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The Working Bearded Collie

by Sheila Grew

This article was originally produced in the Working Sheepdog News,
August 1981, No. 6, Volume 4.
Permission to retype this article was granted by Andrew Hall, Editor,
International Sheepdog News (formerly Working Sheepdog News)

"In the years before the 193945 war, the bearded type farm dog was found on farms throughout the British Isles. Its features and name varied a little in different parts of the country but basically it was the same shaggy, good-natured, willing and very useful farm dog who would herd sheep and cattle all day if necessary and who often had enough intelligence to drive cattle many miles along tracks and roads on its own. It was popular with drovers, and also with hill farmers, as it often worked with plenty of 'bark' and it would get the sheep out of gullies and from behind crags with the noise that it made.

The bearded collie resembles the Old English Sheepdog slightly but is a little smaller, not so heavily built and is fleeter of foot. Its coat is very long and harsh with a soft furry undercoat, and protects it well from the hill mists and rough weather. The hair is long all over the dog, on the legs it is plentiful and shaggy right down to the feet. On the face it hangs over the sides and over the eyes and ears. It hangs along and underneath the muzzle, giving the face a square appearance. The colour varies and is often slate grey or reddish-fawn, some have a little white on the paws, neck and chest. The Scottish beardies seem to be a little larger weighing up to 60lb and have more white around their neck and chest. The Welsh version, called the Old Welsh Grey was much smaller, weighing only 35-40lb and is now probably extinct. The dog known as the Smithfield in Norfolk, Suffolk and the counties around London is identical with the working Bearded Collie. Dorset had its own variation, the Dorset Blue Shag, which was widely used by farmers and shepherds to herd the sheep on the downs. It was medium sized and with less hair on the face, otherwise shaggy all over.

James Ballard (1854-1939) was shepherd to Mr. Smith, Rollington Farm, Corfe Castle, Dorset, his father having been shepherd there before him. His daughter, a WSN reader, remembers his dogs always being of the type shown in the photograph taken when he was about 30 years old, and feels sure they were of the old Blue Shag breed.

The Editor's mother lived in Cornwall near St. Just-in-Penwith for some years before, during and after the last war and our family were very much attached to these friendly farm dogs, which were found on farms all over that part of Cornwall between the Lizard and Lands End. My mother was eventually given a young bitch "Bobsy" who herded her goats admirably.

For better or worse from about 1922 when the very special sheep skill of the black and white Working Collie became widely recognized through the spread of sheepdog Trials, the older breeds of working dog were gradually ousted from the farms. By 1947 the invasion of the black and white Working Collie was nearly complete, and the older breeds were difficult to find, or actually extinct. Incidentally, it was at about this time that the name "Border Collie" came into general use when referring to the Working Collie.

The Bearded Collie also declined very rapidly and the odd dog was only to be found herding flocks on remote farms. A Scotswoman, Mrs. Cameron Miller, selected good specimens of the breed and bred on to establish the breed for showing and the pet market, with great success.

The present day Barded Collie is now mainly in the ownership of non-farming families, but several of these registered dogs still have some herding instinct, and some strains are bred to work on farms, which they do successfully. There are still farms in remote places where the old type of working 'Beardie' can be found, and there are also quite a number of farmers who prefer a bearded collie to a Border Collie for their general farm work.

In the north of Scotland, Mr. H. Grant from Archerstown, Carron in Morayshire breeds working beardies and has been doing so since 1932. He watched the breed go into a decline but thinks there is now a renewed interest in the working beardie among farmers. His puppies sell well and for six month old dogs starting to work, he will get between 150 and 180. His dogs are a big, strong type, light grey in colour with white paws and some white on the face. Their coats are very thick and shaggy and their eyes are usually brown, though quite often one will have a silver eye. They work the sheep and cattle, and are a silent, creeping type of worker with some 'eye' and think nothing of running out a mile to gather. The puppies start showing keenness to work at about three months old.

Mrs. Foster, who lives near Pershore in Worcestershire breeds registered beardies for pets and working. She has one grand old bitch, very dark grey, unregistered, who looks very like the old working 'Smithfield' type. She is a very keen worker and does all their shepherding for them. She has also bred several good workers now scattered about the countryside at work on farms.

Mr. H. L. Davis from Llanberis in Snowdonia, North Wales, used two beardies Monty and his daughter Dooley to gather his large flock in the hills, aided by a Welsh collie and two Shelties who do the barking. Monty sadly died recently and Dooley has just had seven beardie cross Welsh collie pups. She is a very keen silent worker, good at gathering. Mr. Davies finds that he needs a barking dog as well in the craggy hills, and as the Shelties do not bark loud enough he has now bought a New Zealand huntaway puppy to make the noise.

I saw a very handsome, big strong beardie on a farm in South Wales two years ago. He was the barking type and used to bring in the dairy herd, but the farmer used a Border collie for his flock.

Some of these dogs reach a very high standard of work and in recent years a beardie named Blue, owned by shepherd Paul Turnbull from the Scottish Border country, achieved considerable success on the trial field and was frequently in the prize list.

It is cheering that there is still some interest in the beardie as a working dog and that several of the breeders of the 'pet' beardies are keen to foster what herding instinct there is left in their dogs. Hopefully the working beardie will survive and not just fade away like the Welsh Hillman, the Welsh Black and Tan and the Old Welsh Grey.

Thanks to Mrs. E. B. Carpenter, Mrs. Foster, Miss E. Gallatly, Mr. H. Grant, Mrs. H. L. Davies, Mrs. J. M. Wagner and Mr. H. Hawken for information given and loan of photographs.

Some of the images that accompanied the article appear below. First, is an image of the cover of the magazine. Thanks to Barbara Carpenter for donating the magazine to the preparers of the website.

This is an image of a painting by Millner, owned by E. Gallatly. The image, in color, also appears in the d.1895 entry.

This image is of James Ballard (1854-1939) with his Dorset Blue Shag.

This is a picture of Sheila Grew and her Beardie, Bobsy, which was taken in St. Just in Penwith, Cornwall, in the year 1939. Sheila was the original founder and editor of the Working Sheepdog News.

The Beardie named Twig was shown at work on Dartmoor. It is believed Twig's owner's name was Mrs. Granville; they farmed on Dartmoor.

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