English Springer Spaniel Club

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Breed History

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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 i.e. 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 III, Count of 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/Hunt) 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.

Illustration from ‘Livre de Chasse’Illustration from ‘Livre de Chasse’

In 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’. 

Research tells us that the 18th century was a period when game laws limited the ownership of sporting dogs to wealthy landowners and as result sporting dogs symbolised social importance.  During that time the acclaimed artist George Stubbs (1724 – 1806) painted many important historical animal portraits. These included several spaniel paintings which can be described as conveying a reasonable likeness to our modern spaniels and one of these can be seen here.

By the 18th century the Land Spaniel is referred to as being divided into the Crouching Spaniel and the Springing Spaniel.

Spaniel By George Stubbs 1761

By the 19th century, the Springing Spaniel had begun to be divided into two groups based on size. Dogs weighing up to 25lbs were called Cockers or Cocking Spaniels, because they were used for woodcock. The larger dogs, weighing around 45 lbs were called Field Spaniels, Norfolk Spaniels, or English Spaniels.

Around 1812, a pure strain of English Springer Spaniels had materialised.  An ESS named ‘Mop 1’ was bred by the Boughey family of Aqaulate in Shropshire, although more like a Clumber in build and with coat inclined to be curly, he was the first true Springer type. The Boughey family were clearly pioneers of their day and likely had an overwhelming passion for the breed. 

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.

Circa 1906, the animal food company ‘Spratts’ commissioned the artist Arthur Wardle to produce the artwork entitled ‘Field Spaniels of the 20th Century’ which included the ESS Dual Champion Velux Powder (top left) amongst 7 other spaniel Champions of the day. These included (clockwise from the ESS) Cocker Spaniels, Sussex Spaniels, Field Spaniels and a Clumber Spaniel.

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An 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 (dob 1.11.1898) 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, often referred to as The Parent Club because of its position as the eldest and most senior of the present day 9 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.

Land Spaniel

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 2022, KC registrations for the Breed were almost 10,000 making the Breed the 7th most popular in the UK. Invariably they are always in the top 10. 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 the ‘Further Reading’ page of this website which we hope offers you some information about breed related books that you may 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 then inevitably your choice has to be the English Springer Spaniel – perhaps the greatest all-purpose dog.

The English Springer Spaniel Club has an appointed Breed Historian, Mrs Trudy Topliss, 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, she may be contacted by email historian@englishspringer.org.

You may also like to visit the ESSC’s exceptional breed database which provides a real treasure trove of English Springer Spaniel History. Created in 1995 by Bob Nicolson (Lochindorb) as a private source of ESS pedigree data and from 2022, with Bob’s kind permission, shared with all ESS enthusiasts on a dedicated website under the guardianship of the ESSC.

www.englishspringerdata.org

The ESSC is very honoured and proud to be entrusted with this important set of evidence which has a phenomenal amount of both show and FT pedigrees and show records going back to 1902.