The History of the Labrador Retriever Club 1916-1991




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by Jo Coulson

First publish in the Labrador Retriever Club 1916-1991 ‘A Celebration of 75 Years’

The Labrador Retriever Club was formed on April 5th, 1916, at a meeting held at the Ladies Kennel Association rooms, Regent Street, London. Present at that meeting were a group of very influential Labrador owners all of whom were concerned to protect the development of the pure bred Labrador. Up until 1916 the Kennel Club permitted dogs of mixed retriever breeding to be registered under whatever breed the owner wished. This situation was obviously not satisfactory and had led to problems, particularly in the show ring. Perhaps the situation can best be illustrated by quoting a report taken from Our Dogs, 1932, which was written by R Anderton.

"It was about 1915 (sic.) when a very handsome two year old dog, Horton Max, won a number of firsts at Crufts, and was awarded the Certificate. An examination of the dog's pedigree showed that his sire was a pure bred Flatcoated Retriever named Beechgrove Peter. According to the rule then existing, such was in order, and it could not be gainsaid that in appearance Max was a very correct and typical Labrador. Without any particular feeling against either the dog, or his popular owner, most of the experienced breeders who were present, thought that such a state of affairs was wrong, and a meeting was called which almost everyone then interested in Labradors, attended. This crowded meeting voiced a petition to the Kennel Club to so change the rule that none but Labradors might compete in Labrador classes, a change which duly came about by a simple alteration in the conditions of registration".

The Kennel Club agreed to open a separate register for the inter-bred retrievers, thus leaving the way clear for the careful breeding of pure bred Labradors to continue unhindered. It was in the light of this new situation that the meeting was called in April, 1916, and the Labrador Retriever Club was formed to protect the interests of the breed and subsequently to run its own field trials. At that first meeting, a group of nine breeders met, including Mrs Quintin Dick, (later to become Lorna, Countess Howe). Mrs Quintin Dick was elected as Secretary and Treasurer and a Committee was agreed. It was decided that the Club should immediately be registered with the Kennel Club, the fee of one guinea (£1.05) being paid. The first elected Chairman was the Hon Arthur Holland-Hibbert (later Lord Knutsford), and the Committee which included Lord Chesterfield, Lord Lonsdale, Lord Vivian, Lord Harlech, Mr Burdett-Coutts, MP, Mr R Heaton and Mr A Nichol set about their task of building the foundations for the modern Labrador. A Breed Standard was drawn up, which was subsequently accepted by the Kennel Club and which remained unaltered until 1950. To encourage breeders to aim for the Standard, special prizes were offered at field trials for 'The best working pure-bred Labrador being the nearest to the Club Standard".

During the next years much hard work was done by the Committee to establish the breed. In November 1916 it was decided to make the conditions for the Club specials and cups as follows:- "Pedigrees must be produced if required, to prove that the winners' parents and grandparents were Labrador Retrievers". Again in 1920 the question was raised of what constitutes a pure-bred Labrador. It was stated that parents and grandparents must be Labrador Retrievers, ie "that a dog registered at the Kennel Club, one of whose parents has a flat coat, is not eligible for Club specials but that the progeny of his puppies, mated to a Labrador becomes eligible". The influence of the Club on the popularity of the breed can be seen by the fact that in 1912 there were 281 Labradors registered at the K C and by 1922 the annual figure had risen to 916.

The Club set up a fund to give financial support to gamekeepers and they were exempt from paying a membership subscription until 1920. Special considerations to gamekeepers acknowledged the vitally important role they played in the development of the breed. There were reduced rates of membership fees (which remained until 1982), special gamekeeper stakes at field trials and indeed it was agreed by the Committee in 1919 that travelling expenses would be paid to gamekeepers who entered their own dogs at trials.

In those early days when a high proportion of the Labradors were both worked and shown, the Club did much to encourage working dogs to be exhibited at shows; special prizes were given at Crufts and other shows, the conditions for which were that the owners must, if required, produce a certificate to show that the bog was a bona fide worker. Specials were also offered for the best of each sex owned by a gamekeeper at various championship shows.

The Club played a part in the Kennel Club strategy regarding the control of rabies  in the UK after the 1914-18 war, when so many dogs imported from Europe by soldiers returning home and a donation was made to the RSPCA to help in the provision of quarantine kennels.  More recently the Club has continued to play an important role in monitoring the progress of the breed, giving positive guidance on the eradication of hereditary diseases via the various BVA/KC schemes. The subject of HD and PRA were first discussed in 1967 and in 1971 Members were urged to start regular eye examination of their stock. It is interesting to note that as long ago as 1973 the Club wrote to the Kennel Club asking for a grading scheme for HD X-rays. In 1988 after the death of Mrs Joan Macan the Club took on the annual publication of the Hip Score Records. Mrs Macan had personally published the results of the BVA/KC HD X-ray examinations since 1981. To ensure that her good work did not come to an end when she died, the Joan Macan Memorial Fund was set up to finance the continued production of the annual records from the information collated by Miss Winter. In 1985 a decision was made to give financial support to the Animal Health Trust Department of Ophthalmology to enable Dr Keith Barnett to undertake research into hereditary cataract in the breed. Up to the present time a total of £600 has been donated.

The Club has regularly produced a Year Book for its Members; the first in 1917 was a small booklet which simply outlined the Club Rules, gave the Breed Standard and listed the Members. Later years began to include field trial results and the 1931 Year Book also had an article written by Lady Howe, extolling the virtues of the Labrador as a dual purpose dog. The Year Books progressed steadily until 1959 when it was decided to include Members' kennel advertisements and photographs. From then on the progress and importance of the Year Book has been phenomenal, until today when it is much sought after and treasured for the information and detail it contains.

In 1922 the Club produced its first special publication, 'The Stud Book and Record of Field Trials for Retrievers 1899 to 1922". This hard backed book researched by Lord Chesterfield, Major Portal and Mrs Quintin Dick, covered the retriever field trials in complete detail since their inception, giving details of trials, judges, winners, dogs whose progeny had won, analysis of wins and bench champions for Labradors, Flatcoats, Goldens, Interbreds and Gamefinders.

In 1949, the Club produced its second' 'Stud Book and Record of Field Trials". This was much larger and more detailed, and was researched and compiled by Mr C Mackay Sanderson. It was a complete record of field trial winners from 1919 to 1948, black and yellow history, lists of winners at field trials and shows and the Retriever Championship Stake. It also included American and Indian field trial winners, Golden Retriever, Curlycoated Retriever, Flatcoated Retriever and Interbred field trial history and extensive lists of bloodlines of all the retriever breeds. A total of 180 closely packed pages, with such a wealth of information and detail it was a massive undertaking for any Club, but one of inestimable value to the breed, both at the time of its publication and for the future. There were 500 copies printed at a cost of £285 and these were sold to Members and non-members all over the world. In fact large numbers were shipped to Australia and the USA to be sold through the gun dog clubs in those countries. Mr Mackay Sanderson was paid £150 for his work - he truly earned every penny! Such was the standard and attention to detail of the 1949 Stud Book, any attempt to follow it would be well nigh impossible. The growth of the breed numerically and the increase in annual activities would make such a task far too arduous undertaking.

The membership of the Club has increased steadily over the years. After the first year, when Members were recruited mainly by invitation, there were 129. This figure increased only gradually during the 1920's, new I Members including Mr Vincent Routledge (1921), Major Radclyffe (1923), Major and Mrs Wormald (1928). In the early 1930's other famous names were included, Mrs Broadley, Mrs Radclyffe, Mrs Heywood-Lonsdale and Mr Gilliat. By 1936 there were a total of 281 Members. After the 1939-1945 war, there was little progress; amongst those who joined in 1946 were Mrs Roslin-Williams, J Hart, Sr (Landyke), Dr Acheson (Ballyduff) and Mrs McPherson (Braeroy). The year 1960, with a membership of 345, saw the start of a gradual increase, which over a period of thirty years amounted to approximately 200 new Members per decade, giving a total of 737 Members in 1980. It was in 1981 that the Club entered a new era of popularity; one significant impact on the membership figures was the decision to take a Breed Club Stand at Crufts, thus enabling potential Members to learn about the Club and its activities and to see for themselves the quality of our Year Books, By 1985 the membership had Virtually doubled to 1350 , a good number of the new Members being Labrador lovers from overseas countries. By 1990 the total membership had reached 2000, with Members from at least 25 countries; in fact the Club has in excess of 400 Members from overseas, and the membership covers almost every country in the world where Labradors are recognised. 

Over the years the Committee has consisted of some of the most eminent people in the Gundog world. The likes of Mr V Routledge, Lord Rank, Mr H S, Lloyd, Mr C Riviere, Mr J Kent, Mr E Winter, Mr R MacDonald, Mr L C James, Mr H Taylor, Mr J Hart, Mr F Wrigley, Mrs, Docking, Mrs Radclyffe and Mr F Warner Hill, have all given their time and knowledge in service to the Club. The Committee of today is made up of some of the top people currently in Labradors, the Chairman, Mr B Death; Vice-Chairman, Mrs G Broadley; Secretary and Treasurer; Mrs J Coulson; Show Secretary, Mr D Coulson; Field Trial Secretary, Cdr H Faulkner; Year Book Editor, Mrs, M Floyd; and Committee Members, Mr G, Routledge, Mr G Jenkin, Capt P Hazlehurst, Lt Cdr P Whitehead, Dr P Dick, Mr L Kinsella, Mrs M Kinsella, Mrs P Rae, Mrs S Scales, Mrs M Beattie-Scott, Mrs M Barrenger and Mrs J Richardson, who are all top experts in their field as championship show judges, field trial judges and breeders. The Club is fortunate to have at its disposal the expertise of these people, the benefit of their many years of experience in the breed being used to full advantage both for the Club and the breed, In the care of such eminent people, the Club and the breed must surely have a sound future.