"Black Country" (1952) by Phil Drabble

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"Black Country" (1952) by Phil Drabble

Message  Brian le Sam 5 Jan - 9:20

Here is a small snippet from the book "Black Country" (1952) by Phil Drabble. Compared to the extract from "Staffordshire" this one has more straightforward and personal 'feel'. I find it interesting and do believe that many of the "original fancy" shared his sentiments:

I mentioned that one of the sights of the Wake were the be-ribboned bull terriers, grunting gruff challenges at all the doggy world. They were, and indeed still are, an extremely important facet of life in these parts, and did we ever decide to adopt a crest, nothing could be more appropriate than a Stafford Rampant. The breed had its birth just as the district was becoming really famous. Bull-baiting was dying out by about 1835 and its votaries searched round for a less conspicuous sport. The old bulldogs were as willing to tackle each other as they were to bait a bull. But they were a little too slow and cloddy to be really spectacular.

Our miners and ironworkers have always been almost superstitiously allergic to anything approaching inbreeding, and they needed little or no encouragement to mate their bulldogs to almost anything aggressive. The most popular cross was with various forms of terrier, and the "bull-and-terrier" produced combined the strength and courage of the bulldog with the dash and gaiety of the terrier - or a lot of them did. Those were days of the survival of the fittest and any which didn't prove game were ruthlessly destroyed. The best of these old "bull-and-terriers" loved nothing in the world so much as dog-fight. When once they laid hold they hung on with all the grimness of a bulldog, only changing their hold when they got the opportunity of a better. And all the time they shook and shook (or "worked"), tearing their adversaries to pieces in mouthfuls.

One strain of these bull-and-terriers, the Birmingham breed, were registered for show under the title of English Bull Terrier, and quickly deteriorated into pig-faced show dogs. But the old breed continued as fighting dogs and they became synonymous with the Black Country. Until very modern times they varied in weight enormously. Some of them, taking after the terrier in their forebears, scaled no more than eighteen or twenty pounds, whilst others might be seventy. The little ones were prick-eared - once they were all crop-eared, of course - and rather foxy-faced, like terriers. The bigger they got the more they resembled the old-fashioned bulldogs. But whatever their size, they would literally fight to the death.

Dog-fights were held in all sorts of arenas, called pits, and the one essential was that there should be a "scratch" or line drawn across the centre. At the beginning of a battle, both dogs were loosed simultaneously by their handlers from opposite corners. From the time they commenced fighting, or "got a mouth on", until they both let go for a moment, nobody could touch them. But when they were free - usually gasping for breath - their handlers could pick them up, and a minute was allowed to wash them down and furbish them for the next round.
The first dog to be "handled" had to "go to scratch" first next time, and then they went alternately until one or other could not or would not go across when his turn came. Not a very edifying sport, perhaps. But the dogs it produced are absolutely peerless.

Their modern name is Stafford Bull Terrier, a tide dubbed on them in 1935, when the Kennel Club recognized them as an "official" breed. Since then they have, unfortunately, deteriorated, because some of them have become mere show dogs, to be bought and sold and prostituted by dog- dealers. These gentry are "standardizing" the breed. That is to say, they decide amongst themselves what a "typical" Stafford should look like, though few of them have ever seen two fight, and then declare all other types are "wrong". So the little dogs of Darlaston and the lankier dogs of Walsall (many had a cross of whippet in their forebears) are all "no good". Not, that is, if you would make money from them. So, naturally, they are gradually getting scarcer than the show type. The only sort that pass muster nowadays (commercially anyhow) are the stocky barrel-chested dogs that happened to be fashionable at Cradley Heath when the standard was laid down. Not that there was anything wrong with them originally, far from it. Gentleman Jim, the first champion in the world, was as grand a dog as ever breathed. The thing that I deplore is the myth that none of the other types can be Staffords at all; that dealing, money-grubbing show men should claim the sole right of declaring what a Stafford is.

Even they haven't managed to ruin the breed yet, though. There hasn't been time to standardize appearance into dull uniformity and there hasn't been time to dissipate character and gameness. So Staffords are still typical Black Countrymen, so like the men who own them that they often seem to look the same. They aren't naturally aggressive, but will mill and mill when they do start, with no thoughts at all of defeat. No Black Countryman loves his fire more, and none is more faithful to his friends or indifferent to strangers.

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Date d'inscription : 07/11/2008

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