Click on your browser's back arrow to
return to the "Smithfield" page.
The images, with their captions, appear at the end of this article.
Also, the reference to Taplin is William Taplin who published the
Sportsman's Cabinet in 1803. Also the name Logan refers to Major
Logan, who wrote several papers on the Bearded Collie.
Does the Smithfield collie exist today?
A legend examined
by Brian Plummer
An article appeared in the Shooting News
and Weekly, No. 331, June 2-8, 1989. We made
several attempts to find a proper contact
to obtain copyright permission. Mr. Plummer
has passed; and the publication no longer exists.
The text was retyped to provide better
clarity of the printed words.
"I have been asked by Mr. John Carnew of Birimingham to lay to rest
the ghost of the legend of the Smithfield collie. He had seen those dogs
mentioned in an advertisement for lurchers being offered for sale.
I would be a very wise man indeed if I could, for the Smithfield
collie, like the Chimera and the Hydra, is one of those legendary beasts
which simply refuses to be laid to rest—not unlike the original genuine
Jack Russell terrier, yet another nebulous legend, so easily disproved,
yet equally reluctant to die a just deserved, long overdue death.
Increase in Prosperity
A pace or so backwards is now required to the time of the Industrial
Revolution, to the growth of towns and the corresponding shrinkage of a
rural population. The increase in prosperity of the population of the
towns brought a shift in the population from countryside to town where a
living wage, working in industry rather than agriculture seemed likely.
As urban population needs to be fed and vegetables, grain (barley,
wheat, rye) parsnips (which prior to the cultivation of potato was the
principal root vegetable eaten in Britain) cabbage and other produce
needed to be transported from countryside to town. So also did meat.
While salt meat, pork, beef (seldom mutton) could survive a lengthy
journey and still remain relatively edible, most meat was transported on
Live sheep, geese, turkeys and heavy cattle were driven along little
used roads and paths from rural pastures to towns and quartered for the
night in spots which are still called 'Halfpenny Lane' in memory of both
their purpose and their fee.
Normally between seven and twelve miles was accomplished in a day by
mixed droves of livestock.
Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson (1864-1941) who wrote 'Waltzing
Matilda' to the tune of 'Marching with Marlborough,' suggests: "Seven
miles a day was the sheepherders way." Probably a shade less was
accomplished if a large number of geese, feet tarred and sanded to
resist the rigours of the road, or turkeys wearing their curious leather
turkey boots, were among the drovers' wards.
A recent TV film, starring Ian Holm, shows such a drive, conducted
under very testing modern conditions one must add. The dog which
accompanied Holm on his drive was a tall very hairy bearded collie and
this brings us rather neatly to the drover's dogs.
For drovers to keep large numbers of animals in order, without the
use of dogs, was almost impossible, particularly during the arduous
Galloway drive, so a type of dog was needed to restrict the wanderings
of the livestock. But what sort of dog was used?
The herding instinct in dogs is primitive and found, to a lesser
extent perhaps, in many breeds. Animals are driven to the shepherd in
the same manner as wolves and wild dogs drive quarry to the stronger
Alpha males in a pack, and perhaps like their wild brethren, would be
only too pleased (one should add) if the shepherd set about the flock
with a vengeance tearing flesh and bone in the manner of a canine Alpha
Herding is, in fact, simply a sublimated or refined hunting instinct
and the 'blow' is simply stopped short. A highly developed herding
instinct is simply a highly developed sublimated hunting instinct—and
this point should be examined under a strong light later in the article.
London obviously beckoned to the drovers and a large livestock
market started up at Smithfield—a corruption of smoothfield
incidentally, and nothing to do with the working of metals in or about
the market area.
Other towns adopted the name Smithfield for their market areas and
hence Smithfield markets became common throughout Britain. Lichfield
still has a Smithfield market and an accompany public house also known
as 'The Smithfield.'
Dogs used to drive cattle to these markets were therefore known as
Smithfield collies, but as such dogs were used from Galloway to Penzance
it is unlikely that a distinct breed of drover's dog would have been
kept, and a wide variety of herding dogs would have accompanied the
Taplin describes these dogs as tall and hairy, but Taplin (1803) was
scarcely an accurate observer of canine development and his description
seems likely to be an account of a few dogs he had noticed on his
travels, not an accurate across-the-board survey of herding types,
grouped together under the somewhat untidy heading of Smithfield collie.
In all probability a variety of dog types would have been used, and
the only common denominator of such a hotch potch of herding types would
have been that the individuals would have manifested strong herding
Tales of these droving dogs are legend and remarkable. Pig drovers
from South Wales were reputed to be very cavalier in their attitude to
their dogs, which is peculiar because pigs are very difficult animals to
herd, so difficult in fact that no nomadic race seems to include pigs
among their flocks hence the pig is regarded as forbidden or unclean (Herem—Hebrew
Haram—Arabic) not because of its habits, indeed pigs are remarkably
clean beasts, but because it was regarded as a symbol of the settled
To return to the Welsh drover, however, on the completion of a drive
one drover is reputed to have taken the mail coach home and his dog was
required to retrace its steps to the drover's home, scavenging at the
The tale may be apocryphal and the drover's name, David Pen Mawr
(Big Hill), a little too common to lend authenticity to the story.
Traditionally pastoral dogs are usually recipients of rough deals,
however, particularly in Wales and Scotland.
Strong Hunting Instinct
Herding is, as has been explained, simply a sublimated strong
hunting instinct. Hunters and poachers along the droving routes were
probably quick to notice this and while the collie types were probably
not quick enough to take hares and rabbits in a fair run, a cross with a
greyhound produced the required article and hence the product was
referred to as a Norfolk lurcher a result of mating Smithfield collie to
The type was probably called the Norfolk lurcher quite simply
because lurchers were numerically stronger in Norfolk than in adjacent
counties;—though this is entirely speculation and educated guess work.
The herding instinct of the Smithfield collie and the speed of the
greyhound conspired to produce a pillar of sagacity, a dog of great
speed and acute hunting instinct.
Intelligence wise, Brian Vesey Fitzgerald considered the dog to be
on par with the collie, though once again, it should be pointed out that
Vesey Fitzgerald like Taplin, is inclined to generalise on some
In passing, it is often said that the Smithfield collie may well
have had greyhound or sighthound blood added (even before mating to
greyhounds to produce Norfolk lurchers) to give it added height and
This may well be so. Logan records that Scottish shepherds were not
averse to mating bearded collie types to deerhounds to produce leggy,
reachy dogs capable of facing the hills.
Dogs of this type may well have accompanied the drovers, though once
again this is speculation, for, prior to this century, the pastoral dogs
have been the Cinderellas of the canine world.
Certainly very tall twenty-seven inch beardies are not unknown in
Scotland, particularly in Dumfrieshire, and they were more numerous at
the time when Mrs. Willison encouraged the bearded collie revival after
World War Two.
Many claim to own Smithfield collies—a point which is difficult to
prove or disprove and Walsh ("Lurchers and Longdogs",) who is reluctant
and careful about canine nomenclature labels one such dog as 'a very
hairy dog which has bred a number of good lurchers.'
Whether or not this dog is a Smithfield collie is once again the
subject of some interest. However, what should be questioned, and this
is of paramount importance, is whether or not the dog has the required
herding/hunting instinct or rather whether or not the dog can pass this
instinct on to its progeny.
This quality, not whether or not the dog is the real McCoy, 24 carat
gold Smithfield collie, is of importance. If one of their hairy dogs
does have this instinct then it is tailor made to produce working
If it does not, its value is limited, and it is no more use as a
producer of lurchers than any other nondescript hairy dog.
In a world of non-retrieving retrievers and fox terriers with little
inclination to face foxes, labels count for little in the production of
Should I wish to use a 'Smithfield collie' to breed a lurcher I
would do so. However, I would be most reluctant to use a dog which had
none of the required mental attributes, simply because it had a long
coat, and no other qualities to confer on its progeny.
The Smithfield collie will certainly be a ghost that refuses to be
laid. I invite readers comments about this type of dog.
Caption: A red merle West Country type
collie and a
son of Turnbull's 'Blue'—Britain's top bearded collie.
Caption: A very hairy dog collie plus a
dash of sight but not a Smithfield collie.
Caption: A litter of pure bred Muirhead
strain beardie collies.
Note: Ian Muirhead, son of Tommy Muirhead could not identify the
individuals in the above picture, but he said it was not any of Tommy's