The History of the Wye Valley Retriever Club

In the late 1960’s Mrs Kit Fraser (Westhyde Goldens), who lived at Westhide, invited a few of her friends to join her in some basic dog training for the field. Westhide was a delightful setting for training with beautiful and pleasant ground hosting a big lake and masses of bluebells in the spring.

Archie Hounslow, known as ‘Hounslow’, was the keeper at Westhide and the group’s trainer, and by all accounts was an amusing, enthusiastic and intelligent man and is remembered for his great sense of humour. Sadly, when he died, those who knew him said goodbye to a great friend and wonderful trainer.

Tom Crowe was the keeper after Archie retired; he would sometimes shoot pigeons for the trainers and dogs to practice on. There were no canvas dummies or launchers at this time and dummies were made out of old socks and stuffed with rags. Mrs Fraser invited the group to train regularly and it was a great privilege to be asked, the emphasis was to produce good hunting dogs to find game.

Andy Walker moved to Westhide as keeper in 1985 and was there 20 years. Our thanks go out to Andy; he is now the keeper at Lower Hope Estate and still welcomes the club there today.

Mrs Fraser’s greatest friend, Mrs June Atkinson (Holway Goldens), lived in Dorset; every year they would take it turns to travel and the teams would compete in a friendly test. Among this small group of about seven were Felicity Stevens, Daphne Philpots, Angela Judge, Terry Dukes and Mary Greenwood.

Angela remembers Mary Greenwood’s puppy class only too well; Mary was very fierce, and it was hard to get things right. One man who was brave enough to attend found that when his turn came to try the stop whistle he was yelled at for sounding like a referee on a rugby field. Mary Greenwood could not remember his name and she roared out, ‘I shall call you Man!  Now do the exercise again!’ This time   ‘Man’ was told in no uncertain terms that now he sounded like a sparrow and how could the dog possibly hear that – I can’t remember if he came back the following week,  said Angela. When Mary gave up the classes, Judy Roberts took over the training of the puppy class and she did this with great ability and kindness until 2005

At the end of the days training Mrs Fraser invited her friends back to her house at Westhide for delicious tea, scones and cakes and no-one seemed to be in a hurry to get home.

After a while it was decided to give the group a name and turn it into a club. The Wye Valley Retriever Club was formed. Everyone in the group took it in turns to act as secretary. The whole yearly cost to each member came to £5.00 which included food for the marvellous tea at the end of the year, a gift to the trainers Felicity and Mary and a gift to Mrs Fraser.

It was a great loss and a sad day when Mrs Fraser died. The club was reorganised and a committee was formed. Club members were given kind permission by the late Mrs Fraser’s nephew to continue using the splendid ground at Westhide and to carry on with dog training.

Previously, only Mrs Fraser organised the numbers for the club, so when she died the club suddenly grew in numbers and became even more popular.

Field trials were not over subscribed at the time and members of the club were very often successful however working tests were a relatively new idea. John Jones ran in field trials at Westhide some 40 years ago and during the past 18 years has been judging field trials. John remembers running in trials with Archie Hounslow at Westhide. John who is an A panel judge has judged the end of term tests at Westhide and for the club for many years.

John Jones is one of the clubs main trainers and takes the open/advanced class. His right hand man is Roger Wiggins; together they stretch handler and dog to achieve outstanding results. (But they don’t like idle chit chat whilst training)

For the first time classes of different standard were arranged, and a committee was formed to include Felicity Stevens, Judy Roberts, Jean Tidmarsh, Veronica Harris – our first Treasurer, Brian Lambert, who became our very able Chairman and Terry Dukes. Terry takes the intermediate class for the club and has also been an A panel judge for 15 years. He has been training dogs for nearly forty years in a gentle, modest and composed way.

Felicity Stevens stepped down from the committee only last year. To this day Felicity is still giving classes and through her enthusiasm and amazing ability to assess the character of both dog and owner has been a valuable source of inspiration and instruction to us all. She has been a continuous mainstay of the club and the endless hours she has spent on both club activities and individuals has ensured that it and its members have thrived.

Felicity and Angela tell me that it was great fun and they look back on these times with fond memories.

In 1998 the well organised and friendly Jean Tidmarsh became our club Secretary and also took responsibility for the club’s finances. In 2002 the club sought Kennel Club membership which was granted in June the same year.

Today, the club is most grateful to the trustees of Westhyde for this privilege and kind offer, and of course we are also most grateful to Jane Oliver and her son Mathew for being able to train at Ocle Court and to Clive and Sylvia Richards for the use of their land at Lower Hope Estate, without this generosity the club would not be able to continue.

The Wye valley retriever club encourages people of all ages and at all stages; the club caters for everyone and welcomes you and your dogs.