Posts Tagged ‘Winifred Charlesworth’

Winifred Charlesworth, the woman most instrumental in creating a distinct golden retriever breed, with some of her Noranby goldens.


And the modern version: Ginger, photo courtesy of Djanick Michaud of Zomarick Golden retrievers:


In black and white:

ginger black and white

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This dog is listed as Noranby Curfew in 1926. The woman featured with him is Winifred Charlesworth. i.e., the person I credit most with establishing the golden retriever as a distinct breed.

This dog is very typical of the type she liked to produce:  fairly dark and fairly moderate. Many of the earlier dogs were much more similar to the old heavy wavy-coated retriever type, but she and others worked to modify the dog so that it could be more useful. The dogs never became as fully racy as the flat-coated retriever eventually became, but they did move more towards moderation.

One of the early complaints about goldens is they were slow movers– no doubt the result of many of them having this heavier conformation. I doubt that many of the Guisachan or Melbury dogs were trialled much, so they retained the “1860’s model” type for the wavy-coated retriever. Trialling dogs almost always changes their type, which is why the wavy/flat-coated retriever evolved from a 70-80-pound St. John’s water dog-type in the 1860’s to 50-68-pound dog that was common by the 1890’s.

This dog also has a white “medallion” on the chest, a trait that still pops up int he breed today.

This dog looks very much like a modern working-type golden retriever. That keen expression, intelligent expression is very much typical of the breed.

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Major Davies and Winifred Charlesworth at the 1938 Golden Retriever Club Field Trial.

It was held at Salisbury in Wiltshire.

This is a place I have visited. I’ve seen where Prime Minister Edward Heath’s ashes are buried at Salisbury Cathedral!

It’s not too far from Stonehenge, which is also in Wiltshire.

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Winfred Charlesworth with Ch. Noranby Diana, Ch. Noranby Dutiful, and Ch. Noranby Deirdre

If I hadn’t been for the efforts of Winifred Charlesworth, it is likely that the golden retriever would have remained a minority color variant of the flat-coated retriever. Not only did she write the first proposed standard for the breed in 1910, but she also developed one of the three founding strains of the breed. Her Noranby dogs were part of the bedrock on which this breed is based.

The other two lines, the Earl of Shrewsbury’s Ingestre dogs and the 1st Viscound Harcourt’s Culham line, certainly played a role in the foundational stock of the breed.

However, it is very likely that without Winifred Charlesworth’s constant patronage, the fortune of these dogs would be tied up in the flat-coated retriever. The flat-coat was a celebrated working dog in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain. However, not long after the golden had been separated from the flat-coat, the flat-coat’s popularity dissipated,

It is very likely that the strains that gave us the golden would have remained a minority within the flat-coat breed, and when the flat-coat became a minority breed, these dogs would have disappeared.

We’ve seen similar colors and forms disappear in other breeds that have lost their popularity. Good luck finding a drop-eared Skye terrier, and I guarantee you that you won’t find a wheaten Scottish deerhound. 

Even relatively common breeds lose their minority colors. Solid red English springer spaniels were not unkown, but these dogs don’t exist all today.  The “mouse” color in the French bulldog is probably gone, but some claim that blue Frenchies are the mouse dogs. Black mastiffs were once relatively common in the breed, but today, all so-called black mastiffs are actually very dark black brindles.

It is likely that the very dark colors in the golden retriever will disappear. The FCI and KC standards don’t want red or mahogany dogs, even though red and mahogany dogs were part of the breed from the beginning (and were the majority of the breed). The tendency now is to breed for a dog with the recessive chincilla factor that produces lighter colored dogs. The net result of such selective breeding will mean that the dark colors will simply disappear. It is possible to produce light-colored puppies from dark-colored parents. It is impossible to produce dark-colored puppies from light-colored parents.

I just want to give you an idea of what the color range was for the Noranby dogs, including one of the dogs featured above.

The second dog from the right is Ch. Noranby Diana, which is the same dog featured at her mistress’s side in the top photo.


The first champion in the breed was a Noranby, Ch. Noranby Campfire.

Ch. Noranby Campfire, b. 1912. First champion golden retriever.


Yes, a lot of these early dogs were quite dark-colored, and here I need to make something clear.

The dark color of these dogs did not exist because these three foundational strains were interbred with black flat-coat. Black (EE or Ee)  is a dominant color over yellow t0 red (ee). However, an entirely different gene determines the extent of the yellow to red coloration (C or c). Black versus liver is determined by another set of genes (B or b). It is possible for a yellow or red dog to have the alleles for dominant black coloration (BB o Bb). That’s because the (ee) prevents the black coloration from being expressed on the coat. If you have a golden, it is most likely a black dog with with the ee. That’s one reason why it is very easy to get black puppies if you breed a golden retriever to virtually anything, including brindle boxers and sable collies.

And yes, I’m aware the the recessive c alleles has several different versions, but I can’t type them here. (Source)


I should also point out that Winifred Charlesworth was a firm believer in the Russian circus dog theory of the golden origins. It has long since been debunked, but I think there are plenty of good reasons why someone would continue to promote something so bizarre. After all, it doesn’t take a genus to see how similar golden retrievers are to flat-coats, and the Noranby dogs really do look a lot like red flat-coated retrievers.

However, I don’t think the move to separate the golden from the flat-coat would have been so strong in 1910 if it was assumed that this was nothing more than a color variety of the usually black flat-coat. If the dogs had an exotic and very different origin from the flat-coats, it would be easier to justify separating them.

It is very likely that this is all the Russian circus dog story was. It was an origin myth that legitimated  separation.

I’m not saying that these people were all liars, but they were all believing Grade A bull-plop.

And although it is obvious that these dogs are very similar to comtemporary flat-coats in every respect except for color, this story had power to shape the distiny of two breeds.

The flat-coat became quite rare in the succeeding decades, while the separated golden retriever would become unbelievably popular. It would eventually become the second most popular dog in the United States, if we are to use AKC recognition statistics as a guide to popularity. Today, the breed is the fourth most registered dog with the AKC. It has lost its second-place ranking to the Yorkshire terrier.

And both breeds have diverged into different dogs, although I won’t go as far as to say that they are very different.  The tendency is breed goldens with more bone and coat, and the tendency in flat-coats is to breed for less bone and for less profuse feathering. But whenever you see a yellow flat-coat or a lightly built golden, you can tell that their history is connected.

And goldens aren’t from Russia.

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