THE NORTH DEVON WORKING GUNDOG CLUB
The history of the Club and its origins were produced as part of the Club’s 25th Anniversary celebrations
This account was researched and collated from Club records by Mrs Rosemary Price. A major contribution was also made by Mrs Ingrid Dickinson-Chetham, one of the Club’s founder members and the first Vice-Chairman.
A record of significant changes that have taken place in the Club since 2010 has been added.
A brief history of the Club and its origins
The origins of the North Devon Working Gundog Club lie primarily in a Show Society. The Club started because some members wished to train their retrievers to work.
Early in the 1960’s the Exeter and County Canine Society (E&CCS), a Show Society with a class for gundogs, included some members who wished to work their dogs. On 29th April, 1964 a meeting was held at the Emmanuel Hall, Exeter to discuss the possibility of starting field training for gundogs, the chair being taken by Mrs Drury who was the President of the E&CCS. A sub-committee was formed, chaired by Mrs Kay Holmes, and included Mr Wearne, Secretary and Mr Tucker, Mr Fowler, Mrs Vipond and Mrs Brown. It was agreed that a notice of intent was to be displayed at the Devon County Dog Show and would be advertised in their catalogue.
Training classes and summer working tests were organised and continued until January 1985 when, with the permission of the parent society, the Gun Section became independent and was eventually registered as The North Devon Gundog Club, later incorporating a Kennel Club regulation to include the word “Working” in the title. The events leading up to this initiative were due to the interest and enthusiasm shown by members, in particular, Squadron Leader Peter Dennis, Eva Dennis, Barbara Vipond and Alistair Rutland.
In 1962 the nearest official training classes for retrievers were held in Hampshire by the United Retriever Club. Privately, the Rev. Steele of Powderham, near Exeter, owned and trained his own Flatcoated Retrievers. Two years later his wife was persuaded to hold a few classes at ‘The Rectory’ for enthusiasts who then started classes at Barbara Vipond’s house at Chittlehampton.
Some of the established clubs had been holding field trials for some time and in November 1963 the Golden Retriever Club, together with the Flatcoated Retriever Society held a Puppy Stake at Powderham Castle. Mrs Joan Godfrey, a founder member was so determined to see a Field Trial that she took the train from her home in Torbay to Dawlish Warren and walked from there to Powderham. She recalled that the stake was won by Mrs June Atkinson.
Early training classes
When training classes began, handlers were ordered to furnish themselves with a whistle. No dummies were used – people were using their own throwing objects made from rolled up socks and other materials, but these were considered to be too soft and might be the cause of hard mouths. Members were asked to make sure that their dummies weighed between one and two pounds and to train their dogs to hand signals.
At this time Vic Davies possessed a target launcher imported from America, designed to launch tin cans for target practice for live pigeon shooting. The launcher worked on the principle of a mousetrap with a spring-loaded ejector. Colonel Graham and Vic Davies felt that this could be adapted for retriever training but were strongly advised to cover the tin with something soft. The tin was replaced by a plastic bottle filled with sand and foam. The two men took the whole contraption to Webley & Scott’s who converted the bottle to canvas and the target launcher then became suitable for retriever training.
Other West Country Clubs
The West Dartmoor Gundog Club was mentioned in the Western Morning News in 1966 and this was followed later by the formation of the Westward Gundog Society and the West of England Labrador Retriever Club, giving three good training clubs in the south west. Although the training of retrievers was the prime reason for the formation of the Gun Section of the E&CCS, some members had been lucky enough to apply the training and take their dogs ‘picking up’ in the shooting field.
At this time there were 17 active members and over the next few years, the membership increased and working tests were started. Cups were presented for the winner and runner-up and an Inter-Club Competition was suggested. The first annual match was between the E&CCS Gun Section, the West Dartmoor Club and the Powderham training group. Colonel Graham presented a trophy for the winner.
Basic obedience – the first priority
Squadron Leader Dennis, as trainer, suggested that there should be separate training for puppies and beginners and it was decided in committee that basic obedience must be first and foremost. There were more cups presented, one for the best puppy progress by Mrs Beattie-Scott and another for the most points in competition by Colonel Graham.
The membership continued to increase and the E&CCS Gun Section became more financially secure despite having to pay £5 each year to the Exeter and County Canine Society. Over the next few years there were a number of highlights, for example, Vic Davies won the West of England Club’s Novice Test with Rita and in 1978 a letter was sent to the Prime Minister recording disapproval of the Labour Government’s intention to ban field sports.
Striving for independence
At the AGM of the E&CCS Gun Section in 1983, there was a proposal from Mrs Joan Godfrey, seconded by Mrs Ingrid Dickinson-Chetham that the E&CCS Gun Section should investigate the possibility of forming a Club independent of the Exeter and County Canine Society. The Secretary was asked to make enquiries from the Kennel Club about this option. Consequently, at the AGM of the E&CCS Gun Section in 1984 a decision to become independent of the E&CCS was approved unanimously.
At the same AGM a member raised the question of spaniel training, but it was pointed out that while the Gun Section was within the E&CCS, the training was restricted to retrievers only and the constitution would have to be re-written.
Independence was finally granted at the AGM of the E&CCS in January 1985 and preparations were then initiated to write a constitution and rules for the new club which was to be called the North Devon Gundog Club. The Kennel Club had stated that thirty members were needed to form a new club but nothing had been given in writing to confirm the registration of the new name.
The Kennel Club saga
Correspondence then began with the Kennel Club and finally, in March 1986, Mrs Joan Shaw wrote to the Chief Executive of the Kennel Club, giving a blow by blow account of letters and telephone calls between the Show and Working Sections. At last, in July 1986 came the great news that the September issue of the Kennel Club Gazette would advertise the application. However, it first had to be placed before their Main Committee at the next appropriate meeting.
Before the issues were finalised with the Kennel Club, the final AGM of the E&CCS Gun Section took place in December 1985 when the Chairman, Mr Ivan Wassell paid tribute to various people who had done so much during the 21 years of its existence and expressed gratitude to the parent club for their help, generosity and good wishes. Best wishes for the future had also been received from the West Dartmoor Gundog Club and the Westward Gundog Society. Mr. Wassell then closed the meeting and opened the inaugural AGM of the North Devon Gundog Club.
The Founder Members
The names of thirty founder members were recorded to be registered with the Kennel Club. The following people were named as Founder Members of the North Devon Gundog Club:
|Mrs Rosemary Western||Mrs Joan Litchfield|
|Mrs Cecilia Sharam||Mrs Ingrid Dickinson-Chetham|
|Mrs Mary Crimp||Mr George Welsh|
|Mr Terry Crimp||Mrs Barbara Vipond|
|Mrs Celia Bedford||Mr J Maude|
|Mrs Joan Godfrey||Mr Ken Knight|
|Mrs Joan Shaw Mrs.||Sue Knight|
|Mrs Mary Yendell||Miss Diana Young|
|Mr Ivan Wassell||Mr Pat Wright|
|Mrs Yvonne Wassell||Mrs Thelma Salaman|
|Mrs Anne Keigwin||Mr Vic Davies|
|Mrs Pat Kelly||Mrs Mary Davies|
|Mr Mike Knox||Miss Phyllis Southwell|
|Mrs Gwen Knox||Miss Patricia Whitwill|
|Mrs Margaret Rutland|
There were thirty five people at the first AGM and fourteen apologies for absence, so the membership was healthy.
The following officers were then elected:
|Chairman||Mr Ivan Wassell|
|Vice-Chairman||Mrs Ingrid Dickinson-Chetham|
|Secretary/Treasurer||Mrs Margaret Rutland|
Committee: Mrs Yvonne Wassell, Mr Vic Davies, Mrs Joan Shore, Mrs Mary Davies, Miss Patricia Whitwill and Mr Ken Knight.
A draft constitution had been prepared by the outgoing committee of the E&CCS Gun Section and this was discussed, rule by rule.
As mentioned above, correspondence with the Kennel Club continued during 1986 to try and achieve the registration of the title of the new club but this proved to be a slow process. Finally at the second AGM in December 1986, the Secretary reported that the Kennel Club wished the society to be known as the North Devon Working Gundog Club and this was approved by the meeting, but formal Kennel Club confirmation was still awaited.
Training classes were organised, continuing the good work of the E&CCS Gun Section and in December 1986, Mr. Geoff Barclay was elected to the committee to look after the interests of spaniels.
Since the inauguration of the new Club, working tests for retrievers had been arranged, starting with a Cold Game test in the February. This was followed by an Open, a Water Test for Novice and Open dogs, a Puppy/Veteran and a Novice Test. At the end of the summer, a Fun day was organised and then a Test for non-winners followed in October. The first spaniel working tests were held in 1988 and at that time there were 135 members of the Club.
The working tests were extremely well supported and the committee began to think about organising field trials for Retrievers. Eventually the first Novice Field Trial was held at the Castle Hill Shoot on the 20th December, 1990 and a plaque was presented to Castle Hill on the holding of the trial, worded as follows:
“This plaque commemorates the First Field Trial held by the North Devon Working Gundog Club on 20th December, 1990 by kind permission of the Castle Hill Shoot Syndicate.”
The judges were Mrs Mary Barringer, Mrs Gwen Knox and Mr Graham West and the results were sent to ‘Sporting Dogs’ for publication and a report was sent to Martin Deeley for the ‘Shooting Times’. The results were as follows:
|First||Highdunscott Marshall||Mrs Thelma Salaman|
|Second||Labrador||Mr Sid Saturley|
|Third||Labrador||Mr Gordon Rice|
|Certificate of Merit||Domisham Soloist (GR)||Miss Diana Young|
The first Novice Spaniel Trial was held on the 25th November, 1992 at Miltons Estate, Bridgetown. The judges were Mr John Burgoyne and Mrs J Webster and the results were as follows:
|First||Haresdown Ami of Wiscombe||Miss Sara Chichester|
|Second||Woodhay Squire||Mr Dave John|
|Third||Sherry Sweet and Dri||Mr Chris Thurston-Woolnough|
|Fourth||Benjamin Freckles||Mr Ernie Price|
|Certificate of Merit||White Ben of Wivenwood||Mr Jack Davey|
Open Qualifying status
Since the inauguration of the retriever and spaniel field trials, two novice stakes for each breed group were held annually. Over the next ten years the club continued to grow and eventually, Open Qualifying Field Trial status was granted by the Kennel Club, culminating in the holding of an Open Stake for Retrievers and an Open Stake for Spaniels, both in November 1998.
The first Open Stake for A V Retriever was held on 11th November at Castle Hill and the judges were The Hon. Mrs A G Jessel, Mr M Dare, Mr M D Saturley and Mr E Venturi. The results were as follows:
|First||Mallowdale Gunner||Mr Graham West|
|Second||Keness Sweet Bella||Mr Phil Bruton|
|Third||Follyoak Boris||Mrs M G Marriott|
Graham West generously donated the Leeglen Trophy for the winner and promptly took it home again after taking the top honours.
This Stake was followed the next day, by the first Open Stake for Spaniels at Miltons Estate, Bridgetown. The judges were Mr Jack Davey and Mr Graham West and the results were as follows:
|First||F.T.Ch Sunnybrae of Scarley Morganning||Mr Paul Wilson|
|Second||F.T.Ch Chilview Ace||Mr Dave John|
|Third||Walemuns Risk||Mr Chris Upton|
|Fourth||Wiscombe Treaty||Ms Sara Chichester|
Nine Certificates of Merit were also awarded.
Dave John presented the Open Spaniel winner’s trophy, the Bridacoombe Shield, a truly unique trophy, created from a large slab of burr elm, sourced by his own hand. Dave was a forester by profession and was instrumental, together with Mike Durrant, in instigating the Club’s Spaniel Field Trial programme.
Chris Taylor, (left) is seen in 2008 with Pilton Pippa, the winner in 2008 when the stake was run on the Spreacombe Shoot, nr Braunton.
Unfortunately the Club does not have a pictorial record of our very first Open Spaniel Stake.
With increasing interest in Cocker spaniels, the Club held its first Novice Cocker Stake at Castle Hill in October 2007. The results were:
|First||Buckhill Gun Ringo||Ms Jay Thompson|
|Second||Randalyn Black Knight||Mrs Lyn Randall|
|Third||Kenmifore Sunbeam||Mr Graham West|
|Fourth||Larford Arn||Mr Peter Malski|
A splendid new silver cup was presented to the winner by Martin Easterbrook on behalf of James Electrics.
Judges and winners: Left to right – back row Graham Mulligan, David Rayner, Anita Jones, Martin Easterbrook (sponsor), Tom Ballinger and Jack Davey. Front row (kneeling) Simon Tyers, Jay Thompson, Graham West and Peter Malski.
At the time of the 25th Celebration, the Club held one Novice A.V. Retriever Stake and two Open Retriever Stakes. The Club Spaniel Stakes consisted of one Novice for A.V. Spaniel, an Open for English Springer Spaniels and a Novice for Cocker Spaniels.
Among the other â€˜firsts’ for the club was the introduction of an Annual Dinner in 1998, regularly enjoyed by many members.
The Lady Margaret Fortescue was invited to become President of the Club in the year 2000 following the sad death of Mrs Barbara Vipond who, in 1987, became the very first President of the North Devon Working Gundog Club.
Until 2010 the post of Chairman had seen five incumbents beginning with Mr Ivan Wassell who then handed over to Mr Ken Knight in 1992. The next was Mrs Ingrid Dickinson-Chetham in 1994 and Mr Michael Durrant succeeded her in 1997, followed by Chairman Mr Maurice Stanbury in 2005.
The 25th Anniversary Celebration
The Club enjoyed a wonderful day on Sunday 13th June 2010 celebrating our 25th Anniversary in the beautiful grounds of Castle Hill, Filleigh by kind permission of Lady Arran and our President Lady Margaret Fortescue.
An inter-club team test was run during the morning with eight teams participating from neighbouring clubs, as well as an International team with two club members from Holland. Many members and guests also brought their dogs with them and had great fun playing a game of ‘doggie snooker’, taking part in an agility test or running in a scurry to find the fastest dog.
Founder members of the Club were invited to a drinks reception, where they were welcomed by the Club Chairman and committee members. The oldest founder member attending was Mrs Ingrid Dickinson-Chetham (seated left) who was also chairman of the club from 1994 to 1997.
In the afternoon, spectators thoroughly enjoyed watching professional demonstrations by Keith Broomfield with his Labradors, together with Nick Gregory and his team of Cockers. Keith’s Labradors were most impressive but Nick took the BAFTA award for working three Cockers together when they all behaved impeccably.
Members were able to relax after lunch on a grassy bank and enjoy watching the fun when they were not participating.
The team from the Cornwall Field Trial Society (kneeling left to right) Clive Warrilow, Hilda Laity, Mell Brooks, and Margaret Cox won the inter-club competition with the West Dartmoor Working Gundog Club a close second. The top retriever was Mell Brooks black Labrador dog Kenmillen Helston of Anningtenbay and Hilda Laity’s Springer dog FTCh Kidnais Blunder of Spriggans took the award for best spaniel. They are joined in the photograph by members of other competing teams.
The winning team members each received engraved glass trophies, generously donated by James Electric of Barnstaple and all members of the top four teams received bags of dog food, thanks to the generosity of Skinner’s. Scurry winners received training packs kindly donated by Sporting Saint. Jason Nicholas was presented with a £25 training voucher, very kindly donated by Mrs Ingrid Dickinson-Chetham, for the best young handler.
More than £200 was donated by members and friends as they left for home, in aid of the North Devon Hospice.
In 2010, a website for the NDWGC was set up to keep pace with the increasing use of computer technology. The information on the website included dates of field trials and working tests, together with results, photographs and news items of note. In addition, Zena Churchward our then membership secretary, created an electronic database of members.
An expanding Field Trial Programme
In 2011 the club was successful in their application to the Kennel Club to gain Open Cocker status.
Our first Open Cocker stake was held at the Pyne Shoot, near Exeter and was judged by Keith Carter and Margaret Cox.
The winner was Stuart Morgan with his 3 year old bitch Maesydderwen Saucey who also took the award for Guns’ Choice.
The Easterbrook Gould Trophy, donated by Martin Easterbrook, was presented to the winner as well as the Tankard for Guns’ Choice donated by the Spreacombe Shoot.
A second Novice Retriever stake was also added to the Field Trial Schedule in 2011, making a total of four retriever trials in all. Robin and Sue Gray of Grayspeed Gundogs very kindly donated a handsome trophy, the Grayspeed Trophy, to be awarded to the winner of this trial which was held for the first time at the Affeton Shoot, East Worlington.
Loss of our President
We were deeply saddened to learn of the death on Saturday 25th May 2013, of our President, Lady Margaret Fortescue, at the age of 89. Lady Margaret first became President of the Club in the year 2000 and was always a great supporter of our activities. The Club has run many events, including field trials, working tests and training classes at Castle Hill due to the generosity of her family. The highlight was our 25th Anniversary Celebration in 2010, when Lady Margaret was actively involved throughout. This was a special day to remember.
Lady Margaret was a great character and had many fascinating stories to tell. Yellow Labradors were her passion and she gained great pleasure from working them on shoot days at Castle Hill. Such was her enthusiasm that she was training her young labrador bitch during the summer of 2012, to take out the following season together with fellow Club members and pickers-up. She was a much loved and well respected member of the picking-up team.
We miss her greatly for her presence, sagacity and wit.
The Ongoing Summer Programme
The training programme was again very successful during the summer of 2013 with both retrievers and spaniels. Graham Dibble took over the organisation of the programme from Geraldine Davis who had done a fantastic job for a number of years. Geraldine continued as a trainer together with Gordon Hewitt, Andrew Stevens and Neil Harris all of whom have given freely of their time and knowledge. It is very rewarding to see both new and existing members gain so much from the learning opportunities that the classes bring.
Gordon ran the Retriever Working Tests for the first time in 2013, which was a major change of life-style for him, since he had been a cricket umpire for many years! Although he took on the new job with some trepidation, he has been a great success in his new role.
Graham has been inundated with requests for the Club to attend events, particularly Shows and Country Fairs, to put on gundog demonstrations. Wherever we have gone, we have received a great welcome and many compliments for the professionalism of our presentation together with amazement from the general public that our dogs have been so well behaved. We have successfully raised the profile of the Club and Jean Dibble has run the Club Shop, with help from members, taking a significant amount of money.
The committee decided, after a great deal of discussion in July 2013, to move away from a hard copy Newsletter to an electronic version that could be emailed to members, both speeding up our communications and saving a considerable amount of money in printing and postage, not to mention the efforts of a small group of committee members who had taken on the task of packing and addressing more than 600 envelopes. However, members were given the opportunity of still receiving a hard copy if they did not have access to email.
A New Club President
Following the sad death of Lady Margaret Fortescue in 2013, we were delighted that Hugh Thomas accepted our invitation to become President of the Club in early 2014 and was duly appointed at the AGM. Hugh is a Chartered Surveyor and, until recently, Chairman of the Greater Exmoor Shoots Association, as well as greatly enjoying his shooting and picking up. He has taken a very active interest in the Club and regularly attends our events.
And New Chairmen..
Chris Jones was elected as Chairman of the Club, in 2018 following on from Maurice Stanbury who had held the position since 2005. During that period membership of the club had continued to expand, reflecting a successful programme of trials, working tests and training.
In early 2022, Chris Jones stepped down and Graham Dibble took over as the new Chairman of the Club.
A Mega Hiccup
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the United Kingdom in the early months of 2020 and caused a major disruption to club activities. The summer programme of training, working tests and demonstrations had to be cancelled, as were all committee meetings and the Annual General Meeting. After the initial lockdown period was eased in late summer, an outdoor meeting of the committee was held in the Treasurer’s Garden. However, it was clear that the period of uncertainty was far from over and the decision was taken to cancel all planned activities for the 2020/21 shooting season.
Following some 15 months of inactivity, the club first emerged from self-imposed exile, by holding a committee meeting on Zoom. A novel experience which worked well and enabled a summer programme to be planned, subject of course to ongoing Covid related restrictions. This was followed by the AGM, again held on Zoom, which ratified the committee membership and the accounts for two years, allowing the Club to move forward as soon as national constraints allowed.