Dereham offers to host Boxing Day hunt
A Boxing Day hunt could potentially come to Dereham this year after councillors agreed to invite the West Norfolk Foxhounds to hold their annual meeting in the Market Place.
The possibility emerged after the town council received a request from the club, exploring whether there was an opportunity to bring the traditional spectacle of horses and hounds to the town.
Hunt master Charles Carter stressed that the group had several options and invitations and that no decision had yet been made on where the hunt would be held this December.
But the suggestion that Dereham could be among the possible venues prompted a debate about the potential impacts and benefits which one of the oldest hunts in the country could bring.
Mayor Kate Millbank said it was a historic spectacle which would encourage visitors and businesses to the town. But deputy mayor Tim Birt – the only councillor to vote against the idea – said he thought townspeople would be put off by the countryside sport’s past practices of hunting foxes with dogs – banned by the government in 2005.
Mrs Millbank said: “I personally think it will be a good thing. A lot of people turn out to watch it and follow the hunt. It will be great for Dereham and bring much-needed revenue into the town centre. If the shops know they are going to be here they will open their doors on Boxing Day.
“They hold hunts in the other market towns and I have never seen huge amounts of protesters. When the Labour government changed the laws and regulations about it there were protests, but these days people realise it is not a blood sport – it is one of the oldest English sports.”
Mr Birt said: “It is a celebration of a blood sport and a historic event which, legally, we have moved on from. They will say they comply with the law but there are a lot of people in Dereham who would not like that association with their town.”
Another councillor, Phillip Duigan, said: “I think we should give it a try to see whether it is popular or not. We don’t just want to go for majority sports, but minority sports as well.”
In recent years, the West Norfolk Foxhounds’ Boxing Day hunt has started from Fakenham Market Place and Fakenham Racecourse and last year the event returned to Raynham Hall in East Raynham.
Mr Carter told the Times: “It was put to Dereham Town Council as an opportunity for the hunt, but we get several invitations. It is not a fait accompli that the West Norfolk Foxhounds will be in Dereham. There are other irons in the fire and we cannot commit to where we will be until those options have been discussed.”
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