Devon & Cormwall Cocker Spaniel Club

History of The Devon & Cornwall Cocker Spaniel Club

The Early Years

Hello, I’m Mike Owens (Crownleigh). Your hard working secretary Sally Ellison has asked me to explain how the club came into existence. It was ultimately to be a phoenix like occasion, rising from the ashes of a previous club, a fact I was only to learn about later in its development. But to begin at the beginning.

It was initially the joint effort of my wife Ann and I that the ball started to roll. In 1968 with our first child on the way we had used the maternity grant to buy a Beagle! In due course we started to show him and at the same time we got embroiled with the geneses of the Devon and Cornwall Beagle Society as founder members and I became its newsletter editor. The club was a big success and we got a tremendous amount of fun out of it.

In 1979 the Beagle was replaced by Tregoss Charade of Crownleigh, ‘Emma’, a blue roan bitch that we bought from Ann Morris (now Brown) then in living Indian Queens. She had used a Salwood stud from the late Reg & Maisey Salter of Liskeard who were both well known exhibitors and judges on the national circuit and of the same generation as the late Kay Holmes.

We started to show Emma. Ann was getting to grips with the science of grooming and gradually we started to win cards, attending shows in the two counties. We got to know our fellow exhibitors but we were dismayed in light of our Beagle experiences, that there was no breed club for Cockers locally. So in early 1980 we started collecting names of those interested in creating a club and were warmly encouraged. By September we had put together a working party and Sally Leeding (Floroyal) found us a pub in Tavistock in which to hold meetings. I started to liaise with Kay Holmes (Pentavy) who was currently serving on the Cocker Club’s committee. She had a wealth of experience and encouraged by our endeavours and was willing to stand as our President. It was at that point she told me that a previous club had fallen into decline and the trophies had passed on to the West of England Gundog Club.

With Kay’s advice, the working party put together a constitution and proposals of intent in order to apply to the Kennel Club to sanction us to form a club. It was not encouraging to learn that two other breed clubs in the two counties had recently had their applications turned down and here we were trying to resurrect a breed club that had folded! So we began to lobby support in influential quarters and this is when Joyce and George Caddy (Ouaine) came to our aid (including donating a duplicator!) and they were to eventually become our Patrons. It was a long and hard eighteen months of many meetings and journeys up and down the A38 to establish our credibility and credentials. The West of England Cocker Spaniel Club sportingly agreed to become our sponsors to the KC. So it was with some nervousness we submitted our application and to our delight on 22nd March 1982 it was accepted and we held a champagne party of all the working party including Kay, George and Joyce at our home, here in Plymouth.

A meeting was soon convened in a scout hut in Plymouth to elect a committee. Gary Green from Paignton became Chairman, Sally Culverwell (now Wyatt) from Collumpton Vice Chair and I became Hon Secretary with Beverley Slater as Treasurer to be succeeded by ‘Jan’ Pearce the following year. Ann took the role of Newsletter editor. This quintet stayed in place for nearly eight years. The first show in 1982 was held at a village hall in Bridestowe, close to the A30, with Howard Jones (Matterhorn) as Judge and it attracted a good entry. Costs were kept down by printing everything ‘in house’ , in the bad old days of skins and temperamental duplicators. On one occasion we even had the judge who was staying with us the night before, helping to collate the ‘Courier’!

Ann’s newsletter, ‘The Cocker Courier’ was to be a huge success with many novel ideas and was well praised in the dog press as the best of its kind. In essence it was more of a magazine in format and was published quarterly coinciding with our shows. Ann and I were particularly concerned with PRA at that time, (FN was as yet to be identified) as so much was being swept under the carpet. We felt that the issue should be brought out into the open and dealt with more effectively and honestly. After all it was no ones fault. It is refreshing to witness today, how both problems are being dealt with, aided of course by the emergence of DNA testing. I think we were the first club to publish how DNA testing worked and what it promised. Our attitude was well known and we were warned not make the newsletter content controversial. We ignored this ‘advice’ and the consequence was an increase in membership nationwide and internationally. Letters poured in from the USA, South America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and South Africa plus some continental members all of whom were fundamentally after copies of the ‘Courier’. This rather proved our point that honesty and openness is the best policy.

I have to stress though, that this was not a two-man band enterprise. The enthusiastic committee was extremely hard working. Fundraising like mad with any opportunity that afforded itself. Show days, as secretary, it was a pleasure to see the well-oiled machine go into action and a friendly atmosphere always prevailed with our judges served sumptuous spreads. The result was that the shows had excellent entries and judges were biting our hands off to be invited. We also sponsored Cocker classes for other all breed club shows in the two counties and Gary Green created a members’ competition based on wins at these and our own events. Consequently local exhibitor numbers grew, swelling membership that gave us the confidence to apply for championship show status. There were a few long established clubs who thought we were getting a bit pushy! After all we had only been at it a few years! Not a chance, they opined. Fortunately the Kennel Club didn’t agree and granted it to us. Never had any breed club achieved that much in such a short time. The first show was held at Dartmoor Leisure Centre in Ivybridge, bang on the A38 and so easy to access. Yet again another success and the KC observer was well pleased. This encouraged many of our own members to exhibit at championship shows more often and the quality of the breed in the counties rose. The consequence was that BIG/BIS wins in all breeds shows locally increased and championship cards, then tickets started to come southwest more often.

In 1988, Ed Simpson, the excellent Hon Sec of The Cocker Spaniel Club was retiring. Ed is a man for whom I have huge respect, especially in relation to the thorny problem of instigating an FN control scheme. So when Ann and I attended Cruft’s that year, I was amazed to be approached by a number of the influential Cocker glitterati wanting to propose me to fill Ed’s shoes. This came as a great surprise in that I hadn’t even served on its committee, although I had represented our club on the Breed Council. Sadly I had to decline the invitation, as my job in ITV was an extremely demanding one, often working weekends, apart from which there was the vast amount of travelling that it would have incurred. However, I took the invitation as a great compliment not simply to me, but also to the club committee and members, without whom the club would not have succeeded in the way it had, which was no doubt, the reason I was asked to stand.

The rest as they say, is history. In 1988 I switched roles with Gary Green and was chairman until 1990, when I was made redundant and thus unable to continue financially. The Club kindly granted me Honorary Life Vice Presidency and Ann a Life Member. It was hard work but a most rewarding experience.