The Old Working Terrier

There can hardly have been a time since the period of the Norman

Conquest when the small earth dogs which we now call terriers were

not known in these islands and used by sporting men as assistants

in the chase, and by husbandmen for the killing of obnoxious vermin.

The two little dogs shown in the Bayeux tapestry running with the

hounds in advance of King Harold's hawking party were probably meant

for terriers. Dame Juliana Berners in the fifteenth century did not

neglect to include the Teroures in her catalogue of sporting dogs,

and a hundred years later Dr. Caius gave pointed recognition to their

value in unearthing the fox and drawing the badger.

Another sorte, there is, wrote the doctor's translator in 1576,

which hunteth the Fox and the Badger or Greye onely, whom we call

Terrars, because they (after the manner and custome of ferrets in

searching for Connyes) creep into the grounde, and by that meanes

make afrayde, nyppe and bite the Foxe and the Badger in such sorte

that eyther they teare them in pieces with theyr teeth, beying in

the bosome of the earth, or else hayle and pull them perforce out

of theyr lurking angles, darke dongeons, and close caues; or at the

least through cocened feare drive them out of theire hollow harbours,

in so much that they are compelled to prepare speedie flyte, and,

being desirous of the next (albeit not the safest) refuge, are

otherwise taken and intrapped with snayres and nettes layde over

holes to the same purpose. But these be the least in that kynde

called Sagax.

The colour, size, and shape of the original terriers are not indicated

by the early writers, and art supplies but vague and uncertain

evidence. Nicholas Cox, who wrote of sporting dogs in The Gentleman's

Recreation (1667), seems to suggest that the type of working terrier

was already fixed sufficiently to be divided into two kinds, the one

having shaggy coats and straight limbs, the other smooth coats and

short bent legs. Yet some years later another authority--Blome--in

the same publication was more guarded in his statements as to the

terrier type when he wrote: Everybody that is a fox hunter is of

opinion that he hath a good breed, and some will say that the terrier

is a peculiar species of itself. I will not say anything to the

affirmative or negative of the point.

Searching for evidence on the subject, one finds that perhaps the

earliest references to the colours of terriers were made by Daniel

in his Field Sports at the end of the eighteenth century, when he

described two sorts, the one rough, short-legged, and long-backed,

very strong, and most commonly of a black or yellowish colour, mixed

with white--evidently a hound-marked dog; and another smooth-coated

and beautifully formed, with a shorter body and more sprightly

appearance, generally of a reddish brown colour, or black with

tanned legs.

Gilpin's portrait of Colonel Thornton's celebrated Pitch, painted

in 1790, presents a terrier having a smooth white coat with a black

patch at the set-on of the undocked tail, and black markings on the

face and ears. The dog's head is badly drawn and small in proportion;

but the body and legs and colouring would hardly disgrace the

Totteridge Kennels of to-day. Fox-terriers of a noted strain were

depicted from life by Reinagle in The Sportsman's Cabinet, published

over a hundred years ago; and in the text accompanying the engraving

a minute account is given of the peculiarities and working capacities

of the terrier. We are told that there were two breeds: the one

wire-haired, larger, more powerful, and harder bitten; the other

smooth-haired and smaller, with more style. The wire-hairs were white

with spots, the smooths were black and tan, the tan apparently

predominating over the black. The same writer states that it was

customary to take out a brace of terriers with a pack of hounds, a

larger and a smaller one, the smaller dog being used in emergency

when the earth proved to be too narrow to admit his bigger companion.

It is well known that many of the old fox hunters have kept their

special breeds of terrier, and the Belvoir, the Grove, and Lord

Middleton's are among the packs to which particular terrier strains

have been attached.

That even a hundred years ago terriers were bred with care, and that

certain strains were held in especial value, is shown by the recorded

fact that a litter of seven puppies was sold for twenty-one guineas--a

good price even in these days--and that on one occasion so high a

sum as twenty guineas was paid for a full-grown dog. At that time

there was no definite and well-established breed recognised throughout

the islands by a specific name; the embracing title of Terrier

included all the varieties which have since been carefully

differentiated. But very many of the breeds existed in their

respective localities awaiting national recognition. Here and there

some squire or huntsman nurtured a particular strain and developed

a type which he kept pure, and at many a manor-house and farmstead

in Devonshire and Cumberland, on many a Highland estate and Irish

riverside where there were foxes to be hunted or otters to be killed,

terriers of definite strain were religiously cherished. Several of

these still survive, and are as respectable in descent and quite as

important historically as some of the favoured and fashionable

champions of our time. They do not perhaps possess the outward beauty

and distinction of type which would justify their being brought into

general notice, but as workers they retain all the fire and verve

that are required in dogs that are expected to encounter such vicious

vermin as the badger and the fox.

Some of the breeds of terriers seen nowadays in every dog show were

equally obscure and unknown a few years back. Thirty-seven years ago

the now popular Irish Terrier was practically unknown in England,

and the Scottish Terrier was only beginning to be recognised as a

distinct breed. The Welsh Terrier is quite a new introduction that

a dozen or so years ago was seldom seen outside the Principality;

and so recently as 1881 the Airedale was merely a local dog known

in Yorkshire as the Waterside or the Bingley Terrier. Yet the breeds

just mentioned are all of unimpeachable ancestry, and the circumstance

that they were formerly bred within limited neighbourhoods is in

itself an argument in favour of their purity. We have seen the process

of a sudden leap into recognition enacted during the past few years

in connection with the white terrier of the Western Highlands--a dog

which was familiarly known in Argyllshire centuries ago, yet which

has only lately emerged from the heathery hillsides around Poltalloch

to become an attraction on the benches at the Crystal Palace and on

the lawns of the Botanical Gardens; and the example suggests the

possibility that in another decade or so the neglected Sealyham

Terrier, the ignored terrier of the Borders, and the almost forgotten

Jack Russell strain, may have claimed a due recompense for their long


There are lovers of the hard-bitten working earth dogs who still

keep these strains inviolate, and who greatly prefer them to the

better-known terriers whose natural activities have been too often

atrophied by a system of artificial breeding to show points. Few of

these old unregistered breeds would attract the eye of the fancier

accustomed to judge a dog parading before him in the show ring. To

know their value and to appreciate their sterling good qualities,

one needs to watch them at work on badger or when they hit upon the

line of an otter. It is then that they display the alertness and the

dare-devil courage which have won for the English terriers their name

and fame.

An excellent working terrier was the white, rough-haired strain kept

by the Rev. John Russell in Devonshire and distributed among

privileged sportsmen about Somersetshire and Gloucestershire. The

working attributes of these energetic terriers have long been

understood, and the smart, plucky little dogs have been constantly

coveted by breeders all over the country, but they have never won

the popularity they deserve.

Those who have kept both varieties prefer the Russell to the Sealyham

Terrier, which is nevertheless an excellent worker. It is on record

that one of these, a bitch of only 9 lb. weight, fought and killed,

single-handed, a full-grown dog-fox. The Sealyham derives its breed

name from the seat of the Edwardes family, near Haverfordwest, in

Pembrokeshire, where the strain has been carefully preserved for well

over a century. It is a long-bodied, short-legged terrier, with a

hard, wiry coat, frequently whole white, but also white with black

or brown markings or brown with black. They may be as heavy as 17

lb., but 12 lb. is the average weight. Some years ago the breed seemed

to be on the down grade, requiring fresh blood from a well-chosen

outcross. One hears very little concerning them nowadays, but it

is certain that when in their prime they possessed all the grit,

determination, and endurance that are looked for in a good working


A wire-haired black and tan terrier was once common in Suffolk and

Norfolk, where it was much used for rabbiting, but it may now be

extinct, or, if not extinct, probably identified with the Welsh

Terrier, which it closely resembled in size and colouring. There was

also in Shropshire a well-known breed of wire-hair terriers, black

and tan, on very short legs, and weighing about 10 lb. or 12 lb.,

with long punishing heads and extraordinary working powers. So, too,

in Lancashire and Cheshire one used to meet with sandy-coloured

terriers of no very well authenticated strain, but closely resembling

the present breed of Irish Terrier; and Squire Thornton, at his place

near Pickering, in Yorkshire, had a breed of wire-hairs tan in colour

with a black stripe down the back. Then there is the Cowley strain,

kept by the Cowleys of Callipers, near King's Langley. These are white

wire-haired dogs marked like the Fox-terrier, and exceedingly game.

Possibly the Elterwater Terrier is no longer to be found, but some

few of them still existed a dozen years or so ago in the Lake

District, where they were used in conjunction with the West Cumberland

Otterhounds. They were not easily distinguishable from the

better-known Border Terriers of which there are still many strains,

ranging from Northumberland, where Mr. T. Robson, of Bellingham, has

kept them for many years, to Galloway and Ayrshire and the Lothians,

where their coats become longer and less crisp.

There are many more local varieties of the working terrier as, for

example, the Roseneath, which is often confused with the Poltalloch,

or White West Highlander, to whom it is possibly related. And the

Pittenweem, with which the Poltalloch Terriers are now being crossed;

while Mrs. Alastair Campbell, of Ardrishaig, has a pack of Cairn

Terriers which seem to represent the original type of the improved

Scottie. Considering the great number of strains that have been

preserved by sporting families and maintained in more or less purity

to type, it is easy to understand how a new breed may become

fashionable, and still claim the honour of long descent. They may

not in all cases have the beauty of shape which is desired on the

show bench; but it is well to remember that while our show terriers

have been bred to the highest perfection we still possess in Great

Britain a separate order of earth dogs that for pluckily following

the fox and the badger into their lairs or bolting an otter from his

holt cannot be excelled all the world over.

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