A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE COCKER SPANIEL CLUB
From humble beginnings in Conway Castle one hundred years ago, the Cocker Spaniel Club was born. It has grown from a membership of 35 at its inception to well over one and a half thousand today, both at home and overseas, representing 48 nations. The annual membership subscription from the beginning was one guinea, a figure which was maintained for many years.
The Club's aims remain the same today as they did then with one exception. The "breeding of Cocker Spaniels" was included but this was changed a few years ago to the "welfare of Cocker Spaniels". It's other aims were to publish a description of pure type; to urge the adoption of such type on breeders, judges etc as the Standard of the breed; to establish field trials; to promote dog shows and to adopt such other means as many be deemed advisable for the encouragement of the breed.
From those early days, the breeding of Cockers has grown. In 1935, registrations stood at 8000 but 10 years later, they had risen to over 25,000. However, today's registrations have fallen to just about half what they were in their heyday.
In the early days, the official journal of the Club was the Cocker News & Views, a quarterly publication. These were succeeded by the Cocker Journal, replaced later by an annual yearbook, which is prized the world over. The early publications are of great interest to members both here and abroad, who can use them to trace extended pedigrees back for many generations.
The Cocker Spaniel as a breed has changed considerably in the last 100 years. Conformation has improved immensely but some aspects have made the breed unsuitable for their primary use as a gundog. Their character, however, has remained true to their merry, breed description.
The aim to establish field trials has seen steady progress over the years. Back in the early days, the Club ran two field trial events in addition to the shows and it still does to this day, the Scottish and English Trials. Some years ago, a field trial sub-committee was formed and today it runs its own affairs, finances and membership, but is still accountable to the main body of the Club. In my opinion, it was a retrograde step when the show and field Cocker became so different. However, with the growing popularity of the breed, many breeders had no access to grounds for training, so concentrated on showing and provided for a growing pet market. Only a handful of Show Champions today gain their full title of Champion. What a pity!
On the show side, the Club progressed to the dizzy heights after the Second World War of over 700 dogs entered at many of the championship shows with the Cocker rarely making the group. What would two judges do today with such an entry? There certainly would not be too much time to stand and stare! As a matter of interest, the first Club show in 1910 drew an entry of 32 but was confined to members. £3 prize money was paid to class winners.
The early Club shows were held in conjunction with the Royal Show at Shrewsbury, the National at Birmingham and the Kennel Club show at Crystal Palace. 1930 saw the advent of a summer open show which proved to be a huge success with an entry of 554 Cockers; hence the 1931 summer show became an accomplished fact and heralded the decision to hold the championship show independently at Chertsey in 1932 which attracted an entry of 562 dogs. In 1935 Ascot Wood saw the first of many Cocker Club Ch shows to be held there for a period of over 30 years. I attended one of the last in the late 60's so can just recall the "garden party" atmosphere, so lovingly referred to even to this day.
During my term as Treasurer (1974-1977), Mrs E Robertson (Nostrebor) was Secretary and the show was held at Cheltenham Racecourse. When I succeeded her as Secretary in 1978, the decision was taken to move it around the country, it being a national club, but after a few years this proved to be unworkable (as it had in the past) so a new permanent venue was sought. In 1983, the Three Counties Showground at Malvern was chosen, where the show is still held today. Located at the foot of the Malvern Hills, which provides a spectacular backdrop to the show, in my opinion it matches Ascot Wood.
With the growing popularity of the breed over the years, it was inevitable that there could be problems with inherited conditions and the Club has a history of facing up to and dealing with potential problems. In the 1920's the Field Distemper Fund was generously supported. Research into fading puppies, PRA and Familial Nephropathy (kidney disease) has had the Club's wholehearted support. Each year there is a vet at the championship show carrying out eye tests and a list of clinically clear dogs is published with the annual Club year book.
In the 1980's, FN was rife and breeders were anxious about their breeding programme. In conjunction with Cambridge University, the mode of inheritance was identified and the lists of proven carriers were published. Today, thanks to this early action, only the odd case is now reported.
As with many popular breeds, a proportion becomes unwanted for one reason or another. As a consequence, Mrs O Norfolk (Tarling), a Club committee member, took on the job of Rescue Officer, finding new and suitable homes. She did this for 14 years and the Club began to raise money to finance her efforts. Today, there is a National Co-ordinator and several regional representatives dealing with between 150 and 300 cases annually. Generous bequests help the rescue scheme to fund any emergency should it occur. Hence the reason for changing the aims/objectives of the Club from "breeding" to "welfare" of the breed.
In 1968, a Cocker Spaniel Breed Council was formed which included all the remaining regional breed clubs and societies, but the Cocker Club (The Parent Club) chose to remain outside, wishing to maintain its own identity and authority, allowing it to promote and protect the breed according to its own stated rules and constitution.
In addition to the shows and field trials, the Club has a long tradition of catering for the social side. It used to hold a banquet after the AGM, on the eve of Crufts and on the eve of the championship show at Ascot, all very well supported and enjoyed. Following this tradition, we have continued to promote social get-togethers eg lunch before the AGM, a buffet after the Puppy Match in January and an after-show dinner following the championship show in July. This year's will be quite a celebration!
This nostalgic look over 100 years would not be complete without reference to the many personalities who have played such an immense and important part in making our present-day Club such a success. Top of the list has to be Mr H S Lloyd (of Ware fame) who served a remarkable 38 years as Secretary (1921-1959) and 4 years a Chairman. He held the distinction of winning BIS at Crufts on 6 occasions. I could mention a few more like Major Harding Cox, Mr C A Philips, Mrs Jamieson Higgins, Captain R George, Mr H Scott, Mr Rde Courcy Peele and Lt Cmdr E A J Collard. However there are and have been many more whose names are synonymous with the Cocker Spaniel Club, too many to mention here, but they have all played a significant part in the growth, development and success of this unique club. Currently the President of the Club is Mr D L Page, with myself as Chairman since 1991. Vice-Chairman is Mr G Griffiths, Secretary is Mrs A Webster and Treasurer, Mrs J Rowland. Vice-Presidents of the Club are Mr R and Mrs T Bebb, enthusiastic promoters of the breed and loyal supporters of the Cocker Club over many, many years. Field Trial Chairman is Mr K Chudley with Secretary/Treasurer Mrs P Rhodes.
This synopsis of the Club's history is skimming the surface of 100 years from its modest but noble beginnings to its present day status as a leading breed club of our time
By Mr A E Simpson (Chairman)
(This article originally appeared in Dog World on July 12 2002)
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