East End Memories

CLUB ROW DOGS

 
     
 
     
JOY - DOG and COMPANION of THOMAS GRAHAM WALTERS SR.

 

A man cries twice during his life time:
  Once when his mother dies
and

a second time when his dog dies.

Greek Proverb

 
Dogs loved my father.  This may seem like an odd thing to say at the start of a story, but it is something that the reader needs to understand before continuing on.  Most people like dogs.  Dog owners love their dogs and in return their dogs love me.  My father was a rare person in that most dogs loved him.  Strange dogs in the street would follow him home.  Puppies turned from children and ran to him.  Such affection was often embarrassing since mothers were not pleased once their children started to cry.  My mother used to say that dogs saw my father as one of them, and to some extent, she was right.  Dogs are fancy free and foot loose. My father for most of his younger and middle aged years lived his life in this manner.  Although he worked hard, he was unpredictable and often unreliable.  Like a dog spying an open gate, he would take off whenever the whim took hold of him.  Off he would run and would not be seen for a week or so until his money ran out. Once broke, he would return home with his tail between his legs and offer no excuse for his disappearance. Instead, he would slink off into a corner and wait for my mother to forgive his irresponsible behaviour.

My father was just like a naughty puppy, who after having had an accident or after destroying some favourite article, would whimper and cower in fear while looking at his master with irresistible doe-like eyes, in the hope of being forgiven and escaping punishment. Once my father felt the slightest thaw in my mother’s feelings towards him, like a puppy, he would turn on the charm, and this he could do with ease. Sensing his moment, he would become attentive and set about re-wooing my mother. And who can resist a repentant puppy for too long? Although upset and angry, my mother was helpless to resist his charm for too long and, slowly but surely, he would ingratiate himself back into her good graces.

I do not lie when I tell you that my father could walk down a street and all dogs that he met along the way would make a bee-line towards him. It was not uncommon to find owners being dragged along the street, as their dogs strangled themselves to get close to my father and receive a pat on the head. Free-living wild looking creatures with fearful looking jaws were known to cross busy thoroughfares to jump up at him and lick his hands in playful fun. Only once do I recall my father recoiling from a dog. This was not altogether surprising as you will see.

This memorable event took place on a summer Sunday evening while we were coming home from a walk to the Tower of London. It was one of those long lingering warm twilight evenings that I have experienced only in England. It was one of those evenings where the air was warm, the light golden and the sun took an eternity to set and allow the night to arrive. I remember those evenings well as a child as, although they were pleasant, they always filled me with a sense of melancholia and sadness. At my young age, I was never able to understand why I felt this way. Anyway, I remember that we were at Gardner’s Corner, which was where the Whitechapel and Commercial Roads intersected. My father was looking at one of the window displays of the department stores of Gardener’s. My father always walked ahead of my mother and myself and had arrived at the stores long before us. As we approached the stores, we saw a very large boxer dog loping down the street and headed for my father.

Boxer DogThe dog was a formidable looking creature and was enormous in stature. It was easily bigger than me. It reached my height while remaining on all fours. I was certainly frightened by this monstrous looking beast. I need not have feared however for the dog would ignore me, and everyone else for that matter, except for my father. The dog walked up to my father and nestled his face against one of his lower arms. My father had his hands in his pockets at the time and feeling the nestling nudge removed them. At this, the gigantic creature licked one of his hands. Without making a sound, the dog reared up on his hind legs and placed his front paws on one my father’s shoulders. Now, my father was not a tall man. He was an inch over five feet although quite broad. Now standing erect, the beast was easily the same height as my father. The creature looked terrifying. I could see his vast open jaws lined with dangerously looking sharp teeth. His long tongue hung out of his mouth and was dripping with saliva. It was obvious that the dog was about to lick my father’s face, when my father turned from the shop window and so became aware of his position. The poor man now came face to face with this creature just as it started to push him in the direction of the store window. It was at this moment that he must have become fully aware of his situation and realized that this demon-looking hound was about to do him harm. According to my mother, and somewhat unfairly I must say, my father was not considered brave. And who would be at suddenly being confronted by this slobbering relative of The Hound of the Baskervilles! Like any reasonable person, my poor father became gripped with fear. He leapt back in a foolish attempt to escape those gaping, dangerous looking jaws of that humungous beast with the saliva covered tongue. And as he did, he gave out the deepest and truly blood-chilling cry, the like of which I had not heard either before or since. Mercifully, the poor dog was obviously startled by his response and probably disturbed that his obvious sign of affection was being rebuked in such a surprising manner. Immediately, the creature released his deadly grip on my father and must have felt wounded and rejected and ran off in mild panic presumably to find his analyst.

I have to confess that over the years, whenever I am feeling despondent, I recall this event and I am soon convulsed with laughter. This was the only time that I ever saw my father respond to a dog in such a manner. I remember that he quickly composed himself, and without saying a word or even noticing our presence, resumed his walk and took off down the Whitechapel Road, leaving us and our fellow strollers to stand and stare and marvel at what we had seen. I don’t recall him ever mentioning the event again.

Dray Horses

My father liked most animals. He enjoyed going to the zoo where he would want stay for hours. He also liked pet shops and circuses. Unfortunately, my mother did not like either zoos or circuses, but she did like horses and had no fear of them. My mother had driven a team of delivery Shire Horses during the war when working for British Railways. She would take me regularly to the various stables owned by the breweries in our neighbourhood to see the huge horses. Deliveries of great barrels of beer were still being made by horse and cart in those days and each morning these teams would make an impressive sight as they set off on their rounds. We always had a dog and cat while living over the shop. My father tolerated the multitude of cats that came and went. In those days, animals were not doctored and I remember that many of the cats were constantly having kittens. My parents seemed to be forever finding homes for the offspring. Other than helping here, my father had little to do with our cats. He found them to be unfriendly and to be only pleasant when they wanted something. However, his feelings towards dogs were more demonstrative. He loved them and, as I said, they loved him back. He was happy with them and, I believe, was never complete unless there was one scampering about his feet.

Just a few hundred yards down the Bethnal Green Road from its junction with Shoreditch High Street, the area to the right of the road widens and forms an open area that was once the site of the Club Row Dog Market. When I was a child, my father was a frequent visitor to this market. Every Sunday, the area was a mass of stalls where vendors offered puppies and dogs for sale. The market was very popular and the place would be filled with visitors either wishing to buy or simply to look. The dogs were all overly friendly. This was not due to their actually being overly friendly, but rather to their actually being mildly starved. The poor puppies would lick your fingers in the hope of finding some trace of food there and would yelp and cry as they moved from hand to hand in an excited fashion. Tails would wag and hope would be in their eyes, but alas, there was no food, and they would move on to the next hand forever hopeful.

Club Row Dog Market  
Club Row Dog Market

The dogs were not thoroughbreds. Far from it, these were mongrels. I doubt if anyone, especially the vendor, knew the roots of their dogs. I have to laugh today when I see a dog and I ask the owner what kind of dog it is. I always hope to be given the name of a breed, but this rarely happens amongst the people where I live. Instead, I am given a list of all the various breeds that have gone into producing this creature. To this, I reply so your dog’s a mongrel! This is not taken well. People can be such snobs when it comes to their dogs. Anyway, the puppies on display on Club Row were cheap, friendly and easy to buy, and could be yours for a dollar, which in those days meant five shillings.

Unfortunately, not all puppies were excitable and happy and it was a question of buyer beware, as no dog or puppy could be returned once bought. Many were ill or about to be ill and some had congenital disorders that were not always readily apparent. It was generally easy to spot those poor puppies that were overtly sick. They were the ones sitting quietly in a corner of the stall and looking very woeful. Without doubt these poor things were not long for this world and, should they be lucky enough to find someone willing to take them home, they would no doubt soon break the heart of the kid that it was given to, as you will soon learn. Despite the efforts of the vendor and of the kids around the stall to jolly up these puppies through prods and pokes in the guise of strokes, these doomed creatures were incapable of any sustained movement and just wanted to sit quietly and spend their last hours in peace.

As I have said, my father loved dogs, and dogs loved him. They would sense that certain something about him and that would be it – instant affection – freely given to him and given back to them. We always had a dog while living at the pie ‘n’ mash shop. Despite their willingness to give my father their affection, these dogs were working dogs. My father said that we needed a dog to keep the vermin down that would sometimes get into the cellar of the shop. Each Monday morning, bright and early, the Rank Flour Company, which was owned by the brother of J. Arthur Rank, the filmmaker, delivered great bags of flour to the shop and deposited some in the bake house for immediate use and the remainder in the cellar for storage along with giant sacks of potatoes. Occasionally an unwanted rat or mouse would be delivered also amongst the bags of flour. All of our dogs, although many were small, displayed heart and a remarkable fearlessness and would leap on the offending vermin and end its life at top speed. My parents refused to allow me to go into the cellar, as vermin had the reputation of biting small children and giving them nasty illnesses.

During the time that we lived over the pie ‘n’ mash shop, my father had many dogs. He got most of these animals at the Club Row Dog Market and the rest from people offering them for sale in one of the public houses in the neighbourhood. Please do not think that my father was ever careless with his animals, for he was not. It was just that, for a variety of reasons, cats and dogs did not enjoy a long life span in our area of the East End of London.

Since the pie ‘n’ mash shop was close to the busy intersection where Cambridge Heath and Whitechapel Roads met, there was always a great deal of traffic passing in front of the shop. There were horses and carts coming and going from the stables of the Mann, Crossman & Paulin Brewery opposite, as well as cars, vans, lorries, bikes, motorbikes, and most dangerous of all, the trolley bus. Sadly, not all dogs are smart. Unfortunately, there are many that are a little lacking in the smarts department. This does not mean that they are not loveable and good companions or even poor watch dogs. It is just that their inability to appreciate any surrounding danger can lead to their downfall. Although we lost a few dogs from theft, many were lost from their over excitement.

Jack Russell PuppyEvery night at about 11.30 P.M., once my parents closed the shop, my father would take the dog for a walk. At weekends, I was often allowed to accompany my parents on such walks. At the mere mention of going for a walk, most of our dogs would go through a ritual. They would chase up and down the shop a few times and next twirl around in a wild fandango while attempting to catch their tails. This dance would end in an excited leap into the air and then the whole ritual would be repeated until my father was ready to leave. In addition, many of the more excitable animals would fail to control their bladder sphincter muscle during their displays of excitement and would further demonstrate their pleasure through their inability to control their urine flow. In those days, traffic was light at that time of night, and often it would be safe for a well-trained dog to go out without a leash. However, most of our dogs required leashing before being allowed out. Despite all precautions, once the shop door was open, the more excitable animals would immediately begin pulling on their leashes in an attempt to get outside faster. Occasionally, one would jerk their leashes free of my father’s grasp and escape along the pavement. Basically, all that these animals wanted was to run back and forth along the street a few times and then most would be ready to return and walk in a more leisurely fashion alongside my father. Sadly, on a few occasions, a more over excited animal in its haste to run free for a while would run straight into the traffic and into the path of an on-coming lorry, or worst of all, the last trolley bus of the evening. Both vehicles were capable of crushing all bones and leaving only a flattened broken carcass for my father to retrieve.

When such a demise occurred, my father would be upset for days. My mother would be upset too, as I would. However, since these shop dogs spent nearly all of their time in the shop and in my father’s domain, naturally he was more familiar with them than we were and so felt their loss more deeply. The dogs lived in the shelter and warmth of the bake house. My father always made a little bed for each dog out of old flour bags and positioned it in a prime location. Their place was never hidden away on the ground – far from it – they would be positioned on a stable structure that brought them up to about waist height so that the dog could observe everything that was going on around him. As a result, my father could see the dog and the dog could see him.

I remember whenever I was allowed to carry my father’s mug of tea down to him from upstairs, I would come into the bake house and be greeted by the site of a dog sitting like a king on a throne surrounded by his robes of flour bags and looking content as he held court. The dog obviously enjoyed sitting and watching the activity of my father as he made pies, chopped up eels, cooked them, made mash and concocted the parsley sauce. Should my father need anything from the cellar or whenever he bought the cooked foods into the shop for sale, the dog would rise up from his throne, jump to the ground and race after him wagging his tail frantically. Should my father actually go to the cellar, the dog would go into raptures since now there would be a race to see who could be first to get down those dangerously rickety steps into that cold place. I never met a dog that was unwilling to risk life and limb to be down those stairs before my father. Many times, the poor things would miss their footing and crash down to the bottom. Should this happen, the animal would ignore all pain and injury in order to jump up and take a victory sweep about the cellar. I think that the dog obviously felt that he was in competition with my father to catch a vermin and the dog was obviously wanting and wishing to be the victor. Should a vermin be seen and then caught, it would be promptly disposed of by the breaking of its neck. Next, the poor dead rat or mouse would be paraded before my father and finally dropped at his feet for hopeful inspection. The dog would go into ecstasy once praise began and would roll over in eager anticipation of belly pats and strokes along with any verbal accolades uttered by my father. The dog would then sit with tongue out, still panting a little from the chase, and wait patiently for further praise, which would be duly given. Whenever I saw this ritual between my father and his latest dog, I was always convinced that the dog was actually smiling while the praise was being given and accepted. But scientists tell us that dogs cannot smile. Right!

I am unable to recall exactly how many dogs lived with us while we lived at the shop. I know that the number was high. Although having had so many dogs sounds frivolous and perhaps cruel, I can assure you that these animals were loved and well looked-after. Each dog that we had was unique and each held a special place in my father’s heart. However, of all the dogs that my father shared his bake house with, there were two that stand out. However, before telling you about these very special dogs, I would like to mention one dog that I had been allowed to chose and which I fear has set the trend for my later relationships with dogs. I warn you, this is a sad tale and, as the French would say, prenez vos mouchoirs – have your handkerchiefs ready! Remember, you have been warned

 
 
READER COMMENT:
 

Rita wrote:

On doing some research about Club Row I came across your article Club Row Dogs.  I was elated when I saw a picture of my late parents at their puppy stall.  However on reading your article I was upset by your remarks inferring that all the puppies in the market were hungry and were mongrels.

Having taken a big part in helping my parents look after their puppies I can tell you that the puppies we had for sale were very well fed and not at all mildly starved.  I used to help prepare their food and then put some into several dishes and give it to them. They were kept on warm bedding that was frequently changed, and during the winter, paraffin heaters were trained on them to keep them warm, both at home and on the stalls on markets days. My parents also had a puppy stall in Romford Market where they were also well known.  I also remember being asked to go and buy arrowroot biscuits for the puppies, which were fed to them throughout the day.  Along with a sale, they offered advice on feeding and puppy care.  On returning home after a market day, the puppies were bedded down and fed before we had our food.

My parents were fully licensed and their kennels were regularly inspected by the licensing authority.  They were proud of their reputation and regularly serviced new customers recommended by previously satisfied customers.

Rita also commented on my stating that the dogs at the Club Row Market were not thoroughbreds, but mongrels and that no one, especially the vendor, knew the roots of their dogs.

She wrote that: my parents tried to be honest about the parentage of the animals they sold.  I often heard the words Labrador Retriever cross or Alsatian cross.  The buyers knew exactly what they were buying and I also heard my parents giving guidelines on the size the customer could expect their dog to grow to.

Many of the puppies my parents sold were indeed genuine pedigrees. They bred their own puppies from our pedigree dogs who were Kennel Club registered.  These dogs were kept with us indoors as pets.  In my early years I remember we always had dogs and puppies to look after and cuddle. I still have photos of some of them.

Customers were given pedigrees and registration documents to send off to the Kennel Club to register their new puppy.

My mother, who only recently passed away at the age of 90, continued to breed Pedigree Yorkshire Terriers until she was no longer able to due to age and health.  My daughter now shows and breeds Golden Retrievers and had a live wwwweb cam trained on the most recent additions.

Although I can only vouch for the care of the puppies sold by my parents, some of my relatives also had puppy stalls where I never saw any dog undernourished or treated badly.  Their livelihoods depended on their good reputations.

Your article suggests that all puppies sold in Club Row were hungry and mongrels. As my parents stall is pictured it could be assumed that you are referring to the puppies they sold.  If you speak to anyone who is knowledgeable about puppies, you will find that nearly all puppies will lick hands, as well as other puppies when they come into contact.  This is not an indication of hunger.  Indeed many adult dogs demonstrate this behaviour.

Now that you have read some of my personal experiences, I hope you will update your comments on Club Row Dogs to read that not all dogs were hungry or mongrels.  Some of the traders sold pedigree puppies and looked after all the puppies for sale, feeding and keeping them warm.  These permanent traders had good reputations to uphold. 

Rita


I am grateful to Rita for her comments and for pointing out that the dogs sold by her parents and other relatives were well treated and not starved and were not all mongrels.  I am very happy to hear that there were dogs sold at the market that received such treatment.  My father, who always chose the dog purchased, always chose a mongrel and I unfortunately assumed that all dogs sold at Club Row Market were not thoroughbreds.  Also, not being a dog person, I am not aware of their habits and unfortunately assumed that the furious licking that I experienced was a result of hunger.  As I said, I am grateful to Rita for setting the record straight.


Thank you for your website, which I have found both interesting and informative.

My father used to breed pedigree Scottie dogs and would sell them at the Sunday Club Row Market.  When my brother was 9 years old, he had to assist my father and used to resent having to do it.  We had a lovely Scottie as our household pet.  He was very good natured, but a little scatty and excitable.  Sadly he was run over by a car speeding along Valance Road in Bethnal Green.  Fortunately I have good memories of that little dog.

A number of years later, I acquired a King Charles Cavalier puppy from a reputable breeder.   I was horror struck when I learned that he was born with some congenital defects including hip dysplasia, most of which was a result of in-breeding.   This has caused me to have strong opinions about dog breeding and a belief in stricter controls and a reduction in the number of dogs offered for sale.   I am of the opinion, as a veterinary surgeon once told me, that mongrels make for healthier and sturdier pets.

Irene

 

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