Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Microcosm of Old England

Phil Arthers. 1941 - 2006. An appreciation

Phil Arthers was the very model of a solid, quiet, kind, down-to-earth English Gentleman. I have just returned from his funeral at St Wystan's Church, Repton, Derbyshire. It was a deeply moving event attended by over a thousand of the people whose lives he touched. As someone who feels privilaged to have known him and to have counted him a friend, here are a few of my own thoughts on his passing.

Three times a week for 18 successive seasons until December 2005 Phil Arthers led the mounted field of the Meynell & South Staffordshire hounds across some of the finest and most testing hunting country in the world. On 22nd December 2005 in the shadow of The Walk on the Weaver Hills, he took a nasty fall which was expected to end the season for him. In the event it was to be his final dismount. In late spring, with supposed injuries from the fall stubbornly refusing to improve, he was diagnosed with an advanced cancer of the spine. He passed away on 21st July.

I returned to hunting about 10 years ago and late in life, as both therapy and antidote to medical advice following cranial base surgery which was supposed to leave me unable to ride. It was then that I first met Phil and his wife Jenny. Under his guidance I became proficient and Phil gave me the best 5 years hunting of my life. As a Field master he was legendary. In over 200 outings with him in charge of what were often large and potentially unruly fields, I heard him raise his voice perhaps 5 times. Without exception such events were directed at his own people and the result of actions or ommissions by followers which risked compromising the interests of the farmers over whose land we were riding - failure to report damage or close a gate, that sort of thing. It was never a spontaneous outburst. He would always wait until the next draw, gather the field around him then let rip - and when he did you soon learned to listen. His absolute authority came from his otherwise mild manner together with an encylopedaic knowledge of his country and his unsurpassed horsemanship. It was accepted by Prince and Pauper alike - and I mean that quite literally. There were a number of times when he was subjected to foul mouthed abuse by saboteurs; he NEVER responded in kind. A polite smile and turning the other cheek were his way of dealing with such things.

Which brings me to the community of souls that were present at Phil's funeral. They ranged, as in his life, from Prince to Pauper. They were, and are, a microcosm of the life of Old England. All with connections to hunting and predominantly from rural farming families. The terrier men of the Meynell were his pall-bearers; the undertaker, one of his mounted followers.

As I looked around that congregation I could not help but reflect on the chasm that exists between its core values and those of our party of government; a chasm illustrated by the mean-spirited, self-righteous ignorance of the campaign against hunting, culminating in the Pontius Pilate-like behaviour of the Prime Minister over the passing of the Hunting Act; The crass, unfeeling incompetence of government handling of the Foot and Mouth outbreak ; its uncaring botch-up over single farm payments and it's indifference to farming in general . The community present at St Wystan's today has ample reason to feel bitter, disillusioned and angry with what passes for democracy in Britain today but, for the most part it doesn't. It is stoical. It remains a real, if weary, community with deep roots in its native soil. It will continue to defend its culture, heritage, beliefs and way of life against a movement which, having none of those things itself, seeks only to destroy them.

The real tragedy at the heart of a polarised, insecure, touchy-feely, shallow, self-satisfied 'Cool New Britania' is that, if there was anyone at Phil's funeral who had voted Labour in the past, not a single one appears likely to do so again.


  1. You might enjoy Roger Scruton's book, 'England: an elegy', if you haven't already read it.

  2. Thanks Prodicus. I have read it. I've got a lot of time for RS and make a point of keeping tabs on his writing.

  3. Chuck Unsworth6:46 pm

    A fine, elegant picture of the man. I never met him, but he and his contemporaries are, sadly, dwindling in number.

    This highlights the dreadful erosion of what used to be called 'standards'. Courtesy, integrity and courage are now rare - and to be cherished all the more for that.

  4. Chuck

    I took that picture at Tissington on 19th November last year. Phil had those qualities in abundance. He will be sorely missed and it is certainly the end of an era for the Meynell.

  5. Anonymous12:01 am

    I'm an "anti" but appreciated your eloquent and moving words about this man and his world. RIP.

  6. Sorry for your loss, also glad to see you tipped your hat to the undertaker, only when you lose somebody do you realise what a fine job the men and women in that business actually do.
    What a bold looking horse!