THE HISTORY OF THE BREED
Clumbers have been established in the UK for well over 250 years. That is a fact which can be proved but the origin of the breed is one which is shrouded in mystery.
Over the years many have tried to solve the puzzle and many credible theories have been put forward. One thing is certain in that the name derives from Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, at one time the seat of the Dukes of Newcastle.
The second Duke succeeded to the title in 1768. His friendship with the Duc de Noailles has led to the wonderful (but fanciful) story that the dogs arrived from France to escape harm during the French Revolution. There is no mention in either of the Dukes’ papers to any gift or sale being made. All we do know is that in the 1760s dogs were imported and brought to Clumber Park from the Continent, but France is not specifically mentioned.
I tend to go with the theory that the spaniels kept at Clumber Park had existed for many years but these were descendants of the original Blenheim which had been used for sporting purposes for centuries. Imports were used to increase the gene pool and produce a stronger, slower moving spaniel suitable for working the undergrowth of Sherwood Forest. They were not required to retrieve.
We do not even know when the name was first used. In the famous painting ‘The Return from Shooting’ (Francis Wheatley, 1788) the three spaniels were described as ‘Springers or Cock-flushers’. The late (and last) Duke of Portland always said they should have been called Welbeck Spaniels as the family had them for as long as, and in greater number, than the Newcastles.
Others who kept large numbers of the breed include the Dukes of Norfolk, Northumberland, Sunderland, Westminster, Manchester and Bedford and many more Marquises and Earls. Royalty also admired the breed and were owned by the Prince Consort, Edward VII and George V. Nowadays the Princess Royal maintains an interest. Truly the ‘Spaniel of Aristocrats, the Aristocrat of Spaniels’.
65 Clumbers are mentioned in the first KC Stud Book of 1874 and the breed remained pretty stable numerically during the early 20th century.
In 1904 forty enthusiasts met the form the Clumber Spaniel Club and lay down a standard. Later in the year the KC recognised its existence.
World Wars and the growth in industries led to the demise of many big houses and sporting estates but the breed survived due to the increase in dog shows and the pedigree pet market.
There have been many good kennels in the last 50 years or so but sadly many of these are no longer. Probably the greatest influence on the modern day Clumber was made by the late Rae Furness (Raycroft). In 1954 Rae bought a bitch from Brian Gent (Thornville) as a pet as she lived in the ‘Dukeries’ and felt the house should have one. Her Irish Setters were famous the world over and one day at a show she was ‘challenged’ (her words) to try and improve the Clumber. She bred from her bitch and the rest is history. What she achieved has been written about many times and is such a remarkable tale that I believe it will never be likened.
Overseas enthusiasts were always been keen to purchase stock from the UK and many dogs have been sent all over the world. In the last few years this has virtually ended and instead we are the ones buying Clumbers from overseas. Only time will tell if this will prove of benefit to the breed.
The Clumber is a wonderful breed, even if from dubious origins, and is regarded as a quintessential British one and admired by many. I hope the decline in its interest will turn around and those admirers may be enticed to get involved.
Ian C Layfield (Dockwray)