The Crabbet Arabian Stud
Crabbet Park, Sussex
2 July 1878
The Crabbet Arabian Stud was established on 2 July 1878 when the first Arabian horses brought to England by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt arrived at Crabbet Park, their estate in Sussex. Six months earlier, while staying in Aleppo, Wilfrid and Lady Anne had made a plan to import some of the best Arabian horses to England and breed them there. In Lady Anne's words, "it would be an interesting and useful thing to do and I should like much to try it."
Travels in Arabia
The Blunts' Arabian journeys are described in Lady Anne's books, ‘The Bedouin Tribes of the Euphrates’ and ‘A Pilgrimage to Nejd’, based on Lady Anne's journals, though heavily edited by Wilfrid. In the winter of 1877/1878 they left Aleppo for what is now Iraq and reached the camps of Faris, a prince of the Anazeh tribe; Ferhan and other Bedouin leaders. Wilfrid became the blood brother of Faris. On a subsequent trip in 1881 he and Lady Anne reached the heart of the Najd in what is now Saudi Arabia.
Among the horses the Blunts acquired on these journeys were the bay filly Dajania, purchased on Christmas Day in 1877; a dark bay mare eventually named Queen of Sheba, purchased from the Sheykh of Gomussa and his cousin in the summer of 1878; and a chestnut mare named Rodania. All three have left many descendants. Through their connections among the tribes, the Blunts also heard of a celebrated grey stallion. They sent a trusted friend, Zeyd Saad el Muteyri, to buy him; the horse was named Azrek, and became an influential sire.
Just four years after the stud was established, the Blunts held the first of fifteen sales of their purebred Crabbet Arabian horses. These sales were generally held every two years and became significant events in their own right. The horses were auctioned by Mr Edmund Tattersall and Mr Weatherby was also present on several occasions. The sales were attended by dignitaries from all over the world, including Kings and Queens and horses were sold to individuals and governments around the globe as buyers were keen to improve the quality of their local breeding stock. Several buyers purchased horses to establish their own purebred Arabian studs at home and overseas and these became the forerunners of the Crabbet horses still around today whose bloodlines can all be traced back to those first imported horses and their progeny bred at the world famous Crabbet Stud.
Sale at Crabbet Park
As important to Crabbet as the desert Arabians were, the collection of Egyptian leader Abbas Pasha proved an equally valuable source. This Governor of Egypt acquired horses from Arabia and Syria; his stock formed the foundation for the stud of Ali Pasha Sherif. The Blunts made their initial visit to Ali Pasha Sherif in 1880 and purchased the stallion Mesaoud, in 1889. Lady Anne wrote of the stallion: "He is four white legged and high up to the knee but surprisingly handsome."
As he aged, Ali Pasha Sherif's health failed and he encountered financial and political problems, leading to the ruin of his stud. In 1896 and 1897 Lady Anne inspected what she called the "sad remnants" before they were sold at auction, and was able to procure several of the best horses that remained. Some of these horses remained in Egypt, at a stud farm owned by the Blunts called Sheykh Obeyd. Thus, according to breed expert Rosemary Archer, some of today's horses of Crabbet breeding carry a higher proportion of Abbas Pasha blood than many present-day Egyptian Arabians.
Painting of Sheykh Obeyd Stud by Lady Anne blunt
Difficulties under the Blunts
Thanks to these purchases, Crabbet eventually became a principal center of Arabian horse breeding in England. However, there were many problems along the way. The Blunts spent much of their time travelling in Arabia and did not know what was going on in their absence. The pastures were ill-tended, the stables and paddocks not cleaned, stallions were shut up without exercise for weeks at a time. The Sheykh Obeyd stud fared little better while the Blunts were in England. Horses in Egypt were cared for by inattentive grooms and alcoholic managers, left tethered in the hot sun without shade or water, and many died. Further, Wilfrid Blunt had no experience of horse breeding and believed that Arabians should live in "desert conditions" - that is, with little food or shelter provided. Lady Anne disagreed, but she was not able to demonstrate the superiority of her methods of horse management until the Blunts separated in 1906.
In that year, Wilfrid's mistress, Dorothy Carleton, moved in with Wilfrid, and the Blunts agreed to a formal separation. The Stud was divided. Lady Anne signed a Deed of Partition drawn up by Wilfrid. Under its terms, Lady Anne kept Crabbet Park and half the horses, while Blunt took Caxtons Farm, also known as Newbuildings, and the rest of the stock. Soon thereafter, Lady Anne retired to Sheykh Obeyd in Cairo, where she lived for most of the remainder of her life. Wilfrid frequently had to sell off horses to pay off debts.
Lady Anne died in 1917, passing on her titles to the Blunt's only child, their daughter, Judith, who became known as "Lady Wentworth." Lady Wentworth wrote of Wilfred, "His tyranny and spirit of discord eventually alienated him from his family, from most of his friends, and from several countries...He had a theatrical tendency to thunder and lightning stage effects which verged on melodrama...and his temper was not improved by hashish and morphia..."
The Crabbet estate went to Lady Anne's granddaughters, as did what horses she still owned in England. Lady Wentworth had already purchased back some animals that Wilfred had sold to third parties and thus had a small herd of her own. Wilfrid then attempted to seize the horses and land, making a night time raid on Crabbet and initially taking all of the horses, including those already legally owned by Lady Wentworth. The mare Bukra, too near foaling to travel, was shot on Wilfred's orders. Bitter and anxious to pay off his creditors, Wilfrid sold 37 horses, exporting several to W.R. Brown's Maynesboro stud in the United States. Between thefts and sales of horses at Newbuildings, many horses of the original Blunt breeding program were lost to Crabbet. In turn, Lady Wentworth and her children forcibly took her favourite mare, Riyala, from Wilfrid's stable, and purchased back many horses from their new owners.
A protracted lawsuit ensued between Wilfred and both his granddaughter's trustee and his daughter. Eventually the courts ruled against Wilfred. At one point, after Wilfred had shot seven more horses, the Trustee for the granddaughters obtained an injunction to prevent the sale or destruction of any more animals. In 1921, the court declared that Wilfrid's seizure of horses was illegal, and that even the Deed of Partition was invalid, having been signed by Lady Anne "under duress". Lady Wentworth was able to buy out her granddaughter's share in the estate from the Trustee, who was anxious to liquidate the assets. Upon Wilfrid's death in 1922, Lady Wentworth also bought Caxtons Farm from his executors and finally reunited the entire Stud.
Sketch of Wilfrid and Lady Anne Blunt by Peter Upton
Extracted from Wikapedia (with edits added), under the Creative Commons Licence, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/