To many people the ‘Durham Ox’ is simply the name of pubs up and down the country. But where did the Ox come from and why was it so important?
The Durham Ox was a Shorthorn bred here, in the Bright Water area, in 1796 by Charles Colling of Ketton Hall who was a one time pupil of the great Robert Bakewell, the famous breeder of Longhorn cattle. Charles, together with his brother Robert, who farmed nearby at Barmpton, played a key part in the Agricultural Revolution due to their innovations in stockbreeding.
The Durham Ox was famous for its massive size with contemporary estimates ranging between 171-270 stone (or over 1700kg)! Such was the interest in this beast that a special cart, drawn by 4 horses was built so that he could be shown all over the country. In just one day in London, admission charges to see him amounted to the staggering sum of £97 – a vast sum at a time when the average weekly wage of a farm labourer was 9/- (45p). Thousands of prints were sold of this handsome beast and his portrait was even used to sell a range of pottery! Sadly, five years into this show business career, the ox injured a hip getting out of his vehicle and had to be slaughtered. Not, however, before dozens of the Inns at which he had stopped on his journey had changed their original names to that of the “Durham Ox” in honour of his visit. The Durham Ox was then followed by another famous bull named “Comet” which,in 1810, was sold by Charles Colling for the then record breaking sum of 1,000 guineas. Animals bred by these brothers and by other local farmers went on to be exported all over the world. In the second edition [18xx] of Stephen’s landmark “Book of the Farm” the editor had this to say: “It is acknowledged by all that the Shorthorn has abundantly earned the right to the premier position amongst British breeds of cattle. It is by far the most numerous, as it is the most widely diffused. More wealth is bound up in it than in any other variety of bovine race. In the development of the livestock industry of the United Kingdom it has played a great part, far exceeding that of any other distinct class of animals. And the breed has done more than develop wealth at home. It has gone in vast numbers to foreign countries, bringing in exchange foreign gold to British farmers, and creating wealth, and promoting agricultural prosperity wherever it has been given a habitation…” “…This breed was probably in more or less complete possession of Durham and North Yorkshire for two or three hundred years before it began to attract the attention of outsiders..” And it wasn’t just the Collings brothers from our area who did so much – “Among Shorthorn improvers of the earlier part of the eighteenth century, high positions must be given to …Waistell of Great Burdon; John Hunter of Hurworth – breeder of the remarkable bull “Hubback”; Stephenson of Ketton…These men…prepared admirable materials for the great breeders, the brothers Charles Colling of Ketton (1750-1836) and Robert Colling of Barmpton (1749-1820)…” He went on to summarise: “Looking back, it is practically impossible for any student of Shorthorn affairs to over-estimate the importance of the work done by the brothers Colling.”