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The Creation of the Orpington Fowl


To William Cook is the credit given for creating the Orpington Fowl. Born in Huntington (England), he went to work as a coachman at the age of 14 .  He developed an interest in poultry keeping, heightened when he moved to the town of Orpington in the County of Kent, from where he experimented by crossing several breeds with the aim of making a true all- purpose fowl.

At that time, (the late Nineteenth Century), the trade in poultry was about to

reach it’s zenith, with a huge public demand for table birds, and also for breeds which could produce good quantities of the brown eggs that had come into vogue.
Mr Cook’s initial matings were Black Minorca males crossed with black sports from the fashionable
Barred Plymouth Rocks. The females from this union were then bred to clean- legged Black
Langshans, more than likely the Croad variety which was making it’s mark in England at that time.

The progeny of the Langshan cross were then bred together, striving for a more plump build, shorter legs and a rich, “ beetle- green” sheen on the plumage. He named the breed after his home town of Orpington, and Cook was on his way. He knew that his breed could compare favourably with any other of the time, so William Cook set out to promote his “ masterpiece” to the poultry world at large. 

Forever the innovator, Cook was so successful in doing so, that he became the foremost of the great poultry pioneers. He used every available means to promote the Black Orpington, resulting in a huge demand for them, not only in Britain, but in many Countries throughout the world. Indeed, some of the Cook Black Orpingtons had arrived in Australia before 1900. (See Illustration left)

However, in England, other moves were afoot. In 1891, Mr Joseph Partington introduced his version of the Black Orpington and met with great acclaim from the poultry Fancy in particular. They were huge birds, with a great deal more fluffy plumage, and avowedly produced by crossing to the Black Cochin fowl.

Whatever their lineage, these “Partington” Blacks became very fashionable, to such an extent that they bore little resemblance to the original Cook creation. The “Cook- Type” Black Orpington became the forerunner of the useful modern- day Australorp, whilst the “ Partington- Type” gradually developed into a show fowl par excellence, but with severelydiminished utility qualities.

Not to be outdone, William Cook continued his rise to the very top echelon of the poultry world, and during the 1890’s, produced in similar ways, the White Orpington and the Buff Orpington, both without a trace of the original Black Orpington blood.  Naming these new varieties “Orpingtons” created a huge controversy, but Cook managed to rise above the furore, and eventually, the beautiful Buff Orpington became one of the best known, and most popular breeds in the world.

William Cook passed on in 1904, but not before he managed to get his family involved in the poultry empire that he had so painstakingly created from very modest beginnings. The Blue Orpington was said to have been made from Orpingtons exclusively, but it is reasonable to suggest that there could have been a little Blue Cochin or Andalusian blood somewhere in the mix to establish the beautiful blue lacing.

Cuckoo Orpingtons followed, probably with some Plymouth Rock influence. The tri- coloured Jubilee Orpington was another Cook development, and named after Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The Spangled variety came as an off- shoot from the Jubilees, but neither attracted much support. A number of other varieties were produced during the early 1900’s, e.g Partridge & Reds, but they too vanished eventually, probably because of their similarity to other popular breeds of the time.

The Orpington Bantam  originated in England as well, some time around the late 1920’s. They were produced by crossing small versions of the large fowl, with suitable existing bantam breeds, most probably Pekins and Wyandottes. In more recent times there has been a huge increase in the number of new varieties produced under the Orpington name, both in Large Fowl and Bantam. These are mainly the work of the clever breeders  from Western Europe, and some of the new colours are now appearing in Britain, the birthplace of the Breed.

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