There are two characteristics, which typify the Welsh. The first is a certain independence
of spirit and the second, a strong sense of nationalism. It was probably a combination
of these two forces, which led to the formation of The Welsh Bullmastiff Society.
The breed was known in the Principality in pre war days with several small kennels
breeding, and exhibiting. One such kennel was the "Taffside" of Mr & Mrs W. Storm,
and it was Mr Storm who became the Society's first chairman, a post that he held
for many years.
Wales has always had an abundance of canine societies each running a few limit and
open shows, and the post war boost brought a new generation of exhibitors campaigning
their bullmastiffs in the variety classes. In some of these Saturday afternoon events
it was possible to see eight or ten bullmastiffs all battling it out in variety classes
and often winning. Obviously exhibitors wanted breed classes and felt that there
would be enough support for a bullmastiff club. Mrs Dorothy Nash, Secretary of the
Southern Bullmastiff Society was contacted with a view to forming a Welsh branch
of the Southern Bullmastiff Society. The request was favourably received and a meeting
called for April 1st 1946 at The Old Arcade Hotel Cardiff, to which enthusiasts were
invited. The discussion led not to the formation of a branch, but to the formation
of a Welsh Bullmastiff Society, although the vote in favour of such a venture was
carried by just one vote. Mrs Nash was duly contacted and gave the new club her best
wishes for success. Mr W. Mitchell was appointed as Secretary. Perhaps it was of
some significance that in those days of austerity both the Chairman and the Secretary
owned butchers shops.
Acceptance by the Kennel Club came very quickly and by June 1946 a full committee
had been formed with Captain J. Petersen as President. Donations of cups and trophies
followed, and the first of the Society's handbooks was produced at the end of 1946
at the cost of £4.15.0 per hundred with a half page advertisement at £1.2.6. The
annual subscription was ten shillings and sixpence (approximately 55 pence in today's
In 1947 the first open show was staged in a Drill Hall in Cardiff with Mr C R Leeke
officiating as judge. This was a period when the Society did sterling work by guaranteeing
bullmastiff classes at all types of shows. Wales has always had some classic one-day
agricultural shows in which a dog section is included. By guaranteeing classes, exhibitors
were given the chance of competing against their own breed, and the general public
had the opportunity of seeing the breed and becoming attracted to it. It is surprising
even now, how many will visit the dog section of an agricultural show, who would
never contemplate looking in on a specific dog show.
The Old Arcade Hotel in Cardiff, remained as the Society's headquarters for many
years, and I have happy memories of the old premises. It was suffering from post
war depression, but was used by many canine societies as well as students, and what
we would now call "pop groups". One of the regular singers was a young coloured girl
from Tiger Bay, which is Cardiff's docklands area, who rapidly graduated from the
Old Arcade to become a leading singing star. This was, of course, Shirley Bassey.
What a pity that at the height of her fame she adopted the Old English Sheepdog instead
of a Bullmastiff. At one Committee meeting I remember how a rat came out from behind
a skirting board, ran round the room, much to the consternation of the ladies, and
scuttled back behind the board from which it came. I believe that nowadays the hotel
is quite up market.
In the formative years many household names in the breed came to Cardiff to judge
the shows. Authorities like Mr E. Burton (Navigation) Mr Marshall (Maritime) Mr Avery
(Bablock) Mrs Mullin (Mulorna) and many others, in fact there was such enthusiasm
that often the Society staged a Spring and an Autumn show. The group became financially
sound and was blessed with an established set of officers, but by the early fifties,
the Society made use of some of the expertise of the newer recruits. In 1952 Mr W.
Mitchell moved from his position as Secretary and Mr W. Whitney Davies took on the
post for one year. In 1953 Mr W. Kemp a Cardiff solicitor was appointed as secretary
and remained in post until 1956, which was the year in which I was appointed as secretary
and remained in that post until 1984. My application for membership of the Society
was confirmed at a committee meeting held on 26 October 1949, and now forty years
later I again find myself Secretary to the group.
Times were changing, and in the 50's support for the Society within Wales had somewhat
diminished, but support was coming from the Midlands and the West of England. Although
shows were still held in Cardiff, important meetings such as AGM's were moved. In
1957 we met in Gloucester, and in this same year a new handbook was produced. In
1958 we met at Chepstow and Mr Terry of the then famous Buttonoak Kennels became
our President. At the 1961 AGM held at Gloucester, the meeting resolved to apply
to the Kennel Club to change the title of the society to "The Welsh & West of England
Bullmastiff Society", thus reflecting the wider spread of membership. In 1963 Tintern
was our AGM venue but we were soon to move into an era when The Swan Inn at Alvington
became our adopted home for meetings, rallies, shows, and the occasional social function.
The Swan exuded a most convivial atmosphere, and although the available space at
the venue was somewhat limited, excellent functions were staged.
After the retirement of Mr & Mrs Goodman of The Swan in the mid 1970's, we moved
to the venue, which is still remembered as the finest which the Society ever used.
Friends of mine made their stately home, Clearwell Castle in the Forest of Dean available
to us. What a perfect setting for a truly British breed.
1988 marked a milestone in the Society's history when the first championship show
was successfully staged at Malvern and appropriately judged by Mr & Mrs Colliass
who over the years have always supported every function. With the granting of challenge
certificates, we moved into a new era.
This brings our historical sketch up to date. Perhaps I can be forgiven for looking
nostalgically back through the forty years of membership. Many of the pioneers are
no longer living, but the foundations, which they laid down, have given us the Society,
as we know it today. We too must build not only for the breed, but to keep alive
that enterprise which began at The Old Arcade Hotel, Cardiff on April 1st 1946.
Author: Mr Douglas Oliff