It is my belief, based on the research I’ve done, that much of the differences in modern collie breeds originated in the regional varieties of sheep-dogs found in Great Britain. That the Rough Collie resulted largely from the shepherd dogs of the Scottish Highlands, the English Shepherd resulted largely from the shepherd dogs of England and that the Border Collie represents the descendants of the original sheep-dogs of Lowland Scotland and Northumbria. [More about British regional sheep-dogs]
Almost two years ago my friend Christopher at BorderWars wrote a post showing that Queen Victoria’s famous collies were not of the Rough Collie type as is often claimed, but were actually more Border Collie in type. I followed that up exactly one year ago today with research linking the breeder of one of Queen Victoria’s favorite collies to the breeder of one of the founding dogs of the Border Collie breed in Australia.
Since that time I have found several references to a fine quality of shepherd’s dog that was widely known in the border region sometimes referred to as “Northumbrian Collies”. Northumbria refers specifically to the region of Northern England and Scotland where the Border Collie breed originated and Northumberland is a county in England that abuts the Scottish border. Although the term “Border Collie” was not coined until 1915, there are a number of references to the Northumbrian Collies as a distinct, highly respected type dating back many years before that. I first ran across the term when I posted the story of Wandering Willie who is described as a Northumbrian collie, now read some of the other references to these dogs listed here in chronological order.
A winter’s sketches in the south of France and the Pyrenees By Frederick H. Johnson – 1857
He holds in his hand a crutched staff, apparently for a rest when stationary; and with flapped hat and flowing garments, strides among the thick rank growth of shrub and grass with amazing velocity; watching, chasing, and keeping in bounds his woolly charge with all the swiftness and dexterity of a Northumbrian colly.
Transactions of the Tyneside Naturalists’ Field Club – 1864
One of the oldest and purest breeds of dog, the northern sheep dog or Colley approaches very nearly in general form and character to the wolf, and for this variety the county of Northumberland is famous.
A handbook for travellers in Durham and Northumberland – Augustus John Cuthbert Hare – 1873
Sheep And Sheep-dogs.—The Northumberland range of mountain and hill pasturage has long been celebrated for a breed of sheep wholly different from the wild heath breeds adjoining. They are known by the name of the Cheviot Sheep, and are now spread over all the grassy moors (formerly occupied by the Blackfaced Horned Sheep) on the Borders, and even as far as the northern counties of Scotland. They are polled sheep, with few exceptions have white faces and legs, and are covered with a coat of fine short wool. These sheep are adapted both for the hills and low grounds ; only the extremes of the very highest and richest situations are to be avoided.
The breed of Shepherds’ Dogs is preserved in the county with great care. They are known as Colley Dogs, and are the indispensable accompaniment of every shieling among the moorlands. Their prevailing colour is black, with tawny ears, flanks, and legs ; or a dingy brown sometimes spotted with white. Their docility is great, and this is increased, and their natural savageness much subdued, by their being reared in the house among children. Much pains is bestowed on their training. They are taught to run wide round the sheep, and to obey the most distant signals of the shepherd—to run, to advance, to walk, or sit down and guard any quarter, as may he required by the position of the sheep. Barking is not allowed, nor to seize or bite a sheep. Mountain shepherds have usually 2 or 3 dogs; in the enclosures one is sufficient. A well-bred and trained dog commands a high price, sometimes 51. or 61. Their attachment to their masters is very great. An instance occurred 8 years ago, in the pase of a shepherd of Eglingham, who had taken some sheep across the high hills, late in autumn, into Scotland, to a fair. Having sold the sheep, he started with some companions on his road home. As evening was closing in, he left the Scotch town without his dinner and somewhat faint, intending to sleep at a cottage halfway home among the hills. He parted from Us companions at a public-house, where, according to the testimony of all who saw him, he could scarcely be induced to taste whisky. He never was seen again alive, and his employer, knowing that ho had money upon him, thought that he might have been waylaid, or run off with the money. Snow fell heavily that night on the high ground, and the poor young man got blinded by the snow, and being faint with hunger, lost his way in the darkness, and wandered about till he died. His dog waited long near the corpse, but, finding all attempts to rouse his master fruitless, went off to the nearest shepherd’s hut. There the faithful creature howled and barked till it attracted attention, then ran a little way, and finding that it was not followed, came back and renewed its dismal wailing. At length the shepherds, suspecting some disaster, followed the dog for some distance, till they lost sight of it ; then traced its footsteps in the snow, till they found the faithful animal sitting on the knees of its master, who, wearied out with wandering, had sat down upon a stone, and stiffened in a sitting posture.
Animals and Their Interpreters by Rev. W. Harris, M.A., The Quiver – 1880
What description will explain or fully give an account of the mutual understanding between various kinds of dogs and their owners! The dog who is as eyes to the blind; the dog who shares the labours and the exciting pleasures of the sportsman; the shepherd’s dog, in which class the Northumbrian Collie deserves particular honourable mention; the dogs of so many different breeds that share and appreciate human luxury—pet dogs; the costermonger’s dog; the dog whose only title is the “poor man’s friend;” all are witnesses to the understanding that may exist between dog and man. It may almost be said that every mood and character amongst men may find а kind of shadow or parallel in the dog.
A history and description of the collie or sheep dog in his British varieties, Rawdon Briggs Lee – 1890
The lowlands of Scotland produce some few smooth-coated collies, which no doubt originally came from this side of the border; their type and character are the same, and they are mostly similar in colour. The difficulty in obtaining perfectly smooth-coats in certain strains is great, especially in many of the black and white dogs, which appear to me to approach a variety of their own. The black is almost inclined to be blue, the coat is longer and more open than usual, and there is never the slightest touch of tan or brown appearing—a blue black dog, with more or less white on the neck, chest, and feet. Of such Mr. Alexander Hastie, of Newcastle [Northumbria], has at times shown many splendid representatives, Herdwick Herdsman, Herdwick King, and others to wit. They are all bred in his neighbourhood; for collie character I know nothing to exceed them, and their reputation for work is spoken of equally highly. This ardent admirer of the variety does not, however, stick to colour alone, and awaiting us at the Collie Club’s show in London in 1890 was perhaps the very best smooth bitch we ever saw—Herdwick Eva. In type she is perfect; a model collie in size, expression, character, and in all that distinguishes one variety of dog from another. Her ears, too, are small, beautifully carried, and so is her stern; with legs and feet of the best; in colour a dull sable or fawn; and then we come to her defects, one of which was the cause of the judge placing her below, what I considered, comparatively inferior bitches. Her coat is rather too profuse and soft, still a minute examination did not lead one to suspect that her pedigree might include a rough-coated strain. Then she was very much “pig jawed” or “over-shot,” a fault or deformity already alluded to, Still, I considered her type so far in advance of that of any other smooth-coated collie I have perhaps ever seen, that I give her a place here, and her portrait faces this page.
Some twenty years or so ago, at the Kendal shows (Westmoreland) [same county as the Troutbeck Trials, English side of the border], some unusually good specimens of the smooth were to be found, one black, tan, and white bitch, the late Mr. Henry Dodd’s Fleet, winning time after time, under Mr. W. Lort, who considered her the very best of her variety he ever saw, and all know he is no mean judge. But the best, to my fancy, although some of the judges did not agree with me, was a natural bob-tailed, or tailless bitch, a peculiar brown in colour, shown by Mr. George Fee, and called, I believe, Fan. The expression, character, and form of this bitch were very fine indeed, but being without a tail no doubt handicapped her considerably when in strong competition. Barring in stern, this bitch was an excellent counterpart of Herdwick Eva, alluded to just previously. Both Fleet and Fan belonged to butchers, were used in their trade, and, I believe, Fan was about as good with either cattle or sheep as they can be made. She was something of the form of that good bitch Melody, Mr. W. Arkwright purchased for a good round sum from Mr. T. Marples, but the Kendal bitch was brighter and lighter in colour, had the smaller ears, and was the more sensible in expression.
Of the black, white, and tans, an early and good representative was Mr. W. W. Thomson’s (Mitcham) Yarrow, a lowland bitch, I believe, but I never considered her equal to either of the two I have named, and the three were about contemporary. Another excellent specimen of the same colour was Mr. T. B. Swinburne’s (Darlington) [Northumbria] Lassie, a bitch, I fancy, that won more prizes than any of her variety either before or since, but then she was taken round to all the little shows.
About the same time the brothers, Messrs. J. and T. Ridley, of Wolsingham [Northumbria], were exhibiting some good dogs at the many shows held in the district, and one of them, a big, strong, sensible-looking bitch, to which I had awarded prizes, became a celebrity in her way and the heroine of a sensational and interesting case in the County Court.
The illustration at the top of this page is of Herdwick Herdsman and Herdwick Eva mentioned in the above quotation and is taken from this book. You can see that this author’s idea of a “smooth collie” is not the same as today’s Smooth Collie, the dogs illustrated are short coated like some Border Collies and English Shepherds today but not exactly smooth.
Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland: its history, traditions, folk-lore and scenery, David Dippie Dixon – 1903
The enormous flocks of sheep committed to the care of the shepherd by the flock-master or hill-farmer are termed “hirsels.” The shepherd, however, owns a certain number of sheep, which constitutes the principal part of his wage, known as “packs.” As the whole of the sheep on a “herdin’ “& have to be gone through at least twice a day, which necessitates a walk of several miles over the hills and glens, the shepherds keep a large number of dogs to assist in “looking the sheep.” It is quite a common sight for some ten or a dozen barking collies to rush out on the appearance of a stranger near the dwelling. Collie dogs are usually good tempered, and, being well trained by their masters, are seldom known to bite unless it be at night, when it would be very unsafe for a stranger to venture too near. “The shepherds in Kidland,” says an old writer, “are peculiarly attached to their dogs; and not without reason, for the sagacity, activity, and discrimination of these animals are truly surprising, and would scarcely be credited by those who have not had an opportunity of observing their actions. On setting out in a morning the dog, without receiving any instructions, takes a round to scour the skirts of his limits, in doing which he is careful to detect and drive any stranger that may attempt to intrude within his liberties, and to reclaim such stragglers as have wandered from his own flock.” The following doggrel rhyme, written in their praise, is amusing and worthy of record:-
” Five eights are forty Colley dogs,
Sagacious and true,
Safe guardians of the fleecy flocks
On Cheviot’s lofty brow. (Chevoit is the highest summit of the Chevoit Hills on the Scottish/English border)
At Milkhope, Dryhope, Kidland-lee,
Their value is well known;
At Rookland, too, and Punkerton,
Their fame will ne’er go down.”
A good dog and a good stick are two important items in the outfit of a hill shepherd, about which he is very particular. Each man generally has a favourite collie, probably one that he has trained himself: to this dog he shows great partiality. In such repute are these sagacious border sheep dogs held, that carefully selected young dogs are trained by the Cheviot shepherds and sent out to the colonies. Two fine specimens of the Scotch collie have recently been trained by Mr. James Brown, the shepherd at the Heigh, in Kidland, and shipped for New Zealand to work on the extensive sheep runs in that colony. So perfectly trained were these dogs, since their arrival in the colony, they have gained prizes amounting to over £60, besides two silver cups. The passage money of a dog to New Zealand is £10, whilst after arriving in port, dogs are kept six weeks in quarantine—a precautionary measure against an outbreak of rabies.
The names given by the shepherds to their dogs is an interesting study, in some instances denoting the characteristic leaning of the master—names of rivers, colours of the dogs, or their habits, family names, and even political names are given, so at the risk of being thought trivial, we here append a list of the names of these canine assistants placed in the order of preference, kindly forwarded to the writer by the shepherds of Upper Coquet:—
Tip, Don, Shag, Tyne, Frank, Glen, Sam, Ned, Moss, Spot, Laddie, Cheeve (Chevit), Clyde, Jed, Dick, Pop, Cap, Buff, Guess, Pate, Hemp, Flint, Coquet, Gled (Gladstone), Tom, Sweep, Jock, Cheekie, Trim, Roy.
Fan, Wylie, Nell, Maudie, Midge, Beat, Gyp, Fly, Violet, Lizzie, Phem (Euphemia), Kit (Kitty), Meg, Flora, Lock.
Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England – 1907
Sheep Dog Trials.— Scotland sent only five dogs, and three of these were in the short-leet, one of which eventually got second place in the prize list. Northumberland, however, gave by far the best display, both as to numbers and style of work. Of the thirteen dogs that were selected for a second trial, eleven of them were of the same strain, several being closely related. The first and second prize winners, though not from Northumberland, were of the same lineage, the “Old Hemp” and “Kep” progeny. This strain excel in attention to work, eye, and action, and their cowering style is most fascinating and cannot be surpassed anywhere. The English dogs from further south than Northumberland made rather a poor display as compared with the Northumbrians. They have neither the size, action, nor attention to work of the Border dogs, and are far behind them in practical work, but for doing puzzles and trick work, the guiding of sheep through a labyrinth of flags and poles and other intricacies, they are ‘certainly well qualified.