Marsh Daisy History
The Marsh Daisy originated as a strain developed by a Mr Wright from Lancashire in the late 1800’s. The basis for the strain was the very productive White Leghorn which had been imported to this country mainly from America though its origins were in Italy. White Leghorn hens were mated to a Black Hamburg male which produced white rose combed stock. Later infusions of Game and Malay resulted in a strain of hardy and productive poultry. Mr Wright maintained these as a closed flock for thirty years and his stock came in three colours, Partridge, Wheaten and White.
In 1913 Charles Moore bought two of the last of Mr Wright’s hens and mated them to a Pit Game Cock. A male from this mating was mated back to the original hens. Lastly a Sicilian Buttercup was used which introduced green legs. Buffs, Wheatens and Whites were the original colours produced by Mr Moore. Blacks and Browns were produced later.
Others started to breed them; they were first exhibited in 1920 and a Marsh Daisy Club was formed in 1921 at which time there were around 200 known flocks. A breed standard was recognised by the PCGB in 1922.
The original five colours of the Marsh Daisy are still recognised: Black, Brown, Buff, Wheaten and White. It has been suggested that the standardisation had been ‘rather premature’, for the Browns in particular but that seems to be because of the misunderstanding of the basis of the two colours wheaten and brown.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s the Marsh Daisy was regarded as very productive, laying sometimes in excess of 200 large eggs p.a. verified by the laying trials of the day.
This was a critical time in the breed’s history. Former RPS President, the late Ralph White, was responsible for finding the remnant stock of Marsh Daisies in Somerset, an area that had many Marsh Daisy flocks before the Second World War. The actual circumstances of how Ralph White obtained the birds are not known but he certainly had them in 1971 and they were immediately recognisable as Marsh Daisies. Contrary to popular belief, not all the stock went to the late Andrew Sheppy at Cobthorn though some did. The stock was a mixture of Browns, Buffs and ‘more or less’ Wheatens plus a black hen. Whites were not around then and seemingly extinct.
By the unpredictable colour of the offspring, it was pretty clear that the colours had either been substantially interbred in the recent past or had never been properly ’fixed’ originally.
Some of the Buffs of the period were similar in shade to the Buff Plymouth Rock, though they often had bronze tails.
Other known flocks around at the time were with Tom Green at Ingatestone, Essex; some were with ‘the aristocracy’ notably Lady Sarah Graham-Moon in Somerset and Le Compte di Medici in Cambridge. Barry Davis who lived in Cheshire was a regular and successful breeder and exhibitor of the time.
The five colours are still in existence, though a small number of Blacks appear to be confined to one/two flock. The Whites, once thought to be extinct have been recreated in recent years from the other colours carrying recessive white. Buffs, are in very low numbers and again have been recreated from Wheatens. Breeders are striving now for the even shade of buff expected as can be seen in other breeds such as the Orpington. However, the Standard requires a ‘golden buff throughout and down to the skin’. The Wheatens are probably numerically the strongest and while some appear to approach the Standard there is a variety in the shade of Wheatens produced. There is also a variation in the colour of the Browns and many occur which appear to be a combination of Wheaten and Brown. They have paler brown colouring and a wheaten breast instead of the salmon breast colour required in a Brown. Some appear to be too dark carrying the Mahogany gene.
There are some very experienced breeders who have kept and shown Marsh Daisies for around 20 years but it is thought that the majority are less experienced. It is possible that some of today’s stock could be reliably traced back to the five breeders mentioned who bred stock in the 1970’s.
The required rose comb and leader, white ear lobes and willow green legs make for very attractive and unusual birds which are worth preserving.
References: Rare Poultry Breeds, David Scrivener. Marsh Daisy Poultry, Joseph Batty. Special thanks to the late Andrew Sheppy for searching his records and providing the information on the not well documented period, the 1970’s. Thanks also to the late Dave Scrivener.
The Marsh Daisy Breeders group is a part of the Rare Poultry Society.