Above, Sheila Grew (left) with some of her dogs,
and Australian author and Border Collie breeder, Peidje Vidler,
in 1980 while visiting Barbara Carpenter at Pastors Hill, Glos., England.
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Carpenter and Andrew Hall.
This photo first appeared in International Sheepdog News, Vol. 6 No. 3, May/June 2008,
for the obituary of Peidje Vidler by Kathy Gooch..)
Sheila Grew is best known as the author of the small but important two volume work, Key Dogs from the Border Collie Family (Payn Essex Ltd., 1981/1985). These were among the first books to indicate the influence of particular dogs on the Border Collie breed as a whole, and although, since then, other books have followed with more and perhaps more accurate information, and even websites exist today with statistics that show that, from the standpoint of genetics, Grew's key dogs may not be terribly influential today, they do not take away from the fact that the dogs that Grew chose to include in her books were truly the foundation dogs of our breed, and that Sheila Grew was a pioneer in the history of the Border Collie.
Dr. Grew was also the founder and first editor/publisher of Working Sheepdog News, a Border Collie periodical. In his book, One Man's Way (WSN 2007), Austin Bennett says:
Upon demise of the Scottish Sheepdog Handler, a specialist magazine published by Matt Mundell, Working Sheepdog News was founded by Dr. Sheila Grew, by all accounts a quite remarkable woman....In 1978, despite strained financial circumstances, she produced the first copy of WSN to disseminate news of interest about sheepdogs and their handlers with the stated hope that, somehow, it would also benefit "the welfare of a wise and wonderful dog, who is far too often neglected on his own farm". The original WSN was a fine little affair that included short articles, trials results, reports, and copious letters...In 1985, just one year before she died, she was compelled to hand over the reins to Barbara Collins who edited the magazine from her North Wales home for the next four years.
It was Barbara Collins who wrote the obituary for Sheila in the issue of Working Sheepdog News that came out shortly after Dr. Grew's death. In it she tells of Sheila Grew's life:
Sheila [Grew] was born at Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, on July 17th 1918 and was education in England and Denmark before embarking on a career in medicine, qualifying as a doctor from the Royal Free Hospital in London in 1943....
After the war, in 1946, Sheila joined the "Save The Children" organisation as Assistant Medical Officer and worked to help to relieve the misery of the thousands of displaced children to be found in Europe at that time and, although she never married, she adopted two sons, Richard and Simon, in 1946 and 1947...
After adopting the two boys, Sheila worked as a General Practitioner for many years, working in various parts of the country...before moving to Gloucestershire to become the County Medical Officer there.
In 1962, Sheila...[had] radical surgery which...left her with a permanent disability in one arm and hand. Despite this, and with the great enthusiasm which was one of her most endearing qualities, Sheila gave up medicine to embark on a new career in farming...in South Wales.... Gaerwen Isaf, the farm...will remain on record in the stud books of the International Sheep Dog Society as Gaerwen became the registered prefix for Sheila's breed line of Border Collies. Whilst farming, Sheila had a flock of 100 breeding ewes, Charolais cattle and bred Welsh Cob ponies in addition to breeding her beloved Border Collies.
As the years passed, so Sheila's health began to deteriorate to a point where she had to give up her farm, moving to smallholdings in Wiltshire, South Wales, and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire before finally moving to Ynys Waelod, a remote smallholding on the island of Anglesey, North Wales, to be nearer her family. Here, despite crippling arthritis and angina, Sheila continued to breed dogs, working them on her small flock of pedigree Llanwenog ewes and keepding bantams to supply her with eggs.
Sheila's experience with Border Collies extended over more than 20 years and they were to provide her with an abiding interest until the day she died. In March 1978, she launched Working Sheepdog News whch she managed to keep producing single-handed until March 1985 when she found she could no longer cope with the stresses involved...Although no longer running the magazine, Sheila was still a regular contributor, her enthusiasm never waning...
Sheila had a marvellous brain with total recall which was astounding at times and her sense of humour was well developed...she had very firmly held opinions and liked nothing better than discussion and argument, particularly when it was related to Border Collies; she had great candour, could be frank when the mood took her and, above all, was one of the most courageious [of] people..
Right, Sheila Grew with Midge (left) and Meg, in a 1979 photo by Barbara Carpenter.
In a 1999 article in Working Sheepdog News, "How Working Sheepdog News Grew", on the occasion of WSN's 21st birthday, Barbara Carpenter paid this tribute to Sheila Grew:
Twenty one long years ago, in March 1978, Working Sheepdog News was launched by Dr. Sheila Grew. In her first editorial she wrote "The aim of this journal is to provide news and views of interest about sheep dogs and the people who handle them and all their types of work..."
Sheila considered the pros and cons of starting a magazine herself, and after a few months decided to do so, financing it from her meagre savings. I don't think the magazine was ever a paying proposition and it kept her poor, but it was a labour of love and a matter of pride, so that she determined to make it successful...
Of Sheila's dedication to the Border Collie, Barbara Carpenter had this to say:
It was during these twelve years [on her farm in South Wales] using the dogs for her everyday work that her love and respect for the breed developed...She worked many hours a day, spent a fortune on long phone calls gathering information, bred regular litters from her several bitches and never missed exercising her dogs in the neighbouring woods twice a day. When bitches were in season they were taken out separately, meaning four walks a day, and, as her arthritis progressed, she needed the aid of two walking sticks. Her control of this "pack" would have been the envy of the best huntsman exercising his hounds...She could work a specific dog while the others remained at her feet, and woe betide any youngster who ventured to join in until its turn came!"
Barbara Collins sums up by saying:
Amongst Sheila's many achievements, one of the greatest (as far as the Border Collie world is concerned) is the production of her two volumes of Key Dogs From The Border Collie Family which are an absolute mine of information about the breed, both past and present--they involved much painstaking research, knowledge and writing and will...continue as a most fitting epitaph for an interesting and able personality.
[Many thanks go to Andrew Hall for supplying the articles and two of the photographs which went into this article.
Andrew, with his wife Pauline, was the third editor of Working Sheepdog News, which is currently still alive
in the ISDS magazine, International Sheep Dog News, which they edit, and in their WSN publishing business.]
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