I want to tell you about a little-known yet colorful article of foxhunting attire from the past that deserves to be resurrected. When I first saw it under the huntsman's scarlet coat I asked myself, “What in the world is that man wearing about his neck?”
Here was an experienced foxhunter who had been a professional huntsman and whipper-in for world-class packs in England, Ireland, and America, yet he appeared to be oblivious to “proper” foxhunting attire. I’m referring to Hugh Robards, huntsman of the Middleburg Hunt. Robards is also an author, a student of the noble art, and possesses an extensive library. I thought he should have known better, but I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I didn’t ask.
It turns out that I was the ignorant one, but, I suspect, I’m not alone in this particular matter. Robards, I was to learn, was wearing a striking article of traditional foxhunting attire—a blue birdseye stock tie—under his scarlet coat. During his twenty-seven-year stint as huntsman for Lord Daresbury at the County Limerick (IRE), both he and Daresbury wore their blue birdseye stock ties through the autumn hunting season.
How many foxhunters of today have ever heard of such a thing, I wonder? The better question, though, is wouldn’t it be great fun to bring back this handsome stock tie into our own hunting fields?
With my new-found knowledge, and looking more closely at old hunting prints by eighteenth-century artists, I now see field members depicted in these scenes sporting blue stock ties under their scarlet coats. According to the well-read Robards, the Earl of Wilton hunting with the Quorn is shown wearing a blue birdseye hunting stock in Nimrod's Hunting Reminiscences; Mr. Thomas Assheton Smith, when Master of the Tedworth, wore one; John Peel has been drawn wearing one; and ''Nimrod'' Charles James Appleby also had a liking for this type of neck wear.
While the blue birdseye stock tie may not be “correct” during the formal season for professional hunt staff, Robards maintains that during autumn hunting it is better for staff than a collar and necktie because the stock tie is so much more useful in emergencies. And while field members of yore wore them with their scarlet coats, one has to wonder how they might clash with the various colors of hunt collars we wear nowadays. But surely, with an appropriate tweed coat during the cubhunting season they should be handsome accouterment for both men and women. So where can we find one?
I contacted two friends: Judy Allen, who makes stock ties for tack shops in Virginia, and Karen Ewbank, custom hunting clothier. They loved the idea of bringing back the blue birdseye stock tie, so we scoured the web for an appropriate fabric, passed our selection by Robards for approval, and made some up. We plan to have this stylish item on display and for sale in the Foxhunting Life stand at the Virginia Foxhound Show, and will have both four-fold and shaped blue birdseye stocks for your inspection. We hope you’ll stop by, have a look, and tell us what you think.
In Willy Poole’s Hunting: An Introductory Handbook, that most knowledgeable and outspoken English writer states, “A white tie is normal [during the formal season], although you will see some aged toffs who still wear a blue birdseye stock tie. These went out of general wear before World War I, but they are still correct if you have the style to carry them off.”
Whether I have the style or not will be for others to judge, but come autumn hunting, I shall appear in a blue birdseye stock tie. When the formal season arrives....well...we shall see!
Posted May 11, 2015