No doubt there are dog folk around who remember the show scene of the 1950s, but there must be thousands more who do not!
The difficulties of travelling to shows in those days can only be imagined. The M1 motorway had only just started to be built and other motorways were but a dream. People used public transport to get to the shows, and those who drove were limited to venues fairly close to home, a round the clock journey or a stay in an hotel.
Challenge Certificates were on offer to our breed at only three shows in the North and the Midlands. French Bulldog fanciers met around the benches and in wet weather tents to discuss the needs of the owners who lived away from London and the South. Finally in October 1958 an application was made to the Kennel Club to form a new club. Twenty-five people signed the application, although there were thirty-one founder members. The official date of the formation of the Midland & Northern Counties French Bulldog Club was always accepted as November 11th 1958.
Our first Annual General Meeting was held around the benches at Crufts 1959! The annual subscription for membership was 15/- (75p). The first Secretary of the club, and the driving force behind its foundation was Mrs Joan Cottrell. She remained in this position until she died in 1979, when her daughter Ann took over. So, ffor the first 43 years of the club's history the two "Quatt" ladies gave it continuity and helped to form the many traditions and customs for which we are so well known. The enthusiasm of the founder members for the breed and the club was remarkable. They all worked hard and soon there was a wonderful array of cups and trophies on offer at the shows.
There were other regular events for all the members, garden parties, rallies and lunch parties. The friendliest atmosphere prevailed; indeed one was constantly aware of the caring attitude of the club towards its members. There was, in the early days and has been for the years since, a strong Committee and devoted Officers. We also had a great team of helpers outside the committee, working in the kitchen at the shows, publishing the Club's magazine, and helping with other functions
Our early shows were held at the Coppenhall Working Mens Club in Crewe. We had super home made refreshments , something we are still famed for, but members had to take their own cutlery! In 1970 we moved to the Peace Memorial Hall in Penkridge and this has been our Open Show home ever since. We celebrated our first Championship Show in 1971, judged by one of our founder members Miss Mavis Taylor. The subscription increased that year to £1
The membership grew to just over 100 in the first ten years reaching 140 by the time we were 21. Knowing that Joan Cottrell was terminally ill, we made our 21st birthday show a very special event for her, and although frail, she attended what was to be her last show.
1983 saw more celebrations for our 25th year. We had two wonderful shows, with an almost unbelievable number of specials - including one for the most unplaced dog! The parent club, The French Bulldog Club of England, gave a silver Frenchie brooch for BIS. Our then President Mrs. Joyce Hargreaves, assisted by our Chairman Elwyn Harding, played a prominent part in the proceedings and we all enjoyed the party after the Championship Show. The weekly canine newspaper, Our Dogs, helped us celebrate with a special breed feature published that week. The Staffordshire pottery souvenir mug given to exhibitors carried a line drawing of Joan's Ch. Honey King of Quatt, for many years the breeds CC record holder. Perhaps the loudest cheer at the show was when King at 11 years old was made Best Veteran in show. The President of the Parent Club, Mrs V. Watkins wrote "How Joan would have loved that day".
At this time we published the fist book of champions. This had photographs and Pedigrees of all French Bulldogs made up during the club's first 25 years. It is now a valuable collector's item and a wonderful illustrated piece of breed history.
The Club continued to thrive under the Presidency of Elwyn Harding, so well known in dog circles generally, and with Ann as Secretary. Twice each year we continued to produce our Club magazine, now called Bat Ears, and started the merchandising stand, helped by having two master jewellers as members. They produced lovely gold and silver Frenchie items for us, (a lot of the jewellery was sold to increase the French Bulldog Welfare funds). We had some interesting events with the AGMs in the 80s and 90s with some fascinating speakers, and a few where many thousands of pounds worth of Frenchie antiques and collectables were on display and discussed by the members. The competitions for the Ugliest Frenchie Model held to raise money for Welfare, were amusing and popular!
Every five years we produced the book of champions, which, following in the pattern of the first (silver) one, showed dogs and their pedigrees made up since the previous copy. In 1995 we were permitted to have two Open Shows and one Championship Show annually. The second Open Show of the year was held for two years in the North but this was not popular, entries dropped and we have since held both the Spring and Autumn Open Shows at Penkridge.
Ann died in 2001, and after 43 years a Cottrell was no longer at the helm of the Midland & Northern. Both Joan and Ann cared deeply for the club, for its members, and always made it friendly, relaxed and welcoming
In 2008 the club celebrated its 50th birthday. There was a show week-end with special events and the Championship Show at the Sketchley Manor Hotel. Once again "Our Dogs" featured the Club and the most recent Book of Champions was produced. That year the mammoth task of its production fell to our then Secretary Mr Philip Stemp. Other souvenir goods were produced, will these become as coveted as the 25th anniversary items, one wonders? The Clubs Books of Champions now provide a fifty year pictorial history of the breed.
The membership now is not solely Regional or National, it is international
For those who would like know more about the club's history, a detailed account can be found in the latest (gold) Book of Champions
© Maureen Bootle.Flore 2011