Rowing, also known as breastwork, borst tekening, and dessin de la poitrine et flancs (1) has been the rising star in the Lizard’s firmament for as long as I can remember. Anyone who has studied the Lizard’s ancient history will know that the popularity of rowings has been growing steadily for much longer than that.
Take a look at the illustration at the head of this article. It appears in the first edition of Wallace’s ‘The Canary Book’. It shows the winning Lizard canary at the Crystal Palace show in 1875 (2). It was a clear cap gold cock bred by a Mr. Fairbrass of Canterbury, a leading Lizard fancier of his day. Wallace tells us that it was ‘a champion all over’, yet the bird had a flaw. In Wallace’s opinion ‘he is rather too much striped down the sides of the abdomen’.
Wallace was not a fan of what we now call rowings. Elsewhere he tells us that ‘some birds – and good birds too – are striped with a darker shade of colour down the breast, but the less these stripes are observable the better’. He allocated no points for breastwork in his score sheet for the Lizard canary.
He was not alone. The oldest show standard for the Lizard canary I have found was published by B.P. Brent in The Cottage Gardner in 1860 (3). The sixth of twelve ‘fancy points’ states: ‘throat, breast and belly – under surface from beak to tail clear yellow or buff’ (4). There is no mention of dark markings in these feathers; they almost certainly existed, but they were not wanted.
The first hint that opinion was changing can be found in Blakston’s Canaries and Cage Birds (1878-81). He offered his own version of the Lizard show scale which allocated 5 points for ‘soundness of colour and show of elaborate rudimentary spangling’ in the ‘throat and chest’. Here is a detail from the coloured plate by Routledge. It shows an idealised vision of a silver hen with a perfect cap, immaculate spangles and . . . neat , if rather dim, rowings (5).
Both Wallace and Blakston were knowledgeable canary men, but they were writing at a time when there were no national societies for individual breeds of canaries, and their vision of the ideal Lizard was no more than a personal interpretation. It was not until the turn of the nineteenth century that we learn what Lizard canary breeders themselves thought. Predictably, it differed from what these famous authors had suggested.
The turning point was the formation of the Lancashire and Lizard Canary Fanciers’ Association in the first decade of the twentieth century. The Association became, de facto, the national body for the Lizard canary, even though most of its members lived within the county. It was this society that William Scott joined when he started breeding Lizard canaries in 1937, yet he lived in Whitley Bay on the east coast of England, and may never have met his Lancastrian comrades.
The L&LCFA’s show scale was published in two books in 1910/11. Strangely, they do not agree. In Our Canaries (6) the rowings are allocated 5 points; but in Canaries, Hybrids and British Birds (7) they get 10. How do we explain that discrepancy?
We know that C.A. House, a well-known writer on canaries, had been asked by the L&LCFA to ‘submit a draft’ of the Lizard show standard and according to his account ‘this had been accepted’ (8). It is this version that was printed in Our Canaries, yet the only surviving example of the L&LCFA members’ handbook, dated 1936, uses the same show scale as printed in Canaries, Hybrids and British Birds and awards 10 points to the rowings (9). House’s draft may have been ‘accepted’, but not, it seems, without amendments by the Lizard fanciers of the L&LCFA (10).
There is no record of that decision, but there is circumstantial evidence to support the view that the Lizard breeders of Lancashire attached much greater importance to rowings than did outsiders like House (a Londoner). I’ll give two examples here.
The first is the description of the rowings given by Mr. Barker-Clegg, a top breeder from Manchester, in Our Canaries (11):
“The Breast Work: This is the lacing which is sometimes very profuse. Breeders now pay great attention to this necessary adornment, and the more you can get of it, well-defined, and extending down the breast, along the sides and waist, and on to the flanks, the better your chance of winning.” (12)
The second is a postcard sent by a Mr. I. Hone (or possibly I. More ?) to his ‘chum’ J. M. Shaw of Oldham to wish him ‘happy returns of the day’ (13). On the reverse is a drawing of a clear cap Lizard canary by P. Wynne-Williams (14) and dated 1912. It appears to have been hand drawn and the profuse rowings suggest it was a silver hen. Surely no one would have gone to such lengths unless the bird was considered an outstanding individual?
The breeders clearly valued the rowings on a Lizard canary, and they were prepared to over-rule a canary expert to ensure that the L&LCFA scale of points reflected those values.
The founding fathers of the Lizard Canary Association agreed with them in 1945, and retained the 10 points for rowings in their show scale. That show scale was later adopted by COM, and remained in force until the infamous hijacking of the OMJ Technical Committee’s meeting in Cervia 2016, which inflated the rowings to 15 points (15).
That decision (which is subject to appeal) indicates that the value of the rowings is still rising, at least within certain parts of COM. I will look at that trajectory, and the impact it could have on the development of the Lizard canary, in the next chapter of Lizard Canary Basics.
- The rowing, or rowings as they are generally called, does not translate easily into other languages. Most countries use a descriptive equivalent. As far as I am aware, only the Italians (or at least the LCCI) amongst the mainland European nations have adopted the term ‘rowings’ directly in their show scale.
- The Crystal Palace show was the equivalent of the ‘National Exhibition’ in Victorian times.
- The Cottage Gardner and Country Gentleman was a weekly magazine first published in 1853. Brent is best known as a correspondent of Charles Darwin when he was writing The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868). Canaries did not figure in that book, Brent’s contribution being his knowledge of pigeons.
- Brent produced an occasional series on canaries and British finches, starting with the ‘wild canary of Madeira’ on 17 April 1860. The Lizard canary was the fourth variety, published on 12 June of that year.
- Blakston and Wallace did not get on. I can’t help feeling that Blakston’s advocacy of rowings was a deliberate attempt to contradict Wallace.
- Our Canaries, written by Claude St.John in 1911 (p 274).
- Canaries, Hybrids and British Birds, by John Robson, edited by H.S. Lewer (p.304). No date, but published in 1910/11 according to the British Library.
- Canaries by C.A. House, first edition 1923 (p221).
- From the Scott archive. This is William Scott’s copy.
- The draft show scale produced by C.A. House is the earliest reference to the term ‘rowings’ I have found.
- Our Canaries quotes several of the leading Lizard canary breeders of that time including Messrs Barker-Clegg, Dewsnap, Rukin and Barker (all from Lancashire and its environs).
- The use of the term ‘lacing’ in this context is confusing, because it was also used to refer to the covert feathers. The latter connotation is still in use.
- Also from the Scott archive. For readers whose first language is not English, ‘happy returns of the day’ means ‘happy birthday’. The signature is not clear, but presumably Mr Hone was on holiday, as the postcard is franked ‘Scarborough’. Unfortunately, only a photocopy of the original postcard survives.
- This may be the same person as ‘Mr. Wyn’ mentioned in a report on the L&LCFA’s activities by Mr. Barker-Clegg in the Cage Bids Annual 1906.
- If you have somehow missed the controversy, look up The Lizard’s Scales Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4. The new show scale is due to come into force in January 2018.