Attacks upon the advancing Roman legions by savage packs of huge and ferocious dogs, set on them by the ancient battling tribes defending the British Isles, would certainly have made a considerable impression on the Romans. Where had these dogs come from? And who could possibly have predicted their influence on many future breeds of dog in the world today? One such breed of dog, with a fascinating and indeed often immensely cruel history, is the magnificent Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
For many years before the Romans invaded Ancient Britain the boats of the Phoenicians had come to the shores of these islands for the purposes of trade. With them they brought huge dogs of tremendous strength and courage. These dogs were welcomed by the Ancient Britons, who adopted them and trained them to fight. They were descendants of the ancient Molossus, a huge formidable dog from Greece dating back several thousand years and likely to be the ancestor of our modern-day Mastiff breeds. Trained by the ancient Britons and used to attack the Roman armies, they were described in AD 8 by Gratius Faliscus as the ‘Pugnaces of Britain’ and by the poet Claudius as the ‘broad-mouthed dogs of Britain’. Many were shipped back to Rome to be pitted against many different opponents in the gladiatorial arenas, to satisfy the so-called sporting urges of the people of Rome. History records that they were highly successful in their gladiatorial roles. These early Mastiff-type dogs rapidly spread throughout large areas of Europe and were highly influential in the formation of a number of breeds.
A fourteenth-century painting depicting dogs set upon a tethered beast.
After the departure of the Romans from the shores of Britain in the fifth century, the Pugnaces remained for many centuries without marked variation. Among the population they had become well established and domesticated dogs. It is very likely that they were the ancestors of the Bulldog (not the modern Bulldog, but the fighting Bulldog of the Middle Ages). Shortly after the Norman conquest of Britain records indicate the use of the early Mastiffs for bull-, bear- and lion-baiting, which were fast-growing sporting activities.
Around the year 1400 a courageous and fearfully strong dog of extreme courage appears in the records. Developed from the early Mastiffs, they were known as ‘Alaunts’. Of great size, strength and courage, these were large, heavy-headed dogs of brachycephalic conformation. They are mentioned in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale as accompanying the King of Thrace, and they are almost certainly the large hunting dogs depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. Renowned for their skills in hunting large game, these dogs were also used as guard dogs and were later developed for bull-baiting. Edward, Second Duke of York (1406–13), described the type in his The Master of Game as ‘a short-headed dog – aggressive by nature and able to take hold and often despatch his victim’. From the Alaunt were developed various types of Bulldog, and thus the Alaunt is a vital link in the eventual appearance of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
The sports of bull- and bear-baiting commenced as early as the twelfth century and possibly even a little earlier. Certainly from the time of King Henry II (1154–89) baiting was patronized by royalty and had become a popular and well organized spectacle greatly enjoyed by the population. By the end of the thirteenth century market towns all over Britain had their ‘bullrings’ to accommodate the spectacles. In the Midlands towns such as Birmingham, Wednesbury, Sedgley, Cosely, Walsall and Bilston all had their bull-rings, as did Hockley-in-the-Hole near Clerkenwell.
DEVELOPMENT OF BLOOD SPORTS
It was during the Elizabethan era in the sixteenth century that bull- and bear-baiting really flourished. Such sports were now the fashionable pursuit of the aristocracy of the day and events were regularly attended by members of the royal family. The dogs they used were huge Mastiff-type creatures, ponderous, fearless and ideally equipped to take on both bull and bear. Always securely tethered, the bulls and bears stood little or no chance against the dogs, although occasionally they might inflict dreadful – sometimes fatal – damage with horns, teeth or claws. In the long run, though, the fate of the bulls and bears was inevitable. Their faces torn to shreds, with open wounds, they were taken from one location to another and relentlessly forced to take on fresh opponents at wakes, fairs and contests organized for the benefit of huge cheering audiences.
The crowds who flocked to watch these popular spectacles lived in an age of often bloody and cruel public executions and were certainly hardened to such savagery. However, following the end of Queen Anne’s reign (1702–14), these sports began to lose their popularity and had soon almost faded away altogether. The baiting of both bulls and bears finally came to an end with the Humane Act of 1835 which made it illegal.
But this wasn’t the end of the story. From the heavy and ponderous dogs of the baiting sports had emerged a fairly rangy Bulldog. Of great substance physically, fearless and aggressive towards other animals, they had already been used for dog fighting, a sport that had started to gain in popularity as baiting declined. Though it was not recognized at the time, it was in this period that significant events were to take place that would have a profound effect on the development of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier as we know the breed today.
As dog fighting increased in popularity, it became clear that the types of Bulldog used for baiting were unsuitable for this new role. Certainly they possessed tremendous courage, strength and tenacity, but they were large and heavily built and lacked athletic agility. Dog fighting required a greater emphasis on speed and agility – in practice, a smaller dog that could move fast and decisively and thus gain an advantage in an evenly matched fight. The upshot was the creation of a dog that was somewhat smaller and more athletic than the existing Bulldog.
BULL AND TERRIER DOGS
The result of the decision to breed more athletic dogs for fighting purposes was the emergence of the so-called ‘Bull and Terrier’, sometimes referred to as the ‘Pit Dog’. This is of prime importance in the story of the development of our breed as 150 years later this dog would be recognized by the Kennel Club as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier!
Old English White Terriers.
So how did they go about producing these dogs? There is a theory that the original Bulldog was not crossed with a smaller breed of dog, but was simply selectively bred for smaller size and lighter build. Furthermore, the ‘layback’ in the Bulldog muzzle, which helped the dog to breathe when he was pinning a bull, seems to have been selectively bred out by the undoubtedly skilled breeders of the day.
There is interesting evidence to support this theory. Abraham Cooper’s painting of 1816, entitled Crib and Rosa, depicts two Bulldogs. ‘Rosa’ came from the kennels that were breeding what were considered to be the finest Bulldogs at the time. A study of the painting clearly shows that the dog’s conformation closely resembles that of the modern Stafford in the body, quarters, loins, legs, feet and tail. The coat colours depicted in contemporary paintings of Bulldogs are also very similar to those of the Stafford of today.
Crib and Rosa.
If this theory is true, then the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is descended from pure Bulldog bloodlines without any Terrier influence. But a second theory suggests that the Stafford is a result of crossbreeding between the original Bulldogs (weighing in at about 60lb or 27kg) and smaller and lighter Terriers (weighing about 20lb or 9kg). This cross produced an ideal fighting dog with all the strength, ferocity, stamina and undoubted courage of the original Bulldog combined with the speed, agility, activity, intelligence and athleticism of the Terrier. The now-extinct Old English Terrier is the dog thought to have been used.
The Old English Terrier of about 1800 was similar in build and conformation to the Manchester Terrier of today, and would certainly have fulfilled the breeding requirements. It is, however, more than likely that crosses were made with various Terriers to produce dogs for fighting. The breeders were not interested in what the dogs looked like and all they wanted was great fighters in the pit, from whatever source. It is more than likely that prominent breeders used their most successful fighting dogs as both sires and dams in their breeding programmes, and fighting ability was the principal feature selected for.
Supporting evidence for this theory comes from regular references in nineteenth-century written accounts referring to ‘Bulldog-Terriers’ and ‘Bull and Terrier’. It seems most likely that Terriers were crossed with original Bulldogs soon after the turn of the nineteenth century.
DOG FIGHTING AS A SPORT
The emergence of the ‘Bull and Terrier’, ‘Bulldog Terrier’, or ‘Pit Dog’, as these dogs were sometimes called, saw a significant change in direction by the sporting gentlemen of the day. Dog fighting for sporting purposes had taken place for at least a century before the introduction of organized fighting with strict rules, which can be traced back to around the turn of the eighteenth century, when baiting began to wane. But this change of emphasis heralded yet another step in the development of what was to become the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
During the early nineteenth century dogfighting pits had sprung up all over Britain and organized dog fights, often patronized by the aristocracy, were to be seen everywhere. Strictly controlled by rules, dogs were pitted against dogs, to fight weight to weight. The dogs had to be game and fearless. Huge wagers were made on the outcome of particular fights, and vast sums of money often changed hands. In 1835 both baiting and dog fighting were made illegal, but despite this, dog fighting still carried on. The organizers of the fights paid little heed to the changes in the law, and the practice went underground as they tried to stay one step ahead of police intervention in attempts to curtail their activities.
Each dog fight took place in a pit, across the middle of which was drawn a chalk line known as the ‘scratch’. The dogs took turns to cross the scratch line and attack their opponent in the opposite corner of the pit. Some of the fights lasted for considerable periods of time. They ended when a dog could no longer take his turn to cross the chalk line to get at his opponent, generally due to severe injuries. He would be declared the loser, having failed to ‘come up to scratch’. An owner who wanted to end a fight, perhaps to save his dog for another day, could also ‘throw in the towel’. His dog would then be declared the loser.
Bull and Terrier type.
By the mid-eighteenth century the British public had come to despise dog fighting as a sickening blood sport. The abolition of blood sports by the Act of 1835 had significantly turned people against both dog fighting and those who exploited their animals for gain. Were the organizers and supporters of the dog fights deterred by these changes in both law and general attitude towards their sport? Not at all, it appears, and the following articles of agreement for a dog fight clearly show the professional approach of the organizers and the callous arrangements that applied:
ARTICLE OF AGREEMENT:
Articles of Agreement made on the ………………….. day of ……………………………………………. 18 …………………………………………………………. agrees to fight his …………………………………….dog ………………. pounds weight against …………………………………………. dog ………………… pounds weight, for £ ………… a side at …………………………………… on the ………………. day of …………………………………………..18 …………… The dogs to be weighed at ……………………. o’clock in the ……………………………………………….. and fight between ……………….o’clock in the ………………….. The deposits to be made as in hereinafter mentioned, to be delivered to ………………………………. (who is to be the final Stakeholder), namely the first deposit of £…………….. a side at the making of the match; second deposit of £……………….. a side on the ……………. of ………………………………. at the house of ………………………………..; third deposit of £ …………. on the …………………………………….of ………………………………………………… at the house of …………………………………………….; fourth deposit of £ ………….. on the ………… of ………………………… at the house of ………………………………………; fifth deposit of £ ……….. on the ………………………….. of …………………………………………… .at the house of ……………………………………………. ;which is the last.
To be a fair fight ………………. yards from scratch.
Both dogs to be tasted before and after fighting if required.
Both dogs to be shewn fair to the scratch, and washed at their own corners.
Both seconds to deliver the dogs fair from the corner, and not leave until the dogs commence fighting.
A Referee to be chosen in the pit; one minute time to be allowed between every fair go away; fifty seconds allowed for sponging; and at the expiration of that time the timekeeper shall call make ready, and as soon as the minute is expired the dogs to be delivered, and the dog refusing or stopping on his way to be the loser.
Should either second pick up his dog in a mistake, he shall put it down immediately, by order of the Referee, or the money to be forfeited.
Should anything pernicious be found on either dog, before or after fighting in the pit, the backers of the dog so found to forfeit, and the person holding the battle money, to give it up immediately when called upon to do so.
Referee to be chosen in the pit before fighting, whose decision in all cases shall be final.
Either dog exceeding the stipulated weight on the day of weighing, to forfeit the money deposited.
In any case of a dog declared dead by the Referee, the living dog shall remain at him for ten minutes when he shall be taken to his corner if it be his turn to scratch, or if it be the dead dog’s turn the fight shall be at the end by order of the Referee.
In any case of Police interference the Referee to name the next time of fighting, on the same day if possible, and day by day until it be decided, but if no Referee be chosen, the Stakeholder to name the next place and time; but if a Referee has been chosen and then refuses to name the next place and time of fighting, or goes away after being disturbed, then the power of choosing the next time and place be left with the Stakeholder and a fresh Referee to be chosen in the pit, and the power of the former one to be entirely gone.
In the case of Police interference and the dogs have commenced fighting they will not be required to weigh anymore; but if they have not commenced fighting they will have to weigh day by day at …. lb. until decided at the time and place named by the Referee, or if he refuses and goes away, then the Stakeholder has to name the time and place.
The seconder of either dog is upon no consideration to call his adversary’s dog by name while in the pit, nor use anything whatever in his hands with which to call off his dog.
To toss up the night before fighting for the place of fighting, between the hours of …………….. and ……… o’clock at the house where the last deposit is made.
The above stakes are not to be given up until fairly won or lost by a fight, unless either party break the above agreement.
All deposits to be made between the hours of ………………………. and ……………… o’clock at night.
Either party not following up or breaking the above agreements to forfeit the money down.
The rules and regulations clearly indicate a cynical disregard for the laws of the time, and demonstrate how the arrangements could always be kept one step ahead of any police intervention. Perhaps, given that so much money was at stake, it is no surprise that ‘tasters’ were appointed for a few shillings to ‘taste’ the opposing dog’s coat to ensure nothing had been administered in any way towards ‘fixing’ an adversary. However, of greatest significance is perhaps the emphasis on the gambling aspects of the so-called sport, with no mention whatsoever of the welfare of the Bull and Terrier himself.
Bull and Terriers at home.
The old Bull and Terriers were fierce and dreadful fighters. They were made so by unscrupulous owners, who themselves judged their dogs on their ability to take on and win against any other dog. To such men, owning fighting dogs gave them credibility and the notoriety they revelled in, and granted them a prestigious standing among their peers in the dog fighting world. Some of their dogs became very famous from their achievements in the pit and were very proficient fighters.
With the passing into law of the Protection of Animals Act of 1911, dog fighting as an organized sport was almost completely eliminated as public opinion turned against the sport and its adherents. So how then, did this predominantly fighting dog of the Black Country survive?
FROM FIGHTING DOG TO SHOW DOG AND PET
The fighting dogs had no recognizable pedigrees and the general public had turned against them, but as far as the people of the Black Country were concerned, this was their dog and the Bull and Terriers were readily taken into their homes and treated very much as a part of the family. Reliable fighting dogs could still earn good money and in many cases were treated with considerable care. Their injuries after fights would be attended to and generally they were fully absorbed into family life. Despite their aggressive approach towards other dogs, they were gentle with people, protecting youngsters and looking after the elderly. They were faithful and loyal companions, who never displayed anything but love and affection towards their family and their friends. They never, despite their ferocious appearance and reputation, showed aggression towards people, and their strong and affectionate nature endeared them to all those who admired them for what they truly were.
During this period of general disregard and even hostility towards the dogs, matters were slowly progressing towards the eventual recognition of the breed. A thoroughly dedicated band of breeders, mainly in the Black Country, carefully maintained the bloodlines of the Bull and Terrier that had been built up over many years. Often they faced ridicule for their efforts, in particular from the breeders of pedigree dogs in the growing area of showing dogs. They persisted, however, drawn on by an unwavering belief in the positive qualities of the dog of their choice. We owe a huge debt to these people. For had it not been for their great knowledge of the breed and determined efforts, there would be no Staffordshire Bull Terrier today.
In 1930 the name ‘Staffordshire Bull Terrier’ appeared in newspaper advertisements for the first time. During the years 1932 and 1933 Joseph Dunn, the great pioneer of the breed, started to try to gain Kennel Club recognition of the Stafford as a pure breed. He was roundly derided for his efforts but carried on, encouraged and supported by a number of enthusiasts, including the legendary Joe Mallen and the actor Tom Walls. One of the first tentative steps towards breed recognition was the arrangement in early 1935 of a variety show that was held on the bowling green of the Conservative Club in Cradley Heath. Twenty-seven Staffords took part.
Some early show dogs.
Greatly encouraged by the success of that first show, it was decided to form what was to become the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club. In June 1935 a meeting was held at the Cross Guns Inn of mine host, the charismatic Joe Mallen. It was enthusiastically attended by the most experienced persons in the breed, including those pioneer breeders who had done so much to help gain recognition of the new breed.
Initially, the name applied for was ‘the Original Bull Terrier’ (to differentiate it from the white English Bull Terrier, a breed already recognized by the Kennel Club, having been selectively bred by James Hinks of Birmingham from about the year 1850 from a variety of breeds, including the Bull and Terrier) but the Kennel Club did not approve the name. Instead, the new pedigree breed became the Staffordshire Bull Terrier: a fitting title for a dog that so definitively epitomized the character and location of the Black Country.
The Kennel Club did, however, give its approval to the breed standard that was agreed on that momentous day in the Cross Guns Inn. This was no easy achievement, considering that all the contributors at the meeting had their own particular ideas of what the new breed should be like. For example, some preferred the taller type that fought downwards onto opponents in the pit, while others preferred a shorter, more powerfully built type for the purpose. Now they had to meld these disparate ideas into a single standard that could be applied to show dogs, pets and companions alike.
They did a surprisingly good job, producing a standard for the breed that has remained largely unchanged to the present day. In the space of a single day, the pit fighting dog of old became a pedigree show dog and pet. It was still, of course, the same dog, but now had to compete with all the other pedigree dogs. Each point of the new standard was agreed and incorporated. The two dogs which were considered to be the ideal dogs on which to base the standard were ‘Shaw’s Jim’ (later to be called ‘Jim the Dandy’) and ‘Peg’s Joe’ (later ‘Fearless Joe’).
On the same day the first committee of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club was formed, with Mr J.T. Barnard as the first President and Mr H.N. Beilby the first Chairman. Fittingly, Mr Joseph Dunn, who had done so much for the breed, was appointed the first Secretary of the Club, a position he held until 1942.
The first Club show was held on 17 August 1935, again on the bowling green of the Cradley Heath Conservative Club. No fewer than sixty dogs and bitches were entered, and the show was considered an outstanding success. In those early days, hardly surprisingly, the exhibits displayed considerable differences in type. But enthusiasm was running high and the breed was rapidly gaining in popularity everywhere. What a great occasion it must have been for those who participated at a Crufts Championship Show with Staffords for the first time, and saw Joseph Dunn, the appointed judge, award the best of breed to Joe Mallen’s Cross Guns Johnson. Indeed, this was a landmark in the show history of the breed.
To proceed further in the standing of the breed, registrations with the Kennel Club had to reach a total of 750. This was achieved towards 1938 and the first Challenge Certificates for Staffordshire Bull Terriers were awarded at the 1938 Birmingham National Championship Show to A. Boxley’s dog Vindictive Montyson and to Joseph Dunn’s bitch Lady Eve. Further Championship shows involving Staffords were to follow and at the 1939 Bath Championship Show Mr A.W. Fulwood awarded Joe Mallen’s Gentleman Jim and Joseph Dunn’s Lady Eve their third Challenge Certificates, making them the first ever Champions of the breed. Three further Champions were made up before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939: W.A. Boylan’s Ch. Game Laddie, Miss A. Harrison’s Ch. Madcap Mischief and Mrs A. Beare’s Ch. Midnight Gift.
The war clearly curtailed progress within the breed, but after the war annual pedigree registrations of Staffordshire Bull Terriers increased dramatically, reaching a peak of 13,017 dogs and bitches in 2007 – a far cry from the 147 registrations in 1935 when the breed was officially granted pedigree status. The figures do not include unregistered puppies, numbers of which are unknown. But a note of caution must be sounded here, and the numbers of puppies considered in the light of sustainability, especially in regard to quality.
It is widely known that some unscrupulous breeders, cashing in on the breed’s popularity, produce multiple litters purely for monetary gain, with no thought for quality. This often leads to puppies and dogs with problems, and many are abandoned, resulting in a huge strain on the rescue organizations. Fortunately for the breed, there are many responsible breeders who maintain the virtues and temperament of the Stafford by careful breeding along selective and proven lines, producing top-quality puppies to maintain and further the breed.
Show dog and exhibitor.
The show scene for Staffords has changed dramatically. A keen exhibitor can find shows at all levels on most weekends of the year and there are also many such shows on weekdays. Staffords are now so popular that they regularly top the Terrier entries at shows. There are numerous Staffordshire Bull Terrier Clubs and Societies in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and each awards Challenge Certificates at its own Championship shows and also organizes and holds its own Members Limited and Open Shows annually. All this in addition to the inclusion of the breed at most of the General Championship Shows all over Britain.
The history of the breed would be incomplete without a mention of the influence of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in other parts of the world. After the war quality Staffords were exported or travelled with emigrating families and, just as in Britain, the breed grew in popularity in most countries of Europe, the United States of America, Canada, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In time, the Kennel Clubs of those countries also recognized the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
What of any changes to the Stafford from the breed’s early days to the dog we see today? Changes to the breed standard, most of them merely cosmetic for showing purposes, will be considered in the following chapter. But today’s Stafford should largely adhere to the original recommendations of the founder members of the breed, who knew only too well what a Staffordshire Bull Terrier should be. Today’s Stafford, however, is generally a more heavily built dog than the original fighting Bull and Terriers. There has also been a change in the temperament of the breed. Much of the aggressiveness of the fighting dog of old has been curtailed by indifferent breeding. A true and well-bred Stafford today will still show what he can do if provoked, and it is extremely doubtful if his fearlessness when faced by other dogs can ever be eliminated. After all, what would he be if this aspect of his temperament were to be lost? Certainly not the true Stafford of old.
Proud owners with their show dogs.
Our thanks must always go to those early pioneers of the breed, who did so much to create today’s magnificent Staffordshire Bull Terrier, a faithful and most loyal family dog of outstanding character. Certainly those gentlemen who attended that meeting at the Cross Guns Inn in June 1935 could never have dreamed that the fighting dog they knew would become one of the most popular breeds in the world within a century.
Modern-day exhibitor Melanie Corcoran with her dog IR UK CH Zakstaff What’s the Story at Molru – known as Rory.