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The First Dog Show… By Simon Parsons

WHEN WE talk about the ‘first ever dog show’, most of us think about the famous event held in the Town Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne on June 28 and 29, 1859, scheduling Pointer and Setters. Indeed a few years ago there were celebrations marking its 150th anniversary, and a little later that of what became Birmingham Dog Show Society which ran and still runs the ‘National’.

So I was fascinated to receive from Chris Cuthbert a copy of an article which appeared in the Evening Gazette, the local paper for the Teesside area, from April 26, 1957. It was written by Macdonald Daly, the ‘TV dog man’. He was due to judge the next day the show at the Pier Ballroom, Redcar, for the Cleveland Dog Society, one which also still exists.

The reason he felt it worth a mention is that this show’s organisers claimed that it marked the hundredth anniversary of dog showing and that the first recorded show was held in the area in 1857, rather than two years later some 390 miles to the north.

I wondered if there had been any reference in DOG WORLD to this bit of North Eastern rivalry, and eventually found a letter in our March 15 issue, headed ‘Cleveland v Newcastle in a battle for the title of dogdom’s oldest’. It came from Albert Charlton, secretary of the CDS, and reads:

“For a hundred years how it has been recognised that Newcastle-on-Tyne staged the first dog show ever to be held in England in 1859.

“On April 27 this year, Cleveland Dog Society will hold its centenary show, and despite the claim of Newcastle I am staking a claim for Cleveland for the year 1857.

“‘The Druid’, in his book Saddle and Sirloin, published in 1960, says, ‘the speciality of the Cleveland show held at Yarm in 1857 was the Fox Terriers.’ The judge was Capt Percy Williams. ‘The Druid’ goes on to say that the orthodox type were smooth and white, and not ‘hairy’. It appears that at that period the dogs were judged in a tent, the public being excluded. There were 16 Smooths at the show and 16 ‘hairy ‘uns’ but Captain Williams found his first three among the Smooths.

“Martin Care, of Morpeth, was first with Pincher, a two-year-old dog. Ben Morgan was second with Nettle, a seven-year-old bitch (which was once ‘land locked’ with four badgers in front of her and two behind).

“Two years later, 1859, Cleveland staged the first hound show ever to be held in public, and this was the foundation of the Peterborough hound show which dates from 1878. This is another record which Cleveland claims.”

Mr Charlton gave some more details of the hound show, and ended: “I think the foregoing may prove that Newcastle’s claim is wrong, and we are carrying on with our centenary show to be held on April 27. We are going all out to make this a huge success by doubling our prize money and scheduling numerous specials.”

Chairman of Cleveland in 1957 was Ton Naisby, a well known figure of the gundog world who was co-owner of some of the famous Ardagh and Seagift dogs of Dorothy Whitwell whom I pictured a couple of weeks ago.

In the local paper article Mr Daly said he had found evidence of dog shows even before 1857, the first reference he found being in the report of a committee on MPs who in 1844 investigated the problem of dog-stealing in London, evidence being given that ‘dog fanciers’ shows’ were held in the city. Mr Daly also had a handbill from 1849 advertising a show of terriers, spaniels and small toy dogs at Jemmy Shaw’s Blue Anchor Tavern in Finchley.

He had an amusing conspiracy theory why the first KC Stud Book should record the Newcastle event as the first dog show, and that the first field trial took place in Bedfordshire in 1865. Apparently the editor of the Stud Book, Frank Peace, had been recommended for the job by J H Walsh (‘Stonehenge’) who had been one of the Newcastle judges, and Mr Pearce’s father had been one of the judges at the first trial!

“Is it just not possible,” wrote Mr Daly, “that there were, in these days in these high places, people who were not above forming a nice little clique, and keeping all the best little credits for themselves?” Nothing much changes!

There is a tragic sequel to all this for the Cleveland ‘centenary’ show must have been one of the last shows judged by Macdonald Daly. Just two weeks later he and his wife were involved in a car accident near their home at Winslow in which he died and she was seriously hurt. He was only 48.

The DOG WORLD obituary paid tribute: “Without doubt, Mr Daly’s great contribution to dogdom has been in the role of the fancy’s chief public relations officer. His frequent appearances on TV and his contributions in the lay press did much to propagate his fancy which in the late 1940s and early ‘50s was showing signs of decline.”

Another tribute read: “Macdonald Daly had the art of putting dogs over to the general public. Dogs have an irresistible appeal, but most dog writers and commentators are too technical for the pet owner.

“This was not the case with Macdonald Daly. He made instant appeal with his friendliness and hail-fellow-well-met attitude. Factors which contributed greatly to his success was his quickness to recognise the value of television – a medium by which he made himself one of the most talked-about men in Britain – and his wonderful showmanship, both in the ring and out of it.”

I’d guess that only Stanley Dangerfield from within our world has made a comparable impact since.

Within the dog world he was known not only as an all-rounder but as an exhibitor, and at Manchester that year their team had won CCs with a Pointer, Irish Setter and Poodle.

His widow Lola continued to judge and I can just recall her from my early days.

- See more at: http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/115501/0/the_first_dog_show____by_simon_parsons#sthash.NJfBE4F7.dpuf

Written by

Dog World’s Simon Parson is one of the most well respected canine journalist in the UK. Simon his been with DW since 1979 and edited the newspaper for 17 years.