by Will Burdett MBE

Will Burdett receiving his MBE

Way back in the nineteenth century the father of William Cook was a hostler on the infamous London to Dover road, but young Bill, after serving his time, soon forsook horses and coaches to keep chickens. In due course he rose to great prominence as an enterprising poultry developer, in those days when poultry keeping was very much in its infancy. He was a prolific journalist in poultry matters - lecturer, adviser and consultant - took in pupils - sold appliances, medicines, poultry foods, fattening powders and published the "Poultry Keepers Account Book" -  the most complete of its kind for one shilling (5 pence).

William Cook, though, is immortalised for his origination of the Orpington which put his Kentish town on the poultry map and gave countless pleasures to generations of  devoted followers.

It was in 1880 that Cook set about blending various breeds to produce a black fowl "of handsome appearance and a good winter layer".

By 1886 these black fowl made their appearance at the three big Dairy, Crystal Palace and Birmingham shows. It was two years later that separate classification was given for the Black Orpington at the 1888 Dairy Show at Islington  where there were 14 cockerels and 19 pullets in the two classes.

The Orpington Club was formed in 1887 so promotion was rapid, but it was not until 1900 that the black was anything at all approaching a distinct kind. It was Joseph Partington and friends who transformed the Black Orpington, by decidedly increasing bulk and feather to the standard and hallmarks we have long since become accustomed to.

Originally launched as a utility fowl it prospered well in that form in Australia and then returned to this country under its new briefer name, taken from the import company, Australorp Farms Ltd.

Following the single comb came the Rose Comb black variety in 1888. Its origin was similar to the one preceding it, so presumably Plymouth Rocks or Langshans threw some Rose Combed progeny.

Second on the list as a distinct  variety, was the Buff Orpington produced apparently to meet the then big demand for Buff plumaged fowls.  Original work first commenced in 1886 with its first public appearance at the 1894 Dairy Show.  It caught the public fancy even more completely than the Black, and for many years was both one of the most popular exhibition fowls and by far the most popular heavy breed for utility purposes.  Since the winner of the class of 56 pullets took the silver medal at the 1899 Dairy Show, there has never been a time when Buff Orpingtons have not been seen at our shows and that Is due in some part to the support of the Buff Orpington Club which, founded in 1898, has given continuous service ever since.  The  Rose Combed Buff variety appeared in 1891.

The first White Orpingtons to appear in 1892-93 had Rose Combs.  So few of such birds were exhibited that it is impossible to trace them in those early days. They were revived in 1912, but the passage of time only increases the question marks on those three varieties of Rose Combed Orpingtons.  What a clash there would have been with the popular Wyandotte of the same colour if they had caught on.  Curiously  too, none of the specialist clubs deleted them from their Standards - in fact 100 years later , the Black Standard still lists the Rose Comb variety.

The lasting White Orpington was the single comb that first appeared in 1899. Their inventor Godfrey Shaw dubbed them "Albions" but Orpington enthusiasts claimed them as their own, since it resembled in most details an ideal White Orpington.  Sometime a White Orpington Club was formed, but no details are traceable.

The Diamond Jubilee Orpington owed its name to the date of its first public appearance - 1897 - the Diamond Jubilee year of Queen Victoria.  It obtained a certain vogue as a farmer's fowl with its red/chocolate ground colour and its black and white markings 'but the rise of a similar coloured  Sussex fowl sapped its popularity, the Variety Orpington Club adopted it in 1903 until the Jubilee Orpington Club was formed in 1908.

The Spangled Orpington was  introduced  in 1900.  It was possibly 1902 before it was first  shown, but until 1905 little was known of it and it was practically in the sole hands of the originators.  At the variety Club first show , held in conjunction with the Grand International at Sheffield in 1904, there were 14 entries in two classes all from the same source, while at the second show at Alexandra Palace in 1905, there were 13 entries but only one other than from William Cook and sons.

Of all the "off colour" Orpingtons, the Spangled with its green sheen and pure white spangles is the most striking, and it is regrettable that it has not enjoyed the popularity it deserves.

The Cuckoo Orpington made its debut at the Dairy Show of 1908 where 17 birds were staged.  The originator's was not so much an exhibition variety, but a dual purpose type meat and egg layer, very much along the lines of the present day Marans.  It did not however survive the first world war.

The Blue Orpington was slow to appear as the blue colour in poultry was not popular until 1910 onwards, it was not until the fine lacing and striking ground colour of the Andalusian was adopted that the charms of this variety really took hold of the fancy.  By 1912 in the show of the Cuckoo and Blue Orpington Club at Crystal  Palace, for the second time in succession, a Blue lifted the trophy for Best Orpington rather than Buff, thus beating the old established Blacks and Whites, as well as the Jubilees Spangled and Reds.  In the 1920's and 1930's Blues came strongly into their own.  With the Blue Orpington Clubs specialist promotion Club Shows, 80 plus entries were frequently obtained.

The Red Orpington variety was claimed by  W Holmes Hunt and appeared in 1910/1912. Early specimens were seen at the Crystal Palace in 1911 . A specialist breed club was formed in in 1912 , but it had two well established rivals to contend with , in the Red Sussex and the Rhode Island Red . Red Orpingtons were first seen at the 12th German National Show held at Nuremburg  in 1908.
The Cook family originated the Orpington ducks too , in Buff Blue and Chocolate variet5ties between 1900 and 1920 ,They were developed on the same sound duel purpose lines as the fowl . The Buff in particular has withstood the passage of time and is known throughout the world for its distinctive plumage colour .
Orpington bantams first appeared in 1900 with the Buff variety imported from Germany . They made little if any progress . John Burdett   bantamised the Black in 1929 and they had their first appearance at the 1936 Dairy Show . Next the White appeared in 1946 and was introduced to the Dairy Sow in 1950.The Blue bantam was first exhibited at Bradford in 1953.
Development of the bantam accelerated with the formation of the Orpington Bantam Club in 1950 . Classes from then on were guaranteed at the big shows , and by 1952 the bantam standard was accepted by the Poultry Club The Orpington Bantam Club also produced its first year book in 1952 as well as the first club show were all four colours were represented.
Following the decline of various Orpington Clubs , a move was made in 1975 to amalgamate the Large Fowl and Bantams under one administration called The Orpington Club After the very first club in 1897