One of the longest serving Masters in the 500-year history of the West Norfolk Foxhounds, Roger Lyles, has died aged 88.

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An innovative farmer, breeder of horses, pigs and also hounds, he was a joint Master for a total of 37 years and was then elected president in recognition of his great contribution to hunting.

He became one of three Masters on November 21, 1968 at the Litcham Bull and served for 31 years before he stood down for a couple of years before returning for another six years until finally retiring in 2005.

In the official history of Norfolk hunting, the longest-serving Master was the country’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, of Houghton Hall, who held the post for 43 years until 1745. Born in Mirfield, west Yorkshire, he went to Radley College at Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Having joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, the 18-year-old sub-lieutenant sailed on the Russian convoys before being selected for training, initially at Scapa Flow, for what became the D-Day Landings in June 1944.

As the US Navy was short of officers, he was attached to 552 Landing Craft Assault (LCA) flotilla. When it finally sailed after a day’s delay on the late afternoon of June 5, he recalled watching his uncle mowing his lawn in Paignton, in the middle of Torbay, through binoculars.

By good fortune, the tide took the forces destined for Utah Beach further down the coast.

While thousands died on nearby Omaha and Sword beaches, only 197 of the 23,000 who took part in the Utah landing were killed.

He commanded more than 30 crossings in landing craft in the following days.

Later, he was sent out to the Far East. Demobbed in 1946, and reluctant to join the family’s textile business, he became a student on Brian Case’s North Norfolk farm at Binham, where he met his future wife, Stephanie. They married in 1948.

IHe started farming as a tenant on the Raynham estate, later buying Painswhin Farm, Helhoughton. As his business expanded and also into vegetables, he invested in irrigation and machinery. He was one of the first to have a mobile sprout harvester and even into the 1980s the farm employed as many as 80 staff in vegetable production.

A member of the Norfolk Agricultural Station’s advisory committee for many years, Mr Lyles had imported an early consignment of Danish Landrace pigs. As a result, in September 1966, he won an export order to China for three pedigree seven-month-old gilts from his Muckleton Farm in the Burnhams. A former chairman of Fakenham and District branch of the National Farmers’ Union, he also served on county committees.

many years, Mr Lyles rode under rules and was successful in point-to-points on Master Fifty, which he later exchanged with Walter Wales for a mare, Highland Trout, which, together with her offspring, produced more than 100 winners.

In the 1960s, he also competed as an individual rider in the European three-day event at Burleigh, narrowly missing out on medal success.

He was clerk of the course at the Hethersett point-to-point and was a great supporter of the West Norfolk Pony Club, building event courses and encouraging youngsters.

He was a director and later chairman of the Fakenham Racecourse, a post now held by his eldest son, David.

He leaves a widow, Stephanie, two sons, David and Michael, daughter Susie, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren. His middle son, Peter, died aged 35.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary’s Church, East Raynham, on Friday, September 7 at 2.30pm.

Michael Pollitt

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