Tradition and opposition - Boxing Day hunts in Suffolk through the years

The horses and hounds arrive at Thurlow's Boxing Day Hunt in 2006

The horses and hounds arrive at Thurlow's Boxing Day Hunt in 2006 - Credit: Tudor Morgan-Owen/Archant

For around 200 years hunts have taken place on Boxing Day in Suffolk and north Essex. For some it's a post Christmas tradition, for others it's a barbaric practice.  

This year, many Boxing Day hunts have been postponed or cancelled due to Covid-19 and December 26 falling on a Sunday.

The scene in the grounds of Holbecks Hall in Hadleigh as members of the Essex and Suffolk Hunt held

The scene in the grounds of Holbecks Hall in Hadleigh as members of the Essex and Suffolk Hunt held their Boxing Day meet in front of a large crowd of supporters in 2003. - Credit: JERRY TURNER

But in years gone by the hunts have drawn large crowds keen to celebrate the county's heritage, while protestors seeking to ban the practice have also turned out.

The earliest known instance of dogs being used to hunt foxes comes from across the border in Norfolk when, back in 1534, farmers supposedly used their dogs to chase foxes as a form of pest control.

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Hounds from the Suffolk Hunt on their Boxing Day outing near Hawstead in 2003. - Credit: ANDY ABBOTT/ARCHANT

In Suffolk, organised hunts are believed to have occurred since at least 1791.


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The Suffolk Hunt on their Boxing Day outing near Hawstead in 2003. - Credit: ANDY ABBOTT/ARCHANT

But in the 20th century the practice was becoming more controversial.

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The Boxing Day hunt in Bury St Edmunds back in 1985. - Credit: ARCHANT

By the 1990s, anti-hunting activists were protesting against Boxing Day hunts in Suffolk.

Both sides of the argument .. supporters and protesters exchange views at the Essex and Suffolk Foxh

Supporters and protesters exchange views at the Essex and Suffolk Foxhounds Boxing Day Hunt at Hadleigh Market Place in 2002. - Credit: KEITH MINDHAM

In 2002 Scotland banned foxhunting. And in 2005, after several legal challenges, it became illegal for dogs to kill wild animals while on the hunt.

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Protestors at the Hadleigh Boxing Day hunt in 2004. Pic Lucy Taylor Words RS EADT - Credit: LUCY TAYLOR/ARCHANT

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Since then, hunts have had to follow an artificially laid trail of fox scent.

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The Hadleigh Boxing Day hunt in 2008. - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

However there have been multiple attempts revive the practice, and in 2015 then prime minister David Cameron said he would give MPs a free vote on the issue in the House of Commons. 

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Pro-fox hunting activists at the Hadleigh Boxing Day hunt in 2006. - Credit: LUCY TAYLOR/ARCHANT

But more recently National Trust members voted to ban all trail hunting on the trust's land.

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