Founded in 1946, the North West was the fourth Stafford breed club to be registered with the Kennel Club. The leading lights behind its formation were brothers-in-law, Albert Rawnsley and George Heyes, from East Lancashire in collaboration with Jack Worsnop from Bury who contacted as many Stafford owners as they could about the idea of forming a club. Receiving encouraging responses it was full steam ahead. Following discussions with members of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club down at Cradley Heath (The cradle of the SBTC and thus the Stafford as a show dog), a meeting was held at a pub in Bury called the Claybank with an attendance of about fourteen. Some of the Yorkshiremen in the Northern Counties SBTC, founded in 1943, considered that another Northern club was not required but with typical Lancashire bluntness they were told where to go in no uncertain terms. Fortunately other Northern Counties’ members were supportive which led to long term friendship and co-operation. Thus, with the full support of the Midlanders of the SBTC, the North West came into being, with George Heyes as Chairman, Jack Worsnop as Secretary and Albert Rawnsley as Treasurer. The first President, perhaps a rather sentimental appointment, was Mrs Charlotte Melling whose son Harry, who died in 1941 when only 34 years of age, had been well known in Stafford circles pre-war.
Surprisingly, little was said in the canine press of these events. There seems to be no report of the meeting held at the Claybank and the first apparent mention of the North West is a notice, signed by Jack Worsnop as Secretary, in Our Dogs on 26th July 1946 of a meeting, the second one in fact, on 10th August in Britons Protection Hotel in Lower Mosley Street, Manchester. This venue, which still exists across the road from the GMex centre, was chosen as it was adjacent to the local bus station which allowed easy access. The attempt to form the North West was reported by Joe Dunn, the breed correspondent for Our Dogs, in his column on request and anyone interested was to contact the secretary. Next mention was the granting of the Club’s title by the Kennel Club in November 1946 along with notice of a meeting about holding the Club’s first show. This was duly held at Bradshaw’s Motormart in Upper Brook Street in Manchester in March 8th 1947 and was the first of many, when clubs were allowed to hold four per year, leading to the Club enjoying ever-increasing strength. Joe Dunn reported there was a good entry at this inaugural show, congratulating the Club’s officials on a successful venture, but regretted he could not stay to the end due to a prior engagement.
Staffords were far from unknown in the North West prior to the Club’s formation, as was to be expected. All those behind the formation of the club naturally owned them, but the best known of the early fanciers was undoubtedly the afore-mentioned Harry Melling, a Preston photographer. He was a founder member and later president of the SBTC and a founder member, and committee member, of the Southern Counties SBTS on its inauguration in 1937. The dogs with which he is usually associated are Tough Guy, which won a CC soon after they were awarded to the breed, and his favourite bitch Lioness; photographs of both are to be found in early Stafford books and literature, including the well known picture taken at Crufts in 1939 which includes Melling with Tough Guy plus the first champions Ch Gentleman Jim and Ch Lady Eve. Tough Guy came from the well known Westall strain from East Lancashire. The Westalls were a family of butchers in Great Harwood who had kept their own line of Staffords for decades and there is a print and a painting in existence purporting to be of a Westall dog from the 1870’s. Verification is a problem and the existence of various copies is likely. Another butcher involved with Staffords pre-War, and latterly after the North West had been formed, was Jack Webster of Wigan. He seems to have been a rather unsavoury character if accounts are to be believed, and not to be tampered with. On several occasions in the late 1930’s he placed adverts in the canine press claiming to be ‘the largest and oldest breeder of ye olde Staffordshire Bull-terriers’ in the British Isles, backing his claim with a challenge for fifty or a hundred pounds; there were no reports of any takers! Interestingly, John F. Gordon, who is best known for his books on Staffords and many other breeds, was active in the Lancashire show scene immediately after the War, living in Wilmslow at the time. He apparently attended the first meeting at the Protection Hotel but was never active in the Club as he returned to his native Essex at the end of 1946.
Once the North West was up and running, the late forties saw many who were to become doyens of the breed becoming North West members. These included the Bywaters (Wawocan), the Lathams (Topcroft), the Pringles and a young Les Aspin (Scarthwaite). However special mention must be made of Arnold Thomas who joined in the very early days serving the Club well until his death in the ‘eighties. Arnold was involved with the breed on a national level and was a leader in trying to get a breed council formed in the early days. His contribution to the Stafford is almost certainly underestimated. Along with other North West colleagues, he was part of the Club’s contingent at the 1948 meeting that reviewed the Breed Standard. Despite only being a couple of years old, the North West did make a major contribution although the basic policy was to ‘go along with Cradley’
Through the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, many who were to become successful exhibitors and notable North West men and women joined the Club adding to its standing and strength. To name them all would be impossible and there is always the risk of omissions, so it is best not to try. This trend has continued to the present day and hopefully will into the future.
The early success of the North West was such that it gained Championship status in 1956, the third breed club to do so, only ten years after its formation. The late Nap Cairns (Constones) was influential in helping the club to gain this, and was given the honour of judging the first Championship Show. The Club has retained its status to the present day although the current rotation system means that there is not a Championship Show every year. Most if not all of the top dogs over the years have been exhibited at the Club’s shows with the pinnacle being the Golden Jubilee Championship show in 1996. This drew a record entry with a massive display of champions which attracted great interest. Similar interest was shown in the champions at the Diamond Jubilee Championship Show on 2006 but there was no attempt to match 1996 when no effort was spared to make it ‘a year to remember’.
Throughout its history the North West has always tried to be innovative with various ‘firsts’ to its name. Although things have become harder in recent times with changes in social conditions, the advent of the electronic age and different attitudes of exhibitors and owners, the Club has always been in the forefront in running seminars and similar events. Naturally it has had its ups and downs during its sixty year plus history, but the efforts of its founders and officials of its early days, which often included putting ‘one’s hands in one’s pocket’, must not be forgotten and is something the present custodians of the Club’s wellbeing and future are acutely aware of.
One outstanding achievement was the publication of the Golden Jubilee Book in 1996, which is now out of print. No attempt was made to give a historical account of the Club’s first fifty years but there is a wealth of information on the Club’s founding and development over the years within it, plus much on the Stafford in general. In addition there are many personal experiences from those who had been active in the Club and breed from 1946 onwards, amply illustrated with photographs of dogs and people alike. For those interested in the Club and its history it is well worth a read if you can beg, steal or borrow a copy.