The return of the Clumber Spaniel in trials

The Clumber Spaniel won a the first ever any variety spaniel field trial this year, something that has not been done in over 100 years. Maureen Taylor who judged the breed at Crufts in 2013, took some time and spared some information on the Clumber Spaniel.

The origin of the Clumber Spaniel is still open to a number of interpretations as no actual, specific documentation can be found.

It is commonly thought that a pair of Clumber Spaniels was was a gift from the Duc de Noailles to the Duke of Newcastle, who resided at Clumber Park. Despite investigations, no record of Clumber Spaniels can be found in France at that time. Francis Wheatley’s painting titled ‘The Return From Shooting’, dating back to 1788, shows the Duke of Newcastle and what appear to be Clumber Spaniels; this is the earliest painting of what appear to be Clumber Spaniels as we know them today. Other famous paintings of the breed include one by John Emms in 1880 (‘The Clumbers of Clumber Park’) and Tom Heywood’s study of ‘Clumber Spaniels and Pheasants’ which dates to around 1904.

The most probable theory of the breed’s origin is that the Clumber evolved from the in-breeding of the Blenheim spaniels that were used as hunting dogs for many centuries; the Blenheim spaniels are not to be confused with the small Cavailier King Charles spaniels that we may be familiar with today. It is also possible – some would say probable – that the Basset Hound and Alpine Spaniel were added.

As the breed became more popular, packs of Clumbers were bred by many of the landed gentry during the 19th century and it is, perhaps, purely by luck that the spaniel ended up carrying the name Clumber after the Duke of Newcastle’s estate. Many of today’s Clumbers can be traced back to Foljambe’s Clumber Spaniels which he bred at Osberton Hall in Nottinghamshire – fortunately, for those of us interested in the history of the breed, John Fearneley Snr’s painting from 1835 shows a pack of Clumbers in the grounds of Osberton Hall.

Of course, every dog has its function in the field. A heavier spaniel was required to flush game out of Sherwood Forest and the overgrown Rhododendrons on many estates, so the Clumber was bred to become the heaviest land spaniel at that time (and it still remains so). It was also important that the Clumber was quiet when hunting and the breed was not expected at that time to retrieve, although they are more than capable of doing so when required. James Farrow, whose book on Spaniels in published in 1912 remains a much sought after piece of spaniel history. In it, Farrow stated that Clumbers are best worked in packs as “they are slow, yet kind and good at pushing stuff out of thick cover”. Farrow also noted that a “Clumber taking a gate with a pheasant in its mouth would be an impossibility and that Field Trial judges do not take into consideration the individual class of work that should be expected of the distinct and several varieties of spaniel”.

In the mid 19th century, dog shows became part of the calendar and the gentry who could afford to attend these shows began to take Clumber Spaniels into the show ring and they were, by all accounts, much admired.

The breed was in great danger of dying out after the events of 1939 – 1945, when there were no longer so many country estates with active kennels full of working and show dogs. Thankfully enough were saved to be able to continue a breeding plan and soon, their value not just as show and/or working dogs, but also as pets became recognised to a discerning audience.

The Clumber rightly remains a dual purpose working and show dog, retaining natural ability. The Clumber Spaniel Club of Great Britain has been in existence for over 100 years and remains a lively and active breed club embracing all aspects of the breed from show to work and even, in some instances, agility. In the 1980s, some breeders preferred to go back to having a much lighter dog in an attempt to compete against English Springer Spaniels and Cocker Spaniels and so the Working Clumber Society was born with that in mind and is also now recognised by the Kennel Club.

Although the Clumber Spaniel has been placed on the UK Kennel Club’s Vulnerable British Breeds list, many breed stalwarts will argue that it has always been a minority spaniel and, indeed, the registrations statistics for Clumber Spaniels have remained fairly static for many years.

I well recall the famous breeder Rae Furness of the Raycroft Clumber Spaniels, being horrified in the 1990s when puppy registrations went over 200 in one year! The reason, of course, was that the breed achieved the ultimate show title when Ralph Dunne’s Sh Ch Raycroft Socialite (bred by Rae Furness) to the title of Best in Show at Crufts. I often wonder what Rae would think about the Kennel Club today trying to get more and more Clumber Spaniels bred – I rather suspect she would have something to say about that.

As a working gundog, the Clumber is steady, hardworking and highly intelligent. They have a keen nose and a determination to see their job through. In spite of a powerful construction, they are soft mouthed and when required to retrieve will do so effectively and diligently. They are more than capable of holding their own when faced with complex challenges, but are equally good working alongside their owner for rough shooting. As companions, they are biddable, full of character and always eager to please.

The qualities of the Clumber Spaniel for both showing and working are now recognised around the world. It was particularly pleasing for us to learn that one of the Clumbers we had bred and who was owned by a close friends in the Illinois, sired the first Clumber Spaniel to gain the title of Master Hunter in the USA. They are also used for tracking to add to the merits of this truly wonderful breed.

Who is interested in knowing more on the breed, may contact Mr Tony Taylor, who chairs the Clumber Spaniel Club of Great Britain –

Photo Courtesy of Mr Howard Kent – Gun and Dog Photography