Liver & white Springer Spaniel
The Norfolk Spaniel was believed to have come about from a cross of spaniels with the Black and Tan Terrier, which was cultivated by an unspecified Duke of Norfolk. However, later historians disagree with this theory, saying that the Duke of Norfolk's spaniels were of the King Charles type and that terrier stock had nothing to do with the origins of the Norfolk Spaniel. The theory of the Duke of Norfolk-based origins of the Norfolk Spaniel was thought disproved by the investigation of James Farrow, a 19th-century spaniel breeder, who wrote to Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk in order to find out the truth about the origins of the breed. The Duke responded, denying any connection to the breed, although he did state that his grandfather, Henry Howard, 13th Duke of Norfolk, owned Sussex Spaniels. The letter from the Duke was printed in The Kennel Gazette in 1899. An alternative origin was proposed by Rawdon Briggs Lee in volume two of his 1897 work A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland. Lee argued that the Norfolk Spaniel was descended from a crossing of a curly-coated water spaniel and a Sussex Spaniel or another strain of land spaniel.
In the 18th century, spaniels were split into three categories: land spaniels, water spaniels and toy spaniels. The land spaniels were split into two further types, the cocker spaniel and the springer spaniel. It was within the springer spaniel type that the Norfolk Spaniel was placed, along with the Sussex Spaniel and the Clumber Spaniel. By the 1860s, the breed was described as the "commonest breed in England", but with a description that varies so much that the only standard point is that they averaged 16 inches (41 cm) in height at the withers.An English Springer Spaniel, from 1903
The Spaniel Club was formed in 1885, and issued a breed standard for the Norfolk Spaniel, recognising it as a variety of spaniel. However, the general public saw it only as a generic land spaniel. By the 1890s, the breed had become common throughout the counties of England, leading dog writers such as Rawdon Briggs Lee to question the authenticity of its origins, or that the various liver and white spaniels from around England constituted a single breed; "Personally, I do not consider the liver and white spaniel any particular variety at all, nor do I believe that it has ever been indigenous to Norfolk." He states that similar dogs exist in Devonshire that do not trace ancestry to Norfolk, and that liver and white spaniels pre-date the breeding of the Black and Tan Terrier with an ordinary spaniel. F.H.F. Mercer described the breed in 1890 as being "virtually extinct in its purity", with its liver and white colours running through any numbers of miscellaneous spaniels, and he too discredits the origins involving the Duke of Norfolk.
The Kennel Club (UK) designated all medium legged spaniels which were not Clumber nor Sussex Spaniels as English Springer Spaniels in 1902. The Norfolk Spaniel was included under this designation, with the term "Norfolk Spaniel" considered for use to cover these types of spaniels, but ultimately rejected as the Club believed that the breed was always liver and white in colour. The change in terminology was not smooth or immediate, with James Watson in his 1905 work, The Dog Book, still referring to the Norfolk Spaniel as a breed name. In the modern era, the Norfolk Spaniel is thought to be the previous name for the English Springer Spaniel, prior to recognition by The Kennel Club (UK).
The Norfolk Spaniel would typically be unhappy when they were separated from their owners, as they formed a strong attachment. Compared to the springer spaniels of the 19th century, they were more ill-tempered, and could be headstrong and wilful if not successfully broken. Some members of the breed could be noisy, and were described as "babbling" and making noise on the hunt in a similar fashion to hounds, while others were far quieter.