I can remember very well the first time I met Jean, it was at Leeds Championship show where the late Thelma Morgan introduced me to her, Thelma was a great friend of Jean’s with who’s help and advise in those early years soon got Jean established in the breed, in those days you did not walk into a breed, you had to do a long apprenticeship, and have a lot of respect for the people who had worked so hard establishing the breed, and Jean was no exception.
It wasn’t very long following this meeting that Jean and I developed, what was to become along and lasting friendship over many years, in those days I had very few dogs to show so Jean was always happy for me to give a hand even if it was just to pull the trolley from the car to the show ring, there was no benching in those early days!
Jean always used to get very worked up before showing her dogs, she was always very dedicated, but if any body approached her while grooming or prior to judging they would get the sharp end of her tongue, I haven’t got time to speak to you now, I will speak to you later was always her reply, so you soon learnt, there was a time and a place to talk to Jean.
It was always a great honour to be invited up to IlkIey to see a kennel full of wonderful Apso’s in immaculate condition.
It was when Jean moved south to Suffolk to be nearer her family that I became more involved, living in West London near Heathrow Airport I would occasionally get a phone call from Jean saying she was going to Australia or Sweden for a judging appointment and, could I get her to the airport and pick her up; Jean so loved to travel, and she was lucky to have a good friend in Phyl Alsop who would always step in to look after Jean’s dogs in her absence. Alamo and Clarissa
Jean had been plagued with the big ‘C’ for several years, on her return from Australia she discovered a lymphoma had developed needing immediate surgery, and it was after this, that I received a call from Jean asking if I could come up to help with the gardening, Jean loved her garden and, was very distressed that she couldn’t maintain it as she always had, I was only allowed to cut the lawns and tidy up, Jean said I was too heavy handed to be trusted with the secatures, but it wasn’t long before I would spend every weekend at Saxonsprings.
Jean was still into dog showing, but only on a very limited basis, because she didn’t like driving long distances especially at night, so I became her chauffeur!
The Saxonsprings Kennel was full of quality dogs, Ch Saxonsprings Buccaneer was looking fantastic along with Hank, Jean’s beloved companion and, others which included Ch Saxonsprings Fresno
Jean had become very restricted due to the discomfort in her knees, and was not keen to show the dogs anymore, I will never forget the last time Jean entered the ring at The Pedigree Chum Stakes final with Ire & Eng. Ch Saxonsprings Hackensack (at the age of thirteen), Hank took Jean around the ring at the rate of knots to finish 3rd, both Jean and Hank retired from the show ring that day;& Saxonsprings Fredrico, who had won a ticket at an early age but was not the best showman, he hated men, but he had a super nature, Jean wasn’t happy showing him, so she suggested he spent sometime with me in London to get more socialised, this I did, and we soon bonded, I would take him to a training club in London run by Lynn Church, and ‘Freddie’ soon started to enjoy his Thursday evenings out!.
Jean only had her pension, so I used to help out with the entry fees, and soon made Freddie into Ch Saxonsprings Fredrico, he was still a little fearful of men judges, but I was privileged to get BOB at Crufts with him, I honestly was so petrified going into that big ring for the first time, with the worlds TV cameras on you knowing it was a male judge (Mr Jordan), but in Freddie rose to the occasion and put up a splendid performance to finish fourth the group; Freddie went on to win nine tickets.
Jean still liked to get to the shows whenever she could and Phyl Alsop would kennel sit so we could have the occasional night out which was a great treat for Jean. Phyl had a great bitch of her own called Saxonsprings High Society, which I was, privileged to campaign to her title, group and best in show at Driffield.
Shortly after Jean had to go into hospital for a knee replacement, and Jean, being totally incapacitated found life very frustrating, she broke every rule in the book, how that operation was a success I will never know to this day, instead of resting and doing exercises she would be bathing and grooming dogs! !
I am sure Jean had worn her knees out scrubbing kennel floors, she was appalled when I arrived with a mop and bucket to make life easier, it took about six months to convert her from scrubbing floors to using a mop!! She said you couldn’t get into the corners with a mop a scrubbing brush is the answer, however she did find it less strenuous on the knees.
Jean did so enjoy the Pedigree Chum Stakes finals held at the Metropole Hotel Birmingham, she loved getting dressed up for the odd social occasion, she had so much success with, .Ch Saxonsprings Fresno, Ch Saxonsprings Hackensack and later Ch Saxonsprings Tradition taking top honours which enabled her to enjoy these prestigious occasions, Hackensack and his son Ch Saxonsprings Lineka won the veterans finals, we have been very lucky to have qualified so many times over the years; Ch Saxonsprings Buccaneer also qualified several times over the years.
Jean still had the occasional litter, Hank was mated to Lady-B-Good which produced the ‘L , litter this proved to be one of those exceptional litters producing Lineka, Lotherio, Ladykiller and Lollipop, Jean wasn’t going to keep anything from this litter with the exception of Lollipop, so Madeline Lewis chose Lotherio and Victoria Watterson chose Ladykiller, no one came along for Lineka so he also remained at Saxonspring; he and Lotherio dominated the puppy classes that year, also Ladykiller did a lot of winning, Lollipop didn’t take to the show world, so she was kept as a brood bitch.
Lineka won his first ticket at an early age out of junior, Jean always used to say, this was the kiss of death, because a dog in junior is not fully mature at that age, he was then taken out of the ring until he matured, he was then soon made up, going on to win 20cc’ s, several groups and best in show at the Welsh Kennel club.
The next major success came with Saxonsprings Treacle Toffey, a result of a Lollipop/Fredrico mating, Jean thought very highly of Saxonsprings Treacle Toffey, on several occasions she expressed that she was the best bitch she had ever bred, but Toffy, being a typical Lhasa Apso female had two ways of showing, either she did or either she didn’t!! But with a lot of encouragement she did manage to gain her title and a total of nine cc’ s, and then was retired from the ring later producing some incredible stock.
Jean was so pleased with the success we were having, she often said ‘1 wish we had got together earlier, I would have been a lot better off not having to pay a professional handler at times. ,
Jean decided she would like new blood introduced, she thought at the time it was too late to have another dog from Joan Kendall, so she decided to have a puppy from Flo Fahey and Fr Jo Shire so, Bentarsna Ecclesiastical (Casey) joined the Saxonsprings Kennel in partnership with Jean to be campaigned by myself, being black and white, and being a little colour prejudice later in life Jean didn’t feel he fitted into the Saxonsprings kennel, so he became my London companion, Jean didn’t have much faith in the dog, but I always thought he had potential, Jean said I would never make him up, but on this occasion she was proved wrong, as he won 3cc’s at consecutive shows.
Casey didn’t do himself any favours, he was a typical Irishman, enjoying a fight whenever he had the chance, which did not go down well in the Saxonsprings household; I always remember at SKC where he gained his title and BOB Jean and myself were waiting for the group, I was grooming the dog when a gentleman approached me asking if Jean Blyth was still showing because he would like to meet her, so I replied yes she is sitting beside me, he then introduced himself to Jean asking did she remember him, as it transpired, Jean was his tutor many years ago and now he was a successful Company Director, he went on to ask her if she remembered the incident at the beginning of term when she was in charge of the 61h form boys class, it was a maths lesson he recalled and they had given Jean a bad time, this was in the days of the peashooter! After constant warnings the boys continued to misbehave, the following day Jean had the same boys for the last lesson of the day, when the bell rang for home time, the boys of course were in an hurry to leave, at which point Jean produced a 2lb bag of dried peas and scattered them around the classroom floor, and then told the boys, they could leave for home only when every pea had been picked up, which took several hours, it gave Jean great pleasure seeing this unruly mob down on their hands and knees, the ex pupil said, after this episode Jean was one of the most respected members of staff, and the class went on to get a 90% pass rate in both subjects taught by Jean, and he put all of his success down to Jean, and invited her back to his company for lunch.
Going back to Ecclesiastical, it was agreed Casey would return to Ireland after Crufts, Jean soon realised I was heartbroken, so she Jean promised me a puppy out of the next litter which was to be a mating between Ch Saxonsprings Lineka and Ch Saxonsprings Treacle Toffy, five puppies duly arrived.
Jean kept her word, as she always did, and at a very early age we both fell in love with a dog and bitch, so it was decided both would stay, these two puppies turned out to be Trady and Tilly both came to live with me in London after weaning; Tilly was a constant winner in puppy bitch classes, but it was Trady who had a spectacular puppy career winning 18 BPIS awards, he also qualified for the Pup of the year stakes final out of which he was short listed., it was at this prestigious occasion Jean received the Tom Homer memorial trophy for outstanding achievements in the dog world, it was a very emotional occasion when Fefy Hamilton read out all Jean’s achievements, it wasn’t until halfway though the speech that Jean realised they were talking about her, because this award was kept very secret until the day, but at the end of the speech Jean rose to receive the crystal trophy to a standing ovation from the high ranks of the dog world.
Jean became increasingly worse so I called the family doctor, who admitted her into Addenbrookes’ Hospital, were they carried out intensive tests which took over three weeks, Jeans arms were black and blue having daily blood tests, on one of my twice daily visits I was called into the ward sister’s office, to be told Jean was terminally ill and that she had not long been told, although something serious was expected it was still a great shock to me, so I waited a while to pluck up courage before going to see Jean expecting her to be very depressed and down hearted, instead when I walked into the ward she was reading her favourite paper the daily telegraph, greeted me with hello Ken was there any interesting post this morning, we continued in general conversation, but it wasn’t until later she revealed that she had the results and the prognosis was not good, she had to remain in hospital for another week to have Radium treatment I was then called in to discuss Jean’s future, they had offered her a Hospice bed but of course Jean would rather come home, Jean unfortunately had lost her sister shortly after moving down from the north, so there was only a brother-in-law, a niece and a nephew, all of which were unable to offer any help, so there was no alternative for Jean to come home, as was her wish, to be with the dogs, I had seven sleepless nights worrying how I would cope, so social services were contacted and a package of care was set up, rearrangement of the house was needed, Jean’s bed was brought downstairs to enable her to keep an eye on things, she was still very much interested in the dogs. Jean returned home and was delighted to be back, and it wasn’t long before she started organising things, Jean being a very private person found it very difficult to accept compromises, as she was unable to get upstairs to the bathroom we converted the back room into a toilet and washing area with separate bedroom which Jean was delighted with. In the days and weeks to come Jean had daily visits from friends who kept her spirits up, she had carers night and morning, and daily visits from the District Nurse, Jean gave some of the carers & a very hard time if they took any short cuts; life became very much a routine, I had an intercom installed so if there were any problems in the night Jean could call me, it was always up at seven cup of tea, daily paper and the post, the carers would arrive at nine to get Jean dressed, and then breakfast, which for the next seven months was a baked apple and toast! ! ! On several occasions I was told off because it was either over cooked or undercooked, meals on wheels were accepted but only lasted two days, because they didn’t meet Jean’s requirements.
As we all new Ken effortlessly in the showring one with his dog, here with Trad
A few days out of puppy we attended Bath Championship show, Tradition was in junior and Lineka was in open, Zena Thorn-Andrews was the judge, always a great admirer along with husband Terry, Trady won his class and Lineka won open, so we had two to challenge, Joe House took over Trady and I showed Lineka, but it was Trady who won the cc with Lineka getting reserve cc, Trady went on to get BOB and then the group and Best in Show, he later went on to make history by taking BIS at this show for three consecutive years running; 10 days later Trady became another Saxonsprings Champion and a spectacular career was to follow, 8 BIS, 3RBIS, 18 group wins, 40 cc’s and 5 rcc’s he also gained his Irish title, he won the Contest of Champions, also Wales and the West Contest of Champions, Pedigree Chum Stakes final, he was also Top Dog All Breeds, and his litter sister Tillandsia also went on to gain her title.
My health was not good at the time so I decided to take early retirement and move to Saxonsprings from London to spend more time with the dogs, Jeans health was also in decline, and when she said she didn’t want to go to the shows anymore alarm bells began to ring, because it had to be something very special to keep Jean away, she started to get problems with breathlessness and could not walk great distances anymore, Jean went into Papworth Chest Hospital for tests which took two weeks (not a happy bunny), Jean was a terrible patient, thank goodness no heart problems, but they found fluid on the lungs which was promptly drained leaving Jean more active again, but at Christmas 1997 Jean became unwell again and in the new year several hospital visits and tests proved negative, which was to make Jean very frustrated because she was in a lot of pain , and she used to say to me ‘is it in my mind Ken’, I used to say ‘it can’t be anything serious or they would have found it’ my health now wasn’t at its best and Jean was very worried about me coping with a kennel full of dogs.
Jean was an hoarder being on several committees and the breed representative at the Kennel Club, the drawers were full of confidential paperwork which she managed to sort out because she did not want to leave me this job, after several weeks the drawers were clear , the next thing she invited Madeline Lewis and her niece to come and clear all her clothes out this was the most difficult time for me because as Madeline and Caroline were putting her clothes into black bags, I had left them to get on with this job, I was working in the back but Jean called me in on several occasions to say, ‘remember Ken when I wore this dress’ it brought back so many happy memories, at this point I could not cope, so I had to leave the room to have a good cry, Jean was living on her memories of a lot of special occasions, many dresses like the queen, had only been worn once, but each one represented a special occasion, the courage of this special lady in not shedding a tear at this particular time was incredible, it was then the house contents, and special memorabelia4 room by room Jean ploughed through, putting labels on articles which she wanted to go to her friends on her departure, so everything was in order and as Jean wished, she didn’t want to leave me the job of all the sorting out, because you will have all your work cut out looking after the dogs when I am not here she would say.
Her dear friend Anne Matthews ( Hardacre) spent a lot of private time with Jean discussing what was to happen to the dogs, after long discussions it was decided that all the dogs would be left in my charge, and I was to remain here at Saxonsprings.
During this time Trady was on a roll and Jean insisted, much against my wish, that I should continue to go to the shows because Trady was in contention at the time of being top dog, it was a close run race because many outstanding dogs were also in contention.
Foot note: Jean remained reasonably well with no pain, Jean wanted me to have some respite, so would attend the day Hospice once a week on a Wednesday which she enjoyed, they used to make such a fuss of her, she would come home looking so glamorous having had her nails polished, a facial, hair set, massage etc, some of the colours of the nail varnish left a bit to be desired!! But it was Jean’s choice,
Jean always liked her close friends who visited her to come on a Thursday so she could show of her new nails or hairdo; The show season was corning to an end and Trady was neck and neck for top dog all breeds, the result of LKA would be the deciding factor, Margaret Mclaughlin was down from Scotland, to spend some time with Jean. While I went to LKA Trady got the points required to make him top dog all breeds, of course Jean was on cloud nine! Margaret was to go home shortly, so she decided to cook a Christmas dinner for Jean and myself, we all thoroughly enjoyed it, Jean also indulged in a glass of wine or two, Jean was having visitors in the afternoon, Alan and Theresa Weihe, Margaret Jennings and Joe House all had a good time talking dogs of course which went on until early evening, the carers as usual came to get Jean ready for bed, but instead she insisted staying up quite late which was quite unusual for Jean because she would be very tired by early evening, our guests left and Jean got very involved in a nature programme on the TV which she insisted watching until the end, she then decided to go to bed and read the newspaper, I myself was very tired, so Jean said ‘get yourself off to bed’ because it will soon be morning, this I did.
I arose at seven Jean would always hear me coming down the stairs and would shout ‘morning Ken’ I would proceed to make tea and deliver the paper, on this occasion there was no call from Jean, I didn’t take any notice because she had such a late night, there was a peep hole from the kitchen to the bedroom I look through and saw Jean sitting on the side of the bed bending down putting her slipper on, so I took the tea in only to find Jean, this very special lady had passed away.
Unfortunately Ken Woosnam died 2yrs later so he did not have long to carry on the Saxonsprings Tradition. But Jean left a wonderful legacy to the Lhasa Apso exhibitors and breeders in the UK that still carry on her lines to this day!!