CHAPTER XXVIII. 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.