Finding Inspiration: Sussex Spaniel Survives Thanks to One Breeder’s Devotion

*On the cover photo: Mrs. Joy Freer, sixty years in Sussex Spaniels at her famous Fourclovers Kennel, seen at home with her husband Jack, and left Mrs. Faith Gilham of the Topjoys Sussex. 

The cancellation of dog shows in response to the COVID-19 outbreak has forced the dog community in the U.S. and around the world to retreat. In many communities, businesses have been shuttered indefinitely, with boarding kennels, training facilities and grooming shops operating with strict limitations or closed altogether. The uncertainty of the present has many fanciers searching for hope and inspiration, wherever it can be found. For purebred dog breeders, encouragement during times of troubles can be found by revisiting the lives of breeders of yore who managed to endure despite the odds stacked against them. One such breeder—who managed to prevent an old breed from becoming extinct—was Miss Joy Scholefield (later Mrs. Freer) of Fourclovers Sussex Spaniels.

In her thoughtful and thoroughly researched book titled, The Sussex Spaniel, author, judge and Spaniel specialist Peggy Grayson introduces readers to a woman whose unfailing devotion to her breed actually saved it. “Miss Scholefield was truly a breeder of the old school,” the author notes. “She did not clutter herself up with a lot of stock but kept only the best in her kennel, selling off the rest.” Grayson indicates that this selectiveness allowed the lady to develop a family of Sussex that were “the envy of all and the despair of those who met her in the rings!” The author’s in-depth research reveals that Miss Scholefield always had a plan, beginning with two carefully chosen brood bitches. According to Grayson, “If you study the breeding of the Fourclovers for the pre-Second World War period, it is easy to see what she intended and, indeed, how carefully she planned every mating.” The story of the Fourclovers Sussex should prove an inspiration for all preservation breeders today.

 

AN OLD BREED

Before the formation of the Kennel Club and the exhibition of purebred dogs, the Sussex Spaniel was already a recognizable breed. Like the Clumber Spaniel, the breed was named for the place where it originated. As Grayson notes, the Sussex was given its name “because a number of landowners in that county developed, bred and perfected a type of Spaniel capable of working heavy clay soil and the dense undergrowth through a long day without tiring.” One of these landowners hailed from an old and wealthy family. (Grayson’s research into human pedigrees is managed with the same level of detail as that of the Spaniels.) However, the connection of Augustus Elliot Fuller Esq. of Rose Hill, Brightling, Sussex, to the breed is “either incorrect or misleading,” according to the author. Although he kept Spaniels, he did so for his own shooting pleasure. His immortality as it relates to the Sussex Spaniel is largely the creation of widely-read dog writers, including Stonehenge. Following Mr. Fuller’s death in 1857, the very best working Sussex were largely referred to as “Fuller’s strain from Rose Hill.”

Interest in the Sussex Spaniel waivered after Fuller’s death, only to be revived with the advent of conformation shows. The breed found support among several sporting men with a general interest in Spaniels. “One of the first men to bring out a ‘Sussex’ spaniel in the early 1870s was Phineas Bullock, who kept the Bull’s Head Tavern at Bilston in Staffordshire,” Grayson writes. Other early supporters include Dr. H. B. Spurgin, Mr. T. Burgess, Mr. T. B. Bowers, Dr. J.A. Salter, and Mr. Moses Wooland whose dogs were all said to be of the “old Rose Hill type.” Another fancier of the day was Mr. T. Jacobs, whom the author describes as “self-opinionated” and “the man who was to alter the Sussex Spaniel to suit his idea of the breed, as he did with the Field Spaniel…” As was the custom at the time, Mr. Jacobs cross-bred various Spaniels, producing both Fields and Sussex in the same litters. As Grayson describes the practice, “If they were liver they were registered as Sussex; if they were any other colour and over 25lbs they were Fields; if they were under 25lb they were Cockers.” She goes on to note, “The number of black, liver and tan, black and tan and even coloured puppies born in litters from which liver puppies were registered, shown and bred from as Sussex, is many.”

“The line that has most to do with the breed from 1880 onwards relates to the kennel of the name Rosehill owned by Mr. Campbell Newington of Ticehurst in East Sussex,” reports Grayson. “Campbell Newington was a great sportsman, landowner and breeder of pedigree animals: his herd of Sussex cattle was world famous.” This gentleman and his wife lived in a large house called Oakover where his famous Rosehill Spaniel Kennel was founded. His Sussex were genuine dual-purpose dogs and proved a welcome relief from Mr. Jacob’s exceedingly long and low Spaniels. As Grayson notes, “From the start of the new Rosehill line to the end of the 1890s, a very commendable breeding programme had been undertaken in order to stabilise a type, although the dogs used to do this had very mixed ancestry.” Nevertheless, the raw material was there to be utilized by several clever breeders to come.

 

THE TURN OF THE 20TH CENTURY

“The period up to the First World War…is a bleak one for the Sussex breed,” writes Grayson. Only Mr. Newington and Mr. J.E. Kerr of Dollar in Scotland maintained an interest in breeding, showing, and working the Sussex Spaniel. Mr. J. Ernest Kerr lived in Harviestoun Castle in Clackmannanshire where he bred prize-winning Clydesdales, Aberdeen Angus cattle and Border Leicester sheep among other livestock breeds. His support allowed the Sussex Spaniel to continue through some very lean years. As Grayson points out, “The breeding programme at Harviestoun was extensive, and several bitches of unknown breeding were used to widen the very constricted Sussex lines.” (It should be noted that it was possible to breed Spaniels of unknown parentage right up to the 1930s.) However, despite their success in the field and in the show ring—or perhaps because of it—Mr. Kerr and Mr. Newington were largely unable to develop interest in the breed among the sporting fraternity of the day.

“With the end of the First World War, interest in Sussex Spaniels was rekindled,” Grayson reports. “The breed had been fortunate to have attracted over the years men of wealth to keep it going, and in 1920 yet another was at hand for the much needed revival.” The author indicates that Mr. J. Stevenson Clarke of Broadhurst Manor at Horstead Keynes in Sussex became involved with breed “purely for their working qualities.” His first Broadhurst litter, though sired by a half-Field Spaniel named Rosehill Rector, proved a solid, if atypical, foundation. Photographs in The Sussex Spaniel reveal several Broadhurst dogs with decidedly Field Spaniel-type heads. Nevertheless, Mr. Clarke’s enthusiasm for shooting over his Spaniels provided much needed exposure for the breed. In 1923, a report in The Country Gentleman describes the breed’s appearance at the Brighton Championship show: “Lovers of the beautiful Sussex Spaniels will be pleased to note that Mr. Stevenson Clarke’s wholehearted support for the breed, both in the field and on the bench, his representatives running conspicuously well against Springers in the Spaniel trials.”

It is not difficult to imagine the influence that wealthy men might exert on a breed. Certainly, the Sussex Spaniel had always enjoyed support from men of means. However, the fortunes of the well-to-do are never truly insulated from the rest of the world. The fickle nature of finance and the folly of war can bring about sweeping and sudden changes. For the Sussex Spaniel to survive, an entirely new sort of preservationist would be needed. As Peggy Grayson observes, “It is interesting to note that the dogs in the early [stud] books were mainly owned by gentlemen, then after the First World War the lady owners gradually took over, and today we see many husband-and-wife partnerships.” Beginning in the 1940s, the fortunes of the Sussex Spaniel—and those of nearly all purebred dogs—would be increasingly entrusted to breeders of “the fairer sex.”

 

IT’S A WOMAN’S WORLD

“A very wealthy lady from Earlswood in Surrey took up the breed in 1920; this was Mrs. Youell, who for nearly twenty years was to breed and exhibit under the Earlswood prefix,” writes Grayson who mentions that the lady’s lines were founded on dogs and bitches “with no known breeding.” About Mrs. Youell’s Sussex the author reveals, “The Earlswood breeding plan is not clear to those who study pedigrees of the time, and it appears that Mrs. Youell bought in any successful dog, or litters from successful lines, and then muddled them all up to produce a rather mixed result.” By contrast, the Sussex of Miss Joy Scholefield (later Mrs. Freer) proceeded on a steady course toward immortality. “Miss Scholefield bought her first Sussex from Mr. Stevenson Clarke with the sole purpose of having a good Spaniel for the gun as she was a keen sportswoman, and it was only on Mr. Clarke’s insistence that the dog was so good looking that it should be exhibited that she yielded to pressure and made her first appearance in the ring,” the author explains. That dog, named Brosse, earned three challenge certificates as a two-year-old at the only shows in which he was entered. Despite having a pedigree with an unregistered grandam, Brosse proved a dog of unimaginable influence on the breed. As the author notes, “…without [him] it is difficult to see where the breed would have ended.”

Though the two women were contemporaries, it is not surprising to learn that Mrs. Youell and Miss Scholefield were also fierce competitors. (How could they not be rivals with such different approaches to breeding dogs?) “The only contact Miss Scholefield’s Fourclovers had with Mrs. Youell’s Earlswoods was when Miss Scholefield bought Treyford Jessica [in 1925] from Mrs. Sampson, who had bought her originally from her breeder, Mrs. Youell,” explains the author. “It is on Primax Judy and Treyford Jessica, and their respective matings to Ch. Brosse, that the fortunes of Fourclovers were founded.” Ch. The Sagamore of Fourclovers, Ch. Okimat of Fourclovers and Pontiac of Fourclovers are three of the kennel’s more notable stud dogs, and litter sisters Winonah of Fourclovers and Kanawah of Fourclovers two of its most successful brood bitches. Grayson notes, “It was her selection of foundation bitches that Miss Scholefield was so careful, although she had very little choice as numbers were small and many Sussex had unknown or doubtful pedigrees.”

The breeder of Fourclovers Sussex was also successful at cultivating other women who shared her interest in the breed. The Sussex Spaniels of Mrs. Bower (Agrivista), Miss M.F. Reed (Oakerland), and Miss L.N. Wigg (Hornshill) all carried the Fourclovers bloodlines, and their breeders benefitted greatly from Miss Scholefield’s support. Unfortunately, efforts to breed Sussex—and purebred dogs—came to an abrupt end for most when Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. The Second World War would prove devastating to dog breeders. The Sussex Spaniel was especially vulnerable and would have disappeared entirely if not for the courage and dedication of Miss Scholefield. “Only the Fourclovers remained to fly the flag,” Grayson notes. Miss Scholefield was the only person to continue breeding Sussex Spaniels during the war. “After 1946 there were to be no rich country gentlemen with money, premises, interest and time to take over the breed, as had happened in the past, now it was up to the ordinary [wo]man to take an interest in the old breeds and get them back on the road,” the author declares.

It is extraordinary to think that a breed as old and beloved as the Sussex Spaniel owes its very existence to a single breeder. Despite the bombing raids, the rationing of food, gas and clothing, and no market whatsoever for puppies, Miss Scholefield (Mrs. Freer) managed quite literally to save a breed from extinction. Yet despite the many challenges, this unassuming woman was clearly determined in her quest. As Peggy Grayson records, “The Sussex has been fortunate that in every decade there have been one or two who have stayed the course for ten or more years and left their mark; notably there was Mrs. Freer, who provided a link over six decades and devoted her life to breeding the Sussex Spaniel for posterity.” Carry on, indeed!

 

  • Dan Sayers

    Dan Sayers covers the sport of dogs with a particular interest in purebred dog history and breed preservation. His articles feature notable icons of the past as well as individuals who work tirelessly to promote purebred dogs today. A self-taught artist, Dan’s work is represented in collections worldwide and his illustrations appear in the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Since 1981, Dan has been an exhibitor of several Sporting and Hound breeds. He’s bred Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix and judged Sweepstakes at the parent club’s National Specialty twice. Dan is a member of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and the Morris and Essex Kennel Club.

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