Book review: Lancashires, the forgotten variety

Before anyone asks the obvious question, let me remind you that there was a strong connection between the Lancashire canary and the Lizard canary in the first half of the twentieth century.  This was thanks to the activities of the Lancashire and Lizard Canary Fanciers Association, the closest thing that the Lizard had to a governing body from around 1900 to the Second World War.

I only became aware of the book thanks to Marko Dielen, who just happens to keep both Lizards and Lancashire canaries (he won a silver medal at the 2015 World Show with a Lanc).  The book was published by William Cummings from Falkirk in 1995. As the title suggests, the book is concerned mainly with the Lancashire canary, but there are some interesting asides for Lizard fanciers, most of which involve low deeds by people in high places.  A juicy scandal always makes for an interesting read.

As books go, this one is compact: just 70 pages at A5 size.  What it lacks in quantity is more than outweighed by the quality of the content.  Mr. Cummings traces the history of the breed and its breeders; the plundering of the Lancashire genes to increase the size of other varieties; the damage caused by cross-breeding with Crest canaries to ‘improve’ the coppy; the demise of the breed; and attempts to resuscitate it after the Second World War.  Those wanting a manual on how to keep, breed and show modern Lancashires will have to look elsewhere.

The great strength of the book is the extensive research undertaken by the author, combined with a rare ability to present the findings in a straightforward and articulate manner.  It is an enjoyable and stimulating read.  If there is one disappointment, it is that the book has not been updated since publication.  I would be very interested to read his assessment of the modern Lancashire canary, particularly the style of birds developed by continental breeders.  The real thing or just look-a-likes?  I would trust Mr Cummings’ judgement.

For classic Lizard canary fanciers, the book strikes a chord with the tragic account of how the ‘giant of the fancy’ could be reduced from being a well-established variety to a scattering of stragglers over a few decades, thanks to the attentions of cross-breeders who assumed there would always be plenty more where they came from.  There weren’t, and the true Lancashire canary died out during the Second World War.

Lancashires, the Forgotten Variety is available here for the bargain price of £4.50 plus postage.  I recommend it to everyone with an interest in canary history.

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