34 THE POINTER OF ENGLAND
THE POINTER OF ENGLAND
There is something quintessentially English about our native Pointer, with those possessing true breed type deserving the renowned 'Stonehenge's' description in the middle of the last century of them as being "...one of the most beautiful of all our sporting dogs, dividing with the setter the admiration of all those who enjoy the pleasures attending on the use of the gun." I do hope they withstand the dramatic influx of all-rounders from Germany in the last twenty years and continue to draw our admiration in the coming century. But unless the conformation best suited for the shooting field is preserved, I cannot see sportsmen being tempted back to them - even if they are allowed to retrieve once again!
My preferred dog historian, the under-rated Scot, James Watson, wrote in his masterly The Dog Book of 1906: “When sportsmen got a gun so improved as to admit of shooting flying as a regular and not as occasional practice, which we consider was possible as early as 1680, they thereupon made us of this dog, that had the faculty of locating game and stood still in place of rushing on as the spaniel did to put up game…They gave to this dog a name which indicated what he did – point to where the game was. Had he come from abroad, is it not likely he would have come with his foreign name?” In his Cynographia Britannica of 1800, Sydenham Edwards tells us that “The Spanish Pointer was introduced to this country by a Portugal Merchant, at a very modern period, and was first used by an old reduced Baron, of the name of Bichell, who lived in Norfolk, and could shoot flying…” The Portuguese Pointer is much more like ours than say the heavier Burgos Pointer from Spain.
The Edwardian writer, Rawdon Lee, accepts that the French had their own pointers before the Spanish Pointer was introduced into Britain at the beginning of the 18th century, going on to state that in the latter part of this century: "Pointers far removed from the imported Spanish dog in appearance, were not at all uncommon in England and they could easily have been brought over from France." Sir William Beechey’s portrait of Richard Thompson and Pointer at the end of the 18th century depicts a Pointer very much like the French breed of pointing dog, the Braque Francais. In 1713 Desportes produced his depiction of the Earl of Burlington’s Pointers, with one of them having a distinct continental pointer look to it.
Arkwright's Pointers had considerable influence in the making of today's dog, his all-black Pointer coming from the Greyhound cross and an increasing number of contemporary dogs, both in Europe and America, exhibit the tucked-up loin, the tighter lips and low-set tail from this Greyhound blood. The Pointer of Britain has the eye and the eyesight of a sighthound, certainly no trace of the sunken eye of the scenthound breeds. In temperament too, the Pointer has more in common with the cool, aloof, reserved, rather introverted Greyhound than the gregarious, much more extrovert and certainly noisier Foxhound.
Professor JM Beazley has traced the origin of our modern English Pointers back to seven discrete families and shown how these original family groups led to the emergence of two main lines of descendants from 1840 to 1980. This may indicate a small gene pool but that doesn't mean the sealing of type forever more. Genes act randomly and type has to be actively sought. For me, our contemporary Pointer is too lightly constructed, too Greyhound-like. The Pointers depicted in paintings from past centuries show dogs with far more substance. It was sad to read the critique of the Pointer judge at Crufts in 2009, which read “The movement on the majority of these dogs and bitches was quite unbelievable, from crossing in front, upright in pasterns, upright in shoulders and it became very soul-destroying watching so many bad unsound movers.” For such a magnificent English gundog breed at our premier dog show to exhibit such serious faults is truly distressing.
Just as Mastiffs have an impressive magnanimity and setters have a certain style, so the pointing breeds have elegance, a definite gracefulness. They never seem to possess the sheer effusiveness of the spaniel breeds, the earthy warmth of the retrievers or the eternal impudence of the terriers. Pointers have their own characteristics; I swear that our native Pointer can look decidedly disapproving if their natural dignity isn't respected. They demand stylish handling in the show ring and in the field. My own favourites are the all-black ones, sadly not so common these days. I do hope we retain true type in this admirable English breed. After the running down of so many leading kennels in recent times - Scotney, Carswell, Blackfield, Cromlix, Segontium and the like, it is important to keep some depth in the breed. Far too many of the best working dogs are being exported, those of the distinguished breeder-trainer-handler Derry Argue for example. It is good therefore to see the dual-purpose dogs of the Crookrise kennel doing well here as well as overseas. I see much to admire in contemporary kennels here and would love to see English sportsmen taking more interest in their Pointer and considering them ahead of the German ones now so popular in our shooting fields.