19 January, 2021

THE WELSH CORGI LEAGUE 1938-1988

BY Administrator
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By Dickie Albin, first published in the League's golden jubilee handbook, 1988

For starters I cannot do better than quote from an article written by Barbara Douglas-Redding in 1946 for our very first handbook, since when they have been produced annually.

She said she became ‘Corgi conscious’ in the late 1920s, having seen this small row of unusual and intelligent looking little people, who were in fact Welsh Corgis, a somewhat uneven, old fashioned and even motley crew. But obviously the memory of them lingered and in 1931 she became the proud owner of a fine winning bitch from Mrs Victor Higgon’s famous ‘of Sealy’ kennels in Pembrokeshire.

By this time Mrs Thelma Gray was already two years ahead of her and was already breeding carefully. The two ladies became acquainted through their mutual interest in Corgis.

In those days the Welsh Corgi was little known in England, but gradually a little band of breeders grew up and pet Corgis were occasionally seen on the streets and parks of London. Thelma Gray (Rozavel), with all the energy and drive we knew so well, was determined our breed should climb the path to fame outside its native Wales.

The two ladies between them guaranteed classes privately at numerous shows and filled them to their best ability. Newcomers were welcomed with open arms; thus the breed went on from strength to strength.

In order to learn as much as they could, Thelma and Barbara used to attend as many meeting as possible held by the Welsh Corgi Club (the first Corgi club) in their home town of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, in the heart of Corgi country. They went to as many shows in Wales as they could.

They were extended wonderful hospitality and friendship and were given every opportunity to learn as much as possible and see every Corgi in the country from famous kennels to just odd ones that were known in the little scattered villages or remote mountain farms.

These two indefatigable women made many journeys to Wales, often returning with the back of the car filled with exciting new purchases. I would remind our readers that there were no motorways in those days!

Gradually more and more classes were allotted to the breed at shows in England and a greater number of CCs were on offer at the English championship shows, to which the Welsh exhibitors gave their time and money to enter, thus giving everyone the chance to see the cream of the dogs from the other side of the border. All were sportsmen and lovers of a breed that was untrammelled by commercialism, and a breed they were determined was worth their support.

By 1936 there was really a large contingent of Welsh Corgi fanciers in England and the breed had already become personal pets of the Royal Family.

By 1938, Mrs Gray felt the time had come to form a club in England with easily get-at-able headquarters. She put the idea to Barbara Douglas-Redding and together they went to see Mr Knapp who helped them draw up a rough scale of rules and put them right with the Kennel Club rules for founding a new club.

In the meantime the Welsh Corgi Club in Wales had been told of their aspirations and gave its blessing.

A meeting was held at Oxshott, Surrey, on Tuesday June 21, 1938 with a gratifying attendance of enthusiasts. The name The Welsh Corgi League was proposed and adopted, so thus the League was born and set upon its infantile legs, and good to strong understandings they were too. It had gone from strength to strength ever since.

The League’s first open show was judged by Mr Sid Bowler himself, a gracious gesture that set the seal of friendship and co-operation in the interests of the breed between the Welsh Corgi League and the original Welsh Corgi Club. The show was held at Tattersalls with a record entry.

Ch Flaming Lad David was best dog and Rozavel Wild Rose was best bitch and winner of the obedience, the first all-Corgi obedience class to be scheduled at any show.

The League’s second show was at Kew, judged by Miss Pat Curties – Mrs Gray’s Ch Rozavel Red Dragon and Mrs Firbank’s Crawleycrow Bisto taking top honours.

Sadly the war intervened. But by 1947 the League was growing to mighty proportions and became the proud parents and two bouncing babies, the Northern Section and the Southern Section, each with their own committees and officers, catering for their area’s own individual needs.

Later of course was added the Scottish Section and the East Anglian Sub-Section which comes under the umbrella of the Southern Section.

Since those early days many more Corgi clubs have been formed all across the UK – the West of England, Devon and Cornwall, South Wales, Eastern Counties, Midland, Cambria, Northern Counties, Yorkshire, Pennine (these two now combined), Ulster and South East – and too numerous to mention are those Corgi clubs which have formed across the world, thus proving the power and popularity of ‘that little red dog from Wales’ – the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

How much the rest of the world owe to those first two Corgi addicts – Thelma Gray and Barbara Douglas-Redding!

We still have among us members of the three of the original founder members – Pat Curties (Lees), Jessie Fitzwilliams (Fitzdown) and Frances Hill (of Sealy). Pat and Jessie are still active in the breed, both showing and breeding. Frances can still be seen around the ringside and taking a keen interest where she lives now in the West Country. Barbara Douglas-Redding is still alive, but went out of Corgis some years back into other breeds.

Anne Biddlecombe was the secretary from the early days and I have been checking through the archives on a report she did in 1945-46. Few people who were members before 1945 could have guessed how quickly the post-war League was to grow.

A general meeting was called in July 1945 when it was known a membership of between 30 and 40 could be relied upon and they had a balance in the bank of fifteen shillings (75p) and they were not entirely free of obligations! That must have been the masterpiece of understatement known to man!

However they decided to go ahead and hold an open show as wartime restrictions were lifted. The show was finally held on November 14 with an entry of 415 and was by far the biggest Corgi show ever held.

The second post-war general meeting was in February 1946, and membership had increased to mover 150. At the end of 1945 the bank balance was £87! By 1947 the membership was close on 400, and the bank balance was looking healthy.

As Anne Biddlecombe wrote in those days, ‘the strength of the club lies not so much in the few people charged with the running of it, as in the co-operation of all its members – that is where the League is particularly well off’ and I will say ‘Amen’ to that.

The organising of this year’s jubilee show could not have come to pass without the tremendous work and co-operation we have from so many of our members as well as other folk beyond our membership.

Anne Biddlecombe retired as secretary in 1961 and I was appointed in 1962. Even then our membership was a mere 15/6 (77½p). In January 1963 our membership was 1,099, in 1972 it was 1,752, but in 1973 we went down to 1,720, our first drop since 1962.

I retired in 1974, when Shirley Hickman took over. In 1987 our membership is down to 1,464 and has been steadily decreasing since the mid 1970s. Inflation has played its part in all walks of life!

At one time when our membership was at its height I claimed in the dog press we were the largest breed club in the world and no one disputed my claim.

Shirley Hickman retired in 1986 and Ron Linnett took over the ‘hot seat’ in 1987. When the League was first put on the road it was a Mr Knapp who helped get it on a firm footing – it is an odd coincidence that 50 years on we again have a man at the helm who strangely enough lives in No 1 Knapp Cottages!

I must finish this history by quoting from a few words one of our American members, Anne Bowes, used on her advertisement for the Jubilee catalogue: ‘Where would any of us be without the Welsh Corgi League?’ And I again will plagiarise Sir Winston Churchill’s famous words, when I write we the present-day Pembroke Corgi owners and breeders ‘owe so much to so few’.

In the second book of champions, published in 1998, the then secretary Diana King and chairman Sarah Taylor provided the following update:

Since the publication of the original book the League has seen many changes. The Golden Jubilee weekend on May 13/14 1988 was a tremendous success with 386 exhibits entered under judges Betty Peachey (Meljac) and Mary Winsone (Cordach).

The weekend started with a parade of 53 British champions - never had we seen so many champions like this together before. With an early start the next day, judging took place in two rings, culminating in best in show being awarded to Nan Butler’s Ch Luther of Wey by the BIS judge Dickie Albin (Hildenmanor).

There followed a celebration dinner attended by over 600 members and guest from all part of the world.

The success of this show was due to much hard work by many committee members, and in particular we would like to remember the parts played by Phil Biles, the show secretary, who sadly died in 1997, and Ron Linnett, the executive secretary, who died in 1992.

Due to the success of the Golden Jubilee it was decided to make a special show mid-way between the 50th and 60th anniversaries. The ‘International Show’, judged by Peggy Kessler (Wakefield) and Anne Bowes (Heronsway) from the USA, took place in 1993 and was attended again by members from all parts of the world. A new executive secretary took over just prior to the show, Diana King (Bimwich) who had previously been secretary of the Southern Section.

During this last decade the issue regarding a ban on tail docking has caused much concern within the breed. The Council of Docked Breeds was set up in 1991 to campaign for our right to continue to dock, and cover5ed the interests of all docked breeds. The League continues to support this organisation which has done sterling work on our behalf.

From July 1, 1993 it became law that only qualified vets may dock. To date we have been fortunate thatm, through the CDB, we can find vets prepared to dock our puppies. Sadly, in some European countries it has become a total ban and Pembroke Corgis with tails are a common sight.

The membership of the League has held steady at approximately 1,200 for several years now, which, although much lower than in the ‘70s, nonetheless reflects the continued popularity of the breed. We no longer have the big kennels of the past - most of today’s breeders keep just a few dogs, breeding the occasional litter as a hobby.

Demand for puppies exceeds supply, which, with today’s lifestyle, must be beneficial to the breed.

The last few years have seen much planning for the Diamond Jubilee celebration, which, we hope, will be every bit as successful and enjoyable as the Golden Jubilee.

POSTSCRIPT, 2019

The Diamond Jubilee did indeed prove to be another spectacular event, held at the Chesford Grange Hotel, Kenilworth.

Judges were Peggy Franks (Pengavin) for dogs and Shirley Hickman (Karenhurst) for bitches, and Margo Parsons (Deavitte) decided on the best in show which was the Canadian import Ch/Can/Ir Ch Stonecroft's Second Stage, owned by Barry and Sue Coulson, bred by Kristen Francis and Anita Cameron. As at the golden jubilee show the bitch CC went to a Pembroke owned and bred by the Belroyd kennel of Idris Jones and Allan Taylor.

Sadly most of those who contributed to the early days of the League have since died, and there have been many changes which have affected the breed in the UK for good or bad. On the positive side the advent of the pet travel scheme has made the breed in the UK much more cosmopolitan, enabling breeders to import of use lines from many other countries, all of course eventually tracing back to British dogs.

On the debit side, in spite of the efforts of the CDB and others, docking for ‘cosmetic’ purposes was finally banned in Great Britain in 2007, a little later in Northern Ireland. Dogs legally docked overseas may still be shown in the UK (apart from at Crufts and LKA where the public pays an admission fee).

The ban coincided with (and perhaps in some cases hastened) the retirement of several of our leading breeders, and registrations, show entries and League membership are not what they were. However demand for puppies remains strong - if only there were more responsible breeders to fulfil the demand. Many have become used to tails, while some breeders have bred specifically to retain the natural bobtail.

By the late 2010s registrations were beginning at last to pick up again.The new generation of enthusiasts is as keen as ever and we all hope the breed, though no longer anywhere near as numerically strong as in the '50s and '60s, will surmount the challenges of the years ahead.

The League celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2013 with another show attended by Pembroke people from around the world. Venue was the Royal Court Hotel at Keresley.

Again we invited to American judges, Judy Hart (Sua Mah) for dogs and Patty Gailey (Triad) for bitches. Mary Winsone (Cordach), who had been one of the judges at the Golden Jubilee show, this time chose BIS, awarding it to the American import Ch/Ir/Int Ch Maplecreek Beach Bunny at Craigycor, owned by Alan and Sarah Matthews from Northern Ireland. By now our shows had begun to attract exhibitors as well as spectators from far afield, and here the dog CC went to a male from Moscow.

In 2018, the eightieth birthday year, the Kennel Club kindly offered the League an extra set of CCs. As well as our customary championship show, we also had the opportunity to run a joint show with the Cardigan Welsh Corgi Association, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of ‘EuroCorgi’. Each year a show in a different European country had been designated with this title, in an attempt to bring together people and dogs from throughout Europe. This was the first time the UK had hosted the show.

Pembrokes were judged by Vicki Sandage (Sandfox) from the US and her best of breed went on to BIS under Carole Smedley (Antoc) - this was Kevin Dover and Lars Saether’s bobtail Ch Pemcader Thunbderball.

Diana King served for nearly 15 years as secretary and was succeeded by Carrie Russell-Smith, Elaine Barlow and now Margaret Hoggarth. Our thanks must go to all the officers, committee members and volunteers who have kept the League and its sections going down the decades.

The League’s handbook remains an invaluable record for all interested in the breed - special mention must go to Annie Maclean who edited it for some 40 years. The bi-annual newsletter keeps us all in touch, and three books of champions’ photos and pedigrees have been published.

SIMON PARSONS

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