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The Founder of Our Dogs

OUR DOGS Editor, William Moores, reviews
The life of its founder Theo Marples

On Friday, June 5th 1931, Theo Marples the founder and first Editor of 'OUR DOGS' was returning by car from Taunton Show and from what he had decided was to be is last ever judging appointment.

Approaching Congleton, a car pulled in sharply to attract the attention of a passer-by; a second car braked to avoid a collision and Theo Marples' driver swerved to avoid a further impact.

The move resulted in a head-on collision in which Theo Marples suffered severe head injuries from which he died on Sunday, June 7th in the Congleton Memorial Hospital. He was 83.

So ended a memorable career in canine journalism which spanned over 50 years.

Theophilus Marples was born in 1848 in the village of Baslow in Derbyshire, which is overlooked by the famous Derbyshire Estate of the Dukes of Devonshire.

His father was a Non-conformist minister, whose father, Mr.William Marples, was the sexton of Baslow Parish Church for over thirty years.

Theo Marples' late father, who became the Rev. John Marples, B.A., went to a lot of trouble in endeavouring to find out the origin of the "Marples" family.

He found that they were descended from the Huguenots who, in 1685, were expelled from France and settled in the north of Ireland.

They were farmers and landowners, some of them migrating to England and settling near Stockport, in Marple, where they built Marple Hall, the village taking its name from the hall.

Probably some members of this family, or other Marples, migrated from Ireland and settled at the village of Baslow, as several Marples lie buried in the graveyard of Edensor Church, in Chatsworth Park, the date of their graves being about the year 1700.

When Theo was a boy, about six or seven years old, his parents moved to West Burton in Wensleydale and he went to an old endowed country school at Aysgarth which served several surrounding villages.

It was when residing there that he first came in close contact with dogs. The parents of a boy friend had a litter of puppies which they wanted to get rid of and Mr.Marples bartered for one with the boy, but had ultimately to part with his pet.

This was in 1855, one year before dogs as beasts of burden were abolished by law in England. It was also about three or four years before the first dog show ever held at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1859, for Gundogs only, which was promoted by Mr.Pape, a gunsmith of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and Mr.Shorthose, who used to keep and shoot over Pointers and Setters.

As he grew up, and as a young man, Theo indulged in his natural love of dogs and kept a few and, in due course, became acquainted with the two promoters of the first dog show ever held in the world.

From West Burton his father moved to Queensbury, previously called "Queenshead" and Theo was sent to a boarding school in Halifax - Holder's Academy in Kings Cross Lane. By coincidence two of his dearest friends in later years who became noted breeders, exhibitors and judges of dogs, went to the same school. Mr. R.Hood Wright, a Halifax man, who was a noted Deerhound and Bloodhound breeder, and Mr. Harry Rawson, also a Yorkshireman who also bred Deerhounds and was in business in Edinburgh.

At Halifax, Marples went in the evenings to the Mechanic's Institute. Such institutions were then beginning to spring up all over the country and he happened to be among the prize-winners in one or more subjects.

Theo's next contact with dogs was when he was about 20 years of age when a relative who was associated with the Galway Hunt at Worksop made him a present of a Smooth Fox Terrier puppy - Wires were hardly heard of in those days - which we believe was out of the famous bitch, Grove Nettle, belonging to the Hunt. This was towards the end of 1866. In 1870 Theo exhibited a white bitch, Myrtle (which he picked up for a sovereign) at the Alexandra Palace Show which won 2nd prize and was claimed at its catalogue price of £30 by Mr. Gibson. He sold the bitch, Mettle, for £50 to Mr. Firmstone of Stourbridge; this was some time in the 1870's.

After holding one or two jobs at Halifax and Thornton before he reached 21, Theo secured a position as salesman at a clothier and outfitter's business in Blackburn, and ultimately bought the business. He did very well in this business for some years until there came a severe depression in the local cotton industry.

In 1870 Theo's father and most of the family emigrated to Canada, his father had previously joined the Presbyterian Church and was sent out by the Scottish Presbytery to superintend a group of churches in Canada. He died there in the early 1900's.

Theo exhibited at shows and was quite successful, adding from time to time one or two other breeds to his kennel, such as Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Pekingese, Collies, Japanese, Whippets, Pugs and later Sporting Spaniels.

Dog shows at this time were of a very primitive nature. There were no dog benches at shows to begin with, the dogs being just tethered to stakes round the field at agricultural shows.

The judges were few and not very experienced. Two of these judges, who, by reason of their judging all breeds that came before them, were called "all-round" judges. Their names were Mr. Lort, a great Gundog man and Mr. George Hellewell. "Yorkshire George" as he was familiarly dubbed.

Whereas, in those days, these were the chief and practically the only all-round judges, there are now hundreds of them!

The particulars given of the dogs in those far-off days were very meagre and not always genuine. Many dogs had the same name, and had to have distinguishing marks recorded in the catalogues. The Kennel Club did not exist at this time.

Theo judged his first show at Halifax in 1873, a little show of several breeds held in conjunction with a church fête.

The Kennel Club was founded the same year. Mr. S. E.Shirley, M.P. for Monaghan in Ireland, was the founder and he got around him some of the leading sportsmen and doggy experts of that time. Mr.Shirley bred Pointers, Setters and more particularly, Wavy (Flatcoated) Retrievers and, of course, was the first chairman of the Kennel Club.

Show dogs, with a Kennel Club to look over them and regulate their exhibition and registration, which was soon adopted, began to make great strides, leading owners and ladies entering their ranks as breeders and exhibitors.

Having judged his first show in 1873, Theo officiated as a judge of all breeds at every important show in the United Kingdom, including The Kennel Club show and Cruft's many times, and at several shows in the United States, in Canada, Russia, South Africa and in nearly every city in Europe.

Theo Marples had the honour to review for the columns of 'OUR DOGS' all the Royal kennels, including those of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra, King George V and the Prince of Wales.

In 1879, a few fanciers, of whom Theo was the leader, banded themselves together to run a dog, poultry and pigeon show - at which time he was exhibiting besides dogs, prize poultry and pigeons - on the Blackburn cricket ground. The show was a fancier's, but not a financial success, hence it was suspended.


Among the earlier Fox-terrier friends with whom he was associated we recall Mr. Francis Redmond, Mr. J. C. Tinne, Mr Robert Vicary, Mr. Theo Bassett, Mr. J. A. Doyle, the Rev. J. W. Mellow, the brothers Clarke (of CH. Result fame), Mr. J. J. Pim, Mr.Desmond O'Connell, Mr.F.Burbage, Mr.H.S.Whipp, Mr.E.W.Jacquet, Mr.Luke Turner, Rev. de Castro, Mr.W.Carrick, Mr.George Raper and Mr.L.P.C.Astely.

After Manchester Ch. Show in March 1931, Theo decided to retire from judging and had determined that Taunton should be the last show at which he would judge, and by a strange trick of fate, he sustained fatal injuries in a motor accident on June 5th, on his return journey from that very show.