I first learned of Talbot Radcliffe and his Saighton Kennels in the mid 1950’s from reports in the British journal, “Shooting Times and Country Magazine”. Talbot had established a successful breeding program and his springers were receiving enviable recognition for their work in field trials.
As a young man, Talbot lived in Cheshire and had the good fortune to train his spaniels on the estate of the Duke of Westminster. The Duke was so impressed with Talbot’s dog training and handling ability that he allowed him to use the name, “Saighton”, which was one of the estate’s “rides” (bridal paths), as a prefix for his kennels.
After the war years, Talbot acquired the historic and beautiful Presaddfed Estate on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales. The estate had acquired a unique charm and patina that only age can bestow. The Big House, started in 1184 and added to in the 17th and 18th centuries, was, and still is, the centerpiece. With abundant cover to hold rabbits, pheasant and woodcock, as well as a lake that attracted large flights of ducks and geese, one can readily understand the strong attraction of Presaddfed for one who loved nature. In addition, this setting was ideal for Talbot who had a passion for spaniels and shooting. Talbot decided to retire early and devote all his energy to developing Presaddfed’s sporting potential and establishing a reputation for the Saighton Kennels. This ambitious undertaking called for strong character, great determination, and sound judgment. .
In 1955, Talbot turned his attention to the U.S. and made his first visit to determine the type of springer trialers wanted. It was clear that North American field trials were different from those in the U.K., and it was going to be a considerable challenge to develop a line of dogs that could win in the U.S. After several trips to the States, Talbot developed a plan, and by 1964, he had made great strides towards his goal. In England that year, his dogs won 5 firsts, 4 seconds and 3 thirds, but the highlight was Saighton Stinger’s sensational win at an important trial held by the Antrim and Down Spaniel Club. The judges, M.J. Leopard and J.A. Kerr commented: “The winner, about which nobody present could have any doubt, was Mr. Talbot Radcliffe’s FCh Saighton’s Stinger, who gave the most impressive performance that we have ever seen at a trial”. This win qualified Stinger for the Kennel Club’s U.K. Championship trial; with Talbot handling, Stinger went on to win, becoming the 1965 National Field Trial Champion. Not only was Stinger a great Field Trial Champion, but he was prepotent as well. Dogs he sired were winning trials in the U.S. including the National
In 1961, a friend, knowing of my interest in springers, casually mentioned, “I’m going to England on business and I am going to buy a springer spaniel”. When he mentioned the name of the kennel he planned to visit, I was not enthusiastic because I knew the kennel promoted show dogs, and my friend wanted a hunting dog. “Go ahead and look,” I said, “but don’t make up your mind until you have talked to Talbot Radcliffe.” My friend did contact Talbot and arranged for a trip to Wales to see the Saighton dogs; he came home with a pup, Saighton’s Slam.
By the time Slam arrived, I had lost my springer. I was so impressed by the Saighton pup that I approached Talbot to see if I could get a trained or a started male dog – his reply was prompt: “Have carefully considered your requirements and can offer a 12 month male, very strong, good size – all essentials are right – hunts hard, good nose, retrieves to hand, good mouth – good marker and [has] a lovely dark eye. Will be a great gun dog – has trial potential – quite biddable (but requires a firm hand) – loves water”. Before long my first Saighton dog, Saighton’s Sort, arrived, and in this way, I met Talbot. Over the next 37 years, we established a friendship that I will always cherish
My Saighton’s Sort became such an exciting and pleasing dog that I wanted to retain his blood in my kennel. Talbot, as a matter of policy, would not part with his bitches. After explaining to him what I wanted to do, he made an exception and allowed me to have Saighton’s Samantha, with permission to breed her. Samantha (by Saighton’s Stinger out of Saightons Speke) was a litter mate of National Champion, Saighton’s Signal. The first breeding of Sort and Samantha produced 11 strong, lusty pups, all of which went to Nova Scotia sportsmen who became charter members of the Scotia Springer Club. The club has been holding field trials since its inception in 1967. Sort and Samantha were the foundation of my Glenrock Kennel, which has given me no end of pleasure and satisfaction.
When Talbot heard I was retiring in November 1977, he invited my wife, Margo, and me to come to Presaddfed for Dec./Jan. pheasant shooting. I was to be a beater during the day. In the evening, we would help him entertain his guests.
By 1977, Talbot wore the mantle of success in his sport oriented endeavors. He had built the Saighton Kennels to a position of preeminence. He had restored the Presaddfed Estate and acquired the shooting rights to the Marquis of Anglesey’s famous Plas Newydd Estate on the Menia Strait near Presaddfed. Talbot now had one of the finest shooting estates in the U.K. People came from far and wide to enjoy the mixed shooting and to see the Saighton dogs.
Talbot raised over 10,000 pheasants in 1977. He had four gamekeepers under the highly competent Gerald Ward. The kitchen turned out a “Cordon Bleu” cuisine, and the highly competent Big House staff, supervised by the butler, was trained to meet the needs of a clientele that expected the best and could be very demanding.
Most of the guests were gentleman and fine sportsmen, but there were times when Talbot’s patience was put to the test. One visitor arrived with a pump gun which he wanted to use at the formal pheasant shoot – an unthinkable faux pas; really, one should shoot a side-by-side, preferably English; over-unders are tolerated, begrudgingly, but pump’s and semi’s are no-no’s. Another guest, garbed in best Loden and very well turned out, arrived at his station with his cartridges in a gaudy plastic grocery bag. This really upset Talbot who muttered, “Really David, we must maintain our standards; we have traditions!”
During shoots, Talbot was ever alert to deal with any breach of safety. Not only are the shooters in a line where an ill-considered swing could be dangerous, but beaters are advancing towards the shooters and a low shot could be disastrous. Some of his guests had never shot driven pheasant. Talbot kept a careful eye on them and was always ready to offer some advice should it be needed. On one occasion, a guest was missing bird after bird with embarrassing regularity. When Talbot went to see if he could help, he was sharply criticized for supplying bad ammunition. As the sport raved on, a high flying pheasant approached. The shooter pointed to the bird saying, “One can’t hit birds like that one with your light 2 1/2″ loads!” Talbot with his eye on the bird replied, “May I have your gun?”, and in one quick motion killed the bird, leaving the man quite speechless.
Talbot was sometimes referred to as the “Bishop”; he did have a strong presence. He held strong opinions and never lacked the courage to express them. To some he was controversial, but his shooting guests held him in high regard, and some were in awe of him. He did not “suffer fools gladly”, but he was always ready to help anyone who had a deserving request. One time, an acquaintance asked me for Talbot’s address so he could write for more information about Saighton dogs. Talbot’s reply was followed by another request – and yet another request. Talbot sent pictures and answered a steady stream of questions. As time passed, I wondered how the matter stood, hoping a new dog might come from Wales. A letter from Talbot closed with, “By the way, I am exasperated with a delightful fellow I am sure – but I have written him about little dogs, big dogs, young dogs, cheap dogs, expensive dogs – so in my last letter in response to his eager request to hear yet again – [I indicated] that as a prospective customer I had written him off, but would adopt him as a pen pal.”
In running Presaddfed, Talbot lived close to nature, and over the years he became an amateur naturalist of some repute. In his company afield, I would often marvel at his awareness of nature and his keen observations. Busy as he was, Talbot would take me for off-day shooting. We would each take a dog, and one of the beaters would accompany us to carry the game. In his day, Talbot was regarded as one of the 10 best game shots in the U.K., and it was marvelous to watch him shoot. On one occasion I saw him make a double on woodcock as though it was something he did everyday.
After a long and sometimes strenuous day, I enjoyed a hot bath and dressed up to join Talbot’s reception at the Big House. It was good to sip a single malt in front of the fire and review the days events with the guests. Talbot always made sure that each guest was engaged in conversation, part of Margo’s and my job was to help him with this. Then, when dinner was ready the butler, in livery, would seat us for a memorable dinner presided over by Talbot. Frequently the diners would clap in delight when a culinary masterpiece was served.
Our two months with the Radcliffe’s went by quickly. We will never forget the hospitality. One can not buy trips and experiences such as Talbot provided.
In our home, we have been honored by 4 visits from Talbot. This year we looked forward to another visit from the Chief, but this was not to be. We will cherish the memory of our friendship with him and we will not forget his great contribution to the springer spaniel.
Talbot, ever mindful of the loyalty and support of those who served him with great devotion, presented a Scroll of Honor to the “Three Musketeers”, Henri Prince, Tom Lynes and Jack Grib, who had served as beaters for 50 years. The scroll was inscribed as follows:
50 years in the line of fire
50 years of inclement weather
50 years of never missing a day
50 years of good humor with Springers
50 years of giving pleasure to others
50 years of being jolly good fellows
To me, the sentiment expressed on the scroll applies equally well to TALBOT RADCLIFFE.