History Of The Breed
The origins of the spaniel are buried beneath the dust of 2000 years with evidence, as far back as 17 A.D., when the name first appears in writing. In that same year, the Irish laws mention ‘water spaniels' as having been given as tribute to the king. This connection is significant in so much as the ‘spaniel' was already sufficiently advanced to have several branches. There is even another reference to the spaniel in Welsh laws about the year 300 A.D.
Most agree that the term "Spaniel" comes from the Roman name for Spain (Hispania). The change probably came about in this progression - spagnell, spainell, spanyell and spaniel. However, it may have come from an anglicised spelling of the French term for spaniels = Chiens Du Espagnol, or dogs from Spain.
We cannot know with any absolute certainty, the real origin of the Breed, as, had the dog not spread into Europe from Spain, it is difficult to believe that he would be called a ‘dog of Spain' by the people of Ireland, Wales and France. He could have been (and likely was) spread by Roman traders and conquerors, even though there is no specific written evidence of a Roman name for him. The conclusion reached by many is that the spaniel was a native of Spain and that he was spread through Europe by the Romans.
It is not until the late 14th century that Gaston De Foix, a rich and powerful lord of Southern France who was a warrior famous for his hunting feats, wrote his immortal hunting classic "Livre de Chasse" (Book of the Chase) in 1387, in which he describes hunting dogs in their work as quartering in front of the master, flushing game and retrieving from land and water - all very like the behaviour and work of the English Springer Spaniel we know and admire today.
From Master of the Game by Gaston de Foix 1387
By the late 16th century, mention is made of a Land Spaniel, as distinct from a water Spaniel, and reference can be found in some books of ‘ a spaniel dog with floppy ears, the chest, belly and feet white, picked out with black, the rest of the body black'. By the 17th century the Land Spaniel is referred to as being divided into the Crouching Spaniel and the Springing Spaniel with a later subdivision of the Springer Spaniel into two sizes - the smaller of the two being called the Cocking Spaniel.
Land Spaniel by George Stubbs 1761 - 1806
By the 19th century, Spaniels had begun to be divided into two groups. Dogs weighing up to 25lbs were called Cockers or Cocking Spaniels, because they were used for woodcock and the larger dogs, weighing around 45 lbs were called Field Spaniels or English Spaniels. By 1812, a pure strain of English Springer Spaniels was started. "Mop 1" bred by the Boughey family of Aqualate in Shropshire, although more like a Clumber in build and with coat inclined to be curly, was the first true Springer type. In those days, Norfolk was a great sporting county, and liver and white and black and white spaniels were much in demand. For over a century the Boughey strain was kept in successive generations of the family and in 1903 (the year after the Kennel Club first recognised the Breed), Sir Thomas Boughey bred F.T. Ch Velox Powder, later owned by Mr Eversfield, and the winner of twenty F.T. stakes, whose pedigree goes right back through the Aqaulate Stud Book from the time Mop 1 was whelped in 1812. The Boughey family continued its interest in the Breed right into the 1930s.
Tissington Flush by Maud Earl
The English Springer Spaniel was first exhibited in the Show Ring in 1903 when Beechgrove Will, a liver and white dog owned by F. Winton Smith and whelped on November 1st 1898 became the very first English Springer Spaniel to be awarded a Challenge Certificate. He was awarded his Championship in 1906. Harry Jones' bitch Fansome became the first of her sex to win a championship.
Because of the First World War the ‘show scene' did not start again until late 1920's. 1921 saw the founding of The English Springer Spaniel Club, now referred to as The Parent Club in its position as the eldest and most senior of the present day 8 UK Breed Clubs.
This was perhaps the most active period for the Breed, during which time many famous kennel names such as Tissington, Avendale, Beechgrove, Horsford, Velox, Denne, Laverstoke and Rivington became much admired and respected as predominantly dual purpose dogs.
Registrations with the Kennel Club understandably went up and down between 1914 and 1945 with the English Springer Spaniel Club holding its first post -war Show in 1946. In 2008, KC registrations for the Breed were well over 14.000, making the Breed the 3rd most popular (out of 209 KC recognised Breeds) in the UK. The English Springer Spaniel Club continues to hold Shows and Field Trials each year with little sign of the popularity of the Breed waning.
If you want to learn more about the Breed's history in greater depth than we can give full justice to here, or if you are interested in reading more about well known English Springer Spaniels, both past and present, together with information about successful Kennels and their clever and knowledgeable owner/breeders, please click on to our recommended reading list, which we hope offers you a small but select choice of breed related books that we hope you will find of interest.
Richard Surflet, a sportsman of the 17th century was quoted as saying:
"The spaniel is gentle, loving and courteous to man more than any other dog, of free untiring laborsome ranging, beating a full course over and over, which he does with a wanton playing taile and a busie labouring noise, neither desisting nor showing less delight in his labours at night than he did in the morning".
We think this description still holds true today about this charming, appealing and fun loving Breed, whether his role is as a working, show or pet dog. It has often been said that if you could only have one dog that you would expect to keep in the home even when he is not in work, then inevitably your choice has to be the English Springer Spaniel - perhaps the greatest all purpose dog.
The English Springer Spaniel Club has appointed a Breed Historian, Dr Graham Rogers, who has a great deal of knowledge of the Breed. If you should have any specific questions about certain dogs, or questions concerning the development of the English Springer Spaniel, he may be contacted by email
Show Champion Wadeson Inspector Wexford
Owned and Bred by Mrs Kay Woodward
(Dog CC Record Holder - 62 and Overall Record holder)
Ch Mompesson Remember Me
Owned and Bred by Mrs Frances Jackson
(Bitch CC Record Holder - 55)