Staffordshire dog figurine

Staffordshire spaniels. (Not a matching pair as a correct pair would face in opposite directions.)

Staffordshire dog figurines are matching pairs of pottery spaniel dogs, standing guard, which were habitually placed on mantelpieces in 19th century homes where they could be admired. Mainly manufactured at the Staffordshire Potteries, these earthenware figures were also made in other English counties and in Scotland. They are also known as hearth spaniels or fireplace dogs as they were positioned on top of the mantelpiece.[1][2][3] Many other breeds were produced, particularly the greyhound, though the spaniels were especially popular and this is attributed to royalty favouring the King Charles Spaniel breed. In Scotland, they were colloquially termed Wally dugs[Note 1][4] and were manufactured in bulk at potteries in places such as Pollokshaws in Glasgow and Portobello near Edinburgh.[8][9]

Dog figurines

Dog figurines on the mantelpiece

The spaniels were seated in pairs, decorated with a gold chain and locket, and with a creamy white base coat.[10] The Staffordshire spaniel was the quintessential Victorian bourgeois status-symbol ornament: no mantelpiece was complete without a pair of spaniels standing guard. Staffordshire dogs were also placed on the window sill. Staffordshire dogs are nowadays collectors’ items.[11] Since the 1720s, spaniels had been produced by pottery factories in Staffordshire. The quality of the modeling and painting of the Staffordshire dogs may differ.[12] As the popularity of the figurines increased towards the end of the 19th century, the quality began to decline.[2] Thousands were manufactured but originals in good condition and in their correct pairs are now uncommon. The figures continued to be made until the 1920s and early models are of the better quality. However, reproductions were still being manufactured in 2009.[13]

The spaniels come in sizes from a little over a foot to a few inches high. They were all decorated by hand, that is why all the figurines are different.[11] The Staffordshire mantel dog’s expression can be soft or fierce, deplorable or self-satisfied, inquisitive or pleased. The base coat is layered over with polka dots or brushed patches of rust, copper luster, or black. Disraeli spaniels feature painted curls on their foreheads; Jackson spaniels are entirely black. Some have glass eyes, some painted. The most frequent model features front legs moulded to the body; rarer models have one or two distinct front legs. A rare group of spaniel figurines do have utilitarian purposes: they masquerade as spill vases, ring holders, banks, and pitchers.

Children as young as seven or eight years were paid two shillings a week to paint the gold chains often included on the spaniels in the 1800s.[14]

King Charles Spaniel

Dash (left) with Lory (parrot), Nero (greyhound) and Hector (Scottish deerhound), by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1838

The Staffordshire spaniel is tied to the history of the King Charles Spaniel. These spaniels became great favourites of the British monarchs. King Charles I (1600-1649) had a spaniel as a young boy. Owing to Queen Victoria’s spaniel Dash, however, the spaniel model enjoyed a siege of popularity in the 1840s which lasted through her reign.[13] Not all dog models were based solely on the spaniel. You can also find other Staffordshire dog breeds, such as pugs, afghans, greyhounds, collies, poodles, and Dalmatians.[15][16]

Common names

Victoria with her spaniel Dash, 1833
Painting by George Hayter

"Wally dugs" have been mentioned in Scottish poetry, including "The Queen of Sheba" by Kathleen Jamie[7][17] and in a poem describing life in a Glasgow tenement.[18]

There is a popular Scottish poem by an unknown author dedicated to "The Wally Dug". It reads:[19][20][Note 2]

I aye mind o' that wee hoose that stood on the brae,
Its lum was aye reekin', its roof made o' stray.
The ootside was bonny, the inside was snug,
But whit I mind best o' was the wee wally dug.
It stood in a corner, high up on the shelf,
And keepit an ee on the best o' the delf.
It was washed twice a year, frae its tail tae its lug,
And pit back on the shelf, was the wee wally dug.
When oor John got mairrit tae sweet Jeannie Blue,
The auld folks they gied him a horse an' a coo,
But when I left the hoose, ma hert gied a tug,
For a' mither gied me was the wee wally dug.
There's an auld saying, 'Ne'er look a gift horse in the moo',
But I looked that wee dug frae its tail tae its broo'
An' a fun' a wee slit at the back o' its lug,
It was stuffed fu' o' notes, was the wee wally dug.
I tain it hame tae oor Lizzle tae pit on a shelf,
An' I telt her the worth o' that wee bit o' delf.
An' we aye feed it yet through that hole in its lug,
It's a guid bit o' stuff, is the wee wally dug.

The figures are also referred to as “comforters”; this is reputed to be because they could be bought outside of premises selling alcohol by husbands hoping to gain “comfort rather than conflict” from their wives.[1]

Staffordshire dogs were described by writer Teleri Lloyd-Jones as "ornamental clichés" and depictions of the dogs have been incorporated in designs on bags and cushions.[21]

Enid Marx’s still life painting "Still life with Staffordshire Dog and tulips" was motivated by her white Staffordshire Wally Dug. Various examples of staffordshire dog figurines were included in the Marx-Lambert collection, which was put on display at Compton Verney House in 2004.[4][22]

Victorian fairy tale

There are various tales said to portray the usefulness of placing the Staffordshire spaniel figurines on window sills. One story is that a woman could place the ornaments in her front window; if the spaniels were turned back to back, it meant her husband was at home. If he was away or at sea, the dogs would be placed facing each other. When her lover passed the house, he would then know by the way the dogs were facing, whether it was safe for him to visit her without her husband knowing.[23] This story is also re-capped in the Baltic.[24]


  1. Wally dugs, Wally dogs or Wallee dogs are all used, the spelling being variable.[4][5][6][7]
  2. The meanings of some of the less common dialect words are: aye-always; brae-hill; lum-chimney; reekin'-smoking; stray-straw; ee-eye; lug-ear; delf-earthenware; gied-gave; moo'-mouth; broo'-brow; fun'-found.


  1. 1 2 Sewell, John (23 July 2005). "His pottery poodles are prized pair". Toronto Star, Ontario.
  2. 1 2 Judith Miller (1 May 2008). Decorative Arts: Style and Design from Classical to Contemporary. Dorling Kindersley Limited. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-4053-3622-2. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  3. A. Harding; Nicholas Harding (2006). Victorian Staffordshire Dogs. Schiffer Publishing, Limited. ISBN 978-0-7643-2456-7. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 "Marx-Lambert collection". Compton Verney. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  5. "Waly dugs". Reverso. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  6. "Andrew Nicholls". Turner Galleries. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  7. 1 2 Gordon F. Liddell; Anne Gifford (2001). New Scottish poetry. Heinemann. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-435-15098-3. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  8. "Pollokshaws or Pollockshaws". Pollockshaws Heritage Group. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  9. Howard, John. "Victorian Staffordshire figures". Antique Pottery Co. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  10. Clive M. Pope (1990). A-Z of Staffordshire Dogs: A Potted History. Antique Collectors Club Limited. ISBN 978-1-85149-258-9. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  11. 1 2 Mcclafferty, Jane. "Staffordshire dogs". Antiques Council. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  12. Adele Kenny (1997). Staffordshire Spaniels: A Collector's Guide to History, Styles, and Values. Schiffer Publishing, Limited. ISBN 978-0-7643-0216-9. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  13. 1 2 "Wally dugs". Western Mail, Cardiff. 24 October 2009. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  14. Carr, Winifred (1 May 1996). "Old pottery makes fine figures". The Independent, London.
  15. Graham McLaren (January 2002). Studio Glass 1960-2000. Osprey Publishing. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-7478-0527-4. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  16. Ian Zaczek (August 2006). Dogs: Facts, Figures & Fun. AAPPL. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-904332-50-3. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  17. Jane Dowson; Alice Entwistle (19 May 2005). A History of Twentieth-Century British Women's Poetry. Cambridge University Press. pp. 224–. ISBN 978-0-521-81946-6. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  18. McNeill, Eileen. "Windows in the west" (PDF). Glasgow Life. p. 18. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  19. Anonymous. "The Wally Dug". Rampant Scotland. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  20. "Masterton Primary". Fife Council. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  21. Solicari, Sonia. "From cottage to Kitsch: the enduring appeal of the Staffordshire figure" (PDF). Charleston. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  22. Eve, Matthew (November 2004). "Full Marx". The World of Interiors: 146.
  23. "Glamorgan-L archives". RootsWeb. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  24. Heimann, Andreas. "Whale-watching on Funen, kayak tours in Baltic Sea". M & C. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
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