473 English Terrier Back

by   David Hancock

 Looking for a family dog, of handy size - not too big, not too small, with an equable temperament, an easily-managed trouble-free coat and a charming disposition? Then try a Manchester Terrier. Prefer a white version, so you can see when it's dirty? then tough luck; that breed was allowed to disappear, even by The Kennel Club. And it was, by name, our national terrier - the English White. It has been mourned ever since.

 "The writer would like to see really serious attempts made to revive the English White Terrier, because it is a type, or rather, variety of dog which makes an excellent companion, combining many of the best features of the Bull Terrier without the aggressive qualities not uncommonly present in the breed last referred to..." Those words were written by Darley Matheson in his Terriers of 1922 and, without the unjustified aspersion on the temperament of the admirable Bull Terrier, could be restated today. In the British Isles we have the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Terrier breeds but no English national terrier breed by title. From outside these islands we see the Australian, Czech, Russian, Austrian (Pinscher), German (Hunt) and even a Tibetan Terrier but no English terrier from what has to be the natural home of this type of dog. This doesn't seem right.

 Some might like to argue that nowadays on sheer popularity the ubiquitous Jack Russell has a claim to be the national terrier of England. It could be argued too that the Manchester Terrier, at one time called the English Black and Tan Terrier, has an historic claim to the title. The miniature Black and Tan Terrier is still called the English Toy Terrier but does not feature in the Kennel Club's list of terrier breeds. In his Show Dogs of 1925, Theo Marples wrote that "there is little doubt that the breed is a Lancashire production, where it has for the most part abounded, particularly in its palmier days of nearly half a century ago." The breed was not classified separately by the KC until the early 1890s. Three of the most prominent early fanciers all came from Bolton in Lancashire.

 In The Kennel Gazette of January 1889, a contributor using the nom de plume 'Union Jack' wrote: "I am glad to see that efforts are being made to make white English terriers more popular. This beautiful breed has had a great many ups and downs and many of them quite in a wrong direction. We shall never see better stamp of terriers than old Tim and Godfree's Prince, the winners at Birmingham in 1865 and at Islington in 1869..." This hints at a show career for the breed of around half a century. The disappearance altogether of this much-admired breed from the KC's lists is a sharp reminder for the worthy people, including those at the KC, now giving attention to the list of vulnerable native breeds, twelve of them in the Terrier Group.

 Wholly white breeds are not always easy to breed healthily; albinos, although rare, crop up, deafness can occur and pigmentation is sometimes a problem. All-white Bull Terriers and Dogos Argentino are however successfully bred, although head markings are permitted in each breed. The type once exemplified by the English White Terrier is an ancient one, being depicted in statues, in depictions of Diana the huntress (and usually claimed to be sighthounds) and in illustrations like the one in The Grimani Breviary of 1515 and Carpaccio's painting around the same time. Some illustrations depict a 'goggle-eyed' dog, with protuberant over-prominent eyes; the Abyssinian Sand Terrier, small, white, smooth-coated and almost delicate in build, once imported here, showed the same unattractive feature. It also cropped up in the early French Bulldogs and English Toy Terriers. It may result from the skull shape desired, dome or apple-headed with a deep stop. Some Victorian breeders liked it and bred from stock featuring it.

 More robust versions of the all-white terrier were favoured by sweeps and boxers, as folk-art of the 20th century indicates. Some of these dogs were hard to distinguish from the emergent Bull Terrier of the same self-colour. Various authorities have linked the origin of the English White to a blend of Bull Terrier, Italian Greyhound, Manchester Terrier and even the 'snap-dog' which preceded the Whippet. I don't why it needs to be a blend of anything; this is an ancient type, depicted in a number of renaissance paintings, and clearly one favoured by a widely spread disconnected group of fanciers. Many authorities have claimed that the breed suffered from the outlawing of ear-cropping. But other terrier breeds survived this ban without losing favour. I suspect that the white terrier breeders either moved across to the Bull Terrier or lacked the skill to produce a sound dog. Rawdon Lee, in his Modern Dogs - Terriers of 1896, records that around 1850 James Hinks, the famous Bull Terrier breeder, began to cross the patched heavy-headed Bull Terrier, used for fighting, with the English White Terrier.

 Rawdon Lee's dog Madman came from 'a strain distinct from that found in Birmingham, being by a very good old dog of Joe Walker's called Crib, from Mr James Roocroft's Puss. Both these breeders also owned English white terriers, with which they had, I fancy, at some time or other crossed the Hinks' strain of bull terriers, producing a very nice style of dog, not so heavy and massive as that from the Black Country.' For those who dislike the modern egg-shaped head on the Bull Terrier, a re-created English White Terrier, bearing the classic terrier head, might have some appeal. 20th century portrayals of Bull Terriers show dogs with terrier-heads and don't feature the sheep's head now sought in the breed.

 Vero Shaw, writing in 1897, stated that 'where twenty years ago a dozen good White English Terriers could be found, it would today be a very difficult matter to find one, and the breed may now be regarded as extinct...the breed has played a great part in the production of many breeds which are now enjoying great popularity.'  The rightly popular white Bull Terrier certainly owes a lot to the English White. Fifty years ago, the forthright Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald had no doubt as to why this breed disappeared, writing: "In the case of the English White Terrier, 'improvement' was responsible: the breed was 'perfected' to death."  Vero Shaw gave the view however that 'in the white English Terrier the correct shape and action are very hard to obtain' adding that 'So little encouragement is, however, shown to breeders in their efforts to improve the variety, that the classes which appear at our shows are naturally meagre...' I would like to think that today's Kennel Club would provide encouragement in such a case,

 Shaw clearly admired the breed, pointing out that 'The intense brilliancy of their jackets contrasts so beautifully with surrounding objects, and their temperaments are so vivacious and affectionate, that they deserve to be more fully known and appreciated; and this, we trust, will some day be the case.' Those words sum up what many people are seeking in a pet dog: the close companionship of a loyal handsome animal. But if this type is not easy to breed, the more wallet-conscious ones will look elsewhere. Dr Lees Bell, over a century ago, summarized these breeding difficulties: "All breeders have, I daresay, experienced the same difficulty of breeding pure white puppies with level heads and fine skulls, together with proper English terrier lines of body. The puppies are either foul-marked, or have domed skulls and whippet bodies, or they have level heads, with the thick skull and wide chest and general stoutness of body of the bull terrier."  I wonder if the pursuit of an entirely white dog, without any other markings at all, isn't the cause of some of these breeding problems.

 A number of breeds which can look self-coloured white are actually what the geneticist Clarence Little described as 'extreme-white piebald'. These include: Samoyeds, Pyreneans, Sealyhams, Dogos Argentino, Greyhounds, Bulldogs, as well as Bull Terriers. In such breeds an otherwise all-white dog can feature an eye, ear or tail patch. Tom Horner, who knew a thing or two about breeding high quality white Bull Terriers, had views on this. Thirty years ago, he wrote: "Pre-war, the breeders of whites, without realising the fact, let brindle disappear; all their breeding stock carried either red, fawn or black and tan. Because of this they had trouble with pigmentation, eye colour, and patella luxation, all indications of the onset of degeneration in the stock. It was only when brindle was brought in again that these troubles were overcome. Brindle acts as a toughening agent for the other colours, and particularly for white..."   I have seen any number of 'Irish Staffies' which are mainly white but with brindle markings, and been impressed by them. An otherwise all-white dog with a brindle eye-patch can look very appealing, but many breeders of English Whites would not tolerate other markings.

 No doubt the immense popularity of the mainly white Fox Terrier, with 3,000 registrations as long ago as 1908, had much to do with the demise of the English White. At the Kennel Club show of 1906 not a single specimen was on view, nor at the National Terrier Show at Westminster. From this time onwards, the breed disappears from the KC's lists. In his The New Book of the Dog of 1912, Robert Leighton recorded, on the quest for entirely white English terriers: "It is to be questioned, therefore, whether the fanciers of this breed were wholly wise in their objection to coloured markings. Forty years ago the coloured, parti-coloured or even brindled English Terrier stood a good chance of taking a prize at the public shows at which they were exhibited in competition, and these are said to have been much hardier dogs than their descendants of the present day. Here we have an instance of the mistake so often made by breeders in striving to breed up to an artificial ideal."

 The renowned 'Idstone' took the view that the coloured specimens rejected in favour of pure white were decidedly the better dogs. In his The Dog of 1888, he wrote "...since the exhibition of dogs has been a prominent feature in the fashionable amusements of large cities, the dog (i.e. the smooth-coated terrier) has been so cultivated that white dogs only are admissable."  He suggested that the wholly white dogs were being favoured because of the colour of their coats ahead of other more important physical features. This, when linked to the distaste in Boxer and German Shepherd Dog breeders for white coats in their breed, shows how limiting and sometimes irrational human taste can be. It could well be that the English White terrier was lost to us because its fanciers favoured all-white dogs despite their lack of soundness and virility. Breeding is always about the selection of stock.

 Of course, human fickleness too can play a part. In 1927 over 2,000 Sealyhams were registered with the KC; in 2004 it was just 51. In 1927 over 10,000 Fox Terriers (of both coats) were registered; in 2004 it was under 1,000. By contrast another white terrier breed, the Westie, had just over 700 registered in 1927 but over 10,000 in 2004. Whole colour white is not the problem in these terrier breeds, other factors play a part. In the last few years I have been involved with two emergent terrier breeds, one mainly white, the Plummer, the other, the Sporting Lucas Terrier, havihite, the Plummer, the other, the Sporting Lucas Terrier, having a mainly white variety. The former has fiery red-tan markings on a white base, now a breed feature. The mainly white variety of the Lucas can have markings in any shade of brown, grizzle or badger-grey and black, with or without tan. These are sensible permissions; I know of no deaf dogs in this admirable little breed.

 The Plummer Terrier was created from scratch by a gifted breeder, the late Brian Plummer, who was seeking a handsome, game, responsive earth-dog. The Lucas Terrier was created by another talented breeder, Sir Jocelyn Lucas, who was concerned by the loss of working ability in the Sealyham Terrier. The Plummer Terrier Association is aiming for KC recognition for their breed. The Sporting Lucas Terrier is already recognised by the United Kennel Club of America. Brian Plummer used to jest that what he really wanted from his breed was his owm immortality. Any skilled breeder able to restore our white terrier would certainly have a permanent place in the breed's history. A re-created English White Terrier would reintroduce an old-fashioned, once much-admired national breed of terrier. I much prefer the old-fashioned Sealyham and Bull Terriers to the contemporary specimens; but then, I don't consider the term 'old-fashioned' to be in any way derogatory. And that's hardly fashionable! Can we please have our terrier back? And, unlike the Mastiff, Bulldog and Pointer, with English in its title?