|C. Lawton Evans
29th May 1935 - 11th January 2010
Some people may be classed as Gundog folk, others Huntsmen, whilst yet others as Terrier men. Whatever section of the dog world they represent they have their specific dogs to carry out their chosen sport and or occupation. Individually, however, these classifications do not reach far enough to describe, define or even encapsulate what Lawton Evans has been. It is only when you start to combine them that a more complete picture starts to emerge of a truly remarkable man whose life has been dominated by sporting dogs and the countryside. Lawton Evans has been a genuinely British Sporting Dog man. Whatever job he had, a dog was required for that work and its training, all self taught, would be of the highest order. That included spaniels, labradors, pointers, setters, hounds and terriers.
Lawton was born and brought up in a small Welsh village called Bwlch-y-Ffridd in mid-Wales in the county of Montgomeryshire. He was the second of four sons, the eldest of which survives him. He was educated in the local schools, but during these times education did not rate very high on his priority list. He was a country boy through and through and it was country pursuits that inspired the young Lawton. He would more often than not have a ferret tucked away in his pocket and spend countless hours hunting rabbits rather than pouring through his school books. Terriers were also on the scene during these formative years and they helped him form an alliance, understanding and love of dogs that stayed with him for the rest of his life. He also started to hunt with a local pack and this was the beginning of another life long association with hounds.
When the time came, he was called up for National Service and joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers that were stationed at Wrexham in North Wales. However, this arrangement with its rigid discipline did not particularly suit a country enthusiast like Lawton and he managed to eventually get a discharge with flat feet. As soon as he was discharged, he went into Hunt Service in Wales.
He was engaged with the Wyre Forest Beagles, the Wye Valley Otterhounds and then the Cotswold Foxhounds. During these years he also had many responsibilities with the hunt terriers. This experience was particularly invaluable in teaching Lawton how wild animals used the countryside and the way in which the hounds used whatever scent was available to them. He always maintained that any hunting dog, gundog or hound, must use the wind properly in order to locate its quarry and he took great delight in watching dogs work the wind in the proper fashion.
Lawton met Helen, his wife to be, in 1957 and they married in 1963. Following their wedding Lawton was employed by the Jed Forest and they moved to Scotland for the first time. Even at this time hunting was starting to come under political pressure and this made Lawton question it long-term viability, particularly for a young married couple that were starting out in life. So after a season he made the decision to change tack and become a gamekeeper. Although this move meant a temporary abandonment of his beloved hounds, he could still have an attachment with dogs and perhaps to a greater degree as gundogs were involved with all aspects of the keepering profession.
His first post was as a Gamekeeper with the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle and he soon set about training both labradors and spaniels for his work. He first trained a yellow labrador called Coppicewood Ben who was purchased in Scotland. Shortly afterwards he was introduced to Lady Hill-Wood who in turn introduced him to Field Trials. This sport pleased and inspired him as he could use his dogs for both work and trials. Ben ran in the Midland Counties Labrador Retriever Club in 1965 and was awarded second place in their Open Working Tests and then again in the Yellow Labrador Club trials where he was awarded a Certificate of Merit.
He also ran in several spaniel trials and very quickly his talent as a trainer and handler was recognised and in turn requests started to come for him to train dogs for clients. These requests were gladly accepted as the additional income for a young gamekeeper and his family was very welcome.
He stayed at Belvoir for about two years and then moved to the Marquis of Exeter at Burghley Estate at Stamford, Lincolnshire as an under-keeper. Whilst at Burghley he trained many labradors and spaniels and continued to run in trials. The “two year itch” came upon him again and he then moved to the Welby Estate near Grantham as an under-keeper and later became Head Keeper. He still continued training and running in trials.
During the mid 1960's to the mid 1970's he competed and was successful with Hungerton Andrew (Labrador), Coppicewood Hungerton Thunder (Labrador), Coppicewood Slip (Springer), Coppicewood Gay (Springer), Coppicewood Spring (Springer), Coppicewood Nigger (Labrador), Harston Rosy (Springer), Coppicewood Carla (Springer), Cleo of Coppicewood (Springer) and Sport of Roffey (Springer) to name but only a few. From 1969 to 1972 Coppicewood Carla swept all before her winning numerous awards throughout the country and in some of the most punishing cover, including a Championship.
He was also successful in winning the British AV Spaniel Championships on five occasions:
In 1970/71 with his own Ft Ch Coppicewood Carla
In 1971/72 with Hal Jackson's Ft Ch Robbie of Barnacre
In 1974/75 with D F Cock's Ft Ch Sport of Roffey
In 1975/76 with D F Cock's Ft Ch Sport of Roffey
In 1977/78 with D F Cock's Ft Ch Cleo of Coppicewood
In 1976/77 FTCh Sport of Roffey was second to FTCh Ashley Buster thereby just missing three in a row.
In 1975, after about two years at Burghley, he decided to move north to the Edradynate Estate in Perthshire as a single-handed keeper/stalker. He stayed at Edradynate for eight and a half years in what must be a record for Lawton.
The owner of Edradynate at that time was Major Gibson and he agreed that Lawton could hold spaniel trials on the estate, which were a great success. The estate also had grouse on their hill and this gave him the opportunity to try out a type of dog other than either a spaniel or labrador. So in his usual determined fashion Lawton set about training pointers and setters, again to his very high standard.
However, the lure of his beloved hounds became stronger than ever and Lawton soon grabbed an opportunity that arose to have a pack of his own. Farms and estates, particularly in the Perthshire area, were having trouble with foxes attacking livestock. So in 1977 Lawton created the Atholl and Breadalbane Fox Hounds. This was a foot pack whose expenses were funded by farmers and estates in the Perthshire area in return for hunting foxes on their ground. For the next six years Lawton went about his job as keeper/stalker in conjunction with his fox control project.
Edradynate was sold in 1983 and this provided Lawton with another major decision point in his life. He quickly made up his mind and moved the family a short distance to Logierait (just off the A9 at Ballinluig) and set himself up as a self employed fox controller. During the initial years, the fox control dominated his available time as he was hunting three and four days a week and there were no hunt staff to do all the other chores like cleaning kennels and skinning fallen stock that was fed to the hounds. Therefore, only a limited amount of gundog training and field trials took place during this period. However, as time progressed he managed to train some dogs for himself and one or two for clients. During the 1990's he continued to run in trials although not as regularly as in the past, although he did qualify for the Spaniel Championship.
In 2001 he 'retired' and that event marked the end of his beloved hounds. This did not mean that he would be without a dog, far from it as it marked the period when gundog training really took off and once again gundogs became his life.
The very last dog he trained for a client, Declan O'Rourke in Ireland, was a red Irish Setter called Lusca Happy Chappy. In the 2008/9 season this dog won five open stakes in a row in Ireland. The first was in the south under the Irish Kennel Club rules and the other four were in the north under British Kennel Club rules. This is the first occasion that the same dog has won all open stakes in Ireland in the same year. Happy Chappy was bred by Declan as was his sire Speedy Boy of Ardoon who was owned by the late Will Sloan. Declan remembers Lawton as “...a great man who always put polish on his dogs”.
In 2002 he had a hip replacement that really annoyed him as it restricted his mobility and hence the things that he really liked doing. However, Lawton set about the problem with his usual determination and after the operation he dedicated himself to his daily exercises. Although moderate walking was beneficial, hill walking was a definite “must not do”. The operation was in the February and he was out on the hills with his pointers and setters in the early August. Lawton would never let a “must not do” curtail the activities he loved so much. He knew the hills like the back of his hand and when entering new ground he would have it all worked out in next to no time. One of his delights was to know the location of every fresh water spring and burn that ran off it, for it was this pure water that was so valuable to mix with his dram of an evening. When we were driving down from the hill he would stop his vehicle, get out his flask, wash it out in the burn and then fill it with the crystal clear water.
Lawton was a great and enthusiastic gardener and he set about creating excellent gardens wherever he worked. He spent many hours in the garden and his greenhouse where he puffed away on his pipe. His pipe was his companion and it accompanied him wherever he was and in whatever he was doing. As in all things that he did, his garden had to be of a high order and he knew all the plants and shrubs by their Latin name.
He also had a great passion for poultry, both chickens and bantams and he would travel far and wide to purchase the birds he required. It was in his garden or with his poultry where he relaxed as he was not a man to sit in front of the television. He considered the TV a complete waste of time, except for watching a rugby match now and then which he enjoyed.
Whatever he did, he did it with determination and a belief that it should be done to the highest standard possible. To assist him reach and maintain these standards he set himself rules and if those rules involved his dogs then they in turn must also obey them. However, rules were also created for his clients and a fine example were the rules he applied to the guns when shooting grouse over pointers and setters. For example, when the dogs came on point, only two of the four guns were allowed to shoot. No shots were to be fired over the dog and no gun was to stand closer than about 20 metres from either dog. These rules were designed for the protection of his beloved dogs and goodness help any gun that transgressed them. He would issue a 'yellow card' without hesitation and a 'red card' would follow for persistent transgression.
His determination was also supported by his very strong views and a belief that there should be a strict order in all aspects of what he did. It has been written elsewhere about his views on spaniel breeding for example, but a precise is worthy of mention: -
“........Today there is little or no true line breeding being carried out in the way it was in the past in kennels such as the O'Varas, and we must be careful not to lose good hunting dogs, which is what the spaniel has been designed for in the first place. The majority of spaniels that are bred today are really out-cross to out-cross, where bitches are taken to popular sires irrespective of their breeding. In my view, line breeding is the only way to retain the attributes you want. Hounds are still line bred and to a much closer degree than has been generally carried out with spaniels. With my own hounds, I keep the whole litter and run them on to find the best and, after many years of line breeding them, I can spot certain characteristics coming through the different generations. I have hounds today that stand in a certain spot and in a certain way, whilst awaiting my command to get their food, that is identical to their ancestors of four or five generations before them”.
At this time our thoughts go out to his wife Helen, his three daughters Ruth, Frances and Gillian and their families.