A few miles from Southport, in the town of Ormskirk, which gave the name to its kennels, lived a tranquil, provincial gentleman, with a smiling face and a shrill voice. He was a keen breeder of game bantams, however, he became famous as a breeder, expositor and Collie Judge in 1885; his name was Thomas H. Stretch.
Stretch had such a profound knowledge of the breed that he could perceive by sheer intuition the capability of a collie when it was only an unknown promise. This ability allowed him to buy dogs for a few pounds and resell them, after having evaluated them, at very high prices. The most clamorous example was of the champion Christopher (1887).
Bred by the Reverend Hamilton, who had taken him to the exhibition only once, he was bought by Stretch for only 60 pounds and with him, this collie was the winner of six Challenge Classes, including the Inaugural Crufts Show in 1891. A number of judges of the time agreed that Christopher was superior even to his father, Metchley Wonder, and, in fact, this dog affirmed itself on the most important exhibition rings of the time; from Liverpool to Glasgow; from Birmingham to Southport and from Brussels to London.
After two years the dog was resold to Mitchell Harrison of the Chestnut Hill Doghouse, Philadelphia, for the sum of 1,000 pounds; the highest price ever paid up to that moment for a collie.
Another important champion bought by Stretch when he was still unknown was Ormskirk Emerald(1894), which had been bred by W. P. Barnes. Later, Stretch resold it to a Mr. Megson for 1.500 pounds.
Other collies bought by him and resold by him were the champions, Rufford Ormonde (£700), Ormskirk Goldust (£500), Sweet Lassie (£250), Ormskirk Galopin (£300), Ormskirk Connie (£200), Ormskirk Alexander (£350), Ormskirk Olympian (£250), Ormskirk Artist (£500), Ormskirk Tyttonian (£400), Ormskirk Typist (£365), Ballyarnet Faultless (£250).
However, it would be a mistake to think that Stretch was only a very able dog trader. Some of the dogs he bought, he kept for his own dog-house. That was the case with Sweet Lassie(1885). Sweet Lassie was a female tricolour, bred by T. P. Lion, which had an excellent head ,and which won a second prize at Birmingham in 1885;Ormskirk Chriss (1890) a sable-coloured dog from the champion H. Heaton, which won numerous shows; Ormskirk Emerald(1894), which also won the admiration of Charles Wheeler; Ormskirk Ideal (1895) a female tricolour, bred by Pollock and Lambert; Parbold Paganini (1904) which was bred by Hugh Ainscough, and also won the Crufts show for two consecutive years; and the champion Ballyarnet Faultless (1906), which was also bred by Ainscough.
His only mistake was probably that of not having been able to foresee Edgbaston Marvel’s great qualities, because he sold him quite quickly, for a few pounds to a W. G. Weager.
However, Stretch did not stop at purchasing other people’s dogs, he himself was a great breeder. Among the many collies that came from his kennels we must recall, Sweet Fairy (1885), which won a first prize at Birkenhead in 1886; Sweet Fanny (1886), a gracious tricolour which won a second prize at Manchester in 1886; Ormskirk Amazement (1888), a tricolour, winner of numerous prizes; the champion Ormskirk Ormonde (1891), which made history in America with the name of Rufford Ormonde; Ormskirk Memoir (1892), a sable-coloured female of great balance; Omskirk Galopin (1896) which put together a rich book of prizes; Ormskirk Olympian (1901), a beautiful dark sable collie; the champion Ormskirk Foxall (1907), also another collie of great qualities.
During the war, Thomas Stretch’s kennels were drastically reduced, and he was left with his hen-house and only three collies. O. P. Bennett, who visited him during his trip to England at the end of the war, says that these three collies were all from the same father, Cragside Chieftain. The highlight of the trio was Ormskirk Peacebearer, of which the magazine ‘OUR DOGS’ had written, “Of this dog we can emphatically endorse his owner’s opinion, that for refinement of head qualities we have never seen equal at his age”.
In 1921 even Thomas Stretch, as Wheeler, had the honour of being nominated honorary life member of the Collie Club Of America.
When he died in 1930, the OUR DOGS magazine announced the death of the ‘grand old man’ of the collies. The man who, for more than half a century, as breeder, expositor, and judge, had influenced the breeding of the whole world. The President of the Collie Club of America, O.P Bennett, said, on that occasion, that in the last years of his life, Stretch was proud of what he had done for the breed that he loved so much.