Oak Tree Animals' Charity History

Oak Tree Animals' Charity History

Our Charity’s history began in London on June 9th, 1909, when animal welfare pioneer Francis Cox launched The National Equine Defence League to improve the plight of the 72,000 pit ponies whose lives were spent hauling heavy coal carts in Britain’s coal mines.

Rich colliery owners, many of whom kept stables of fine horses, and prided themselves on the racing strings that performed so profitably at prestigious race events like Ascot and Epsom, had no care at all for the pit ponies. The animals were there to be worked like any other piece of machinery until they wore out and were scrapped (at the slaughterhouse) or until they inconveniently broke down, hundreds of feet underground (died, literally, in harness)

Cox (1862-1920), a humanitarian and passionate believer in animal welfare, was revulsed. Tireless, articulate, obstinate and persuasive, he set about recruiting to his cause an international Who’s Who of that era:

  • Jerome K. Jerome, a celebrated British literary figure, became chairman of the League’s June 9th inaugural meeting;
  • Jack London, the League’s most notable pamphlet writer and by 1909 world-famous as the best-selling American author of White Fang, Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf;
  • James Keir Hardie, the League’s formidable ally, a teenage pony-and-cart driver in the depths of a Scottish coal mine who went on to scale the political heights as not merely a Member of Parliament but as the founder of today’s Labour Party
  • Winston Churchill, who, as the then 36-year-old Home Secretary, oversaw the passage of the legislation for which the League had so ceaselessly campaigned: the 1912 Coal Mines Act, the first legislation to incorporate the welfare of the pit ponies into Law.

Francis Cox died in 1920, aged 58. A lasting memorial is dedicated to him: a horse drinking trough in Southgate, north London, inscribed:

In Memory of Francis Cox
The Pit Pony’s Friend

As a passionate believer in animal welfare, Alfred Brisco, formed The Carlisle Animal Friends’ Society in 1925.

Having fought in the Battle of Cambria during the First World War he was dismayed by the sight and the sound of animals suffering in the battlefields of France and the number of animals being discarded in sacks in the River Eden, Carlisle. Alfred Brisco resolved that none should ever suffer again if he could help.  Brisco and The Carlisle Animal Friends’ Society campaigned tirelessly against inhumane animal traps, the use of bearing reins, vivisection, horse export for slaughter and various other forms of animal cruelty. Brisco also cared for those whose days were over, touring the city and district of Carlisle with his motorbike and side-car, providing a cheap, and very often free, euthanasia service to ensure a painless passing.

Veterinarian support soon followed, and a clinic established by the Society in Blackwell Road. Word of what was happening in far-off Carlisle gradually reached the predominantly London and southern England based National Equine Defence League, and in 1938, with the prospect of yet another World War seemingly unavoidable, the League initiated the process of moving all the ponies, and horses, in its care to safer pastures. The two Charities merged, establishing a Home of Rest for Horses in Carlisle, and the National Equine (and Smaller Animals) Defence League was born, with Alf Brisco appointed as its first Director.

Alfred Brisco, who died in 1972, was succeeded by Frank Tebbutt, Secretary of the League until his retirement in 2003. Frank led the Charity tirelessly to continue its work to improve the lives of animals. Frank oversaw the development of the new headquarters at Oak Tree Farm, Wetheral Shields, officially opened by HRH Princess Alexandra on June 25, 1982. The Charity became widely known as the Animals’ Refuge, Wetheral.

Today, our Charity continues to promote animal welfare and responsible pet ownership providing homing services for cats, dogs and horse and proactive community support, advice and education.

In 2016, the Charity, to ensure a sustainable future, went through the incorporation process to become a Company Limited by Guarantee. Our latest name Oak Tree Animals’ Charity reflects our long established heritage providing shelter and protection, with our roots in a firm foundation, and continual growth, to ensure that we evolve in order to continue to help animals to the best of our ability.

Get our e-news