The English town of Birmingham experienced an extraordinary period of social and industrial development during the reign of Queen Victoria. Its population increased to half a million inhabitants and a myriad of small, new factories, turned it into the most industrialized centre of the kingdom .In the decades that followed the first dog show, a lot of the collie dog breeders came from Birmingham. Astley, Barlow, Thompson, Chance, White, are well-known names to every enthusiast ,and, they all come from this town, which was ,for a very long time, the homeland of our breed.
It was exactly from one of these areas, Edgbaston, that the Charles H. Wheeler Kennels got its name, when, in 1870 he began to breed. He was one of the first breeders of show dog collies and one of the most admired judges in the world. In a 1906 book, James Watson defined him as ‘the father of the Birmingham fancy’, for his wisdom, his knowledge of the breed, and for the advice he gave out to the young who had the good fortune of meeting him, both in Europe and in America. Even O. P. Bennett, the future president of the American Collie Club, who visited him towards the end of the war, said that after an afternoon spent talking to Wheeler, he had gone away with the pleasant awareness of knowing much more about collies than he had before.
Yet the beginning had not been easy for Wheeler; he had to work hard for nine years before being able to produce a competitive dog, which he was able to do in 1879. It was a rather small, but well proportioned, female tricolour, which possessed its best qualities in its head and in its expression. The dog’s name was Lorna Doon, and she was his first champion. She was born from a sable-merle, Duncan, and from a tricolour, Old Bess.
The most famous dog bred by Charles Wheeler was Metchley Wonder. Metchley was a sable and white colour dog of average build, with an excellent stature, a good coat and a typical head. Born in 1886, it was, according to Wheeler, the best collie ever seen up to that time.
Metchley Wonder was only a few months old when Wheeler sold it for 10 pounds to his brother-in-law, Sam Boddington. Later, he re-sold Metchley for 500 pounds to Mr. Megson, who won nearly 100 prizes with the dog. No other collie was able to do the same, except for Southport Perfection. Metchley died in 1896, after having generated some of the pillars of its breed.
His son, Christopher, and even more so his grandson, Edgbaston Marvel, gave a notable impulse to the selection of collies. His grandson demonstrated Wheeler’s ability in evaluating the capacities of a stud dog beyond that of its success in a dog show. Edgbaston Marvel, whose name at that time was Ormskirk Ambrose, had been raised by Mr.Stretch; it was a magnificent example of a collie, however it had bad ear carriage which hindered results. In the Glousester dog show the dog obtained only reserve, therefore Mr. Stretch sold it to Mr.Weager for three guineas. Six months later, Weager presented it in the Crystal Palace dog show, where again it only obtained a Reserve. It was here that Wheeler saw it and asked Weager to sell it to him for thirty pounds. The dog was registered with the name of Edgbaston Marvel, the name which is remembered in the history of the collie. Its success as reproducer was extraordinary.
Among the many collies raised and bred by Charles Wheeler, we can name some of the most important: Duncan (1877) a sable-merle, that was a very important stud even if it never took part in any dog show especially for the variety of merle; the already cited Ch. Lorna Doon(1878)¸ Malcom I (1879), which won first prize in the Kennel Club’s Show in 1880; Norna (1880), a tricolour and winner of the first prize in Birmingham in 1881; Minnie (1885), a female with great qualities and mother to champion Metchley Wonder, which we have already mentioned; Edgbaston Marvel (1888), which we too have already mentioned; and the Ch. Portington Bar None (1891), a sable coloured collie, which could have been unbeatable if it had had a richer coat; and Edgbaston Hero (1898) a collie with magnificent expression.
However, Wheeler was just as able in buying dogs elsewhere which would then be useful in his work. We can mention Smuggler(1884), which was raised by R. Chapman. This dog possessed its best quality in its immense coat and it won a first prize in the Kennel Club Show 1885; Edgbaston Bess (1887), raised by Mr Jenkins; Edgbaston Royal(1895) raised by W. Griffiths; Edgbaston Renown (1900), raised by R. Faulkner; Edgbaston Plasmon (1904) raised by Brindley and Whitehurst, which won numerous prizes before retiring from dog shows after an operation.
In 1917, because of the war, Charles Wheeler had to give up breeding. He kept one collie for himself, Edgbaston Roy, nephew to the champion Parbold Picador. This is what Wheeler wrote about this collie: “I now have one collie, Edgbaston Roy, which I am keeping for my own pleasure and you may take it from me, that he is a nailing good dog, of which I am justly proud. I can afford to keep one that pleases my eye and that is the reason he is remaining at Willow Crescent”.
In 1921 Charles Wheeler was nominated honorary life member of the Collie Club of America. In those days he wrote for THE COLLIE FOLIO: “It is my ardent desire to do all my power to serve the best interests of the Collie, to keep him pure and uncontaminated”.
It is Charles Wheeler that we must thank for the historical background that we have about the first years of the collie. We must remember a book written in 1924 in collaboration with the President of the Collie Club of America and an important article written for THE ILLUSTRATED KENNEL NEWS. An article full of extraordinary information about dogs and about breeders who raised and built our breed.