Kingston was not only home to local heroes Eadward Muybridge and Eric Clapton, it is also the proud resting place of one of the most famous dogs in history: Nipper, a little Jack Russell from Bristol that would become the face of the global ‘His Master’s Voice’ (HMV) brand for more than 100 years.
Nipper was owned by Mark Henry Barraud, a stage set designer at the former Prince’s Theatre, who brought Nipper home as a puppy in 1884 as a pet for his family. The inquisitive white dog with brown ears was completely besotted with his master, following him all around the stage sets and ‘nipping’ at people’s ankles. When Mark died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 39, Nipper was taken in by his brother, Francis, a painter from Liverpool. On observing how Nipper would sit by the gramophone, puzzled by the curious sounds coming out of the large horn, he was struck with the idea to capture this charming scene.
It took him until three years after Nipper passed away, however, to finally create the painting that would lead him to eventual fame and fortune. Initially rejected by inventor Thomas Edison when he offered him the image to advertise the phonograph, he was subsequently successful in selling the image to William Barry Owen, owner of the brand new Gramophone Company, who paid Francis £50 for the painting and £50 for the copyright. Originally given the rather dry title of ‘Dog looking at and listening to a Phonograph’, Owen re-named it ‘His Master’s Voice’ and adopted the trademark for the His Master’s Voice [HMV] label and retail entertainment empire that would eventually open over 300 HMV stores across Britain.
HMV remained one of the most successful shops on the high street between the 1960s to 1990s and one of Kingston’s primary attractions for music retail when it occupied a large portion of the top floor of the Bentall Centre department store. The company went into administration in 2019, reflecting the wider decline of the high street as the locus of entertainment consumption. Whilst it has been bought up by a Canadian company, Sunrise Records, looking to expand its reach, there are now fewer than 100 HMV shops remaining in the UK.
In his later years, Nipper was returned to his original family, after they relocated to Kingston. They buried their beloved pet in Clarence Street, under a mulberry tree, when he passed away in 1895. Now the site of a car park behind Lloyds Bank, two commemorative plaques were erected there for the centenary of the birth of the little dog that charmed the world.