Who isn't familiar with the nursery rhyme about Little Jack Horner? What you may not know is that the rhyme, a version of which was first published in 1725, is believed to be about Thomas Horner, who was steward to Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, before the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. It is asserted that, prior to the abbey's destruction, the abbot sent Horner to London with a huge Christmas pie which had the deeds to a dozen manors hidden within it as a gift to try to convince the King not to nationalize Church lands. During the journey, Horner opened the pie and extracted the deeds of the Mells Manor in Somerset, which he kept for himself. It is further suggested that, since the manor properties included lead mines, the plum is a pun on the Latin plumbum, for lead. While records do indicate that Thomas Horner became the owner of the manor, both his descendants and subsequent owners of Mells Manor have asserted that the legend is untrue and that the deed was purchased from the abbey. The founder of The Mells Foxhounds, Col. John Horner, was a descendant of Thomas Horner, and named the hunt after his ancestral home.
Remembering Its Origins, Mells Foxhounds Celebrates 50 Years
By Stephen K. Heard • Dr. William Kenner Photos
In 1964, Colonel John L. Horner, Jr., having purchased a farm in Giles County, Tennessee, which he named Mells after his ancestral estate of Mells Manor in Somerset, England, acquired hounds, erected kennels, obtained permission to hunt adjacent lands, and founded the Mells Foxhounds. He enlisted his 9-year-old daughter, Lou Horner (now Mahr), and thereafter her best friend Karen Kressenberg to serve as his whips. In 1966, Mells Foxhounds became registered and in 1971 was recognized by the Masters of Foxhounds Association. Colonel Horner passed away in 1989 but his legacy endures. Mells has hunted continuously every season since its founding.
Colonel Horner was a highly decorated World War II veteran, having participated in the landing at Normandy (Utah Beach) and thereafter served in General George Patton's Third Army. Before the invasion, Colonel Horner was dispatched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to England to help prepare for the United States' entry into the European conflict. In this role, he worked directly with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. While in England, he sought out and met with his cousins at his forebears' estate of Mells Manor in Somerset, England. It made a lasting impression.
One of the great joys of Colonel Horner's life prior to World War II was foxhunting in Northern Virginia where he hunted extensively with a number of hunts but particularly Old Dominion. After the War, in 1949, Colonel Horner met his third and last wife, Ann Eidson Horner, who also had a history of foxhunting, particularly with the Rappahannock Hunt, where, at the age of four, she reportedly hunted with General Patton.
After his retirement from the Army, Colonel Horner accepted a position with the Chrysler Corporation. When Chrysler secured a contract to build jet engines near Huntsville, Alabama ("Rocket City"), Colonel Horner, his wife Ann, and their daughter Lou made the move to those environs.
While in Huntsville, he developed a friendship with Harry Rhett, also a foxhunting enthusiast. Colonel Horner is said to have collaborated with his friend on the development of Harry Rhett's celebrated Mooreland Foxhounds.
Colonel Horner saw chasing foxes with hounds as an activity the entire family could enjoy. So the three Horners moved to Giles County, Tennessee, where, in 1964, Mells Foxhounds was born.
Lou has fond memories of hunting with her father. However, she advised that she never really figured out whipping-in. Fortunately, Lou's best friend, Karen Kressenberg, did. Most of all, Lou remembers her father's love for tradition, hard work, competence, and commitment, and his kindness to both people and animals.
On Saturday, October 18, 2014, under luminous blue skies and in the midst of tri-colored Penn-Marydel hounds, the Mells Foxhounds celebrated its 50th Anniversary at Opening Hunt. Lou Horner Mahr traveled from her home in Maryland to participate in the celebration. She brought along her father's hunting horn, which at the "Blessings of the Hounds" she ceremoniously presented to Karen Kressenberg, her childhood friend and now Mells Joint MFH and Huntsman. Flanking Karen before the assembled crowd were her Joint Masters, Stasia Bachrach and Bill Haggard (who also serves as Huntsman). With moistened eyes glistening, Karen gratefully accepted the horn, thus completing the circle from the inception of Mells by Colonel Horner to the present.
Also making the trip to the Mells Opening Meet was Ms. Lindsey Burns, who carried the horn from 1991 to 1993, and now lives in Florida. Lindsey read The Traditional Prayer for Foxhunters to the attentive throng. Thereafter, Lou Horner Mahr read the Lord's Prayer in unison with the attendees.
With the Opening Ceremonies completed, Karen, followed by three flights of foxhunters, dispatched her whips and put the pack into the first covert. Ninety seconds later hounds erupted in full cry, hot on the line of a nimble coyote. The quarry and its pursuers led the Mells foxhunters throughout the country in a spirited chase. Two and half hours later, horses and riders spent, Karen and her staff returned the hounds to the kennel. The field then headed back to the Meet for a sumptuous mid-day repast.
I first heard the old quip that "a foxhunt is a drinking club with a horse problem" from Nina Bonnie. Whether universally true or not, I cannot say. But the activity does tend to work up a powerful thirst. As the hunters and supporters entered the Great Hall at the Circle K Ranch where the luncheon was served, we mercifully encountered a host of beverages from champagne to sweet tea and everything in between. In keeping with Southern traditions, a groaning board of hearty fare inclusive of barbecued brisket, corn cakes, coleslaw, and baked beans sated the appetites of the ravenous foxhunters and guests. Carrot cake and mincemeat pastries rounded out the meal to the contentment of all.
Colonel Horner carried the horn from 1964 until 1970 and was succeeded by other renowned huntsmen: Dick Dole, MFH; Gerald Stuckey, MFH; Carter Witt, MFH; Linda Pinnix (hon.); Lindsey Bums (pro.); Dennis Foster, MFH; Troy Taylor (pro.); Chris Knoedler (pro.); Joy McCormick (now Smith), MFH; Karen Kressenberg, MFH; and Bill Haggard, MFH. The list of other notable Mells MFHs over the years includes Ann Eidson Horner, Tessa Dole, David Kendall, Billy Tankard, Al and Patricia Ganier, Glen Dukes, Martha Chardavoyne, Vannah Husband, Dale and Elese Alsup, Marilyn Beatty, and Stasia Bachrach.
The three current Masters-Kressenberg, Bachrach, and Haggard-have stated that they intend to build on the considerable efforts of those who have gone before them and have already committed resources resulting in the construction of a new state-of-the-art kennel. These Masters have additionally established relationships with adjoining landowners adding greatly to the Mells existing country. Bill Haggard, voicing the sentiments of his Joint Masters, stated, "We believe that Mells is something very special and we're intent on making it more so."
Following a day of joy, reflection, and excitement, in which, happily, nothing went amiss, the consensus was that this Opening Meet of Mells was an auspicious beginning for the next fifty years.
The writer would like to thank Lou Horner Mahr, Karen Kressenberg, MFH; Leslie Rhett
Crosby, MFH; David Kendall, ex-MFH; Dennis Foster, ex-MFH and Executive Director of The Masters of Foxhounds Association; and the MFHA for providing information used in this article.
Author of the tribute and Mells member and hon. whipper in, Stephen Heard
Mells Manor was built in the 16th century for Edward Horner. Mells Manor was purportedly procured by Jack Horner upon discovering the deed in a pie he was carrying from the Abbot of Glastonbury to the King. (Wikipedia)