History of the Corgi

LOOKING BACK - A History of the Welsh Corgi

first published by the Kennel Gazette in August 1988 - written by Sally Williams

 

For centuries there have been Corgis on the farms and hills of West Wales. Perhaps they were not known as Corgis, Welsh Heelers seems to have been a favourite name or sometimes just “little yellow cattle dogs”. But whatever they were called they worked on the farms or drove the cattle to the markets of London or the Midlands. Around a thousand years ago in the days of Hywel Dda [or Howell The Good who claimed that a good cattle dog shared the same value as a steer] the small and fleet-of-foot Corgi can be found in the pages of history. And in the early days of the Welsh Corgi Club the spelling of the word “Corgi” could vary somewhat – “Corgie”, “Curgi”, “Curgie seeming somewhat interchangeable,

as I reproduce in this text.

 

Bred in the remote hill farms of West Wales, the Corgi was an indispensable helper to the farmers, where the famous herding instincts would aid in everything from bringing in the dairy beast for milking to gathering in the sheep, to guarding the hens, to the long drovers’ treks. Few Corgis were shown prior to the formation of the Welsh Corgi Club in 1925. The earliest evidence I can find of Corgis being scheduled at a show is in 1919 when the Kennel Club wished to have a description of the Welsh Corgi having seen the schedule of the St David’s [Pembrokeshire] Show. Subsequently at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in 1925 classes for “Welsh Corgies” were guaranteed by a founder member of the Club rather than have his dog entered under AV Unclassified. Interest was mounting among the dog fanciers that year and in October, Hubert Evans of The Field, wrote asking for the points of the Corgi and telling of an English lady who was selling up her stock of Field Spaniels in order to breed Corgis and said she was anxious to become a member when the club was formed. And as far away as Adelaide there was a concern for the revival of the Welsh Corgi.

Capt. Jack Howell, the founder Chairman of the Club with ROSE, the first Corgi to be registered with the Kennel Club.

So it was that, late in 1925, a notice appeared in a Pembrokeshire newspaper inviting all interested in the Corgi to attend a meeting at the Castle Hotel in Haverfordwest on Tuesday, December 15th at 4.30pm. This advertisement was signed by J. H. Howell, M.F.H., otherwise known as “Captain Jack” Howell, of Solva, Pembrokeshire, whose papers and diaries in the County Records Office in Haverfordwest have provided much valuable and authentic information. Captain Jack became Chairman of the new club at that first meeting, which he described as “very good”, noting in his diary that “40 to 50 were present”. The little membership/rule book, published that month gives us the names of the founders and also stated “That this Club be called “The Corgi Club”. 

 

That its objects be:

(1) To promote the breeding of pure Corgis;

(2) To adopt and publish the description of type and points as herein stated and to urge the adoption of this type on Breeders, Judges, Dog Show Committees, etc., as the only recognised standard by which Corgis are to be judged and by which may in future be uniformly accepted as the sole standard of excellence in breeding and in awarding prizes of merit to the Corgis;

(3) To do all in its power to protect and advance the interest of the breed by offering prizes, supporting certain shows if funds permit and take any other steps that be deemed necessary.

 

The next meeting of the committee was held on December 26, 1925. Imagine trying to hold a meeting on a Boxing Day nowadays!

The diaries reveal much in the way of minor detail. Earlier in the year Capt. Howell had bought a “Curgie” from Mrs Harries of Caerfariog for £5. This was Rosebud by Felix out of Freda. Then his bailiff supplied him with a farm dog from the hills, Rose, who was the first Corgi to be registered with the Kennel Club. The story goes that Capt. Howell had a savage bull which none of his dogs could control and Jim, his bailiff, told him that Rose would master the bull – and she did! Rosebud must have been in whelp when she was purchased as she produced four bitch puppies and one dog on Boxing Day. Capt. Howell kept two bitches.

 

Keep it in the Family

 

Capt. Howell’s brother, Adrian, had a bitch named Phoebe, who had been mated to Buller, and she produced five “Curgie” pups. Adrian Howell’s daughter, Nancy Bayly, who also provided much information, still has a “Phoebe”, the third in the family. Phoebe and Buller, together with Caleb, Shan, Bowhit Pepper and Rose, were some of the names which dominated the breed in those very early days and appeared in many pedigrees.

 

On May 27, 1926 Capt. Howell recorded that, “Solva Rosebud (Corgi) took two First Prizes and a Special for the best Corgie in the Show at Carmarthen today”. (I have copied the variations in spelling faithfully, as a matter of interest). Two days later Eliza whelped, having two pups, one dog and one bitch. In July the bitch puppy was sold to a Mrs Lloyd for the sum of £8 10s. 0d. (£8.50).

Ch KISS ME KATE of FOXYDALE owned by Secretary Margaret Neal and bred by Eric Howells; Katie was made up at the daughter club - South Wales Corgi Club’s 21st Anniversary Show in 1986.

 

Llangeitho Show was held on August 25, the judge being Capt. George Checkland Williams. Solva Rosebud had two firsts, winning 2 x 10/- (50p) and Solva Tyrant won 2 x 5/- (25p) - two second prizes. 

 

On November 27 the Western Mail carried a story with the headline: “The Corgi’s Leap to Fame – Old Cattle Dog of West Wales Surprises London”. The columnist continued: “In one day the Corgi has sprung into public favour. One of these dogs appeared in the Mitchum Dog Show at the Crystal Palace this week, as reported in Thursday’s Western Mail, and as soon as its presence became known, a crowd of pressmen and photographers gathered on the spot to learn all about it. The owner, Mr J. Williams, a master at Dulwich School, who together with his wife, is a native of Solva, today gave me an interesting story of the breed. 

 

“Our own dog’, he said, ‘we have named Dewsland Smudge, because the Hundred of Dewsland, in Pembrokeshire, is the actual place where the dogs originated. It was given to me by Mr Adrian Howell, chairman of the Corgi Club which was formed in Wales in 1925 to re-establish the breed when I was on holiday there. I had no intention of showing him at first, but proposed to breed them, and I still intend to do so if I can get a bitch. All this sudden publicity seems to have made them scarce”.

 

Many Good Qualities

 

“As you can see the dog has not a striking appearance - I mean there is nothing about it that would attract your attention at a casual glance. Yet there is something engaging about its ways. It is intelligent and hardworking, and yet so gentle with children and such a good house dog.” Mr Williams went on to describe the Corgi habit of heeling cattle and the head and the tail, or lack of it, which are characteristic of the breed, and then he continued: “The father, mother, little brother and full brother of Dewsland Smudge have all won prizes in Wales. St David’s Horse and Dog Show in 1919 was the first time that classes for the Corgi were opened. 

In February next there will be five classes for Corgis at Crufts Show in the Agricultural Hall, London, one of the most important shows of the year. Judging by the popularity of my dog, they should prove a great success”.

 

Another interesting piece appeared in the Pembrokeshire County Guardian that November, written by Sir William Beach Thomas: 

 

“Cattle-driving Corgies of West Wales – Inborn art of dodging a kick. A dog of most engaging appearance and manners has been discovered or rediscovered by the sportsmen and farmers of a small district of South Wales. Older residents remember that years ago the smallholders of the district kept dog (which they called Corgis) to drive in their cattle, very much as a sheepdog rounds up sheep”. 

 

He went on to describe the heeling practice and how many were born tail-less and then continued ...”The Corgis were used in Pembrokeshire for all sorts of purposes, for ratting and rabbiting at which they excel, as well as for house dogs. They are clean, singularly intelligent, at least quick”. He concluded, “The breed must be antique for the standard points come singularly true; but it has never enjoyed the popularity it deserves outside the narrow confines of its place of origin”.

Ch PENMOEL SUCH FUN OF RIVONA owned by Mrs M Johnston - DOG CC in November 1987

 

At the back of Capt. Howell’s diary for 1926 was a memorandum: “10.7.26. Passed that the Club should be registered at the Kennel Club”. There were 73 members in that first year. In 1927 on May 18, Capt. Jack judged at Cardiff Championship Show where there were six classes of Corgis. In October a “Corgie Committee Meeting” attended by 12, appointed T.D. Davies to judge at Crufts. So the following February Capt. Jack Howell went to Crufts. He noted in his diary that Rosebud had a prize and in addition, with sister Roseleaf, was first in the Brace class. 

 

The entry fees were £3 2s. 6d (£3 12½p), the train fare 19s. 6d. (97½p) but the prize money only £2. 10s. (£2.50p). So, you would be out pocket in those days too!

 

Capt. Jack travelled to the L.K.A. in May 1929, only to be told by the Official Veterinary Surgeon that he would not pass Roseleaf or Petal. Corgi fever seemed to be growing apace. 

David T. Davies wrote from Fishguard to Capt. Jack Howell about the Corgi Club, “We have seven prospective members here, four of them having CORGWYN” (the Welsh plural) ...”and the rest on the warpath”. And Ivor T. James of Little Newcastle, a few miles down the road, wrote ...“Everyone in the area has become Corgi Mad!” 

 

The Secretary of the Kennel Club wrote to Capt. Jack Howell in March 1928. “With reference to my letter of the 28th ultimo, I have pleasure in informing you that my committee at their meeting held on Tuesday decide that Welsh Corgis be placed in the Register of Breeds”. 

Welsh Corgi Club members waiting to greet the Queen on her visit to St Davids in 1982

Docking Prohibited

Mrs Higson’s daughter, Mrs Frances Hill, was in touch with the Welsh Corgi Club a few years ago. She recalled happy early days, when she and her mother were well-known and popular exhibitors and judges. Many years ago she had won three silver spoons as specials in Haverfordwest and offered these to the Club. The Club was delighted to accept and they were presented to Best Dog, Best Bitch and Best Puppy at the Diamond Jubilee Championship Show in 1985. Up until 1931, if a Corgi puppy was born with a tail it was almost always docked, but in July of that year the Kennel Club passed a rule prohibiting docking. It took three years or hard fighting on behalf of the Welsh Corgi Club before the ban was repealed in 1934. So, the Pembroke type Corgi was then on the list of those breeds that could be docked. It appears, however, that there was still much interbreeding between Pembrokes and Cardigans and sometimes the Kennel Club had to question owners about the origins of their dogs. For instance, a well-known Cardigan dog, Ch My Rockin Mawer, was sired by the Pembroke Ch Bowhit Pepper. In October 1934 another milestone was reached, when at the Kennel Club show there were Challenge Certificates on offer for both Pembrokes and Cardigans. The judge was Dr Aubrey Ireland.

Royal Connections

The Western Mail of February 12, 1935 carried the following: “London Takes to the Dogs - All London Went to the Dogs Last Week. A tail or not a tail – that is the question where the Welsh Corgi is concerned. It seems a vital question inasmuch as separate classification is now given to the two varieties of the breed, Pembroke and Cardigan. They are both most attractive, funny little dogs. Since the Duke of York bought one they have become very popular. The Duke bought a Pembroke Corgi and the other day I saw Princess Elizabeth in a little tweed coat and a beret, walking him on the lead in the park”. 

 

Which brings us to the “Royal” Connection. One of the famous attributes of the Welsh Corgi is his connection with the Royal Family. Since King George VI, as Duke of York, purchased the first Royal Corgi in 1933 they have been known as Royal Dogs. That first one, from Thelma Gray’s Rozavel Kennels in Surrey, was known as “Dookie”. He was followed, three years later, by Jane, who had a litter on Christmas Eve, from which Cracker and Carol were kept. Princess Elizabeth, for her eighteenth birthday, was given “Susan”, who had been born on February 20, 1944, and lived until January 26, 1959. She was buried at Sandringham, together with Sugar and Heather. The Queen’s dogs are usually buried in the grounds of the house in which Her Majesty is living at the time. The Queen now has the tenth generation directly descended from her first dog, Susan.

 

There was some correspondence between Buckingham Palace and Capt. Howell in 1947, the result of which was that the Princess Elizabeth received a real(i.e. born in) Pembrokeshire Corgi as a wedding present. This lucky young lady was known as Solva Biscuit. Unfortunately, recalls Miss Nancy Bayly, she had problems finding her way out of Buckingham Palace “in time”, and eventually was given to a lady in waiting with a more accessible garden. The Club experienced much Royal excitement in 1982, when the Queen visited St. David’s in Pembrokeshire to distribute Maundy Money. Nancy Bayly had arranged for various committee members to bring their dogs to a wall on Her Majesty’s route to the Cathedral and those members made a welcoming banner and groomed their dogs with much anticipation. However, there was a last-minute security scare and they were “banished” to a grassy mound on the edge of St. David’s, on the Haverfordwest road. Their long, cold wait was finally rewarded when the Queen’s car drove past and Her Majesty was seen to remark to Prince Phillip “Oh, look, Corgis!” Committee member, Miss Daphne Slark, who owns James, a tricolour Pembroke bred by Her Majesty, took him along to meet the Queen briefly in Haverfordwest. James received a royal pat and Miss Slark was told that he had a super coat.

Corgis were by now very firmly established as a popular breed. Stories are legion about their prowess, not only as cattle dogs, but rabbit-catchers, hunters, gundogs, obedience champions – the Corgi appears to have every talent known to dogs. Every Corgi owner knows the intelligence and determination of the little dog. Every Corgi owner has to put up with stories of that “snappy little breed”, but how many of us have known many dogs which deserve that reputation? It can usually be put down to poor training - or snappy little owners!

The Welsh Corgi League