Origins of the league
THE BIRTH OF A NOTION
by Thelma Gray, Welsh Corgi League handbook, 1959
When I look back – far back too – into 1938, it is hard to remember exactly when I became aware of the growing necessity for a second breed club. For one thing, Mrs Douglas Redding (then Mrs Fletcher) was so closely connected with these efforts that she seemed a part of the League’s ‘whelping complications’ right from the start and we thought it all up together.
We were both enthusiastic members of the Welsh Corgi Club which was based in Wales. The long drives into the wilds of Pembrokeshire from our homes in Surrey were always enjoyable and memorable expeditions, but there were times when it was impossible to spend days away from home, and when we began to feel a little bit out of touch.
More and more shows outside Wales began to put on classes for Corgis, providing these were fully guaranteed. For a long time, Mrs Redding and I had guaranteed many of the classifications ourselves, sometimes assisted by some of the gradually increasing number of enthusiasts this side of the Welsh border, but we often felt that a club should really be shouldering some of this burden.
Thelma Gray (centre) played the biggest part in getting the Pembroke established in England and beyond, especially during the 1930s and ‘40s. Her Ch Crymmych President is tail male ancestor of all Pembrokes today, and his son Ch Rozavel Red Dragon was the outstanding show and stud dog of the years before the second world war. Later Ch Rozavel Rainbow was the first Pembroke to win best in show at an all-breeds championship show in the UK.
Mrs Gray did an enormous amount to promote the breed, not least through her links with the royal family, and her book on the breed is a classic. She was also a distinguished breeder of German Shepherd Dogs, Beagles and Chihuahuas, introduced the Rottweiler to the UK and revived from near extinction the blue merle colouring in the Cardigan Corgi. She won reserve best in show at Crufts with a Chihuahua and later judged BIS there. She is pictured after judging the League championship show in 1951 with her BIS winner, Miss Milliken-Smith’s Ch Solitaire from Shiel. On the left is Phyllis Robson, then editor of Dog World newspaper.
The Welsh Corgi Club supported most of the championship shows, but the bulk of its membership lived in South Wales and obviously could not drain its resources, paying out for shows that would probably be attended by only a small handful of its members.
Mrs Redding and I decided that a club was really needed which would meet in the London area and promote classes at shows in various parts of England. We called upon Mr Knapp, at that time professional secretary for other dog societies, and he have us helpful advice and offered to act as secretary if required.
Our first thoughts were for the Welsh Corgi Club. Could we go ahead with this project without damaging our cordial relations with that excellent body? We were most anxious to start a club that could work smoothly with it and be in no sense a rival concern. Accordingly, we wrote and explained what was in our minds. The suggestion was received with sympathy and understanding, so we went ahead with our arrangements.
A meeting was called at Mrs Redding’s home at Oxshott, Surrey, on June 21, 1938. The following were present: Mrs Redding, Mrs and Miss Higgon (the latter now Mrs Hill), Mrs Gray, Miss Early (now Mrs Lee), Mrs Mathias, Miss Harle, Miss Peat, Mrs and Miss Biddlecombe, Mr and Mrs Perrins, Mr Lister-Kaye, Mrs Moorman, Mrs Croysdale, Miss Thomas, Mrs Gale, Mrs Bailward, Miss Cleland, Mr Baverstock, Miss Curties, Miss Perks, Miss Gilbey and Mr Alan Fletcher.
Perhaps the nicest send-off on this happy and successful occasion was the number of letters received from members of the Welsh Corgi Club, sending apologies for absence and good wishes, not the least being an especially kind letter from their chairman, Mr Sid Bowler.
The house in Oxshott, Surrey, then owned by Barbara Douglas Redding (Wolfox), where the inaugural meeting of the Welsh Corgi League was held in June 1938.
A tremendous lot had to be done. A name chosen, rules drawn up, money and trophies collected, and officers elected. The Hon Mrs Alexander was our first president, and though she may not be known to many of our newer members (as she now resides in Eire) she still exhibits her Corgis there. Vice-presidents were Mesdames Croysdale, Firbank, Biddlecombe, Mathias, Watts-Russell and Mr Bowler. The chairman was Mrs Gray and the committee consisted of Mesdames Gale, Redding, Lister-Kaye, Lee and Hill, Miss Peat and Mr Holbrook.
The meeting was followed by others and in due course badges were designed and made, a judges list prepared and the question of a League show discussed. Everybody voted for one, but felt apprehensive about jeopardising the still slender funds by running a show which might very well make a loss. It was then that two of our vice-presidents, with the generosity which characterised everything they did for the League, both then and in the future, kindly offered to share in making a substantial guarantee. So, thanks to Mrs Biddlecombe and Mrs Croysdale, our first breed show was held – on April 20, 1939.
It was a twenty-class open show. It drew a tremendous entry for those days and it made a profit. Mr Bowler judged – an appointment which sealed the happy relationship between the Club and the League. A most popular innovation was an all-Corgi obedience class and it was won by Rozavel Wild Rose who was also the best bitch in show winner.
The first annual general meeting was held at Mrs Croysdale’s house at Maidenhead and was attended by twenty members, among them Mrs Roesler (later Mrs Renner), on a visit to this country from the USA. It was a happy occasion, four our ‘baby club’ was prospering and probably none of us even guessed what lay ahead.
Eight months later, we were calling a special general meeting to decide on an emergency policy and to arrange for the custody of the League trophies in some safe place. Yet even then – it was February 1940 – conditions were sufficiently normal for us to plan and hold a limited show. Held in May 1940 and judged by Miss Curties, the best-in-show award went to Ch Rozavel Red Dragon.
After that, the war came down on us with a vengeance and we ceased to function until June 1946, when we net once more in London to rearrange our affairs after so long an interval. Mr Lister-Kaye judged for us, making Int Ch Formakin Orangeman best in show.
Other shows followed, the most exciting being the Lime Grove, Shepherds Bush championship show which was attended by Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose. Miss Fitz-Williams made the awards.
It was the first time that the Queen had attended a dog show since His Majesty had ascended the throne. The League officers were presented and some took tea with the royal party on the platform, which the judging took place down below.
Then, of course, the various sections were born and began to hold their many enjoyable area shows, while parties and social events were also organised successfully.
In 1946, the League produced its first handbook, a modest affair which was very well received and became an annual publication (except for 1948), distributed to members free of charge. They have become bigger and better with the years and go all over the world, being tremendously appreciated by old hands and novices alike.
The most recent excitement, of course, has been the production of the documentary sound film in colour which is being shown to Corgi lovers all over the world. We, in this country, have seen it in small halls, large halls, ballrooms and private houses. Her Majesty the Queen has had it shown in her cinema at Buckingham Palace and has said that she very much enjoyed it.
And now our baby, born in a Surrey drawing room to twenty-four mothers and fathers, celebrates its coming of age, having grown, in wisdom we hope, to maturity with a membership approaching one thousand. Twenty-one and getting the key of the door. Which door will this key unlock?
We hope it will be the door that leads to the continued support of the Pembrokeshire Welsh Corgi and a means of ensuring that the admirable qualities of this lovely breed will be perpetuated. We hope that it will show the way too, to many more years of good fellowship and congenial friendships among people who love the Corgi. Some of the founder members are still working with the League to this end and with them, many worthy successors who have joined over the years. May they turn the key with a firm hand and may the path beyond the door lead to prosperity and happiness.
Welsh Corgi League, we salute you. Happy birthday to you!