THE haunting notes of a hunting horn echoed around the village church of St Edmund at Stoulton, near Pershore, yesterday as a packed congregation said goodbye to John Day, huntsman of the Croome and West Warwickshire Foxhounds for 20 years.

Mr Day, who carried the horn with the hunt from 1972 to 1992, died in Worcestershire Royal Hospital after a short illness. He was 71.

Pat Allen, joint master, said: “John Day was quite simply a legend. There are generations of followers who remember great days following John and his hounds. He was a wonderful tutor to his young whippers-in, several of whom went on to become huntsmen in their own right. Always polite whatever the pressures, he was a real example to all. John, his wife Ruby and their two children made a formidable team and he will be sorely missed.”

Although born at Basingstoke, Hampshire, Mr Day’s parents moved to Wick when he was six weeks old and he was brought up in the village near Pershore. He began riding as a young boy, after a local horse dealer allowed him to ride in exchange for helping out in his yard. John started by following the Croome Hounds on foot but it wasn’t long before he acquired his own pony. After that there was no stopping him and he would ride all day and into the night.

He once recalled setting off through Pershore at 3am to reach the Swan Inn, Newland, near Malvern, for 6.30am.

In 1954 he went straight from school into hunt service, starting as a kennel boy at the Cotswold and in the summer whipped-in to the Hawkstone Otterhounds. He moved to the Croome as second whip and then did a season with the Albrighton before National Service. From 1960 until 1964 he returned to the Croome kennels, before seven seasons whipping-in at the Bicester and then the Garth and South Berks. Finally, in 1972, he received a call from the joint masters of the Croome inviting him to take the huntsman’s position at the kennels at Kinnersley, near Upton-upon-Severn.

So began 20 seasons hunting the famous pack, which was formed by the Earl of Coventry at his ancestral home Croome Court, near Pershore, in 1873. However, only a year after taking charge of the Croome hounds, the hunt amalgamated with the neighbouring West Warwickshire Farmers and suddenly John Day’s country almost doubled in size.

After retiring, he continued to follow foxhound packs in his car and was a familiar figure waiting on verges or leaning on gates, usually knowing exactly where the line of scent was long before most others got there.

Mr Day, who lived at Stoulton, leaves a widow Ruby, daughter Valerie and son Alan. Former Ledbury huntsman John Holliday, who has recently moved to the Belvoir in Leicestershire, blew the hunting horn at his funeral for the traditional hunting farewell.