THE LONGEST serving huntsman with England's most ancient hunt was borne to his funeral last week in a cortege led by his riderless horse and some of his favourite hounds.
Alex Sneddon, 68, had spent more than 40 years leading the Holcombe Harriers hunt across huge swathes of Lancashire moorland.
In accordance with his last wishes, he took his final bow in a traditional manner unique to the hunt and last witnessed on this scale back in 1947.
Mr Sneddon's final mount, Sam, a 12-year-old chestnut, was at the head of the funeral procession, its master's whip laid across the empty saddle. Six senior members of the hunt carried his coffin and four of the huntsman's beloved hounds were part of the precession. A lone piper played a lament as the mourners completed the 500-yard walk to Holcombe church, near Bury, Greater Manchester.
Organised hunting has gone on in the forests of Tottington, Holcombe and "Quarlton" from the time of William the Conqueror.
Since then three English kings have ridden with the Holcombe: Edward I in 1304, James I in 1617 and George V in 1913. It was James I who granted the hunt its royal warrant and gave its huntsmen leave to wear scarlet coats.
The ceremony in honour of Mr Sneddon mirrored one of almost 58 years ago, when one of his predecessors, Sam Jackson, was buried after 26 years' service.
Mr Jackson was the son of "Jolly John" Jackson, who died on the hunting field in 1899 at the age of 80. Three generations of Jacksons hunted on foot with the Holcombe, astounding onlookers by jumping the fences like horses and landing on their hands and knees.
Mr Sneddon, originally from Fife, was 19 when he joined the Holcombe. He quickly became regarded locally as "a consummate huntsman" and "Scotland's greatest export". He leaves a widow, Christine, and four daughters.
Arnold Greenhalgh, the hunt's current master paid tribute to Mr Sneddon, saying that he was totally committed to his own hunt and to hunting in general.
"He spent his whole life looking after the hounds and ensuring that the subscribers had good days hunting. His hounds loved him and trusted him," said Mr Greenhalgh.
The Government's ban on hunting means that in future the Holcombe will be restricted to trail hunting with its 44 hounds, but Mr Greenhalgh indicated that this was not the end of matters as far the Holcombe was concerned.
"We will carry on within the law," he said, "and we will forever remember Alex Sneddon. He was a tremendous character. Today was a recognition of what he had given to the hunt.''