Zoo founder Whitley was dog lover extraordinaire

Herbert Whitley’s Crufts-winning Greyhound, Primley Sceptre. The photo is from Jack Baker’s 1988 boo

Herbert Whitley’s Crufts-winning Greyhound, Primley Sceptre. The photo is from Jack Baker’s 1988 book ‘Chimps, Champs & Elephants’ (SJH Publications Limited) - Credit: Archant

Of course, we are all well aware of Paignton Zoo founder Herbert Whitley’s love of exotic animals, but what isn’t quite so well known is the great man was also a huge lover, and a highly talented breeder, of dogs.

At the turn of the 20th century, long before the idea of a zoo had been conceived, a 150ft-long range of, what was then, state-of-the-art kennels had already been built on the Primley Estate.

These were to eventually house numerous champion dogs, all proudly bearing the Primley name. These dogs famously swept the board at shows up and down the country.

Herbert viewed toy, and heavily coated, dogs with considerable disdain and insisted that all his dogs were all able to do a day’s work.

This insistence on a ‘workman-like’ dog certainly showed in his choice of breeds, all being very unpretentious, smooth-coated dogs such as Whippets, Greyhounds and Great Danes.

A firm favourite of Mr Whitley’s was the Whippet and these little dogs were used, with considerable success, to keep down the rabbit population on the vast estate.

Although often associated with hard-working Northern miners, the humble Whippet (and ‘rag-racing’) was also enormously popular around Plymouth.

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The kennel produced four Whippet champions in quick succession; Primley Pattern, Primley Raleigh, Primley Neattie and Primley Niobe.

Greyhounds were also a huge success at the Primley Kennels and, quite amusingly, two were named Primley Pirate and Primley Pinafore, inspired by the very first performance of the Pirates of Penzance in Paignton.

The crowning achievement of this kennel surely came in 1928 when the fawn Greyhound bitch, Primley Sceptre, became the very first ‘best in show’ at Crufts from an entry of 9,466 dogs.

Since then, there have been a further 82 ‘best in show’ winners at the world-renowned Crufts dog show, including two other Greyhounds, but the very first of them all was the lovely Primley Sceptre, contributing just another little piece to our proud Paignton history!