by   David Hancock

It's a great pity that sportsmen have left the recognition of our sporting terrier breeds to the show fraternity. The list of terrier breeds as recognised by the Kennel Club could have looked so very different had sportsmen grabbed the working dogs for a register of their own. In place of today's well-known pedigree breeds, we could have had ended up with the Rothbury, Roseneath, Shelburne, Trumpington, Cowley, Bewcastle, Heinemann, Jones, Will Norris and Squire Poole Terriers. In the early nineteenth century, many localities, even some valleys, like Elterwater, had their own favoured type of terrier, some of which became swept up in a distinct form we now call a breed. Some counties too might have claimed their own breed, such as Suffolk and Shropshire (with their black and tan dogs), Cheshire (with its mainly white terrier) and Devon (with its Russell type. We still lack an English terrier by name.

Yet we did once have two English terriers, by name: the Old English Black and Tan Terrier and the English White Terrier, the latter, so casually lost to us but once so well known and bred so true to type that a restoration would be justified and a regrettable gap in the list of our national terrier breeds filled. But that applies too to another English terrier breed. We also lost the old English Black and Tan Terrier, a distinct and historic type of rough-haired working terrier, partly represented today by the Lakeland, but, some claim, 'misrepresented' by the Welsh Terrier of today, allegedly 'stolen' from the English by the avaricious Welsh!

Robert Leighton, writing early in the twentieth century had a wide knowledge of terriers. In his Dogs And All About Them of 1914, he gave an admirable summary of the emerging and non-emerging breeds: “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-haired terriers, black and tan, on very short legs, and weighing about 10lb. or 12lb., 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…Possibly the Elterwater Terrier is no longer to be found…” But no club or lobbying group pressed the case for the old black and tan working terrier of England to be so named.

  Then, at the Bangor Show of 1885, a group of Welsh terrier fanciers decided to approach the Kennel Club with the understandable desire of having their dogs registered as just that by name. Equally understandably, some north of England breeders of similar dogs wished their rights to be acknowledged too. So, in November 1885, to satisfy both parties the KC agreed to enter in the Stud Book the classification 'Welsh Terrier or the Old English wire-haired Black and Tan Terrier - Class 53'. Later, the fanciers of the English dogs failed to form a club and in time any reference to English terriers was deleted in registration and show documents. At a meeting of the Welsh Terrier Club in February 1890, the motion ‘That no dog or bitch the sire or dam of which is a Fox, Irish, Airedale or Old English terrier shall be eligible to compete at any show…’ was only narrowly defeated. The words of this motion indicates the existence (and potential loss) of the old English terrier.

For me, the Welsh Terrier is too big (at 15") and too Fox Terrier-like. Both the Parson Russell and the Lakeland are favoured at 14", whilst the Fox Terrier can go up to 15 and a half inches, and the Irish Terrier up to 19", surely too tall for an earth-dog. A restored Old English Black and Tan broken-coated Terrier could aim for 14lbs in weight and no more than 14" at the withers. But the coat texture is so important: it really needs to have bristle, like the early Sealyhams, not the woolly open coats of the show terriers. Every working dog must have protection from the elements.

I sometimes see black and tan Fell Terriers and Patterdale Terriers that could pass muster as Old English Black and Tan Working Terriers and there might be merit in their fanciers getting together and resurrecting the old neglected breed. It might even restore the true terrier coat, hard, wiry, stiff and coconut-matting in texture; so many Welsh and Lakeland Terriers have developed woolly, fluffy pelage, neither weatherproof nor traditional. With the show terriers in rough-haired black and tan coats so open-coated, we could benefit from restoring the old English Black and Tan rough-haired Terrier to our list of terrier breeds. This should offer no affront to devotees of the admirable Welsh Terrier or indeed to those of the similar Lakeland Terrier. If the Parson Russell Terrier, arguably a lesser Fox Terrier, can be added to our national terrier list, surely this distinctive and historically-justified English terrier breed can achieve long-merited recognition.