293 Lucas Terrier; CLife Article
"DEATH ON RATS": THE LUCAS TERRIER
The list of terrier breeds recognised by the Kennel Club could look very different had fate decided otherwise. In place of well-known breed names like the Sealyham, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Border , Norfolk and Parson Jack Russell terrier, we could so easily have ended up with the Trumpington, Cowley, Bewcastle, Elterwater, Suffolk, Will Norris and Squire Poole terrier. In the early nineteenth century, many localities, even some valleys, had their own favoured type of terrier. Some of these are represented in the modern recognised breeds of terrier, with the Border Terrier surviving from ancestors such as the Coquetdale, Redesdale, Ullswater, Elterwater and Ingram terriers.
Terrier fanciers too could create breeds, as the Sealyham was by Tucker Edwardes and the Jack Russell in the name of the great sporting parson. Their breeds survived, but the one created by another remarkable sporting character, Sir Jocelyn Lucas, has had a more chequered history. Writer, politician and soldier, he was renowned for his gently eccentric individuality, considerable charisma and remarkable determination. In the first World War, he won an MC but drew attention for his feat in amputating two of his own toes, after gangrene set in following his capture by the Germans. Later he contributed to The Field as 'The Lad', and entered parliament, where it was alleged that the only question anyone could remember his asking in the House concerned whether it was legal for him to name a terrier breed after himself!
Lucas hunted a pack of Sealyhams from his famous Ilmer kennel but it was his disillusionment with the show Sealyham which inspired his experiment with an outcross to the Norfolk terrier, then little known outside its native county. His working lines had been based on a dozen 'mini-Sealyhams' from the Master of the Pembrokeshire Foxhounds, subsequently blended with the renowned Gladdish Hulke's stoat-hunting working terrier pack, which Sir Jocelyn bought. Seeking a smaller working Sealyham, he outcrossed in the early 1950s to a red Norfolk terrier (which he referred to as a Norwich or Trumpington terrier), and was so pleased with the litter that he attempted to stabilise the type. He later described this type as 'death on rats and rabbits'.
Finding the show Sealyham too big, too cloddy, over-furnished, with disappointing temperament and whelping difficulties, Lucas sought a smaller-headed, harsh-coated, coloured terrier which possessed both the physique and the character for hunting. He did not care for the excessive coat and box heads of the increasingly popular post second World War show Sealyham. His 'new breed' had handsome red jackets and a perky assertiveness which he admired. His first cross Sealyham-Norfolks were mainly coloured, ranging from red-tan to wheaten and even black and tan. But the second cross produced a proportion of mainly white or white-bodied progeny. This inability to stamp a distinctive type on the breed may well have limited its appeal.
The breed survived Sir Jocelyn's death in 1980 but was clearly losing type and virility. In 1986, Jane Irwin, owner of a Lucas, set up The Lucas Terrier Association to promote the breed and offer breeding advice; two years later a rudimentary breed standard was produced. But in 1987 only three litters were born all sired by the same dog. A relaunch was desperately needed. Wisely, the breed devotees sought the advice of country sports writer and terrier expert Brian Plummer, who had gained priceless experience in developing his own breed of working terrier, now well established and named after him. His knowledge of genetics, intellectual energy and considerable experience gave the renascent breed a huge lift.
Reverting to Sir Jocelyn's formula, the relaunch of the breed involved the use of small Sealyhams, two carefully chosen Norfolks and the blood of a surviving Lucas dog. The breeding programme has been operating for six years or so and the desired type gradually stabilised. In 1997, I had the pleasure of judging the breed's annual show and the opportunity to take stock. I found a wide variation in heads, some being too narrow, with a few faulty jaws. The necks were a bit scrawny on some exhibits and short upper arms cropped up too often, as indeed they do in far too many show terriers. But my overall impression was of a charming bunch of breed enthusiasts with a collection of very appealing little dogs.
In my critique I gave the view that the breed club was going to have to make a decision soon about whether they were seeking a coloured small Sealyham or a distinct type in between the Sealyham and the Norfolk. This could of course be straightened out in a more comprehensive, much more detailed written standard, something lacking at that time. Since then there has been a dramatic innovation, the formation of a new club The Sporting Lucas Terrier Club, spearheaded by men who work their terriers and with Lord Lucas as their president.
The committee of the newly-formed club embraces a wide range of country sports knowledge and skills: the chairman is Paul Hawkes, terrierman to the Tynedale foxhounds, vice-chairman is Keith Francis, who runs a small pack of Lucas terriers in Wales, Education Officer is Tommy Coulson, terrierman to the Braes of Derwent foxhounds and the secretary is Joe Kyrollos, who works his terriers to rabbit in Scotland. With Brian Plummer as breeding advisor and Eileen Eldridge, a professional journalist, as Press Officer, this is a formidable team.
The use of the breed ranges from being worked to fox in Northumberland, and from flushing rabbit or game in Yorkshire and Teesside, to hunting as a pack, above ground, in Wales. The sporting use of these game little dogs is the main motivation of this admirable band of terrier enthusiasts. They stage an annual show, run a quarterly magazine and produce a 'starter' pack for new members. The club is striving to produce a sporting terrier, able to work above and below ground, showing no sign of quarrelsomeness or needless aggression and to develop a consistent distinct type, lacking the heavier build and bulk of the modern Sealyham terrier. At the recent Bramham Moor show, there was a turnout of 42 Lucas Terriers, with an encouraging similarity of appearance.
Paul tells me his hunt country is well foxed, but the cover disappears in winter, when the foxes go to ground, even making use of straw stacks. He has need therefore of a small versatile terrier to cope with these conditions. He was impressed by a Lucas bitch owned by Tommy Coulson with the Braes of Derwent and bought a dog of this type, which has proved quite excellent. He has now added several similar bitches to his kennel and is pleased with the type ensuing. His adult dogs are great rabbiters, even retrieving naturally and bringing home rabbits for his pups, rather as wild dogs do. His dogs are housedogs, well suited to family life, with first class temperaments.
This is an encouraging story, especially at a time when countrymen and their sports are again under threat. Here is a group of admirably-motivated countrymen perpetuating a working breed, with a famous background, in its classic sporting role, just as Sir Jocelyn would have wished. At a time when so many of our native breeds of purebred terrier are losing favour and when so few are actually worked, this is good news. May the Sporting Lucas Terrier Club go from strength to strength!