‘I’m gonna be the big bow-wow’: A Brief History of Crufts

This weekend sees hundreds of thousands of dog-lovers and their precious pooches embark on their own personal pilgrimages to the holiest of all places in the canine world, Crufts, the World’s Largest Dog Show!  Currently in its 126th year, the prestige of Crufts attracts competitors and viewers from all over the world, including royalty.  (Three of Queen Victoria’s dogs won prizes in 1891 when the competition first started!)  With all the hype and excitement to see who will win ‘Best in Show’ on Sunday in the Grand Finale, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to give a brief history about Crufts, reportedly the greatest place in the world for dog enthusiasts.

Facts and Stats

  • The ‘Best in Show’ category was introduced in 1928.  The first winner was a Greyhound called Primely Spectre.
  • Countess Lorna Howe was the first female owner of the ‘Best in Show’ winner.  She won with a Golden Retriever called Bramshaw Bob.
  • The most successful owner was Mr Herbert Summers Lloyd (known as H. S. Lloyd) with 6 wins to his title.
  • With 79 best in show winners, English Cocker Spaniels has been the most successful breed to win ‘Best in Show’ 7 times (6 of which were owned by H. S. Lloyd).  Irish Setters, Standard Poodles and Welsh Terriers are next with 4 wins.  English Setters, German Shepards, Greyhounds, Labrador Retrievers, West Highland White Terriers and Wirefox Terriers come in 3rd with 3 wins.
  • Gundogs have been the most successful group with 23 wins.  Terriers have a very close second with 22 wins.  The hound group comes in third with 12 wins.

Charles Cruft

Charles Cruft famously created ‘Cruft’s Dog Show’ in 1891. Cruft was born in 1852 in Hunter Street, Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury, England and was a son of a goldsmith.  At the age of 14, Cruft became a travelling salesman for Spratt’s Meal Fibrine Dog Cakes.  He excelled at the role.  At 26, Cruft became wholly in charge of sales and office department for Spratt, who at this point, liked to solely focus on the manufacturing. In 1878, French breeders invited Cruft to promote the dog part of the Paris Exhibition. Cruft saw that dog shows were an excellent way to sell the dog cakes.  Dog shows excited the public’s imagination thus making the dog cakes desirable.  This meant profits all around for Cruft and Spratt.

In 1878 (a busy year for him), Cruft became secretary of the Toy Spaniel Clubs.  In later years he became the Secretary of the Pug Dog Club and was involved with Borzois, Setters and St Bernards.  He used this experience to his full advantage and started running shows for the Allied Terrier Club in 1886 by himself.  The idea for the terrier show was reportedly suggested by the Duchess of Newcastle.  Between 1886 and 1890, Cruft ran 6 terrier shows until setting up Cruft’s, a dog show for all breeds in 1891.

In 1903, Cruft designed special carriages on trains for the comfort of dogs and worked with the rail companies to negotiated special rail fares for those travelling to Cruft’s Dog Show. Furthermore, local hotels and businesses gained profit from the dog show by offering special deals and packages for those visiting and competing at Cruft’s.

The Show Must Go On!

Crufts celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, but it was not smooth sailing for parts of it’s run.  The World Wars disrupted the shows between 1918-1920 and 1940-1947. Interestingly enough for a majority of the First World War, Charles Cruft continued to run the show with usually a financial loss for him.  This was partly because the venue for the show, the Agricultural Hall in Islington, was viewed as a potential risk for Zeppelin bombing raids.  The Agricultural Hall was a large building with a glass roof.  Because of the risk, people were reluctant to visit thus there was an incredibly low turnout.  There were further problems for Cruft in 1917.  Parliment debated whether keeping non-working dogs as pets were an extravagance, especially during times of food shortages.  Rail travel was restricted, mostly reserved for military use, and fares were 50% more expensive.  There was a further shortage of labour and trade stands at the show which meant the show couldn’t run as smoothly has it had in previous years.  In 1918, the Agricultural Hall was requisitioned as a storage depot for the military, who did not return the hall until 1921.

Charles Cruft eventually died in 1938.  His widow, Emma, ran the show in 1939, however, in 1942 she decided to sell the show to the Kennel Club as she felt she could no longer cope.  This deal sold everything including the cash boxes, the staff’s brown coats and boards for the walls.  The Kennel Club had no idea whether Cruft’s Dog Show would return after the war, and thus it was deemed a risky venture.  This was not the case and Crufts was as popular as ever.  This lead to the show first being broadcast on television via the BBC in 1950.

Apart from the war years, Crufts has been cancelled one further time but close to being cancelled 3 times.  George VI’s death in 1952 nearly cancelled the show as organisers thought to cancel the show as a sign of respect for the royal family.  The enforcement of the three-day working week for miner’s in 1972 nearly cancelled the show, but the lighting was subdued to prevent any power outages during the contest.  Finally, in 2009, the BBC dropped coverage of the competition because it disagreed with the Kennel Club placing breed and judging standards and breeding practices over the health of pure breeds. Crufts was only available to watch via YouTube in 2009 but Channel Four bought the coverage rights.  Crufts was only cancelled in 1954 and this was because of the General Electrician’s Strike.  Without electricians, there was simply no show.


Crufts, ‘Best in Show Winners’,  http://www.crufts.org.uk/content/whats-on/best-in-show-winners/

Crufts, ‘History of Crufts’, http://www.crufts.org.uk/content/show-information/history-of-crufts/

Great Dogs, ‘All about the History of Crufts’,  http://www.greatdogs.co.uk/historyofcrufts.html 

The Telegraph, ’10 things you didn’t know about Crufts’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/0/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-crufts/

Vet Medic, ‘A History of Crufts’, http://www.vet-medic.com/a-history-of-crufts-i390