Peter and Shirley Johnson - Downstream

- by Ingemar Borelius

Peter Johnson

Many British breeders gave strong support to Sweden when the breed was successfully established starting in 1962. First class Flatcoats, pups and adult ones, were continuously sent here and many British breeders visited Sweden running training classes or judging shows or Field Trials or just gave advice. But no one could match the enthusiastic, generous and most valuable support given by Peter and Shirley Johnson (Downstream). Being invited at first by Mrs Brit-Marie Brulin of the Puhs (Labrador/Flatcoat) kennel, a strong companionship was established with Mrs Gunnel Wahlström (Gunhills) and Stig and Kerstin Olsson (Hovhills) giving valuable support for two of the most important kennels in the Nordics.

I’m sure Shirley must have been here numerous times judging Flatcoats with enthusiasm and advising the new breeders with her gentle voice. But Peter played a specific role running training classes around Sweden, writing continuous and very initiated articles on retriever training in the Club newsletter and I’m sure he was a popular judge at numerous occasions.

A Historical picture showing

Although the cousins Black Penny of Yarlaw (Woodlark x Pewcroft Prop of Yarlaw b. 1962) and Downstream Hestia (Winkswood x Downstream Pax b.1963) share the role as ancestors of the Swedish Flatcoat, jointly with Blakeholme Jamie (b.1964), Downstream Hestia and her descendants became more of a backbone for the Swedish (working) Flatcoat. Her first litter producing Puhs Hestia and P. Hercules (by Blakeholme Jamie) had an enormous impact on the early Flatcoats generating show winners and Field Trial winners with the three very first dual champions Puhs Frigga (Ryshot Copper Fire x Puhs Hestia), owned by Ann Edman Strander, our own Tittie (Puhs Herakles x Apports Penicuik) and Twinkle Forest Friend (Jupiter of Chadwell x Puhs Hestia), owned by Stig and Kerstin Olsson, in the forefront.

One of the first great top winning workers over here, Hovhills Gradely Lass, sired by Apports Mac Fraser (Blakeholme Jamie x Black Penny of Yarlaw), was out of a daughter of Puhs Fenja (R. Copper Fire x Puhs Hestia), conquering the Retriever Championship in 1980 and 1982. 

Puhs Hera (Bl. Jamie x D. Hestia) and Puhs Evoe (R. Copper Fire x D. Hestia), imported by the Kankkunens “I Vassen” kennel, established the breed in Finland and became the backbone of the strongest working line over there from the Taka-Tapiolan kennel. Puhs Dam af Fjolner (R. Copper Fire x Puhs Hestia), played a similar role in Denmark, being the ancestor of the major Danish working line jointly with Black Bird of Yarlaw (the sister of Black Penny), with daughter Assia and granddaughter Riis Jigger. The latter was mated to a son of Puhs Dam af Fjolner producing Jiggers Albert establishing a working line dominating the Danish Field Trial scene ever since.

Downstream Ambleside Jill retrieving to Peter Johnson

Downstream Ambleside Jill (Woodway x Charlotte of Roysia) was imported by Mrs Gunnel Wahlströms Gunhills kennel in whelp to Tonggreen Sparrow Boy in 1973. A son of theirs produced Gunhills Cheiron (Gunhills Gust Guy x Puhs Freja) winning the Swedish Retriever Championship in 1983. Half-brother O’Flanagan Free-as-Air (Gunhills Gus Guy x Halstock Romany) was the Championship winner in 1981 in addition to his unbeaten number of wins at regular Any Variety Cold Game Trials. Gunhills Cheiron sired the “Whisky- litter” for the Hovhills kennel, with another strong line back to Downstream Hestia on the dam’s side, probably being unbeaten in working Flatcoat circles with five siblings winning high prices in elite class.

Shirley Johnson with Gunnel Wahlström and Puhs Freja

It must be said that the Downstream Flatcoats had a longer-term impact on the working lines over here. Being mainly built on Colin Wells “W” lines, and later combined with further “W/Woodland” imports, the descendants of these Downstream dogs have dominated the working lines until today.

It’s notable as well that the legendary Almanza Larry O’Grady (b. 1985), the first Flatcoat ever to win the prestigious Best in Show title at the Stockholm International dog show, and the main ancestor for the Almanza Flatcoats, had a pedigree that was strongly dominated by the Downstream line, with Downstream Hestia, Downstream Ambleside Jill and Downstream Little Locket appearing repeatedly close behind.

Larry was quite heavily used at stud but that doesn’t impair the fact that eight of his offspring had prices in elite class of which three were Dual Champions. The “W”/Downstream line has strongly dominated the Swedish Flatcoat and not the least the major working lines. This is most probably one of the reasons why the dual-purpose ideal has survived in this area, much longer than in other parts of the world. 

As it seems the gamekeeper bred “W”/Downstream dogs have been very suitable for the working conditions in the Nordics. To direct a dog for a wounded duck 70 – 100 meters over a Nordic lake, with huge areas of heavy reed, or to keep a dog going during a long shooting day, in the heavy woods and “reeded” lakes over here, requires a persevering dog with biddability and lots of courage.        

In an interview for the Swedish Flatcoated Retriever Club newsletter (Charmören) 1982 Peter tells about his Downstream Flatcoats:  

“The Downstream prefix was established by Shirley in 1960 when she had her very first Flatcoat litter. She got the idea from a little stream close to her home, pouring through a mountain area called “the Downs”. When we married a few years later we had our first common litter sired by my own dog Winkswood (Workman x Claverdon Tawny Pippit) out of Downstream Pax (Woodlark x Fenrivers Erica) from Shirley’s first litter. Thus, Downstream Hestia was born, the bitch who helped us to establish a long-term relationship with Sweden.

Shirley Johnson at Shardelows farm

Winkswood was mated as well to Wish (Woodlark x Blakeholme Juno) producing Downstream Medea in her turn being the dam of Downstream Charm of Roysia. She was a charming bitch and a wonderful worker, being calm and steady with a strong will to please. She won many Field Trial prices and she was a reliable shooting dog. Charm was mated to Woodway producing Downstream Robina beating 23 Labradors at a Field Trial and winning many other prices. Now there is a good option for us to breed back to Charm and Robina to get biddable dogs with a strong will to please, probably the most important competence when training a dog for competition in any country.

We had Woodway as well from Colin Wells. At that time, we tried to breed dogs for shows as well as work. As a matter of fact, we didn’t do it well in any of these fields so we decided to concentrate on the shooting side. My dogs have to work five to six days a week during the shooting season so the working capabilities must be priority one. But we hoped that Woodway could produce dogs with a decent conformation as well. When he was used at stud we took a bitch pup from each litter, giving me a selection of pups to choose from and we kept four bitches that helped me to build up a reputation for producing good workers.  


Woodway was mated to Charlotte of Roysia producing D. Ambleside Jill. She was later sold to Mrs Gunnel Wahlström in Sweden in whelp to Tonggreen Sparrow Boy. Woodway and Fenrivers Kerria produced D. Victoria, later being mated to Downstream Perry, a son of D. Robina. Two of her offspring was sold to Sweden. I kept Nodnetter Lametta after Woodway and Downstream Lamia producing D. Little Locket, being the most handsome bitch in that litter. She was also sold to Gunnel Wahlström. I have already mentioned the litter by Woodway and Charm producing D. Robina.

Woodway was a very, very fast dog and he was a very determined dog but most of all there was this invisible thread between him and me. He died unfortunately at six years of age and it took a very long time for us to accept that loss. He gave an immense drive to his descendants and we had a great kindness from Charm and these two have had a stronger impact on our breeding than any other dogs.

Peter training a dog

Kindness is of crucial importance in a Flatcoat. It has to be calm and steady. An overexcited or aggressive dog is of no use at competition. When I’m rearing a litter, I’m watching carefully to see if there is a sign of bad temper in any pup. I don’t want to own a dog with a bad temper and I won’t sell it either.

When I train or shot over my dogs, I use to take three to four at the same time and all being loose. I require a strict control and steadiness before my training starts. I’m always the leader of the pack.

Peter Johnson with one of his working Springer Spaniels

We own a few working Springer Spaniels as well and one of those, Tara, is almost beating the Flatcoats. We’ve got Jack Russels which are the “Devils dogs”, Labradors and Irish Water Spaniels. We try to keep the insight that there are many other breeds that are as good as or even better than the Flatcoat. Kennel blindness is a danger when you start to believe that your own dogs are the only good ones. You shouldn’t look back too much, it’s about this year or the following when you make your plans. When it comes to the current Downstream dogs; Read Flowers Downstream Nimble has got a reputation of being a first-class worker. Downstream Perry and Gretal are very useful dogs as well.

We have made up a few (Show) Champions over the years, I can’t remember how many, and it’s by sheer luck and nothing planned. We’ve bred more than 30 dogs having prices from Field Trials, Working Test and Obedience competition as well, but that’s planned and not by luck. Of the latter dogs, I’m sure that the descendants of Fenriver Nuphar and Downstream Kerry, bringing in some Claverdon blood, are the most interesting ones. I have brought in some Collyers blood going back to Woodway as well and those dogs will probably have all the drive and determination anyone could wish for.”

Peter and Shirley have been retired for many years although Shirley is still maintaining the role as the litter secretary for the Flatcoated Retriever Society. The Downstream prefix however is still most actively and successfully used by their daughter Becky Johnson, still holding the Downstream flag high. 

Peter on his way to a Swedish training course


       © Alex Faarkrog 2017