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  • Steff Boulton

Where Lapdogs Are Laid to Rest

A few weekends ago, I took my parents on a lockdown excursion coerced under the guise of doing our daily exercise somewhere new - when in fact I was of course hunting out the nearest place of rest for dogs.


We drove over to Old Warden in Bedfordshire to visit Shuttleworth, an aeronautical collection founded by the Shuttleworth family in 1928. But behind the imposing hangars are the beautiful Shuttleworth family gardens with a sweet, secluded spot for their departed hounds. It was a beautiful spring day, blue sky reflecting back at you from the lake and daffodils fringing the pathways - a perfect resting place. Just around the corner as I walked in I saw the collection of small headstones jauntily protruding out of the ground between two tall trees.



The Shuttleworth family lived on the estate from 1875 and subsequently created the dog cemetery in 1887. This era was the hey-day of pet-keeping and pets becoming a part of the family in an entirely ‘un-useful’ way – you no longer had to emphasise the usefulness of your furry friends to justify them living in your home. As pet-keeping was popularised and became more culturally acceptable, people begin to assign moral value and virtuous characteristics to their pets...classic Victorians. That sense of morality permeates through the headstones at Shuttleworth. Leo's epitaph for example describes him as possessing ‘courage’, ‘gentleness’, ‘patience’ and ‘gratitude’ – surely a stellar example for the Shuttleworth children and grandchildren.

LEO

WHO POSSESSED BEAUTY

STRENGTH AND COURAGE AND

AS AN EXAMPLE OF GENTLENESS,

AFFECTION, PATIENCE AND GRATITUDE

DURING A LONG LIFE

AND LINGERING ILLNESSES

BORN 11TH MAY 1876

DIED 27TH OCT 1887


But in pets’ transition from commodity to companion in the early 20th century, pet-keeping became associated with the female sphere. Breeds of dog became gendered - men being seen with larger dogs such as greyhounds and women being left with the smaller breeds of ‘lapdogs’. These lapdogs became emblems of status and wealth for middle-class Victorian women, the more unique the breed the better.


(Source: Library of Congress)


Dorothy Shuttleworth had a particular affection for Japanese spaniels (see Fuku and Chu Chu's graves below), which were an expensive breed and incredibly hard to come by in Victorian London.


FUKU

A JAPANESE SPANIEL

WEIGHING 4LBS

BROUGHT FROM TOKIO BY

COLONEL & MRS FRANK

SHUTTLEWORTH

APRIL 1906

SHE DIED NOV 1ST 1912

AGED 7 YEARS

SAYONARA


CHU CHU

A JAPANESE SPANIEL

DIED XMAS DAY

1906

AGE 2 YEARS AND 8 MONTHS

‘TAKE HIM FOR ALL IN ALL

I SHALL NOT LOOK UPON HIS LIKE AGAIN’**


Japanese spaniels were popularised in England by the royal family, Queen Victoria was thought to have one of the first Japanese Spaniels outside of Japan and soon after Queen Alexandra (Edward VII’s wife) was rarely seen without hers. This trend then crept its way into middle-class culture – you could say that Queen Alexandra was an #influencer and Dorothy Shuttleworth was the #influenced.



(Source: Frances C. Fairman Queen Alexandra’s Japanese Chins, 1894)


The Japanese spaniels not only placed Dorothy up with the royals but they were a cultural badge of 'worldliness'. At the height of the British empire, people wanted to show that they were connected to the world around them. Aesthetically you should present as a map for your ‘worldy’ successes – and with a Japanese dog on your lap you couldn't be making that statement any louder.* Dorothy Shuttleworth as a middle-class wife of a Colonel had the privilege of travel in her lifetime and her diary of her trip to Japan in 1906 noted the purchase of many Japanese dogs:


Wednesday, April 11th, 1906: Lovely day. In the morning walked to the dog shop, bought 4 dogs, beauties. One pair very tiny, Ume and Fuku, & another pair Boya & Tama & have wired for Mitsu from Kyoto.


Thursday, April 12th, 1906 In the morning bought Maru as companion to Mitsu. We went to pearl shop and saw a lovely dog collar.


(‘A Visit to Japan in 1906’ by Dorothy Shuttleworth, Shuttleworth Archive)


Reading her entries does in many ways feel like reading a shopping list of dogs, mirroring the Victorian bourgeois ideal of dogs as accessory for women (one that sees a renaissance a century later in the noughties with Paris Hilton et al carrying round ‘toy-dogs’...lapdogs?) But to describe dogs as sheer accessory to these women is reductionist to the relationships developed between them and as far as I am aware nobody has developed an attachment sentimental enough to create a whole graveyard for their Louboutins?


The outpouring of love and loss that is present between the headstones at Shuttleworth tells us that these dogs were very much members of the Shuttleworth family. The sheer act of creating a place of mourning and remembrance for them - a place that people can pay their respects in over 100 years later - is enough to tell me that these dogs may have sat pretty on Dorothy's lap but they sat far more tenderly in her heart.


(Source: Dorothy Shuttleworth, Shuttleworth Archive)


*It is no surprise that the Swiss Garden at Shuttleworth also contains the ruins of an aviary for 'exotic feathered fowl'.


**Yup...a quote from Hamlet being co-opted to describe affections for her dog.

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