Irish Wolfhound History

The Sulhamstead Kennel

The Sulhamstead Kennels of James and Florence Nagle were a major factor in the breed in the United Kingdom for much of the Twentieth Century. In the earlier days it was James who was the driving force but from the late 1920s it was Florence (their marriage was dissolved in 1928). They started the Irish Wolfhound Coursing Club and pushed for hounds that had working ability, not just looks. Sulhamstead hounds were hugely successful in many countries.
Only some of the Sulhamstead hounds are mentioned, mostly those that did particularly well in the show ring or in breeding, or those of which I have photographs. There were many others, so this is not a comprehensive listing. For more details read Ferelith Somerfield's book on Mrs. Nagle, Mission Accomplished, published by Dog World Publications ( Note: This book is out of print (2006).

The early days

Florence Nagle was born on October 26th,1894, the daughter of Sir William George Watson, Baronet, and Lady Bessie Watson. Bessie was Sir George's second wife, his first having died childless only a year after their marriage. Sir George was the founder of a chair for the betterment of Anglo-American relations, held one year in the United States and one year in England. Florence's mother was not keen on dogs, considering them not respectable, but her opinion apparently changed later and she did then own wolfhounds.

Florence went to Evendine Court to study domestic economy but was expelled for hiring a car for an outing for which she had not gained permission. At the age of 15 she held a driving licence. There are two stories about her introduction to the Irish wolfhound. One, that she visited a dog show and fell in love with the breed, and extracted a promise from her father that she could have a "big dog". The second was that she met Patrick, the Irish wolfhound owned by artist William Frank Calderon, and wanted one herself. However, "Orphans", a picture in which an adult Patrick appeared, was painted in 1893, the year before Florence was born, so that seems somewhat unlikely as an explanation of her choice of breed.

 Orphans by William Frank Calderon

At any rate, she had her first Irish wolfhound in 1913 when she left school. It is said that this hound was Sir Michael of Sheppey, bred by Mr. Eric Palmer (of Huntley & Palmer), and was obtained through Cecil Aldin, whose daughter Florence had met when in Paris. Cecil bought a bitch from the same litter as Michael. However, the hound was actually called Manin Michael, born in March 1913. He was registered with the Kennel Club in March 1917 by James Nagle, then transferred to the ownership of Mr. & Mrs. Nagle, and his name changed to Sir Michael of Sheppey in May, 1917. Sheppey was the kennel name used in the early days before changing to Sulhamstead.

Sir Michael of Sheppey 
 Cecil Aldin's head study of Sir Michael of Sheppey

Florence later bred Micky, who, with Cracker the Bull Terrier, was to be the star of numerous Aldin portraits.

Sulhamstead Micky 
 One of Cecil Aldin's portraits of Micky

During the Great War her family home of Sulhamstead Abbots, in Berkshire, was used as a hospital and it was here that she had met James Nagle, an Irishman who had emigrated to Canada but returned to fight with the Canadian Highlanders and 60th Rifles. They were married on July 1st, 1916. Her parents disapproved and said they would cut her out of their wills and certainly this next period of her life was spent in comparative penury.

In 1917 the Nagles registered several hounds, the first (apart from Manin Michael) being Felixstowe Kilrane (F. Navan ex F. Nenagh), then Lady Alma of Sheppey (Andy ex Baddesley Countess) and then Coniston of Sheppey (by Andy ex Felixstowe Clonakilty), all of which were purchased from I.W. Everett.

 James Nagle with hounds
 James Nagle with Felixstowe Kilcoo, Suhamstead Thelma & Sulhamstead Pedlar

The Nagles were both keen on animals being able to do the job they were bred for and they set up coursing meetings for Irish wolfhounds. This was hare coursing, not lure coursing.

 James Nagle, Miss Innes (kennelgirl) & Florence Nagle
 l to r: James Nagle, Miss Innes (kennelmaid) & Florence Nagle prior
to the first coursing meeting held at Amesbury in 1925

Mrs. Nagle recalled that James was a great gambler and a great spender but that they had a wonderful time until he ran off with one of the kennel maids. The marriage was dissolved in 1928 and James died in 1933. They had a son, David, and a daughter, Patricia.

Patricia Nagle   Patricia Nagle with her father's
Ch. Felixstowe Kilcullen

During the latter part of the First World War breeding of dogs was suspended because of the food shortages but the Nagles did breed a litter by Brian (a full brother to Sir Michael) out of Lady Alma of Sheppey, who had come from Mr. Everett's Felixstowe kennels. At this time, Sheppey was the Nagle's affix. From this litter came Sulhamstead Pedlar, destined to become the foundation of the Sulhamsteads although he himself could not be registered at the time due to the ban on breeding. Pedlar was registered in March,1924 by Lady Watson as having been whelped November 11th, 1918 and bred by Mr. J. Nagle. He had to be registered "Not for Competition" because the Kennel Club would not allow dogs that had been bred during the period of the breeding ban to be shown, even though the rule against such dogs being registered at all had been withdrawn. Pedlar died at the age of six years from distemper, an unusual cause of death in an adult dog.

At the time, Isaac Everett wrote in his Wolfhound Whines in Our Dogs: "A great catastrophe to the breed has occurred through the death of Pedlar of Sulhamstead, the property of Lady Watson of Sulhamstead, Berks. This wonderful stud force accompanied his owner one afternoon, calling at Lady Watson's friend's, where unfortunately an inmate of the kennels was down with distemper. In due course Pedlar developed it too, and in spite of the very best attention by experienced canine nurses he succumbed to this awful scourge. Unfortunately it was not diagnosed for two or three days after he went off his feed, and so it obtained a great hold before he was properly treated. It is a very great blow to Lady Watson, as Pedlar was her real and constant bodyguard, and was always with his owner when possible, both at Sulhamstead and when out visiting. Fortunately he left behind some good stock, and although not numerous yet sufficient to carry on his line, a line of blood invaluable to the breed. This will be in evidence in the near future even more than the recent past. It is a great loss to the breed that he was not "discovered" in his earlier days, and thus had more opportunity of a more numerous family of his strain. Many of us know what it is to lose some canine friend, and especially an Irish Wolfhound. We tender our sincere sympathy to Lady Watson."

 Sulhamstead Pedlar  Sulhamstead Pedlar

In 1923 Mrs. Nagle bought a bitch, Thelma, from Mr. Everett (Felixstowe), although she had been bred by a Mrs. Lockhart out of Caragh by Comberford Mick. Thelma was the first Sulhamstead champion and won the Type Cup in 1924 and 1925, the Bitch CC at Crufts in 1925, 1926, and 1927. She also won three consecutive green stars at the St. Patrick's Day Show in Ireland in 1925, '26 and '27 and became the first Irish wolfhound International Champion. In all she won eleven CCs and died in 1932.

Sulhamstead Thelma   Sulhamstead Thelma
 Ch./Ir.Ch. Sulhamstead Thelma   
Thelma in 1927  Thelma in 1930
Thelma in 1927   Thelma in 1930

Isaac Everett (Felixstowe) said of Thelma in 1924: "I find her hard to fault at her age; she is a champion in embryo without a doubt; there is plenty of her, and in the right place; in the next year should easily get her title."

The judge at Crufts, 1925, Mabel Kearns, said of Thelma, who won the bitch CC: "A beautifully formed red brindle; grand body and limbs; her head might be stronger and her eyes darker, but otherwise it is hard to find fault with her; not a very big hound, but a typical Wolfhound."

Following the Ladies' Kennel Association Show in 1924, James Nagle wrote a report, which included the following: "The hounds were judged by Mrs. Heywood, and she drew 69 entries, with the bitches out-numbering the dogs. It was difficult to follow her placings at times, and she appeared to me to go for size more than type and soundness. I would again remind the exhibitors that I am really criticising the hounds from their ability to work.
"Of the 11 dogs, Ch. Felixstowe Kilshane and Courage of Grevel were absent, and the remainder were led by Felixstowe Kilcullen (1st, limit and open, K.C. challenge certificate (and as this is his third he is now "Champion"), silver cup for best dog under two years, specials for best limit and open dog), a great shaggy gaunt hound, standing 38 in. at shoulder - what I should imagine the Wolfhound was like some hundred years ago; great quality, and beautiful well-placed shoulders, deep through heart, nice legs and feet, head not as long as I like them, tail rather wispy. He is now nearly two years old, and I expect the next time I see him to be muscled up, as he must now be finished growing and galloping will not hurt him. From the point of view of hunting wolf I think he is too big, but he looks like galloping when trained. He should make a great hound by the end of the year." (For the full report, click here)

Also in 1924 Isaac Everett (Felixstowe) in his Wolfhound Whines column in Our Dogs wrote: "I have a very interesting piece of news to hand. Mr. J. Nagle of Stonehenge Pedigree Stock Farm, Amesbury has very kindly offered a 10-gn. silver cup to the Irish Wolfhound Club for competition amongst its members, to be presented to the exhibitor who shall win most 1st prizes in breed and variety classes during 1925 at shows held under KC Rules. This cup is to be won outright, and exhibitors will have to notify the secretary of the Irish Wolfhound Club of wins in variety classes. Any number of hounds may compete for any member. Of course, it is understood that wins must be with Irish Wolfhounds. Another cup of equal value has also been presented by the same good sportsman for competition at the club show each year amongst the new members. Particulars of this will be published later. I may add that these two cups will be hand-made by an artist in silver who has exhibited at the Royal Academy, and it is really unnecessary to add that they will be well worth winning."

By 1924 the Nagles had moved to Stonehenge Farm. While they were there they changed their affix to Sulhamstead. James was an Irish Wolfhound Club committee member and judge and the hounds were registered and shown in his name. He showed them until 1927. In 1928 nineteen hounds were transferred to Mrs. Nagle, six of them from the ownership of J. Nagle to Mrs. F. Nagle.

group exercising hounds 
 Exercising the wolfhounds and an Irish Setter near Stonehenge.
James Nagle at the back, Florence Nagle in the centre

By 1926 the Nagles had moved again and were at Headley, Newbury, in Berkshire. In 1927, after James had left, Mrs. Nagle was at The Abbotts, Sulhamstead, Reading, and by 1929 this had become Conncara, Sulhamstead.

Both the Nagles were keen on racing and had owned a sprinter - Fernley - in 1920 but could not afford to go on owning racehorses. At one time Mrs. Nagle ran a tearoom at Stonehenge, which was one of the "downs" in a life like a roller coaster.

When Mrs. Lockhart's Caragh had her second litter (by Felixstowe Kilbarry), Mrs. Lockhart telephoned Mrs. Nagle to say that there were only two puppies (then six weeks old) and the dog puppy was blind and was going to be put down. Mrs. Nagle asked her not to do so until she had seen him and went over straight away. She thought he was the best puppy she had ever seen and said she would buy him. This puppy was to become Sulhamstead Conncara, their second champion, and one of the all time great sires in the breed.

Sulhamstead Conncara with James Nagle

Born 27th January 1925
Parents Grandparents Great-Grandparents

Felixstowe Kilbarry

Sulhamstead Pedlar Brian
Lady Alma of Sheppey
Felixstowe Slane Ch. Felixstowe Kilgerran
Baddesley Brendina


Ch.Felixstowe Kilgerran
Felixstowe Navan
Felixstowe Cloone
Felixstowe Nenagh Ch. Felixstowe Gweebarra
Grosvenor Doreen

Mrs. Nagle travelled to shows on trains, the London Underground, by boat to Ireland, and Conncara went with her everywhere and no-one knew that he was blind. Before using him at stud, Mrs. Nagle had him checked out by an eminent eye specialist, who thought the blindness was probably caused by an accident at a very early age. She then mated him to one of her own bitches, which produced ten puppies, none of them with any eye problems. He was then used on outside bitches and none of his progeny had any eye problems. Mrs. Nagle did not tell anyone of Conncara's blindness until three years after his death. After this, the Kennel Club added the clause "No blind dog eligible to be shown" on the entry forms for shows.

Sulhamstead Conncara  Conncara in 1927
 Ch. Sulhamstead Conncara

Conncara won his first CC at the age of 13 months at the Middlesex Hospital Dog Show, 1926. He won his second and third CCs the same year, at Bath and the Scottish Kennel Club shows. The following year he won his fourth CC at the L.K.A. In 1926 he was advertised at stud for a fee of 25 guineas or pick of litter. Among his progeny were Chs. Sulhamstead Diana, Chulainn Connacht, Galleon of Ouborough, Erin of Ouborough, and Morag of Clonard. At one stage he stayed with Cecil Aldin for several days while his portrait was painted:

Cecil Aldin portrait

James and Florence Nagle were both very keen on animals being able to do the work they were bred for and he was a driving force behind the setting up of coursing meetings and the foundation of the Irish Wolfhound Coursing Club. The first coursing meeting was held near Amesbury, Wiltshire (the Nagle's home at the time) in February, 1925. In his column "Wolfhound Whines" in the weekly dog paper "Our Dogs", Isaac Everett wrote: "Mr. J. Nagle of Sulhamstead prefix is all for the sound and working sort of Irish Wolfhound, as well as a strong advocate of type. This good sportsman is organising a coursing meeting of Irish Wolfhounds on Salisbury Plain in December or January next, and has already received promises of eight entries, and will be glad to hear from any owner who wishes to enter. It is proposed to have a small sweepstake, which shall be divided into fifty per cent for the winner, 30 per cent for the runner-up, and 10 per cent for each dog beaten in the semi-final. Trophies will be purchased with the entries and presented." For more details and pictures on the coursing meetings, click here.

July 7th, 1926 Sulhamstead Fianna had a litter by Conncara from which the Nagles kept Sulhamstead Busta, which later became a Champion.

 Ch. Sulhamstead Busta
 Sulhamstead Busta

At the Metro and Essex Ch. Show in 1928, Mrs. Nagle won with (from l to r) Sulhamstead Diana (Conncara ex Fianna), Cherie (Conncara ex Deborah), Demon (Conncara ex Fianna) and Hecta (Conncara ex Macan of Stourton):

Mrs. Nagle with Diana, Cherie, Demon & Hecta

Sulhamstead Diana Sulhamstead Demon
Sulhamstead Diana
(Sulhamstead Conncara ex Sulhamstead Fianna) 
 Sulhamstead Demon
(litterbrother to Diana)
Sulhamstead Hecta   Sulhamstead Mara
 Sulhamstead Hecta
(Sulhamstead Conncara ex Macan of Stourton)
Sulhamstead Mara
(Sulhamstead Conncara ex Margot of Clonard)

This puppy, aged 3 months but unnamed, was advertised in 1928 as being sired by Ch. S. Conncara:

dog puppy 

In 1929 Mrs. Nagle bought in two puppies by Ch. Sulhamstead Conncara, out of Chulainn Famous and bred by Mrs. Bruford. They were born on May 4th, 1929 and were registered as Sulhamstead Claud and Sulhamstead Connie.

Sulhamstead Claud  Sulhamstead Connie 
 Sulhamstead Claud at 3½ months  Sulhamstead Connie at 3½ months

In 1930 Mrs. Nagle bought in Blunderbore of Lynstone, by Felixstowe Killone ex Margot of Clonard, born July 11, 1930, and changed his name to Sulhamstead Blunder:

 Sulhamstead Blunder
 Sulhamstead Blunder

Mrs. Nagle did not go only to championship shows but supported the smaller shows as well, including Limited shows, and this was the case for most of her showing career. She also supported puppy classes and puppy stakes (variety classes), which in the early days were called puppy criterion. In 1930 her Sulhamstead Kesta (Am.Ch. Felixstowe Kilmorac of Halcyon ex Ch. Sulhamstead Diana) won the puppy criterion at the Kennel Club Show.

Kesta as a puppy   Kesta in 1930 as a puppy
 Sulhamstead Kesta  Sulhamstead Kesta
Ch. Sulhamstead Kesta   

Kesta won her first CC in 1931 at Windsor, her second at Crufts in 1932 and her third the same year at L.K.A. In 1934 she was sent to the South of France.

Also in 1932, Kesta's dam, Sulhamstead Diana (daughter of Conncara ex Sulhamstead Fianna) won a CC at the Kennel Club Show. Diana had also won two Green Stars in Ireland. Diana gained her title in 1933 at the LKA/Irish Wolfhound Club Show. She was six years old at the time. She died in 1935.

Sulhamstead Diana   Diana in 1930
Ch. Sulhamstead Diana
Sulhamstead Diana 

The next picture of Mrs. Nagle with two hounds, entitled "Family Likeness" is from a book (title unknown) published in 1932:

 Mrs. Nagle with two hounds

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Updated 3/19/2006