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Surrey Sheep Dog Society

There are no records of any sheepdog trials in Surrey until 1981 when Andy Jackman put on a trial at Feltons Farm in Brockham. There were a number of handlers in the county who trialled locally in Kent at events organised by the Romney Marsh & District Sheepdog Society, Thanet Sheepdog Society and the Hundred of Hoo Club which operated in the North Kent area. The Sussex Sheepdog Society, a very respected organisation at the time, was putting on trials on the South Downs, but there were no trials in Surrey itself. The trial at Feltons Farm saw about 30 open dogs compete. As a result of the support given to this trial, the first ever in Surrey, a group of sheepdog enthusiasts formed the Surrey Sheep Dog Society which was affiliated to the ISDS from the start. Its inaugural trial was held in June 1982 at Highland Court, Headley by permission of Commander Jack Woodall.

The first committee included Jim Alexander (sheep farmer), Ray Bray, Alf Bullen (sheep farmer) Andy Jackman (sheep farmer), David McHolme (shepherd), Gerald Marsden and Graham and Janet Power. Ray Bray was one of the most experienced handlers in the area at the time. He lived in Reigate and kept a few sheep which he worked with his dogs. He was an advocate for encouraging those new to the sport. The late Ray Bray, and his wife Joan, presented several cups and trophies for novice and young handlers, some of which are still awarded today. Alf Bullen was a tenant farmer at Swanworth Farm, Mickleham. While he had working dogs for the farm he did not trial but made the farm and sheep available for trials. Alf's wife Vi provided catering too. David McHolme was the shepherd for Beechams (the pharmaceutical company) at their Brockham Park facility. He was a fair handler and trialled locally. David's father-in-law, Gerald Marsden, was not a farming person but became involved in the Society at this early time. Graham and Janet Power, also of Brockham, kept a few pet sheep and had a keen interest in sheepdogs. Andy Jackman was farming 1500 sheep in Brockham in 1981 and was still quite new to trialling. He had encountered trials in North Berkshire while working there and then after moving to Surrey in 1979 visited a trial in Kent where he met Ray Bray. This meeting was possibly key to getting the idea of a Society underway. Perhaps the most important member of this first committee was Jim Alexander who owned the beautiful Lower Boxhill Farm at Dorking. Jim was a sheep farmer and made his fields and sheep available to the Society until his retirement, also providing storage for Society equipment. His unswaying support of the Society is unsurpassed. While he kept dogs for the farm he never stepped on the trials field as a competitor. He did a lot of work for the Society and never expected anything in return. Jim made his farm available for the English National in 1990. An unassuming and generous person he was a delight to deal with. Jim was the president for many years and though he now resides in the west country is remembered for his contribution to the Society in its formative years.

The Society started quite small (though with an impressive membership figure of over 200) with an emphasis on the novice handler. Trials had a novice section and then an open level. They ran 2 or 3 trials a year, which gradually increased to 6. There were few open dogs at the early trials, these being (on the whole) handled by Peter Cole, Maurice Upton, Charlie Upton (Maurice's father), Ron Willis, Doug Ovenden - all shepherds or farmers from the Kent marsh areas, and Roy Standen and John Russell from East Sussex. John Russell, followed by Peter Cole, were the main handlers to beat at the time and John's Lad and Roy (Lad's son) were considered the top dogs. By the time Surrey SDS was set up John was a handler of note having won the International Shepherds Championship at York in 1974 with Lad (by Bosworth Coon). He was not a shepherd or farmer but a great handler none the less. John used to put on a big independent trial every year in Sussex and attracted the likes of John Thomas, Llyr Evans, Rob Seaton and other handlers from the midlands. This influence was to Surrey's benefit as they came to Surrey's trials too. Llyr Evans (Nhants) was an outstanding reader of sheep and his skill must surely have inspired those amongst whom he competed. By encouraging these top level handlers to come to the trials John did much to raise the level of trialling in the south. As the bar was raised, this encouraged the local handlers to step up to the mark. Two handlers who did in these early days were Bruce Englefield and Andy Jackman who both went on to compete at National and International level. At around this time Norman Seamark (Bedfordshire), who was pals with Mr Woodall who provided the Society's first official trial venue, introduced a trial at Chartwell, home of Sir Winston Churchill. This was quite an event with a large audience and many trade stands. Andy Jackman and Bruce Englefield also organised independent trials in the county which attracted entries from handlers outside the area including John Fletcher, Warwick de Gray, Rob McLean, Dick Roper, John Thomas, Ray Ollerenshaw, Ron Fitch, Bob Scrivener, to name just some. As entry numbers increased at Surrey trials the prize money was able to be raised and this encouraged further entries. The trials earned themselves a reputation for good courses and sheep and respectable prize money. Trials had become so popular that entry by return of post was required if you wanted to run your dog.

During the early 90s the likes of Julie Deptford (now Hill), Harry Thomas (Cornwall), John Jones and Les Suter (Pontypridd) were frequent faces at Surrey trials. Les Suter and Chip were often competing down south along with John Thomas (Colesbourne). Chip (Reserve Welsh National Champion) was the sire of John Thomas' Craig (Int Sup Ch) who in turn was Don's sire (Eng Nat Shep Ch 1984). The south did not escape the effect of John Thomas' Don on its breeding lines. John Russell's Glen and John Marsh's Jet are two notable dogs by Don (108889) that trialled successfully in the area and at National and International level. Standards were definitely on the up.

Trial venues at the start were mainly in the Dorking area but they gradually extended across Surrey to take in Christian Vaughan's Poyle Farm near Guildford, Piccards Farm (Mr Lee) and Conduit Farm (Mr and Mrs More-Molyneux) - both on the Loseley estate, Bruce Englefield's Rowe Lane Farm at Pirbright, Witley Manor at Witley, Paul Mill's fields in Chiddingfold and Chris and Penny Roe's Hindhead Hill Farm at Hindhead. I am sure there others I have missed out. More recently trialling has taken place predominantly in the Dorking area again, with Mark Banham's Shabden Park Farm at Chipstead also an important regular venue.

Committee members have changed over the years as would be expected. At the outset there was a strong team of farmers, shepherds and other interested people who had the vision to introduce sheepdog trials to the county. They were followed by a variety of dedicated characters who upheld the Society's principal aims - to put on quality trials and raise the level of sheepdog handling in Surrey. Bruce Englefield was an early addition to the Society's committee. He was not a farmer but became one of the most successful handlers in the county, progressing beyond Novice level and travelling outside of the southern area to compete. He had not been competing for long when the Society was set up but he became a valuable committee member and went on to become an Agricultural Training Board instructor of sheepdog handling. Bruce organised independent trials in Surrey as well and was good at securing sponsorship. His efforts on the committee for the English National in 1990 were superb. In 1991 he made the English team with Scott (155064), a dog bred by J Whaley from Trim (119528) and Tony Iley's Goss (91940). Bruce also had success with Lad bred by Penny Roe from Lucky and his own Scott. With Lad he came 3rd at the 1997 English National at Holkham Hall though by this time he had retired to Devon. Bruce's mother Gwendoline was a regular at organising the raffle while his wife Maureen time kept and clerked. Tony Borman, an ex-teacher from Redhill who never worked dogs became treasurer and later secretary for the Society in the late 80s. His attention to detail and efficiency in committee matters were of great value during his 7 years in office. Mick Schofield was another respected committee member who served for many years, frequently course directing. Cyril Fathers, who worked at Godstone Farm, was a very keen supporter and competitor. He was an extremely likeable handler who persevered with all his dogs, most notably with Bob who used to run straight up the field but in time developed a good outrun and even became a member of the Inter Society team. He spent time on the committee, and his wife Muriel, a stalwart supporter, was a huge asset to the Society, raising funds through raffles at every trial for a good many years. Barbera Dowrick who kept a few sheep at home in Leigh was involved on the committee for several years and organised the 10th anniversary barbecue in 1992. She had a bitch by Don (108889) for work at home. Jill Woolston became a committee member for the first time in 1994 and stayed for 8 years. Dave Tuck also gave much of his time to the committee then and his wife Veronica was another one to keep the raffle going and help raise funds. Tess Nash also devoted a great deal of her time to the Society. She was a keen competitor and also a writer. Tess was frequently collecting admission money on the gate and she generously donated the profits from the sale of her books in 1992 to the Society. These books were short stories about sheep and sheepdogs. Lynne Walkling, a student of Bruce Englefield's joined the committee in the 90s. Her bitch Kate was the star of Bruce's video "Ewe Were Made For Me". Chris and Penny Roe (who run a liming business) became involved with the Society when Penny started trialling her bitches, most notably Lucky (159058). Chris took to the field with Jen, a pup from Lucky. Chris and Penny were both on the committee for several years. They provided their sheep for trials and found trial locations. Chris and Penny now live in Devon where they still have sheep and continue to trial. Penny also has her demonstration business, "Ducks'n'drakes" which takes her to corporate functions with the dogs. Jane Drinkwater, who has lived around the country, was Secretary for the Society during 95/6 when living in Surrey and trialling Torran and Glen with success in the novice classes. She achieved recognition as a handler in 2004 when running Grace (241137) and qualifying for the English team though by this time she was living and shepherding in Sussex. Elaine Anstey has been one of the hardest working committee members in recent years, finding trial venues and organising everything, giving the rest of the committee an easy ride while being treasurer, secretary and latterly Chairman. Elaine works dogs at home on the farm near Haslemere and trials locally and frequently down the west country. She stepped down from the committee in 2005 after 10 years service and was rewarded for her efforts with honorary membership. John and Jan Flanders from Ewhurst kept sheep and dogs but never competed. They were valued for their organisation and treasurer skills and wholehearted support. John was also good at finding sponsors which becomes necessary to keep funds in the positive. Their move to Wales for more space left us without two valued members. Mandy Jobling stepped into the breach and took over the role of Treasurer and continued with this despite another diagnosis of cancer. A move to Dartmoor for her dreamed of farm gave her more opportunity to run her dogs and keep more sheep. During the early part of this millennium Philip and Fiona Davies-Russell returned to Surrey from Wales and joined the Surrey committee. Philip became a force to be reckoned with on the trials field, competing with Flynn (241539) and Layla (269360). Flynn saw him in the English team and the Supreme in 2004. Meanwhile Fiona was making her mark at local trials with her own dogs which have gone on to compete at Nationals too.

Throughout the Society's 28 year history there has always been an effort to put on the best possible trials and remain forward-thinking. This may not have always been achieved, but there have certainly been some exceptional trials. The current committee consists of 4 hard working ladies who strive to maintain a high standard. The Chairman, Fiona Bradley, has trialled her ever-faithful Joss for several years and now has a young dog bred by Jane Drinkwater. Treasurer (for the second time) and also now Secretary Jill Woolston who has qualified and run Roy and Gwen at National level currently has a young dog who last summer progressed to open level. Jill is the only member of the committee who keeps sheep. Andrea Neal is a vet nurse but also works for Andy Jackman at lambing time and during the year on a casual basis, often lookering with her merle dog Blue. A very capable sheep handler Andrea is most often found letting out sheep at trials, whatever the weather. Suzy Woolston who has been on the committee since 1998, takes on a variety of jobs at trials, course directing; letting out; trial reports; publicity of trials; the Society website manager, as well as sharing the duties of Secretary. All four get together for the task of setting up and taking down the course and appreciate the assistance given by other members. Andy Jackman, the only remaining founder member who is still in the area, remains a key source for advice and help in finding venues and sheep. (Andy's success at National and International level with Don (175807) keeps the bar firmly high.) Mrs Brodie has been extremely generous providing sheep on countless occasions since the Society's inception and she cannot be thanked enough for her support of sheepdog trialling in Surrey over nearly thirty years. Mark Banham, who has been a member of and resident in Surrey for some years and competed at National level in the past with Moss, has provided his sheep and farm for trials for many years despite not having the time himself to compete in trials these days. Noel Armstrong remains a staunch supporter, assisting at the trials, frequently on the PA when required. Dave Tuck continues to ensure competitors get to the trials by placing the road side signs early in the mornings. In the last two years the Society has been assisted by Will Chinery who has been learning about handling sheep and aspires to be a farmer. His assistance at letting out has been invaluable.

The committee has always been formed of a mixture of shepherds, farmers and supporters from outside the industry. Whatever their background they are no less dedicated to keeping the Society on its feet and ensuring the best trial is organised than those before them.

These days the Society holds between 3 and 5 open trials each summer as well as a winter nursery series. The diminishing number of large scale sheep farms within Surrey has meant that venues and sheep for trials have become harder to find and we remain grateful to those who are happy for us to descend on their land for the sole purpose of trialling. Currently there are few handlers resident in Surrey but the aim still remains to put on a testing trial with good sheep and a good course.

Undoubtedly a highlight in the Society's history was staging the English National in 1990. The current committee and past committee members as well as other handlers from the area are looking forward to the challenge of staging the 2011 English National at Boxhill which is a wildlife-rich site and one of the best-known summits of the North Downs at 634 feet. Its chalk hillside is home to the rare Chalkhill Blue butterfly and is grazed during the year by sheep as part of the National Trust's downland conservation scheme. The venue presents a super opportunity for a great trial.

 History recorded in 2010.

Since posting this history a programme for a sheepdog trial held in 1961 has been discovered with the venue stated as Norwood Hill. Certain facts within the programme point to this being Norwood Hill in Surrey. A Mr SW Stanbury from Charlwood in Surrey is in the list of competitors and the programme was printed by Horley Press, presumably a press firm within Horley, Surrey. The competitors are from the surrounding counties and include Norman Seamark from Bedford, Roy Standen from Hailsham and other names of note.

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