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Message  Brian le Dim 30 Déc - 19:30



Archie Bryden

All right, I‟ll admit it! When writing a couple of years ago about height and weight I went deliberately „over the top‟ as I expected a reaction from certain quarters. I was not disappointed! Some swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. I hope the resulting high blood pressure did not cause any health scares. Nevertheless I maintain my logic was basically sound and retract nothing, especially as such an august figure as the late Nap Cairns wrote on similar lines 50 years ago and again in 1979. However on this occasion, although my title may seem provocative, I am not trying to cause heart attacks or strokes. The only things I hope to provoke are thought and constructive discussion. It may be that we will finish with more questions than answers and further information, especially from those closer to the action of those days, and comment would be most welcome. What, therefore, is the evidence, if any, to support this title?

Firstly there is ample evidence, pictorial and written, for the existence of Stafford-like dogs (SLD‟s) for 100-150 years prior to 1935. These are believed to be mainly crosses of the bulldogs of the day with terriers, mainly the Old English Terrier, and were known by a variety of names but for convenience I shall refer to them as SLD‟s. Recently Sarah Hemstock has covered the development of the Bull Breeds, with special reference to the Stafford, in these columns and elsewhere and other notable writers, such as the late John Gordon in his books on our breed, have written in a similar vein. However Sarah suggests that the Stafford could be regarded as a refinement of those dogs of earlier days- a point which may be worthy of further consideration.

Wherever the unsavoury blood „sports‟ of those earlier days were practised, one can assume there were SLD‟s. The question is how many crosses were done to produce them? Was there a limited number in each area? Were the dogs used in each part of the country similar? Was there any relationship between SLD‟s in the West Midlands, London, Lancashire, the North East, Scotland or elsewhere? I suspect that many crosses of bulldogs with terriers were done in all areas to produce SLD‟s. The fact that they came in such a wide range of sizes and weights, if accounts are true, supports this. After the initial crosses did owners breed SLD‟s together carefully or were they cavalier in their approach to subsequent matings or even allow their dogs to arrange their own „marriages‟? Of course the services of the big winner with a string of victories in the pit would be in high demand by those in the „fancy‟ but what about those with pets or house dogs- I doubt if they would be so fussy.

Travelling folk, such as tinkers, gypsies or canal boatmen, may have had a part in establishing SLD‟s in various areas by allowing their dogs to be used by locals thus producing some „commom blood‟ but how significant was this? Mobility of labour was much less in the 19th century but when it did occur we can assume they took their dogs with them. For example in the mid-18th century a group of nailmakers went from the West Midlands to the North East and surely their SLD‟s would go too.

Did things change with the advent of the 20th century? Was breeding more controlled? Frankly I do not know. However I suspect mixing still went on. For example, in one of John Gordon‟s books there is a photograph of a young gentleman from Dudley with a Stafford bitch and her puppy sired by a bulldog. He may have used the bulldog to give more „bull‟ in his stock but this was after the supposed injection of „pug dog‟ blood into bulldogs and thus increased the mixture in his SLD‟s. I wonder if others were doing the same at that time?

To what extent did particular strains play a part pre-1935 and did any have a lasting effect? There was of course the well-known Westall strain from East Lancashire and I suppose Tom Walls‟ „of Looe‟ dogs also constituted a strain but were there others we have not heard so much about? Those in the „fancy‟ may have been very protective of their blood-lines but were these enough to constitute various strains? We know too that the type of dog favoured in different towns in the Black Country varied greatly although maybe only a few miles apart. So did each of those towns have their own local strain which was relatively pure or were they still largely mixtures? Would it be more accurate to describe the SLD‟s or „embryonic‟ show Staffords of the 1920‟s and early 1930‟s, not as a breed of dog, but as a type similar to lurchers or to the modern Jack (not Parson) Russell terrier?

Recently Ivor Keyes, who has been interested in Stafford genetics for many years, told me that the geneticists were surprised that the Stafford had a very large gene pool. This was no surprise to either of us nor I suspect most others in the breed today and I am pretty certain this will have been the case since KC recognition reflecting the diversity of types going to make the earlier SLD‟s.

The watershed was without doubt 1935 – KC recognition, formation of the SBTC, the first Breed Standard, the first shows, and the start of documented breeding and pedigrees. Writing in these columns in 1989, John James of „Pitbred Staffords‟ states „that the early breeders did wonders in recapturing the bull and terrier type from the hotchpotch that then existed‟. Does this highlight the problems facing those with the task of formulating the Standard?

There have been numerous accounts of this and no one disputes that an excellent job was done in what may have been difficult circumstances. The fact that two of the leading lights, Joe Dunn and Jack Barnard, had considerable experience in other breeds undoubtedly helped. It is known that Barnard‟s own Jim the Dandy was present and some reports state that his father Fearless Joe was also there as models when the SBTC met . The aim was to define what was considered ideal in the Stafford while expressing things in such a way that dogs which fell far short of this ideal were not over-penalised. I do not believe that Jim the Dandy was being put forward as the perfect Stafford although considered one of the best at that time; he was perhaps a good starting point. This is evident when one looks at photographs of many dogs in that Pre-War era- I am sure the Breed pioneers felt they fell far short of the mark and many today would be unhappy to accept them as pure-bred specimens. Of course it was also recognised that the Standard had to be rather „wide‟ to enable as many dogs as possible to be registered as pure Staffords, this being done on the „say so‟ of one of the recognised experts.

The concept of aiming for the ideal and improving on existing stock should be noted. From what I have been told this was still a major consideration with those reviewing the Standard in 1948 and a decade later was still providing much comment in the breed notes in Dog World.

How much of a hotchpotch the foundation dogs in 1935 were is obviously a matter for debate. However with most early dogs little would appear to be known about their backgrounds with pet names and „unknown‟ abounding in pedigrees, This persisted into the mid-1950‟s .To show how vague things were, Bill Boylan, one of the early „names‟, writing in these columns in 1963 tells of when he was asked to enter his dog, Game Lad, in a show. He did not want to say „parents unknown‟ and was told to make up the pedigree so, calling them after the Black County towns they came from, this is how „Bilston Bill‟, „Sedgely Sue‟ etc. came to be.

It has also been suggested that the twenty or so dogs exhibited at the first show formed the basic breeding stock for our present day dogs. However this must be questionable although some must have had a major role to play. During 1935/6 nearly 350 Staffords were registered and while some may have come from litters bred, many I suspect were accepted on expert opinion thus suggesting a much larger initial breeding pool. Ten years ago in these columns I conjectured that restriction of breeding during the 1939-45 War may have limited the gene pool but on reflection this is most unlikely as overall registration totals increased from Pre-War levels during that time .

Was the most significant thing that happened in 1935 the start of the refinement process mentioned earlier? This may be so for several reasons. Firstly breeders now had a Standard to guide them and might have discarded inferior stock from their plans. Secondly only KC registered dogs would have been used for breeding, one hopes. Thirdly good stud dogs might have begun to have to have a significant effect on the breed: the top dogs such Jim the Dandy, Ch. Game Laddie, Ch Gentleman Jim, etc. would be used in preference to those of lesser quality , possibly leading to greater conformity all round. Lastly there was the adoption of „lines and families‟ on the Bruce Lowe system.

This last factor was always contentious and taken from the horse breeding fraternity. The belief was that only the top line of sires and the bottom line of dams mattered in a pedigree with everything else being irrelevant. This is of course utter rubbish. The only thing that can be traced down the male line is the „Y‟ chromosome. Passage of the „X‟ chromosomes and the 38 pairs of autosomes in dogs through the generations is purely chance! However although it was soon discredited scientifically Stafford breeders persisted with it for many years. The male lines „J, M, R, L, B and C‟ were the initials of the founding dogs and the L, B and C lines did not seem to persist very long. The important thing was that
many serious breeders religiously stuck „in line‟, to do otherwise such as mating an M-line bitch with an R-line dog, or vice versa, was heresy in the extreme. The benefit of this must have been a limiting of the breeding or gene pool allied to selection and enhancement of those qualities considered desirable. Of course some dogs may have proved dominant for certain factors although not exhibiting them themselves so breeders may not always have got what they expected.

Basically I am asking “ Did the breeding programmes of the 1930‟s and 1940‟s result an evolution and/or standardisation of type which may have been largely outwith the control of the breeders themselves?” Looking at old photographs, which of course may lie sometimes, there appears to be a shift towards the present day type of Stafford in the Post-War years. Could it be that type in the Stafford was established by the late 1950‟s and disregarding any minor fads that may occur from time to time or the many little points which may have required some improvement, does this basic type persist until the present day? My wife and I have had a Stafford , and consequently an interest in our breed, since 1972, although we did not start showing until 1981 and do not think there has been any significant change in type during the last 20 years.

The questions we have to face are “ Was type established by planned breeding or by dominant factors in the gene pool simply expressing themselves? Did the events of nearly 70 years ago set in motion the refinement process which produced order out of chaos? Was the Staffordshire Bull Terrier really developed after 1935?”


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Date d'inscription : 07/11/2008

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