100 Years of the Shepton Old English Sheepdogs. 


© An Independent Magazine
for all Bobtail Fans N 9/2004

This article first appeared in the English newspaper “Our Dogs” on October 1, 1981, and was written before the sad passing of Miss Florence Tilley. It has been reprinted with kind permission of the author.

a profile by Jilly Bennett

 

How many kennels can boast a prefix going back 100 years? The world-famous Shepton Kennel of Old English Sheepdogs was founded in 1881 by W. H. T. and H. A. Tilley and is conducted to this day by the latter’s daughter, Florence Tilley, who inherited the gift of her father. But to start at the beginning…

East Compton House at Shepton Mallet, Somerset is a fine old Georgian house standing high in the Mendips and surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain. In the 1880s the Tilley Brothers were farmers, their herd totalling one hundred and fifty head of cattle; they also bred shire horses, short-horned cattle and pigs.

In addition they were also big cider manufacturers which was distilled on the premises, and so good was their brand that they won several Championships and supplied this most delicious Somerset beverage to the House of Commons, General Post Office and the Carlton and Constitutional Club. The wife of W. H. T. Tilley (Florence's Uncle Willie) also made a reputation in cheese making. Naturally a farm such as this had to have dogs, and working dogs at that, and of course those dogs were Old English Sheepdogs.

Miss Florence Tilley


Florence well remembers Mr F. C. "Paddy" Padfield, who was her father's farmworker for many years and later became his kennel man, starting out at 3 a.m. on his bicycle accompanied by a bobtail and going to Bridgwater, a distance of some thirty miles (48 km), to take or bring back the cattle. Paddy later became a noted judge of the breed and awarded certificates for the first time shortly before his death in the 1970s.

The Open Day of the South Western OES Club held in 1981 at East Compton House. Florence seen sitting on the garden seat presented to her by the South Western OES Club to Commemorate the Shepton centenary. Also in photograph Florence's latest show dog, Special Gem of Shepton, winner of one CC.

The Shepton Kennels were started in 1881 and the Tilley Brothers quickly became the leading breeders and exhibitors of the bobtail. Of all the dogs owned by the Tilley Brothers, it was Ch. Bouncing Lass and Ch. Dolly Gray who were considered by Arthur Tilley to be their greatest. Ch. Bouncing Lass was whelped in 1899 and attained her title in 1903 winning over two hundred first prizes. It was in 1903 that Arthur Tilley made the first of several single-handed journeys to the United States. He would leave East Compton House in a pony and trap with three or four bobtails, en route to the railway station and America. (And we complain of the distances we travel to dog shows!)

COMPETED

On the first trip he entered the ring sixteen times, won fifteen first prizes, five championships, several medals and cups, including the coveted Vanderbilt trophy which he won with his champion bitch “Belle of New York.” Ch Bouncing Lass, (seen far right in photo #5) crossed the Atlantic three times with her master, on the last occasion to win the Vanderbilt Cup. She was sold to a Mr Charles Frohman, who came to London to acquire a Sheepdog who could carry off his friend Vanderbilt's Cup. When Mr Tilley showed him Bouncing Lass’s portrait; he remarked, “Yes, that’ll do, it looks a bit like a sheep.” Mr Tilley purchased Bouncing Lass as a puppy for over £200, quite a sum in those days, and reputedly sold her for 5,000 dollars. Bouncing Lass was replaced by Dolly Gray who twice won challenge certificates at Birmingham and Bristol, thrice at Crufts and once at Liverpool, also winning the ‘Non-Sporting Bowl’ at Crufts, 150 first prizes, numerous trophies and on ten occasions won BOB in various shows. Eventually bought by an American, she became an International Champion and also won the Vanderbilt Cup.

Ch. Shepton Dolly Gray whelped 24th May, 1901, and considered by Arthur Tilley to be one of his greatest bobtails. She was later sold to America. Ch. Southridge Roger born 1929 and winner of over 200 first prizes.

Other famous champions associated with the Shepton Kennels were Merry Party, Mimi, Elusive Tramp, Ominous, Perfection, Gem, Sir Ethelwulf, Hero, Beat the Band, Laddie, Southridge Roger (winner of over 200 first prizes), Peggy Wallflower and after the war years, Home Guard, Surf King, Perfect Picture, Indomitable, Lovely Memory, Prince Charles and others.

Photograph taken at East Compton in 1902 (left to right) Lady Heartsease, Greencroft Model, Sir James, The Gentleman, Bouncing Lass. (Bouncing Lass, along with Dolly Gray was considered by Arthur Tilley to be one of his greatest – see text for her wins. She was bought for £200 and sold to America for 5,000 dollars).

In the 1920s the Tilley Brothers sent a bitch to Southampton by rail. She was sent in a hamper and two days after her arrival a telegram was received to say she had escaped. A search was made in the district and after a few days she was given up for lost. About a week later Mr Tilley was disturbed in the early hours of the morning by a dog whining and scraping at the door and upon getting up discovered the lost dog who had found her way home over a distance of over 100 miles. She was never sent away again and was given a position of honour in the kennel.

WIPED OUT

The breed during the war period suffered severely, two or three kennels being completely wiped out, but Arthur Tilley was fortunate in hearing from time to time of a ‘fallen’ cow on a local farm, and was also able to buy offal and tripe from a nearby slaughterhouse.

In 1904, Arthur Tilley, again in America, founded the Old English Sheepdog Club of America and it was in 1979 that his daughter, Florence, herself crossed the Atlantic to judge their Speciality show in honour of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Club at which she had a record breaking entry.

Ch. Sensation of Shepton, considered by Florence to be the greatest dog she has owned.

Each of the Tilley Brothers was at one time President of The Old English Sheepdog Club in the UK which was founded in 1888 and Florence has been President since 1966, and is also President of the South Western OES Club and Patron of the OES Club of Wales. Arthur Tilley was a highly respected judge of the breed and Florence has judged the breed for forty years, three times taking the centre of the ring at Crufts. Florence’s entire life has been spent in love and devotion of the breed and her most recent champion, the late Ch. Sensation of Shepton is considered by her to be one of her greatest dogs. She is seen in the photograph with her current show dog, Special Gem of Shepton, winner of one CC. In the photograph Florence is sitting on the garden seat recently presented to her by the SW OES Club in commemoration of the Shepton centenary.

GREAT LOVE

After her father’s death in 1955, Florence continued to run the Shepton Kennels and lives at East Compton House with her sister Peggy who runs a riding school. Florence’s great love of the breed is always apparent when she is engaged in conversation about Old English Sheepdogs. Many of the puppies reared in her kennels go to owners in other lands, and one recently appeared with Shirley Bassey in a television spectacular.

Speaking on the differences between the Bobtail of today and those in her father’s day, Florence feels there is an immense popularity for white heads now – she herself liking a head marking which gives a dog character. The other main difference being in the considerable length of coat seen in the ring today and which was not evident in the old days.

We in bobtails owe an enormous debt to the Shepton Kennels for there cannot be a bobtail alive today that does not have “Shepton” somewhere in his or her pedigree.

Florence’s beautiful home in the Somerset hills must surely be ‘The Home of the Bobtail.’

Henry Arthur Tilley (Florence’s father and co-founder of the Shepton Kennel).

 
 

This article was placed with kind consent of publisher - Colette and Klaus Hornig.

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