Looking Back - A History of the Welsh Corgi
by Sally Williams

For centuries there have been Corgis on the farms and hills of West Wales. Perhaps they were not known as Corgis, Welsh Heelers seems to have been a favourite name or sometimes just "little yellow cattle dogs". But whatever they were called they worked on the farms or drove the cattle to the markets of London or the Midlands. Around a thousand years ago in the days of Hywel Dda [or Howell The Good who claimed that a good cattle dog shared the same value as a steer] the small and fleet-of-foot Corgi can be found in the pages of history. And in the early days of the Welsh Corgi Club the spelling of the word "Corgi" could vary somewhat - "Corgie", "Curgi", "Curgie seeming somewhat interchangeable, as I reproduce in this text.

Bred in the remote hill farms of West Wales, the Corgi was an indispensable helper to the farmers, where the famous herding instincts would aid in everything from bringing in the dairy beast for milking to gathering in the sheep, to guarding the hens, to the long drovers' treks.

Few corgis were shown prior to the formation of the Welsh Corgi Club in 1925. The earliest evidence I can find of Corgis being scheduled at a show is in 1919 when the Kennel Club wished to have a description of the Welsh Corgi having seen the schedule of the St David's [Pembrokeshire] Show. Subsequently at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in 1925 classes for "Welsh Corgies" were guaranteed by a founder member of the Club rather than have his dog entered under AV Unclassified. Interest was mounting among the dog fanciers that year and in October, Hubert Evans of The Field, wrote asking for the points of the Corgi and telling of an English lady who was selling up her stock of Field Spaniels in order to breed Corgis and said she was anxious to become a member when the club was formed. And as far away as Adelaide there was a concern for the revival of the Welsh Corgi.

So it was that, late in 1925, a notice appeared in a Pembrokeshire newspaper inviting all interested in the Corgi to attend a meeting at the Castle Hotel in Haverfordwest on Tuesday, December 15th at 4.30pm. This advertisement was signed by J. H. Howell, M.F.H., otherwise known as "Captain Jack" Howell, of Solva, Pembrokeshire, whose papers and diaries in the County Records Office in Haverfordwest have provided much valuable and authentic information. Captain Jack became Chairman of the new club at that first meeting, which he described as "very good", noting in his diary that "40 - 50 were present".

The little membership/rule book, published that month gives us the names of the founders and also stated "That this Club be called "The Corgi Club". That its objects be:
(1) To promote the breeding of pure Corgis;
(2) To adopt and publish the description of type and points as herein stated and to urge the adoption of this type on Breeders, Judges, Dog Show Committees, etc., as the only recognised standard by which Corgis are to be judged and by which may in future be uniformly accepted as the sole standard of excellence in breeding and in awarding prizes of merit to the Corgis;
(3) To do all in its power to protect and advance the interest of the breed by offering prizes, supporting certain shows if funds permit and take any other steps that be deemed necessary."

The next meeting of the committee was held on December 26, 1925. Imagine trying to hold a meeting on a Boxing Day nowadays!

Rose (Tim x Teddy)
The first Corgi registered st the Kennel Club

The diaries reveal much in the way of minor detail. Earlier in the year Capt. Howell had bought a "Curgie" from Mrs Harries of Caerfariog for £5. This was Rosebud by Felix out of Freda. Then his bailiff supplied him with a farm dog from the hills, Rose, who was the first Corgi to be registered with the Kennel Club. The story goes that Capt. Howell had a savage bull which none of his dogs could control and Jim, his bailiff, told him that Rose would master the bull - and she did! Rosebud must have been in whelp when she was purchased as she produced two bitches and one dog on January 6, 1926, and her master recorded that the dog and one of the bitches were bobtails. (very important in view of the ban on docking). Capt. Howell kept the two bitches.

Keep it in the Family
Capt. Howell's brother, Adrian, had a bitch named Phoebe, who had been mated to Buller, and she produced five "Curgie" pups. Adrian Howell's daughter, Nancy Bayly, who also provided much information, still has a "Phoebe", the third in the family. Phoebe and Buller, together with Caleb, Shan, Bowhit Pepper and Rose, were some of the names which dominated the breed in those very early days and appeared in many pedigrees.

On May 27, 1926 Capt. Howell recorded that, "Solva Rosebud (Corgi) took two First Prizes and a Special for the best Corgie in the Show at Carmarthen today". (I have copied the variations in spelling faithfully, as a matter of interest).

Two days later Eliza whelped, having two pups, one dog and one bitch. In July the bitch puppy was sold to a Mrs Lloyd for the sum of £8 10s. 0d. (£8.50).

Llangeitho Show was held on August 25, the judge being Capt. George Checkland Williams. Solva Rosebud had two firsts, winning 2 x 10/- (50p) and Solva Tyrant won 2 x 5/- (25p) - two second prizes. On November 27 the Western Mail carried a story with the headline: "The Corgi's Leap to Fame - Old Cattle Dog of West Wales Surprises London". The columnist continued: "In one day the Corgi has sprung into public favour. One of these dogs appeared in the Mitchum Dog Show at the Crystal Palace this week, as reported in Thursday's Western Mail, and as soon as its presence became known, a crowd of pressmen and photographers gathered on the spot to learn all about it".

"The owner, Mr J. Williams, a master at Dulwich School, who together with his wife, is a native of Solva, today gave me an interesting story of the breed. "Our own dog', he said, 'we have named Dewsland Smudge, because the Hundred of Dewsland, in Pembrokeshire, is the actual place where the dogs originated. It was given to me by Mr Adrian Howell, the brother of the chairman of the Corgi Club which was formed in Wales in 1925 to re-establish the breed when I was on holiday there. I had no intention of showing him at first, but proposed to breed them, and I still intend to do so if I can get a bitch. All this sudden publicity seems to have made them scarce".

Many Good Qualities
"As you can see the dog has not a striking appearance - I mean there is nothing about it that would attract your attention at a casual glance. Yet there is something engaging about its ways. It is intelligent and hardworking, and yet so gentle with children and such a good house dog." Mr Williams went on to describe the Corgi habit of heeling cattle and the head and the tail, or lack of it, which are characteristic of the breed, and then he continued: "The father, mother, little brother and full brother of Dewsland Smudge have all won prizes in Wales. St David's Horse and Dog Show in 1919 was the first time that classes for the Corgi were opened. In February next there will be five classes for Corgis at Crufts Show in the Agricultural Hall, London, one of the most important shows of the year. Judging by the popularity of my dog, they should prove a great success".

Another interesting piece appeared in the Pembrokeshire County Guardian that November, written by Sir William Beach Thomas: "Cattle-driving Corgies of West Wales - Inborn art of dodging a kick. A dog of most engaging appearance and manners has been discovered or rediscovered by the sportsmen and farmers of a small district of South Wales. Older residents remember that years ago the smallholders of the district kept dogs (which they called Corgis) to drive in their cattle, very much as a sheepdog rounds up sheep". He went on to describe the heeling practice and how many were born tail-less and then continued ..."The Corgis were used in Pembrokeshire for all sorts of purposes, for ratting and rabbiting at which they excel, as well as for house dogs. They are clean, singularly intelligent, at least quick". He concluded, "The breed must be antique for the standard points come singularly true; but it has never enjoyed the popularity it deserves outside the narrow confines of its place of origin".

At the back of Capt. Howell's diary for 1926 was a memorandum: "10.7.26. Passed that the Club should be registered at the Kennel Club". There were 73 members in that first year. In 1927 on May 18, Capt. Jack judged at Cardiff Championship Show where there were six classes of Corgis. In October a "Corgie Committee Meeting" attended by 12, appointed T.D. Davies to judge at Crufts. So the following February Capt. Jack Howell went to Crufts. He noted in his diary that Rosebud had a prize and in addition, with sister Roseleaf, was first in the Brace class. The entry fees were £3 2s. 6d (£3 12½p), the train fare 19s. 6d. (97½p) but the prize money only £2. 10s. (£2.50p). So exhibitors were not likely to be in pocket in those days, either!

A Growing Fever
Capt. Jack travelled to the L.K.A. in May 1929, only to be told by the Official Veterinary Surgeon that he would not pass Roseleaf or Petal. Corgi fever seemed to be growing apace. David T. Davies wrote from Fishguard to Capt. Jack Howell about the Corgi Club, "We have seven prospective members here, four of them having CORGWN" {the Welsh plural) ..."and the rest on the warpath". And Ivor T. James of Little Newcastle, a few miles down the road, wrote ..."Everyone in the area has become Corgi Mad".

The Secretary of the Kennel Club wrote to Capt. Jack Howell in March 1928. "With reference to my letter of the 28th ultimo, I have pleasure in informing you that my committee at their meeting held on Tuesday decided that Welsh Corgis be placed in the Register of Breeds". However, controversy appeared in May of 1928 when Capt. Jack Howell wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Welsh Corgi Club: "Dear Sir, I am sorry I shall not be able to attend the meeting tomorrow of the Welsh Corgi Club. As Chairman I strongly disapprove of the amalgamation of the two clubs. I wish the meeting to thoroughly understand that WE have now got the Kennel Club to grant US Champion Certificates, which will not be granted if we amalgamate with the Cardigan Club for some time. These Champion Certificates might be taken from us if we do amalgamate as all members must be present or be given notice. This amalgamation must take place at our Annual General Meeting earlier next year or at a General Meeting convened for this purpose. These revised points will also have to be sent to the Kennel Club for the sanction to alter ours".

Bowhit Pepper

Bowhit Prince

Obviously, the Chairman of the Club Captain Jack Howell eventually had his way and it was many years before Cardigan Corgis were scheduled at club shows because of his objection. Challenge Certificates were first awarded to Corgis at Cardiff in 1928 and by 1929 six pairs of "tickets" were on offer. The first CC winners were bred in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, by Mr T. Jones. Litter brother and sister, they were only six months old. He was Fairmay Fondo and her name was Shan Fach, later to be owned and made up to champion by Mr Oliver Jones, Pantyblaidd.

Shan Fach

Mrs Thora Jenkins, daughter of the famous Sid Bowler (Bowhit) reminiscing about the old days, told how the house always seemed to be full of dogs. Of course, the pioneers of Corgis often had more than one breed, but Mrs Jenkins' favourites were Corgis. She recalled a number of dogs which have a special place in her memory, including two of her father's champions, Bowhit Pepper and Bowhit Prince. "Then", she said, "there were others such as Mrs Higson's Ch Trier of Sealy, Ch Golden Girl, Ch Rozaval Red Dragon, owned by Thelma Gray and Oliver Jones' Crymmych President. There were also the Cardigans such as Bob Llwyd (the first Cardi Champion) Ch Brenig Brilliant, Olwen and so on"... Mrs Jenkins' husband was also involved with the breed and the Club. In 1935 he was Secretary and in 1952 the President.

Trier of Sealy

Ch. Crymmych President

Docking Prohibited
Mrs Higson's daughter, Mrs Frances Hill, was in touch with the Welsh Corgi Club in the mid 1980's. She recalled happy early days, when she and her mother were well-known and popular exhibitors and judges. Many years ago she had won three silver spoons as specials in Haverfordwest and offered these to the Club. The Club was delighted to accept and they were presented to Best Dog, Best Bitch and Best Puppy at the Diamond Jubilee Championship Show in 1985.

Up until 1931, if a Corgi puppy was born with a tail it was almost always docked, but in July of that year the Kennel Club passed a rule prohibiting docking. It took three years or hard fighting on behalf of the Welsh Corgi Club before the ban was repealed in 1934. So, the Pembroke type Corgi was then on the list of those breeds that could be docked. It appears, however, that there was still much interbreeding between Pembrokes and Cardigans and sometimes the Kennel Club had to question owners about the origins of their dogs. For instance, a well known Cardigan dog, Ch My Rockin Mawr, was sired by the Pembroke Ch Bowhit Pepper. In October 1934 another milestone was reached, when at the Kennel Club show there were Challenge Certificates on offer for both Pembrokes and Cardigans. The judge was Dr Aubrey Ireland.

Royal Connections
The Western Mail of February 12, 1935 carried the following: "London Takes to the Dogs - All London Went to the Dogs Last Week. A tail or not a tail - that is the question where the Welsh Corgi is concerned. It seems a vital question inasmuch as separate classification is now given to the two varieties of the breed, Pembroke and Cardigan. They are both most attractive, funny little dogs. Since the Duke of York bought one they have become very popular. The Duke bought a Pembroke Corgi and the other day I saw Princess Elizabeth in a little tweed coat and a beret, walking him on the lead in the park".

Princess Elizabeth with Dookie and Jane

Which brings us to the "Royal" Connection. One of the famous attributes of the Welsh Corgi is his connection with the Royal Family. Since King George VI, as Duke of York, purchased the first Royal Corgi in 1933 they have been known as Royal Dogs. That first one, from Thelma Gray's Rozavel Kennels in Surrey, was known as "Dookie". He was followed, three years later by Jane, who had a litter on Christmas Eve, from which Cracker and Carol were kept. Princess Elizabeth, for her eighteenth birthday, was given "Susan", who had been born on February 20th 1944 and lived until January 26th 1959. She was buried at Sandringham, together with Sugar and Heather. The Queen's dogs are usually buried in the grounds of the house in which Her Majesty is living at the time. The Queen now has the tenth generation directly descended from her first dog, Susan.

There was some correspondence between Buckingham Palace and Capt. Howell in 1947, the result of which was that the Princess Elizabeth received a real (i.e. born in) Pembrokeshire Corgi as a wedding present. This lucky young lady was known as Solva Biscuit. Unfortunately, recalls Miss Nancy Bayly, she had problems finding her way out of Buckingham Palace "in time", and eventually was given to a lady in waiting with a more accessible garden.

The Club experienced much Royal excitement in 1982, when the Queen visited St. David's in Pembrokeshire to distribute Maundy Money. Nancy Bayly had arranged for various committee members to bring their dogs to a wall on Her Majesty's route to the Cathedral and those members made a welcoming banner and groomed their dogs with much anticipation. However, there was a last-minute security scare and they were "banished" to a grassy mound on the edge of St. David's, on the Haverfordwest road. Their long, cold wait was finally rewarded when the Queen's car drove past and Her Majesty was seen to remark to Prince Phillip "Oh, look, Corgis!" Committee member, Miss Daphne Slark, who owns James, a tricolour Pembroke bred by Her Majesty, took him along to meet the Queen briefly in Haverfordwest. James received a royal pat and Miss Slark was told that he had a super coat.

Rise in Registered Dogs
Back to the early days. Ten years after the Club's inception there was another little rulebook published. This listed the President as Maj. Sir Charles Price and Vice-Presidents as Miss Thelma Evans (later Thelma Gray), Mrs Bruce Fletcher, Mrs Watts-Russell, Hon. P. J. S. Tufton, Baron de Rutzen (killed in the war). The Chairman was Mrs Victor Higgon (of Sealy). Vice-Chairman J. M. Symmons, Hon. Sec. W. J. Jenkins and the Hon. Treasurer A. L. Roberts. By then, the number of registered dogs had risen from 10 in the first year to 360.

We should be thankful now for modern veterinary treatment. Many dogs were lost in those days through distemper - and jaundice (or yellows) was a condition which cropped up frequently then. A letter to Capt. Howell from a Birmingham pet shop owner, who had earlier asked for Corgi pups to sell, complained that he had been unable to sell any, as they had all developed diarrhoea, then later "fits". The Second World War brought a stop to much doggy activity. Vera Lister-Kaye recalled the last Championship Show at Harrogate on the day war broke out and very few judges turned up at all. She said that as they were farmers, she and her husband were able to keep some dogs, but so many others had to have theirs put down. However, by the end of the war in 1945 there were 1,956 Pembrokes registered along with 61 Cardigans. The following year there were 3,142 and 136 respectively.

By 1946, the Welsh Corgi Club was growing apace, with interest from all over South and West Wales and it was decided to form the South Wales Branch of the Club, this branch usually holding its meetings in Carmarthen. Many of the Club Shows throughout the '40s and '50s were still held in Pembrokeshire. Corgis were by now looking more like the dogs we know today, indeed some of the early Pembrokes, with their longer legs, shorter bodies and without erect ears and foxy expression, looked somewhat like terriers. By the late '50s and early '60s the Corgi was becoming immensely popular, with registrations in the 8,000's for about five years. Elizabeth Somerfield, writing in The Field in 1956 and describing the Corgi as a "grand little dog", noted that he was now third in the popularity registration table, behind the Miniature Poodle and the Alsation, having displaced the Cocker Spaniel. She put this success down to the fact that the Corgi was "apartment-sized" and of course, receiving much Royal publicity at the time.

The 1952 Handbook (Price 1s. 6d. - 71½p) showed that W. J. Jenkins was now president of the Welsh Corgi Club and Mr M. M. Phillips the Chairman. The Patron was Mrs Victor Higgon, Vice Presidents: Capt. Jack Howell, Mr J. Bromilow, Mrs C. Firbank, *Mr Oliver Jones, Miss Boyt, Mrs Watts-Russell, Mr and Mrs George Jones, Mr Marks, Mr F. Beer, Mrs Hugh Vivien, *Mrs M. M. Phillips, Mr Mansel Davies, Mrs Thelma Gray, *Mr Charlie Smith, Miss Morgan, *Mr D. Rees, *Mr E. Young, *Mr Bert Harries, *Mr Ken Howells. (* Also on committee.)

Mrs Oliver Jones was the Vice Chairman; Mr D. C. Evans was the Secretary and Mrs Bert Harries the Treasurer. The Committee also included such names as Mrs C. Smith, D. C. Lewis, Bert Thomas, Mrs Thora Jenkins, Mr Jack Williams and many others. Mr Ivor Harries was Chairman of the South Wales Branch. In 1958, six years later, the Secretary Mr D. C. Evans was retiring after 21 years' service to the Club and a dinner was organized in his honour at the Red Lion Hotel in Carmarthen. Captain Jack Howell and his brother Adrian were invited to attend as guests of honour. They were delighted to accept. The Club's first Chairman, Capt. Jack, lived to the ripe old age of 91, dying on December 10th 1970. The South Wales Branch of the Club had been meeting regularly in Carmarthen for nearly 20 years, when in 1965 it was decided to form a separate Club. At that time attendance at branch meetings was drawn mainly from branch members with few from the parent body attending, so application was made to the Kennel Club to form the South Wales Corgi Club. This of course was granted and the new club formed.

Corgis were by now very firmly established as a popular breed. Stories are legion about their prowess, not only as cattle dogs, but rabbit-catchers, hunters, gundogs, obedience champions - the Corgi appears to have every talent known to dogs. Every Corgi owner knows the intelligence and determination of the little dog. Every Corgi owner has to put up with stories of that "snappy little breed", but how many of us have known many dogs which deserve that reputation? It can usually be put down to poor training - or snappy little owners!

So the Welsh Corgi Club has a long and proud history. Three years ago the Club celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. Cake and sherry were served at the shows and the Championship Show, held that year at Caldicot, Gwent, was honoured by a visit from the Mayor of Haverfordwest, where the Club originated. The Corgi is very seldom found working on the farms of Wales now, although there are isolated examples of a dog that will bring in the cattle for milking or find a straying sheep. When those few people met in 1925 in Haverfordwest, they little knew how the small, sturdy dog would spread from the farms of Pembrokeshire and the hills of Cardiganshire to all parts of the world and become known as the Queen's dog. We owe a debt to the pioneers for all they achieved in those frontier days of the breed, and the Welsh Corgi Club of today is indeed grateful to all those who met in December 1925 and those who have worked down the years to promote the breed and its interests.

There are now, I believe, 13 breed clubs in the UK together with clubs all over the world, but none with the age and experience of the founder club which, with its go-ahead officers and committee, most of whom now live in Pembrokeshire again, goes from strength to strength. For the record the Officers of the Club in 1988 are; President, Mrs Barbara Latter; Chairman, Mrs Sylvia Hughes, Haverfordwest; Vice-Chairman, Mrs Sally Williams, Dinas Cross, N. Pembrokeshire; Hon. Secretary, Mrs Margaret Neal, also N. Pembrokeshire; Hon. Treasurer, Mr Wyn Davies. Life Members are Mr and Mrs Ken Howells, Mr Eddie Matthias, Mr Roy Mann. Vice-Presidents; Mr Rees, Mr Munt, Mr E James, Miss Evelyn Boyt, Mrs Davies, Mr D Samuel.

Unfortunately, the Club has learned in the last few weeks, of the death of one of the longest serving members, Mr Oliver Jones aged 86 and also of recent treasurer, Mr John Harries, of Crymmych, who, with his late wife, Rae, had contributed so much to the Club. Others lost within recent years include Mr and Mrs Charlie Smith and Mr H Stanley Jones. But Pembrokeshire can still boast a number of committee members, including Mr Eddie Young, Miss Daphne Slark, Mr Brian Neal, Mr Peter Williams and Mrs Lorraine Banner, apart from the above mentioned officers. All these members are dedicated to fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of those who laid the foundations of the Welsh Corgi Club on December 15th 1925.

First published by the Kennel Gazette in August 1988 and reproduced by The Welsh Corgi League in two instalments in "Our Corgi World" Christmas 2016 and Summer 2017.
Reproduced with kind permission.