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Men and women who shaped
the world of dogs: Sewallis E Shirley

The Editor has decreed that we should celebrate Britain’s contribution to the world of dogs by remembering those whose energy and expertise set the path that is still being followed by the rest of the world. To select just one from so many deserving claimants has not been easy. Nevertheless my nomination must go to Sewellis Evelyn Shirley of Ettington as the man best qualified to wear the laurels. He became Deputy County Lieutenant, a Member of Parliament and a Justice of the Peace but his principal contribution to society arose out of his interest in dogs.

 As an Eton schoolboy he hunted his own pack of Beagles and in later life a pack of foxhounds over his Irish estates. He bred and from about 1871, showed Fox Terriers, Bulldogs, Bull Terriers, Wavy coated (later Flatcoated) Retrievers and Sheepdogs.

He seems to have made his debut as a judge at the 1871 Birmingham show where, with C Collins, he judged Bulldogs, Bull Terriers, Smooth Terriers and Black and tan Terriers. He judged at Edinburgh and Birmingham in 1872. In 1874 with William Lort he judged 459 dogs of all breeds at the Hull show.

Even though dog shows during this period received strong royal support it became apparent that the rules were not sufficiently well defined to support a well-run popular pastime. In order to address this problem in 1873 Shirley and a handful of other gentlemen formed the Kennel Club. He became the Club’s first Chairman and held that position until 1899 when he resigned and was elected President. The new club was an immediate success and quickly published rules for shows and field trials. Shirley was also instrumental in organising the first sheepdog trials, held in 1873 at Rhiwlas, Bala on the 64,000 acre Welsh estate of Richard John Lloyd-Price. The two were close friends as well as sporting companions who also shared an interest in dogs of all sorts. Lloyd-Price was a committee member of the first Crystal Palace Show held in 1870. It was he who designed the Club’s two tone green livery.

In the first year of its existence The Kennel Club ran their first Field Trials, judged by Shirley, John Henry Walsh and William Lort. In 1880 Shirley founded The Kennel Gazette, which could make a strong case to be the oldest dog magazine still in existence, albeit in truncated form. In 1898 Shirley judged in Moscow and so helped to blaze a trail that has since taken interest in dog shows all over the world. Shirley was also a successful breeder of Shorthorn cattle, of Shire horses and of thoroughbreds.

In 1902 the Kennel Club honoured Shirley with a gift of his portrait. Shirley died on March 20, 1905. The Kennel Club, the entire world of dogs, had lost its most influential character the like of whom has yet to be matched. We who try to follow their footsteps are mere pygmies.

Surely it is high time that the Kennel Club recognised the importance of Shirley both to the Club itself and to the wider world of dogs by ensuring that a reliable record of his life and unequalled achievements is produced.

Frank Jackson