Click on your browser's back arrow to return to the "Smithfield" page.

The images, with their captions, appear at the end of this article. Also, the reference to Taplin is William Taplin who published the Sportsman's Cabinet in 1803. Also the name Logan refers to Major Logan, who wrote several papers on the Bearded Collie.

Does the Smithfield collie exist today?
A legend examined

by Brian Plummer

An article appeared in the Shooting News
 and Weekly, No. 331, June 2-8, 1989. We made
several attempts to find a proper contact
to obtain copyright permission. Mr. Plummer
has passed; and the publication no longer exists.
The text was retyped to provide better
clarity of the printed words.

"I have been asked by Mr. John Carnew of Birimingham to lay to rest the ghost of the legend of the Smithfield collie. He had seen those dogs mentioned in an advertisement for lurchers being offered for sale.

I would be a very wise man indeed if I could, for the Smithfield collie, like the Chimera and the Hydra, is one of those legendary beasts which simply refuses to be laid to rest—not unlike the original genuine Jack Russell terrier, yet another nebulous legend, so easily disproved, yet equally reluctant to die a just deserved, long overdue death.

Increase in Prosperity

A pace or so backwards is now required to the time of the Industrial Revolution, to the growth of towns and the corresponding shrinkage of a rural population. The increase in prosperity of the population of the towns brought a shift in the population from countryside to town where a living wage, working in industry rather than agriculture seemed likely.

As urban population needs to be fed and vegetables, grain (barley, wheat, rye) parsnips (which prior to the cultivation of potato was the principal root vegetable eaten in Britain) cabbage and other produce needed to be transported from countryside to town. So also did meat.

While salt meat, pork, beef (seldom mutton) could survive a lengthy journey and still remain relatively edible, most meat was transported on the hoof.

Live sheep, geese, turkeys and heavy cattle were driven along little used roads and paths from rural pastures to towns and quartered for the night in spots which are still called 'Halfpenny Lane' in memory of both their purpose and their fee.

Normally between seven and twelve miles was accomplished in a day by mixed droves of livestock.

Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson (1864-1941) who wrote 'Waltzing Matilda' to the tune of 'Marching with Marlborough,' suggests: "Seven miles a day was the sheepherders way." Probably a shade less was accomplished if a large number of geese, feet tarred and sanded to resist the rigours of the road, or turkeys wearing their curious leather turkey boots, were among the drovers' wards.

A recent TV film, starring Ian Holm, shows such a drive, conducted under very testing modern conditions one must add. The dog which accompanied Holm on his drive was a tall very hairy bearded collie and this brings us rather neatly to the drover's dogs.

For drovers to keep large numbers of animals in order, without the use of dogs, was almost impossible, particularly during the arduous Galloway drive, so a type of dog was needed to restrict the wanderings of the livestock. But what sort of dog was used?

The herding instinct in dogs is primitive and found, to a lesser extent perhaps, in many breeds. Animals are driven to the shepherd in the same manner as wolves and wild dogs drive quarry to the stronger Alpha males in a pack, and perhaps like their wild brethren, would be only too pleased (one should add) if the shepherd set about the flock with a vengeance tearing flesh and bone in the manner of a canine Alpha Male.

Herding is, in fact, simply a sublimated or refined hunting instinct and the 'blow' is simply stopped short. A highly developed herding instinct is simply a highly developed sublimated hunting instinct—and this point should be examined under a strong light later in the article.

London obviously beckoned to the drovers and a large livestock market started up at Smithfield—a corruption of smoothfield incidentally, and nothing to do with the working of metals in or about the market area.

Other towns adopted the name Smithfield for their market areas and hence Smithfield markets became common throughout Britain. Lichfield still has a Smithfield market and an accompany public house also known as 'The Smithfield.'

Dogs used to drive cattle to these markets were therefore known as Smithfield collies, but as such dogs were used from Galloway to Penzance it is unlikely that a distinct breed of drover's dog would have been kept, and a wide variety of herding dogs would have accompanied the drives.

Taplin describes these dogs as tall and hairy, but Taplin (1803) was scarcely an accurate observer of canine development and his description seems likely to be an account of a few dogs he had noticed on his travels, not an accurate across-the-board survey of herding types, grouped together under the somewhat untidy heading of Smithfield collie.

In all probability a variety of dog types would have been used, and the only common denominator of such a hotch potch of herding types would have been that the individuals would have manifested strong herding instinct.

Tales of these droving dogs are legend and remarkable. Pig drovers from South Wales were reputed to be very cavalier in their attitude to their dogs, which is peculiar because pigs are very difficult animals to herd, so difficult in fact that no nomadic race seems to include pigs among their flocks hence the pig is regarded as forbidden or unclean (Herem—Hebrew Haram—Arabic) not because of its habits, indeed pigs are remarkably clean beasts, but because it was regarded as a symbol of the settled dweller.

To return to the Welsh drover, however, on the completion of a drive one drover is reputed to have taken the mail coach home and his dog was required to retrace its steps to the drover's home, scavenging at the stopping places.

The tale may be apocryphal and the drover's name, David Pen Mawr (Big Hill), a little too common to lend authenticity to the story. Traditionally pastoral dogs are usually recipients of rough deals, however, particularly in Wales and Scotland.

Strong Hunting Instinct

Herding is, as has been explained, simply a sublimated strong hunting instinct. Hunters and poachers along the droving routes were probably quick to notice this and while the collie types were probably not quick enough to take hares and rabbits in a fair run, a cross with a greyhound produced the required article and hence the product was referred to as a Norfolk lurcher a result of mating Smithfield collie to a greyhound.

The type was probably called the Norfolk lurcher quite simply because lurchers were numerically stronger in Norfolk than in adjacent counties;—though this is entirely speculation and educated guess work.

The herding instinct of the Smithfield collie and the speed of the greyhound conspired to produce a pillar of sagacity, a dog of great speed and acute hunting instinct.

Intelligence wise, Brian Vesey Fitzgerald considered the dog to be on par with the collie, though once again, it should be pointed out that Vesey Fitzgerald like Taplin, is inclined to generalise on some subjects.

In passing, it is often said that the Smithfield collie may well have had greyhound or sighthound blood added (even before mating to greyhounds to produce Norfolk lurchers) to give it added height and speed.

This may well be so. Logan records that Scottish shepherds were not averse to mating bearded collie types to deerhounds to produce leggy, reachy dogs capable of facing the hills.

Dogs of this type may well have accompanied the drovers, though once again this is speculation, for, prior to this century, the pastoral dogs have been the Cinderellas of the canine world.

Certainly very tall twenty-seven inch beardies are not unknown in Scotland, particularly in Dumfrieshire, and they were more numerous at the time when Mrs. Willison encouraged the bearded collie revival after World War Two.

Many claim to own Smithfield collies—a point which is difficult to prove or disprove and Walsh ("Lurchers and Longdogs",) who is reluctant and careful about canine nomenclature labels one such dog as 'a very hairy dog which has bred a number of good lurchers.'

Whether or not this dog is a Smithfield collie is once again the subject of some interest. However, what should be questioned, and this is of paramount importance, is whether or not the dog has the required herding/hunting instinct or rather whether or not the dog can pass this instinct on to its progeny.

This quality, not whether or not the dog is the real McCoy, 24 carat gold Smithfield collie, is of importance. If one of their hairy dogs does have this instinct then it is tailor made to produce working lurchers.

If it does not, its value is limited, and it is no more use as a producer of lurchers than any other nondescript hairy dog.

In a world of non-retrieving retrievers and fox terriers with little inclination to face foxes, labels count for little in the production of working dogs.

Should I wish to use a 'Smithfield collie' to breed a lurcher I would do so. However, I would be most reluctant to use a dog which had none of the required mental attributes, simply because it had a long coat, and no other qualities to confer on its progeny.

The Smithfield collie will certainly be a ghost that refuses to be laid. I invite readers comments about this type of dog.

Caption: A red merle West Country type collie and a
son of Turnbull's 'Blue'—Britain's top bearded collie.

 

Caption: A very hairy dog collie plus a dash of sight but not a Smithfield collie.

Caption: A litter of pure bred Muirhead strain beardie collies.

Note: Ian Muirhead, son of Tommy Muirhead could not identify the individuals in the above picture, but he said it was not any of Tommy's children.

 
© 2011 Innovare Design. The majority of  materials presented on this website are copyrighted by the original authors, etc. In addition, the appropriate forms have been filed with the United States Library of Congress in order to protect original authorship under 17 U.S.C. Sec. 102(a). Further, licensing fees have been paid for use of some images. Therefore, under the provisions of the U.S. Copyright Law, as well as the Berne Agreement, for those countries honoring the Berne Agreement, you are hereby notified not to use, or copy, any materials on this website without the prior written consent of the copyright holder. Questions or Concerns? Please contact copyright@shepherdswithbeardies.com or info@shepherdswithbeardies.com. These two email addresses are not presented as links. They must be retyped in the address line for your email. This was done to avoid unnecessary junk email being forwarded to the website. Thank you for your understanding.