sat on the committee of inquiry on grouse disease set up by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1905 to investigate the causes of health disorders in red grouse.
Eldest son of the well-known gentleman chess player James Rimington-Wilson, a Yorkshire squire who was descended from a prominent Sheffield banking dynasty, Reginald Henry Rimington-Wilson was born in Madeira on 3 November 1852. Following an education at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, he spent a number of years as a junior officer in the Inniskilling Dragoons, then retired from the Army to devote the remainder of his life to game shooting and billiards. He was considered to be one of Britain’s best amateur billiards players.
A bachelor of independent means, he was lord of the manors of Bolsterstone and Hemsworth, patron of the living of Bolsterstone, a member of the Billiards Association and Control Council, and a magistrate for the West Riding of Yorkshire from 1880 until 1927.
Taught to shoot at an early age by the family headkeeper, Charles Ward, whom he had known since he was five, Reginald soon proved to be a superlative Shot with both gun and revolver, and developed a taste for shotguns produced by Boss & Co.
In his younger days, he participated in a number of big-game hunting expeditions, including a journey to the Far East in pursuit of the Manchurian tiger, accompanied by Sir Reginald Beauchamp in 1880. He ended up on the Japanese island of Yezo and suffered from frostbite on a deer hunt in the winter snows, which necessitated the amputation of toes on both feet. He also competed in live pigeon shooting contests in London for high stakes in the 1870s and 1880s.
Shortly after his 25th birthday, Reginald inherited the Broomhead Hall estate at Bolsterstone, with its 4,000-acre grouse moor, and Newstead Hall, near Wakefield, following the death of his father.
Using the income derived from leasing the coal-mining rights at Newstead to various colliery operators, he began to lavish vast sums of money on Broomhead Moor, clearing it of sheep, implementing an intensive vermin control programme and gradually eliminating grouse disease through strategic moorland management and stock control. He reintroduced mountain hares to the moor in the 1870s.
Over the next two decades, Reginald turned Broomhead into one of England’s top driven grouse moors, consolidating the success of his father. In 1870, his father had introduced the practice of driving, then something of a novelty, the result being that, on 6 September 1872, 13 Guns brought down 1,313 brace of grouse.
Unusually for the period, Reginald often held only one three-day shooting party a year, with two grouse days and a rabbit day in between, when between 500 and 2,000 rabbits might be taken. No more than six long drives were held on any grouse day.
Through judicious management by Mr Ward and his underkeepers, Reginald managed to break the 1872 Broomhead bag record on 30 August 1893, when a team of nine Guns accounted for 1,324½ brace of grouse, together with three hares. Shooting began at 10.30am and 954 brace were taken before lunch. A total of 80 beaters and signallers were hired for the occasion. The following day, 658 rabbits fell to the same Guns before 2pm, when torrential rain stopped play. On the third and final day, a mere 801 brace of grouse were taken.
Grouse shooting at Broomhead enjoyed a golden age during the Edwardian period when Reginald and his guest Guns brought down 10 daily bags of more than 1,000 brace of grouse between 1904 and 1914.
In 1904, he and eight other Guns created another record, shooting 1,371½ brace of grouse on 24 August and 405½ two days later. This bag was eclipsed on 13 August 1913 when, together with eight other Guns, he accounted for a total of 1,421½ brace of grouse, a record for the moor.
First and foremost a grouse Shot, he was undoubtedly the quickest and best driven grouse Shot of his time, and equally good with low-flying partridges. However, compared with his contemporaries, Reginald was “no better, or perhaps not even so good” when it came to bringing down really high pheasants. Possibly conscious of his failings, he said: “Really high pheasants — in a wind and with a curl — defeat the Gun more frequently than any other sort of game shooting: but shooting, of course, is in a great measure a matter of apprenticeship.”
Reginald, unlike many of his fellow sportsmen, who constantly progressed from shoot to shoot each season throughout the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, shot mainly on his own property, occasionally visiting Rhiwlas in north Wales to kill rabbits, Wemmergill or various Scottish moors in pursuit of grouse, or large low-ground estates such as Welbeck to bring down partridges or high pheasants. He was one of six Guns who accounted for a record bag of 1,205 partridges on Welbeck’s Berry Hill beat on 1 November 1911.
Following the outbreak of World War I, Reginald gave up grouse shooting and worked as a ‘problem solver’ for the War Office. In 1916, he let the moor to a syndicate of Sheffield businessmen headed by steel manufacturer Sydney J Robinson and leading city surveyor Wynyard Dixon, who shot a respectable 815 brace of grouse on the first day of the season.
Reginald continued to let Broomhead to the Sheffield syndicate after the war, but occasionally attended grouse shoots as a guest Gun. The moor continued to perform well throughout the early 1920s, with daily bags of in excess of 700 brace taken at the start of each season.
In August 1925, Reginald went out on his beloved moor in pursuit of grouse for the final time. Shortly afterwards, he gave up shooting due to ill health. He died at Broomhead Hall on 31 March 1927. He is revered in grouse shooting circles to this day.