Harrow was once the home of a renowned dog breeder,Margaret Ryland. Her daughter spoke to Ian Proctor about life in the midst of movie stars and her mother's mutts
MARGARET Ryland was a renowned breeder of King Charles spaniels who supplied dogs to the stage, screen and even the Swedish royal family.
The Irish-born mother-of-two reared the rare pooches for up to 30 years while living with her family in Harrow and was very well-known, according to daughter Mildred Thomas, 88, who lives in Edwin Ware Court, Pinner.
Mrs Thomas remembered how the Rylands' first pooch, Chika Lulu, came into their possession.
"My father used to go and play bridge in a house in Catford when I was a little girl and an old lady there asked him to look after her dogs and so he brought them home.
"I think my mother felt sorry for the bitch. She got in touch with another breeder, found a stud dog, bred them together and sold the litter off. In those days it was about £25 a puppy.
"We lived in Watford Road and she converted our garage into kennels.
"You had to register with the Kennel Club and she chose the name Old Rowley because that was the nickname of King Charles."
The variety of dog was very prestigious and each litter contained four or five puppies that could be one of four colours: black and tan, tricolour, ruby or white.
Mrs Thomas explained: "King Charles spaniels were very rare. They're weren't many about.
"They're adorable little animals and they have a gorgeous face.
"My mother loved them because they were 'royalty'. King Charles had given them a Royal Charter sort of thing meaning you could take the dog everywhere.
"My mother wrote for a magazine - I don't know whether it exists anymore - it was called Dog World or Our Dogs and people who bred King Charles spaniel used to send snippets of news that she would put in the publication.
"If you wanted a King Charles spaniel you got in touch with my mother through the magazine.
"She even sold to Swedish royalty. She shipped a dog off to the Royal Palace."
In 1944, the Royal Chelsea Hospital asked Mrs Thomas to dress up as King Charles' mistress Nell Gwyn - who persuaded her monarch lover to found the hospital for war pensioners in the 1600s - for a special demonstration at the Chelsea Fete and Dog Show in the hospital grounds.
It was not just historical re-enactments that Mrs Ryland supplied dogs for.
"There was a model who appeared in a fashion piece in Vogue magazine and
the publicists got her to hold my mother's dog to complete the piece."
The prestige and beauty of the King Charles spaniel led to film and stage directors calling on Mrs Ryland's clutch of canines.
Her animals starred in Ten Hours to Noon, By Gaslight, Spring in Park Lane and Sweet Nell of Old Drury.
Mrs Thomas on occasion would escort the hound to the movie set: "We'd go to the theatre with the dog. When the director said: 'Dog!' I'd hand it over to the leading man and watch while the take was filmed and the actor would give the dog back to me. The dog got three guineas a week and I got two."
The docile nature and obedience of the animals proved extremely alluring to owners.
"It's not an active sort of dog. It's a lap dog - its other name is a boudoir dog."
Mrs Ryland bred dogs for 10 years before she died aged 80 in 1973 having moved to Ealing Road, Wembley.
Animal-loving Mrs Thomas, who volunteers in the RSPCA shop in Pinner, said: "I used to work in a fashion shop opposite Harrods. I went in one day to the pets floor and they had a guidebook to all the dogs breeds.
"I reached the King Charles spaniel section and my mother's name was mentioned. She was definitely the foremost King Charles spaniel breeder of her time."