THE HISTORY OF THE ORPINGTON
William Cook was born in 1849 in St Neots in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England but not coming from a poultry background it was not until his teenage years that his interest in poultry began.
By the age of 20 he had moved to Orpington in Kent in southern England with his wife Jane. This is where the story of the Orpington breed truly begins. William Cook was a pioneer of his time and created from scratch one of the only breeds of poultry that has a recorded history of development.
You could say William Cook created a brand rather than a poultry breed, a brand that has lasted over 100 years, the word Orpington is known all over the globe and is better known than the small town in Kent that he named it after.
William Cook’s creation “ The Orpington “ grew in 1886 under the trading name WILLIAM COOK & SONS until by the early 1900’ it was a global business that spread to having breeding farms in both South Africa and America.
The Black Orpington was the first to be introduced by William Cook at the London Dairy Show in 1886
and then the following year in 1887 the Black Orpington took part in the first ever winter laying trials.
This launched Cook’s new creation and produced a huge demand as the Orpington proved to be an excellent all year egg layer as well as being a good table bird, deep bodied, producing quality white breast meat. But it was the promotion, marketing and vision of William Cook that took the Orpington forward into the history books.
It was just three years later in 1889 that William Cook then introduced the White Orpington.
Cooks poultry business was now in full flow. The family moved to bigger premises in St Mary Cray in Orpington and renamed the dwelling Orpington House. Cook now had an office in London as well as a poultry hospital at Orpington House where students could come as his pupils. He sold everything poultry related from medicines to feed, he travelled giving lectures and was the editor of The Poultry Journal.
The Orpington was now an established breed type and to full fill the demand of the day for Buff coloured birds Cook had created The Buff Orpington, this variety appeared in 1894 closely followed in 1897 by The Diamond Jubilee Orpington.
A pen of these beautiful birds was gifted to the reigning Queen Victoria and this was the start of the Orpington’s close association with the British monarchy.
William Cook died in 1904 but his poultry empire continued in the capable hands of his eldest daughter Elizabeth Jane who had taken over the helm at Orpington House. 1900 saw the introduction of The Spangle Orpington followed by The Cuckoo in 1907 and The Blue in 1910.
The Red was the first imitation of Cook’s creation and was developed by Mr W Holmes Hunt in 1911. As well as poultry the Orpington brand had spread to ducks and these had been created in Buff, Blue, Black and Chocolate.
Elizabeth Jane died in 1933 and this saw the end of William Cook and Sons but not the end of the Orpington story.
The interest and fascination for this truly beautiful bird continues today stronger than ever. Orpington’s are kept worldwide and have a loyal dedicated following that hopefully will see the breed develop and flourish for the next 100 years.
It is my humble opinion that the Orpington legacy that William Cook left us is not owned by any individual breeder or society but The Orpington is here for all of us to enjoy and cherish. Knowledge is power, bloodlines should be shared, nurtured and developed, debate on type and colour encouraged. New enthusiasts welcomed and dedicated breeders admired.