Pedigrees are like patchwork quilts sewn together with devotion into treasured heirlooms. In this article we look at some of the UK Irish Setters kennels that were not necessarily the grandest, or most prolific, but they left an indelible print on our South African pedigrees.
All in the Family – Norlan
In 1929, when Gilbert Leighton Boyce was still a schoolboy, his father presented the family with their first Irish Setter puppy, Red Ginger, sired by Wizbang Cymwran Rufus out of Wizbang Roxy. His mother knew little about Setters or their working capabilities, albeit that her father had shot over English Springer Spaniels. Nevertheless, she chose the path that led to an abiding and lifelong devotion to the breed which she shared with her son and much later her daughter-in-law.
Mrs. E.F. Leighton Boyce does not appear to have been a highly competitive lady, limiting her exhibition to shows in or near London in the early years and just as content to share and enjoy the experience as a spectator with her young son. One of Gilbert’s earliest recollections was admiring a splendid row of gamekeepers on empty benches, sleeping off a good lunch break at Cruft’s, concluding they should have won prizes for something!
The first Irish Setter breeder young Gilbert met was Mr. W. O’Bolger, an elderly genial tailor, whose knowledge of the breed stretched back to the 1890’s and this association seems to have been long standing and mutually agreeable. O’Bolger’s Loc Garmain Irish can be found on many early pedigrees including that of Roy of Seebury(?) imported into South Africa by Mac and Thora McBride in 1932 which indicates that Ch. Loc Garmain Patt was Roy’s maternal Grandfather.
With the decision to breed, Mrs. Leighton Boyce registered Red Ginger with the Kennel Club London in 1932 after the birth of her first litter sired by Sunset of Gadeland (Wizbang Cymwran Rufus x Wizbang Demesne Betty). From the resultant progeny, a daughter was retained and named after their house ‘Welby’ Beauty.
Logically, Gilbert suggested his mother register a Kennel name before breeding again and he conceived the name of NORLAN being a composite word using the London suburb in which they lived, West NORwood and the hill on which Welby house stood ‘LANsdowne’ and thus the kennel name NORLAN was written into the history of the breed.
Gilbert had fond memories of both Welby Beauty and her daughter, Norlan Beauty commenting that both bitches retained a keen instinctive sense of field work despite their town based home. Welby Beauty taking him ‘many miles over saltings after seagulls or whatever else was around’ while Norlan Beauty was a joy to watch ‘hunting her way backwards and forwards across the open hillside with her tail going like a propeller’ albeit that this was not surprising as her sire, Ch. Brigand of Usan, was a full champion grandson of Colleen of Wendover whose lineage stemmed from such great field workers as Donnie Rhu and Stylish Wedger.
The Leighton-Boyce Irish family grew when Welby Beauty was mated to Penylan Rise and a male Norlan Michael was born on 10 November 1933. Meanwhile Norlan Sheila was purchased, sired by Whynot of Wendover out of Tess Macree In 1934.
Later Gilbert’s mother elected to use Ingle-Bepler’s Rheola Benedickon as a mate to Norlan Beauty as she felt it would ‘help her particular concentration on a sweet expression and a docile disposition.’ As Gilbert commented ‘ her ideal Setter looked up at the hand, soulfully and did not need posing’ and grumbled ‘again and again she would let go as pets beautifully formed specimens who were inclined to be noisy or a bit wild, rather than take the trouble to train them and keep what I thought inferior though placid specimens’ ‘My mother and one or two other breeders got their sweet expression and their lovely temperament all right, but some of the results were not to my mind real Irish Setter in character.’
From Norlan to Branscombe/Oosh
Miss A. J. (Jean) Samms purchased her first Irish Setter Norlan Susan in 1936 and won her first card the next year under Mrs. Barton, owner of Ch. Loc Garmain Patt. Later Jean acquired Norlan Golden Girl, one of the resultant progeny from the mating of Norlan Michael and Norlan Sheila. In 1941 Jean bred her first litter, sired by Mrs. Walker’s Hartsbourne Shaun, The progeny of which contained Branscombe Robyn born on 4th April.
Branscombe Robyn (extreme left hand side) with four of his 10 siblings
Mrs A. Jean Leighton-Boyce (nee Samms)
Tying the Knot
With Gilbert’s return to England, after a stint overseas with the Royal Air Force, romance bloomed and he and Jean Samms married. During this post-war period they became increasingly involved in the breed. Supporting Bill Rasbridge in his campaign to rid it of the early onset blinding condition Progressive Retinal Atrophy rcd 1, Jean tested mated Branscombe Robyn clear of the condition to become a key element in the reconstruction of the breed. As Gilbert admitted ‘Jean’s Robyn became the best known setter any of us had’. In Robyn’s career as a stud dog, he sired over 200 puppies.
Deciding that Jean’s kennel name Branscombe echoed that of the famous Ranscombe Springer Spaniels, the Kennel Club granted her the kennel name Oosh derived from Robyn’s pet name and expressing his curious habit of sneezing when very pleased with himself!
In 1952 Gilbert became Honorary Treasurer of the Irish Setter Breeders Club, a position he relished as it brought him into contact with breeders in the North and Midlands of England. When, five years later, he had to relinquish this position the club elected him a life membership in recognition of his services. He was not eager to judge the breed so only officiated in 1956 and in fact only awarded Challenge Certificates in 1969.
Gilbert had very definite ideas about what should constitute ‘ true Irish Setter temperament’ and attributed their Oosh Coppercrest of Ide, son of Branscombe Robyn’s x Ch. Ronor Rena of Ide (born on 25 February1947) with the ideal as a result of ‘the old Irish stock behind his dam’. He was ‘jolly’ and ‘thoroughly cheerful’ with “some bounce; ‘ready to have fun’; ‘the sort that will go for miles on a tramp through the rain one day and on the next be clowning with the children in the garden or stretched out asleep in front of a fire with a cat curled up on top of him’ A ‘ strong swimmer’ he concluded, which ‘trait seems to go with the right temperament’ A brother of Coppercrest, Red Immigrant of Ide was exported to South Africa
The bitch Dinah of Springpark became part of the Oosh kennel. She was sired by Sh. Ch. Roamer of Portarlie out of Pevrill of Glyncoed. When mated to Branscombe Robyn, the progeny included Sallyann of Oosh (b.10 April1941) who had ‘an exceptional neck and a good body, but not a very good head’ Gilbert admitted. Nevertheless Sallyann was mated to Shandy of Maydorwill and produced a daughter, Paprika of Oosh who was far more to his liking and which they refused to sell when approached by Miss Olwen (Sowerhill) Hunt’s mother.
At the end of 1954 Jean elected to mate Paprika to Sh. Ch. Hartsbourne O’Hara whelping a litter on 16th January 1955 which contained a bitch pup, Giselle of Oosh. She was purchased by Mrs. (Quilmark) Laughton-Moore (nee Cooke) and together they won awards in the Obedience ring in 1955/56. A beautiful bitch she fulfilled one of Jean’s early ambitions – to breed a Show Champion which Giselle achieved with a flourish and added Best Gundog at Bath Championship Show in 1959 to assert her place in the history of the breed.
Sh Ch Giselle Of Oosh
Due to heavy business commitments, Gilbert reluctantly relinquished exhibition of Paprika of Oosh in the summer of 1957, at a time when she was at the peak of her show potential having won a reserve best of sex at Birmingham Championship Show and two firsts at Crufts. At the same time Jean’s domestic and family obligations forced her retirement from the ring.
Norlan in the 1950’s & 1960’s
In 1950 Mrs. E.F. Leighton Boyce purchased ‘Norlanwood’, St. Mary’s Grove, Biggin Hill, Kent where Norlan activities continued unabated. 1957 marked the year she became a Championship Show judge and bred a litter from Giselle Of Oosh’s litter sister, Norlan Odette of Oosh using Sh. Ch. Watendlath Kevin O’Pandy as her mate. The resultant litter produced one of Norlan’s biggest success stories with the arrival of Norlan Paddy, born on 20th June, 1957 who was sold to Nan Tomlinson as a puppy.
Sh Ch Norlan Paddy
Gilbert well remembered Paddy’s first outing in the showring as he was pressed into service by his mother to handle the dog as Nan Tomlinson was a complete novice. Paddy arrived at Olympia, London, as a totally unschooled exuberant youngster. He later commented ‘we did more or less remain in the ring throughout the class. We ended up either reserve (4th) or VHC, I forget which and far lower than the basic merit of the dog deserved but higher than judges less tolerant than Rasbridge would have placed him on his performance that day.’
‘ I emerged feeling that I had strained several muscles and the owners would probably never come to a show again after such a disgraceful exhibition by their beloved animal, for which I could at that moment think of other adjectives – but no! They were absolutely delighted. Converts were made on the spot.
Exercise? They lived near Tower Bridge on the edge of London’s dockland. No problem – there were all the big parks to take him to: rather far from where they lived, I suggested. No, they would walk him through all the traffic for miles, it would be good for him. And, incredibly they did, and all was well. He went everywhere and made up into a great showman and a wonderful character too. As one of us said :” I don’t think anyone ever got more enjoyment out of one Setter than Nan Tomlinson.’
As Gilbert observed Sh. Ch. Norlan Paddy’s main influence on the breed was as mate to Mrs.M.E. Stokes, Sh. Champion Marrona Merope. The resulting litter born on 27 September 1960 produced ‘a string of beautiful bitches with great ribs and good heads that established the repute of several kennels’, the most noteworthy being Sh. Ch. Marrona Marica owned by Mr. & Mrs. D.J. Stephens and Sh. Ch. Marrona Marigold of Thurnbrook owned by Mrs. J.C. Parsons, but it was their brother Marrona Midas of Vandamist purchased by Mr. E.G. Thompson that did much to revive her Vandamist kennel and those in the Hampshire and the west of England before his untimely death at an early age.
Sh Ch Marrona Marica
The Foundation of Sowerhill
Olwen Hunt was initially attracted to Mrs. Leighton Boyce’s Irish Setters as a child while the dogs exercised in BrockwellPark near her home in Athlone Road, South West London.
When her parents purchased Higher Sowerhill dairy farm in Dulverton, Somerset in 1951, where she resided for the rest of her life, Olwen was afforded the opportunity to pursue her passion for Irish Setters. Her mother purchased Norlan Tessie Belle much to Gilbert’s chagrin as Tessie was the last progeny of his mother’s female line stemming from Red Ginger, through Welby Beauty, Norlan Beauty, Norlan Gemma and Norlan Neula to Tessie Belle who was sired by Shandy of Maydorwill.
Norlan Neula – dam of Norlan Tessie Belle
However, the line was in “safe hands” as Olwen and Norlan Tessie Belle proved due to Olwen’s judicial choice of mates and Tessie’s expertise as a brood bitch.
Norlan Tessie Belle
Tessie with Olwen Hunt’s niece Angela in 1954
Olwen’s first choice of mate for Norlan Tessie Belle was Simon of Bickenhall, which produced Sowerhill Renny Her second mating was to Maydorwill Happy Lad from which progeny Olwen kept a bitch Sowerhill Jilinda and a dog which Gilbert admired Sowerhill Winsford Robert ‘for his honest good looks and friendly temperament’ who won a series of reserve best of sex in 1960, but never quite made it to the top of the class.
Sowerhill Jilinda was subsequently mated to Copper of Bickenhall and her daughter Sowerhill Flame born on 18th December 1957 was exported to Mrs. E. Kottler of Muldersdrift, South Africa. In due course Flame was mated to another import to SA. Ch. Hartsborne Falcon born on 18 March 1957 which produce Shaun O’Mortachre a leading SA sire of the period.
For Tessie’s last litter Olwen chose Ch. Boisdale Boggit (b.26 May 1955) sired by Wendover Bo’sun out of Boisdale Solitaire and owned by Mrs. Darling. He had won five Challenge Certificates in the ring in quick succession and was renowned for his working ability. Mr. H.E. (Morar) Taylor an avid Gordon Setter enthusiast who was his field trainer considered “‘Bogs” the best dual-purpose Irish that he ever knew. Training him for only a month Taylor handled him to win first place in the Maiden Stake and to certificates of merit at others field events in 1960. He asserted Boggit’s ‘temperament was so ideal that a scolding voice was all that was needed to train him. I told him once and he understood. His nose was fantastic, he frequently pointed birds long before his neighbours and he would find birds on poor scenting days which other dogs has passed on. He filled the ideal of every Setter enthusiast: he looked and behaved as a Setter should.’
Soon the Sowerhill kennel flourished, reaching the peak of its success in the 1970’s and 80’s with Sowerhill Show Champions Red Colleen of Kitewood (b.10 December 1968) Sarah (b.11 July 1973) Storm (b. 13 January 1974) Sahib (b.30 January 1975) a grandson being exported too Mesdames Bridget Simpson and Bridget Wright in South Africa, namely SA Ch Cornevon Meridian of Ronoak (Sh. Ch. Kerryfair Night Fever x Cornevon Butterfly), Sarong of Kingscott (b.30 January 1977) and Satyr of Fearnley (b.18 May 1978) to name just a few of the top winners that spanned more than 60 years of Olwen’s Sowerhill breeding. Thus in the 1994 Irish Setter Assoc of England Annual Review, Olwen confidently advertised that: ‘About 75% of present day show setters are descendants of NorlanTessie Belle’
In 1971 she judged for the first time and had the privilege of judging the breed at Crufts in 1981 and again in 2000.
From Sowerhill to Vandamist
From the Boggit x Tessie Belle mating the bitch Sowerhill Red Mist was born on 4 December 1958 and purchased by Mrs. E.G. Thompson. Owning both Marrona Midas of Vandamist and Sowerhill Red Mist, Mrs. Thompson elected to pair them in a mating to preserve some of the best Norlan/ Oosh lines and from the resultant litter she retained Vandamist Vision who earned her Show Championship in 1967
Sh Ch Vandamist Vision
From Vandamist to Andana and on to South Africa
Perhaps of equal significance to the breed in UK and South Africa was Vision’s litter sister Vandamist Morning Glory who was purchased by Mrs. Joan Anderson of Andana Irish Setter fame. One of her sons Kerry Dancer of Andana sired by Ray Furness’s Raycoft Larry and born on 9 December 1967 was imported by Mrs. Stewart (nee Mrs. van der Byl) in South Africa.
Vandamist Morning Glory Of Andana
Kerry Dancer earned his SA Championship and was mated to one of the last bitches bred by Flora Hill, SA Ch. Ruby O’Reily of Donegal owned by Mrs. Uleen Poulton. In her first Ruamadre litter born 10 October 1970 two litter sisters, SA Ch. Alanna of Ruamadre and SA Ch.Satana of Ruamadre were born, the latter bearing a strong resemblance to her grandmother. Satana became the foundation bitch of Bridget & Mark Simpson’s Oakdale Irish Setters whose involvement in the breed continues to the present day.
Ch Oakdales Autumn Harvest (Left) & SA Ch Satana Of Ruamadre (Right)
Gilbert Leighton Boyce – The Author
Throughout his long career in Irish Setters Gilbert had researched hundreds of pedigrees, many connected to his association with Bill Rasbridge in ascertaining suspect lines carrying Progressive Retinal Atrophy, others researching possible links with Red & White Irish Setters during the resurrection of that breed, which earned him and Bill Rasbridge the title of the breed’s foremost historians.
He also wrote innumerable articles for the UK Dog World weekly newspaper and Setter Club Newsletters in UK. Nearing retirement he drew on all his resources and personal memories to write a book which was completed by 1970 and edited by Stanley Dangerfield.
The Irish Setter was first published in 1973 as part of the World of Dogs series of books and this thin volume is still sought by present day devotees of the breed. A further Survey of The Early Setters was published in 1985 just a year before his death.
This article is compiled and written by Bridget & Mark Simpson, Oakdale Irish Setters, Napier, Western Cape Province, South Africa. January 2014 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Every effort has been made to cross reference material used in this article to ensure accuracy.
Special thanks to Pat Rutherford (Clonageera Irish Setters UK) for the photograph of Vandamist Morning Glory of Andana
- The Irish Setter by Gilbert Leighton Boyce
- Irish Setter Show Champions in Great Britain 1947-1982 – Published by The South of England Irish Setter Club
- Irish Setter Breeders Club (UK) Yearbook 1982
- Irish Setter Association of England Annual Review 1994
Michelle Webster of Hooley’s Website: Pedigrees & Famous Kennels
The writers personal documentation, photographs and memorabilia.
My grateful thanks to Bridget & Mark Simpson for contributing this article.