I live very close to Poole, which features heavily in the very popular ‘Harbour Lives’ series presented by Ben Fogle and, predictably, we once again get to hear about the “beautiful unspoilt beaches, stunning landscape, the (often rare) wildlife that abounds and of course we hear about the wealthy denizens of that overpriced and (in my opinion) grossly overrated spit of dune – Sandbanks.
But a much neglected historic slice of Poole and of far more interest to the average dog lover than any of the above is that this Port may have been the gateway through which two very popular breeds first entered the country; the Newfoundland and the Labrador.
There seems (in the early days at least) to have been considerable confusion between these two breeds.
Blaine in his Encyclopaedia of Rural Sports (1852) drew a distinction – the opposite to what is observed today.
“The Newfoundland Dog is a spaniel much employed on the south coast of our Kingdom, and there appears to be two distinct breeds of them – one from Labrador and another from St Johns. The Labrador is very large, rough haired and carries his tail high. The St Johns breed is that to be preferred by sportsmen on every account, being smaller and easier to manage – and sagacious in the extreme. His scenting powers are also great.”
He then goes on to say:
‘…some years ago these dogs could readily be procured at Poole.’
And it is interesting to note that at that time Poole was the principal branch of business between England and the Newfoundland fisheries. It is also no surprise to learn that the local gentry and the major landowners in the area – Lord Wimborne (whose family once owned the land on which my house was built) and the Earl of Malmesbury, whose magnificent former seat at Hurn Court lies just two miles away, were founding fathers of the breed. It is good to see credit being given to the Earl for on the Hurn Court history page there is a short paragraph on the Labrador.
‘In 1823/24 the estate was the first to import the ‘Newfoundlers Dog’ into England. They bought two couples and bred them in purpose built kennels. It was the first Earl of Malmesbury, James, who changed the name from ‘little Newfoundlers’ to the appropriate name of Labrador.’
Just six miles from Poole is Wareham and it is here that it is said the ‘Yellow Labrador’ was developed and selectively bred by a Captain Radcliffe. These were particularly noted for their working ability.
A couple of lines written about the Labrador in one of the old dog books by F E Schofield certainly provoked a wry smile:
‘That the Labrador will ever be appreciated by the rank and file, and become a popular show dog, I very much doubt. He somehow doesn’t lend himself to it.’
Which surely has to rate up there with Michael Fish’s “there’s no hurricane on the way” in the list of clangers!