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History of the Cavalier – The American Connection

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280 – September 2019

By Lee Connor

The following announcement appeared in the catalog of the 1926 Crufts Dog Show: ‘Blenheim Spaniels of the Old Type, as shown in pictures of Charles II’s time, long face, no stop, flat skull not inclined to be domed, with a spot in the center of the skull. The first prizes in classes 947 and 948 are given by Roswell Eldridge Esq. of New York and will be continued for five years. Prizes go to the nearest to type required.’

Mr. Eldridge is something of a mysterious character. He was a fairly wealthy American gentleman–after all £25 was a considerable sum almost a hundred years ago–and it appears that he came to England in the early 1920s to buy a pair of spaniels similar to those he had seen in the paintings of Gainsborough and Copley. He was horrified to find that no such dog existed in England and so he set his challenge to English breeders.

Initially, there wasn’t much interest, despite the lure of the prize money offered. One can just imagine the outrage expressed by the breeders of King Charles Spaniels who had spent decades breeding for the very thing Mr. Eldridge was disgusted by…a flat face!

An insight into exactly how they felt can be gained from this piece published in Dog World in 1929, written by Mrs. Budge.

‘I have been asked what is a Cavalier King Charles? It is a name which has been given to the long-faced King Charles in an effort to bring back and standardize the old type of Spaniel. I believe there have been several attempts made in the past, but most of them have been doomed to failure, and the present phase dates back to Crufts 1926, when the late Mr. Roswell Eldridge, of New York, offered two prizes of £25 each for the best Blenheim dog and bitch approximating to the old type.

‘I shall never forget the storm that was raised about these dogs, that would not be eligible for a prize in a King Charles class on looks, being able to walk away with £25 for being a bad King Charles!’

She goes on to say, ‘Another fancier, almost the grandfather of the breed, informed us he had drowned all his eligible as puppies. Because of this bubble, my husband tried to get the Club to petition the Kennel Club to separate the ‘nosey from the noseless,’ but everyone was so certain that interest would fizzle out that nothing was done. They reckoned without Mrs. Pitt, who has taken up the matter with such vigor that there is now a Cavalier King Charles Club, with a separate standard recognized by the Kennel Club, and with nine classes on at Crufts, including the two £25 classes.’

Mrs. Pitt appears to have been a quite extraordinary character, she was already well-known for her Chows and had inherited her determination, dedication, and love of dogs from her famous father, Sir Everett Millais, who was also a noted dog breeder and geneticist.

She wasn’t going to be fazed by the mockery shown to some of the early exhibits by the King Charles exhibitors (and indeed the canine press). Such derision just seemed to spur her on more.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club was founded in 1928. At that meeting ‘Ann’s Son’, the dog winner of Mr. Eldridge’s £25 prize, was used to set down the standard of the breed.

It is evident that those early breeders achieved so much so very quickly when one looks at a photograph of ‘Ann’s Son’. Popular opinion suggests that a drop-eared Papillon was used to bring back the longer nose and flat-topped head.

Click here to read the complete article
280 – September 2019

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