An English Springer History

by Mindy Mymudes

There are many popular gun dogs used in modern times; they are specialized for every aspect of the hunt and the type of territory the hunt is held on. Of all the hunting breeds, the spaniels are the oldest. The record keeping of modern times can tell us who is related to whom, but cannot tell us much about the history of the dogs in our modern kennels.

Dr. John Caius, a respected physician, gives a description of the spaniel in his Treatise of Englishe Dogs published in 1576. This book was the first work to attempt to list the British breeds by function. In understanding the history of the English Springer, first it is necessary to understand the history of the spaniel.

 

 

Although most dog books insist that spaniel is a corruption "espagnol", meaning Spanish or Spain, there are other authorities that believe the word may be a corruption of "espanir", French for flatten out. The Italian name of the Piedmontese Spaniel is the Spinone, a continental hunter that points and retrieves. Colonel David Hancock, in The Heritage of the Dog, feels that the Roman empire played a major role in bringing the Spaniels to England, by way of the trade routes to the far east. His belief is that the "sporting spaniel originated in China, from the short-faced ancestors of modern day Pekingese, pugs, and Shih Tsus, as well as Japanese Chins, Tibetan Spaniels, and Llasa Apsos." These dogs were introduced into South Europe and were then bred into the small sporting spaniels and water dogs of the 1300 -1600 AD period. These dogs were the ancestors of Blenheim Spaniels, Canne Chiens, and Espagneul Nains, and then cocking and setting spaniels. If there is any question as to how a short nosed breed could be bred into dogs having the current muzzles of our present dogs, look into the recent history of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed that was lost, but selected for out of breedings of the English Toy Spaniel.

 Whatever the true background of the spaniel, in 1387 Count Gaston de Foix described a spaniel that worked by quartering in front of the hunter, and then flushed game either for the falcon or the hound. He also described how they retrieved ducks and geese from the water. Aldrovandrus in 1637 described a 'Spaniel dog with floppy ears, the chest, belly, and feet white, picked out with black, the rest of the body black.' Picking here refers to ticking. Dr. Caius describes the spaniels as 'nearly all over white. If they have any spots, these are red, and scarce and big. There is also a red and black variety.'

 

 

By 1801, Sydenham Edwards in the Cynographia Britannica wrote that the land spaniel may be divided into two kinds, the Springing, Hawking Spaniel or Starter (which is a synonym for the Welsh Springer spaniel) and the Cocking, or Cocking spaniel. These types were not consistent, and in 1621 Gervase Markham commented, "It is reasonable that people should cross land Spaniels and Water Spaniels, and the Mungrells between these, and the Mungrells of either with the Shallow-flewed Hound, the Tumbler, the Lurcher and the small bastard Mastiff… all of which are yet inferior to the truebred Land Spaniel - if one could still find one of those."

By 1800, three general classifications were established: cockers, used for woodcock weighed up to 25 lbs. Larger dogs, 17-18 inches tall and weighing 35 to 45 lbs. were field or English spaniels. These included springers, field, Sussex, and the Clumber. Miniature, or toy, spaniels fancied by King Charles and the Duke Norfolk, were called "Comforters".

The origin of the English Springer spaniel is clearly not one with a reliablehistory. Many years and many people seemed to be involved in the process that produced the modern Springer. Weight and size were basically the main consideration given to litters, not conformation. The closest dog would be the Norfolk spaniel. They were liver and white or black and white and were 17-18 inches tall at the shoulder. It has been written that the Duke of Norfolk was the originator of the breed, but Norfolk's dogs were King Charles spaniels. It is more likely due to the fact that the country had a great many of them for hunting. Vero Shaw, in 1880, described the 'last variety of the Springer family which we will now treat is the Norfolk spaniel… this dog is, when found pure, most usually a liver and white, the white spots being heavily freckled with liver… a blaze of white up the forehead adds a great deal to this beauty. Idstone, in 1872 wrote: 'Almost any liver coloured - and white moderately large dog is called a Norfolk, more Norfolk Spaniels being used than any other… most gameskeepers keep a liver and white one, and it goes by the name of the Norfolk dog.' J. R. Walsh (who wrote under the penname Stonehenge), in The Dog of 1867, wrote: 'The Norfolk spaniel resembles a thick made English Setter in shape and general proportions, but is a smaller size. This is a very useful breed, and is now generally spread throughout England, where, however, it is not kept very pure…' .

In the nineteenth century, Thomas Bewicke was the first to use the apellation's Springer and Cocker to describe the specific kinds of spaniels. Both Welsh and English Springers as well as Cockers, were often born into the same litter. They would be separated by color (Welsh red and white, English the other colors), and size, cockers being anything under 25 lbs. The modern history of the English Springer can probably be traced to 1812. The Boughey family of Aqualate, in Shropshire, strove to keep it's strain of Springers pure. There are no other families reported that endeavored to keep this type of land spaniel pure. Mop I lived in 1812, and pictures existed which were painted of Mop's son, Mop II and Frisk. Mop was described as hefty, a little too curly coated, but of the desired Springer type. In 1857, Sir Hugo Fitzherbert exhibited Tissington Flush. He was Setter headed, leggy and liver and white.

In 1899, a newly formed Sporting Spaniel Society held working trials on the estate of its president, William Arkwright of Sutton, Scarsdale. It is believed that this event may have prompted the importance of pure breeding in working stock. In 1902 the name English Springer was authorized by the British Kennel Club. In 1903 Springers were first benched. Beechgrove Will, a liver and white dog owned by F. Winton Smith and whelped in Nov. 1st, 1898, became the first springer champion in the world. Harry Jone's bitch, Fansome, became the first of her gender to win a championship. From this time period came dogs that had great influence on the dogs of today: Ch. Velox Powder, Ch. Little Brand, Ch. Rivington Sam (who's mother was registered as a Cocker), Ch. Rivington Bobstay; champions Springbok, Jambok, and Jamson of Ware; dual champions Flint of Avendale and Horsford Hetman; and champions Inverisk Chanellor, Nuthill Dignity, and Rufton Recorder.

In 1907, the first Springers were imported to America by Ernest Wells for Robert Dumont Foote, of Morristown, NJ. From then on, springers were brought to all parts of the United States. There was quite a bit of competition for the American sporting mind with the already firmly entrenched pointers and setters. In 1910, the first Springer was registered by the American Kennel Club, a bitch called Denne Lucy. In 1922, the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association was founded by Samuel G. Allen, William Hutchenson and Walton, Henry and Alfred Ferguson. Mr. Freeman Lloyd, a noted outdoor writer, helped gain interest in the breed with the springers use as a pheasant dog. In 1927, the AKC recognized the ESSFTA as the parent club for the breed. The English Springer Spaniel breed standard which the ESSFTA wrote in 1932, is modeled on the English version. It was adopted by the AKC, with revisions over the years.

History of Spaniels

History of the ESS from the Canadian Kennel Club

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Last revised March 3, 2002
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