Rewriting the history of the Clumber spaniel

Rebirth of the Royal Spaniel, a new book by James Darley, celebrates the storied history of the breed and busts a few myths along the way.

A new book on Clumber spaniels by James Darley — who founded the Working Clumber Spaniel Society in 1984 — focuses on the breed’s estimable gundog skills and goes some way to clearing up the mystery surrounding its origins in this country.

Until now, the prevailing theory around this largest of spaniels attests that the Duc de Noailles had a pack of them shipped over from France to escape the perils of the French Revolution, to Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire (from which their name derives), seat of the 2nd Duke of Newcastle whose gamekeeper is credited with developing the breed. However, Mr Darley has discovered that there were Clumbers at Clumber long before that.

‘After long days poring through dusty old documents, both in the UK and France, I’ve narrowed down the window of opportunity for when the dogs were sent to England as between 1763 and 1768, partly because of records from the Duke of Newcastle family (the Duc de Noailles’s family records were largely lost in a Louvre fire). Those dates avoid the Seven Years War, when there wouldn’t have been any commercial traffic crossing the Channel.’

He continues: ‘For a long time, Clumbers were not available to anybody except as gifts between the nobility’ — around 1840, the 4th Duke gifted Prince Albert two drafts of Clumbers, and Edward VII and George V kept them, too, but their popularity dwindled in the 20th century.

rebirth of the Royal Spaniel book cover

Recommended videos for you

Since 1975, when he got his first Clumber, Mr Darley has been instrumental in the breed’s promotion — including, in 1990, providing The Princess Royal with a puppy and enlisting her as president of the Society, which now has more members than ever.

He hopes more and more guns will choose a Clumber for a companion. ‘All the qualities that a sportsman looks for in a working spaniel can now be satisfied in the Clumber spaniel of today,’ he says, ‘which is very alike to original Clumbers held in such high esteem in the early years of the 19th century. I currently have six of them.’ In Rebirth of the Royal Spaniel: the Clumber in the Field, Mr Darley offers training tips, stories and insight, alongside 80 images of 18th- and 19th-century paintings and photographs of Clumbers, including one from The Queen’s Sandringham collection. Many of these artworks have never been seen by the public.

‘There is no one better able than the author to share his experience and dedication in what in these pages is a celebration of the return of the Clumber spaniel,’ writes The Princess Royal.

The book is published privately and available in two large hardback editions (£75 or £145 for collector’s version with slipcase); contact to purchase.