White Cross Vets has been caring for pets for almost a hundred years.
We have always been a family-run practice, valuing people and pets above all else. But how did our practice begin? And who has been involved in making it the organisation it is today?
To find out, we need to begin back in the early part of the last century, before the second world war.
Leeds Vets Practice: our first clinic
On Vicar Lane in Leeds, there was a large haberdashery shop run by the Woods family. Christine, the eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs Woods, was a gifted scholar. She also loved animals.
In those days, it was frowned upon for girls to study past school age. But this didn’t put Christine off, and when she had finished school she left home to go to university veterinary school.
Back then, female vets were rare. Aleen Isobel Cust was the first-ever female vet to practice in the UK. She completed her studies in Edinburgh in 1897 but (as a woman) was not allowed to sit the final exam. She moved to Ireland and ran a practice there with her male colleague William Augustine Byrne MRCVS for many years. It wasn’t until 1922 that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons finally recognised her right to practice on her own in Britain.
It was just fifteen years later in 1937 that Christine Woods qualified from Liverpool University Veterinary School.
She returned to Leeds and set about establishing our very first practice. To begin with, Christine cared for sick animals from her parents’ living room. Then the Woods family built a small veterinary clinic in the garden of their home in Cleasby Road, Menston in Leeds.
Christine Woods and Mary Dalby: our founders
In 1939, Christine was joined by her university friend, Mary Dalby. Mary was a church minister’s daughter and had also qualified from Liverpool University.
Throughout the 1940s, Christine and Mary ran a mixed practice as Woods & Dalby MsRCVS from the Cleasby Road clinic.
Christine and Mary were said to be “a formidable duo with a phenomenal reputation for caring for animals”.
The all-female team became a big asset when the war began, as many male vets went away to war. Christine and Mary’s chief interest was in small pets like cats, dogs and rabbits. But during the war there was a shortage of vets, so they diversified and began looking after all species of animals.
After the war in 1950, they began to specialise in small animal practice again. During that decade, Christine Woods was elected as the 1st ever female president of the Yorkshire Veterinary Society. Soon afterwards, Mary Dalby followed suit and became the 2nd ever female president of the society.
In the 1960s, Christine and Mary opened a branch surgery on Parish Ghyll Road in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. They were joined by Pam Braithwaite, an Ilkley resident and Edinburgh graduate of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. The practice was then known as Woods, Dalby and Braithwaite. The surgery later moved to Regent Road, Ilkley, where it ran successfully for many years.
Sadly, in 1973, Christine Woods died, and Mary soon began experiencing ill health herself. In 1975, Craig Harrison (who had qualified in Edinburgh in 1971) joined the practice to help out during Mary’s illness.
Craig Harrison: the growth of the practice
Craig initially joined as a locum, but he really loved working at the practice. And as Mary’s health deteriorated, she passed on her share of the practice (now named Dalby, Braithwaite and Harrison) to him in 1975, and Craig took on the practice house alongside the clinic in Menston. Mary died just a couple of years later in 1977.
In 1982, the practice name changed to Braithwaite & Harrison. Three years later, Pam and Craig opened another branch in Baildon, near Bradford in West Yorkshire.
By 1985, the practice had grown to a four-strong team. As Pam got older, Craig took over running the veterinary group while Pam continued to work there, part time.
Two years later in 1987, the practice moved to purpose-built premises at White Cross and the Menston clinic was closed. The practice name was changed to White Cross Vets.
Pam left in 1989, and in 1995, Craig’s son, Tim Harrison joined the practice as General Manager. The practice became a limited company a year later. Craig and Tim wanted more pets and pet owners to benefit from the care and service that White Cross Vets provided. Between 1997 and 1999, three new practices were opened in Eccleshill, Bramley and Shipley.
Between 2001 and 2003, the Ilkley, Eccleshill, Bramley and Baildon practices were sold. Tim was recruited by Mars Inc. to look after the overseas growth of Banfield, the world’s largest international group veterinary practices. But Craig and Tim were not done yet.
The modern-day White Cross Vets group
In 2008, Tim returned to the UK to develop White Cross Vets within the North and Midlands, alongside his father Craig they were joined by brother-in-law John Guggenheim (and later Richard Burgin).
Between 2009 and 2010 we opened White Cross Vets clinics in: Alvaston, Derby; King’s Health, Birmingham; Redcar and the Walkden vet practice, Manchester. In 2010, we opened our Coulby Newham vet practice, Middlesbrough and the West Derby vet practice, Liverpool. The vet practice in Northampton also joined the group.
Between 2012 and 2014, we opened a second Leeds veterinary practice in Roundhay and a second Liverpool vet in Gateacre, as well as the Bloxwich vet practice, Wallsall; the Wolstanton vet practice, Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Tividale vet practice in Sandwell, West Midlands.
In 2013, White Cross Vets achieved 48th place in the Sunday Times Best 100 Small Companies to Work For list. In 2014, we moved up to the 45th best place to work for, becoming the only UK veterinary practice to achieve the maximum 3 star Best Companies.
Throughout 2015 we provided quality care for more than 1,500 pets every week whilst we continue to be the best employer for vets and nurses in the UK - a fact that was confirmed when we made the top 20 in the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to work for list. We continued to expand our services by opening our 14th vets in St Helens in May.
In 2016 we tripled the size of our vets in Derby, the practice now boasts three operating theatres, the latest diagnostic equipment and space for over 40 inpatients, six days a week - take a virtual tour of the best vets in Derby>. In March we achieved a double milestone welcoming our 150th team member into the White Cross family and being named in the Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For list for the fourth year in a row. A busy twelve months was completed with the opening of two more purpose built practices caring for the cats, dogs and rabbits of Widnes and Wolverhampton.
2017 began with the arrival of two prestigious awards. The inaugural SPVS Wellbeing Award recognised our philosophy for supporting our team members physical and mental wellbeing, and for a record fifth year in a row, we were named in the Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For list.
We will continue create more purpose built veterinary practices across the North of England and the Midlands in the near future.