CHAPTER XXV. THE SPORTING SPANIEL
Small-sized Spaniels, usually called Cockers, from their being more especially used in woodcock shooting, have been indigenous to Wales and Devonshire for many years, and it is most likely from one or both of these sources that the modern type has been evolved. It is probable too that the type in favour to-day, of a short coupled, rather “cobby” dog, fairly high on the leg, is more like that of these old-fashioned Cockers than that which obtained a decade or two ago, when they were scarcely recognised as a separate breed, and the Spaniel classes were usually divided into “Field Spaniels over 25 lb.” and “Field Spaniels under 25 lb.” In those days a large proportion of the prizes fell to miniature Field Spaniels. The breed was not given official recognition on the Kennel Club's register till 1893, nor a section to itself in the Stud Book; and up to that date the only real qualification a dog required to be enabled to compete as a Cocker was that he should be under the weight of 25 lb., a limit arbitrarily and somewhat irrationally fixed, since in the case of an animal just on the border-line he might very well have been a Cocker before and a Field Spaniel after breakfast.
It is not easy to find authentic pedigrees going back further than a quarter of a century, but Mr. C. A. Phillips can trace his own strain back to 1860, and Mr. James Farrow was exhibiting successfully thirty-five years ago. The former gentleman published the pedigree of his bitch Rivington Dora for eighteen generations in extenso in The Sporting Spaniel; while the famous Obo strain of the latter may be said to have exercised more influence than any other on the black variety both in this country and in the United States.
It was in 1880 that the most famous of all the “pillars” of the Cocker stud, Mr. James Farrow's Obo, made his first bow to the public, he and his litter sister Sally having been born the year before. He won the highest honours that the show bench can give, and the importance of his service to the breed both in his owner's kennel and outside it, can scarcely be over-estimated. Nearly all of the best blacks, and many of the best coloured Cockers, are descended from him. At this period the type mostly favoured was that of a dog rather longer in the body and lower on the leg than it is at present, but the Obo family marked a progressive step, and very rightly kept on winning under all the best judges for many years, their owner being far too good a judge himself ever to exhibit anything but first-class specimens.
Meanwhile, although the blacks were far the most fashionable—and it was said that it was hopeless to try to get the same quality in coloured specimens—several enthusiastic breeders for colour were quietly at work, quite undismayed by the predilection shown by most exhibitors and judges for the former colour. Among them was Mr. C. A. Phillips, whose two bitches from Mr. James Freme, of Wepre Hall, Flintshire, succeeded in breeding from one of them, whom he named Rivington Sloe, the celebrated dog Rivington Signal, who, mated with Rivington Blossom, produced Rivington Bloom, who was in turn the dam of Rivington Redcoat. These dogs proved almost, if not quite, as valuable to the coloured variety as Obo did to the blacks, and formed the foundation of Mr. J. M. Porter's celebrated Braeside strain which afterwards became so famous.
During the last few years Mr. R. de Courcy Peele's kennel has easily held the pride of place in this variety. Most readers are no doubt familiar with the many beautiful Cockers which have appeared in the show ring and carried off so many prizes under the distinguishing affix Bowdler. His kennel was built up on a Braeside foundation, and has contained at one time or other such flyers as Ben Bowdler, Bob Bowdler, Rufus Bowdler, Dixon Bowdler, Eva Bowdler, Mary Bowdler, Blue-coat Bowdler, Susan Bowdler, and others, and Ben and Bob have also been, as sires, responsible for the success of a good many dogs hailing from other kennels. He has also been fairly successful with blacks, which, however, have usually been purchased and not bred by him, the two best being Master Reuben, bred by Miss Joan Godfrey, and Jetsam Bowdler, a bitch who has distinguished herself both in the ring and in the field.
Coloured Cockers are certainly “booming” just now, and as a consequence the blacks, who are equally worthy of support, are being rather neglected. Certainly it is the case that whereas one sees at most shows big classes of the former filled with a good level lot with hardly a bad specimen amongst them, the classes devoted to the latter, besides not being so well filled, are much more uneven, and always contain a large proportion of weeds and toys. A few years ago the black classes were immeasurably superior to the coloured, and it is to be hoped that in the near future they will regain at least a position of equality with them.
At the last few Field Trial meetings the Spaniel Club has provided classes confined to Cockers, which have filled fairly well, and enabled the small breed to demonstrate that it can in its way be quite as useful as its larger cousins. A Cocker can very often go and work as well where a larger Spaniel cannot even creep, and for working really thick hedgerows or gorse has no superior. There seems to be every prospect of a brilliant future, and increased popularity for this charming breed.
Its interests are looked after both by the Spaniel Club and the comparatively newly formed Cocker Spaniel Club, and it is also quite as much in favour on the other side of the Atlantic as it is in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the classes in America and Canada compare very favourably with our own.
The descriptive particulars of the breed are:—