Early History

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The Origins of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The present form of The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is now widely recognised throughout the UK and the world. However, with the exception of variations in size, weight and the current name, he has existed in Britain for the best part of 185 years. Writings and pictorial history provides reasonable grounds for this statement and the fact that this breed can lay claim to having derived from English dogs so long ago entitles it to be truly listed as an ‘Old English’ dog.

However, although we can speculate as to the Staffordshire Bull Terriers provenance, which began in the 18th century, we are not 100% able to state this as fact.  This is because no one really bothered to write it down or keep any records of dogs in those days.  Their main purpose was to breed and manufacture dogs to suit their own purpose or particular sport, and pedigrees were of no importance which continued well into the 20th century with the old dog fighting fraternity believing that to produce the best fighting dogs was to breed from dog and bitch with the required proven courage.

It is with this in mind that we must realise that colour, and finer points were in fact despised and ignored and this attitude persisted in the Black Country even when the breed was accepted for registration by the Kennel Club in 1935. Very few Staffordshire Bull Terriers back then had any authentic ‘family tree’ with most dogs and bitches only being known by their pet names which actually had very little imagination. For example, Darlaston Street in 1934 boasted five Staffordshire Bull Terrier dogs and four bitched, but only two names, Mick and Bill, for the dogs and all the bitches were called Nell.

It is no wonder that in these circumstances early pedigrees proved confusing and quite often useless.

Early Progenitors


So let us look at the type of early dogs from which our Staffordshire Bull Terriers evolved. To do this we need to travel back through the centuries.  Invaders of Britain were often met with large fighting dogs, either Mastiffs or their forerunners, which had probably been introduced to the British Isles by traders long before Christianity, and were domiciled and trained by our ancestors to help fight in battle.

These fearsome animals who were so revered in battle was revealed in Roman writings, who revered to them as ‘Pugnaces’ and ‘Broad Mouthed Dogs’ of Britain.  Many of these dogs were taken back to Rome to keep the amphitheatres stock with a supply of fierce animals and were pitted against animals of the jungle and against armed men as well as other huge dogs.

As their notoriety in these bloodthirsty sports increased they spread to almost every land in Europe and Asia, in fact every country which was occupied by the Romans. Slowly, as these big dogs were domiciled they were bred with others and new varieties were produced, in fact it is almost certain that many modern breeds owe their type and size to these old fighting Mastiffs.

Bt the time we reach the time of Tudor England in the 15th and 16th centuries writers were now describing Mastiffs types of two sizes; one large and used for baiting sports and the other more modest in size but still very powerful and solid and used for guard work and kept for domestic purposes. It would seem that the smaller dogs were the forerunner of our modern Bulldog.

In the 15th century we are introduced to the Alaunt or Alan, the name appears in The Master of Game, written by Edward, 2nd Duke of York, between 1406 and 1413. In this he describes a dog of large proportions and described as ‘short headed’ and  pugnacious and inclined to hang on to anything attacked the Alaunt is also mentioned in The Canterbury Tales, in Knights Tales. by Chaucer.

The first attempt to to classify dogs according to their function, appearance and names occurred in 1570 by Dr Johannes Caius in De Canibus Britannicus and was written latin which was later translated into English by Abraham Fleming in Of Englishe Dogges.  In this book he describes ‘a huge dogge‘, stubborn, eager, burthenous of body, and of little swiftness, terrible and fearful to behold.

It seems that in the 15th century anything which was large framed would be termed as a Mastiff, in fact, in Old English the term ‘masty’ meant fat which is similar or akin to ‘massive’ and in the 16th century dogs were named according to their appearance as well as their function.  It is now obvious that these dogs descended from the Old Mastiff which was the forerunner of The Old English Mastiff who in Elizabethan Tudor England became the master of bull-baiting and close relation to the Bulldog from which Bull and Terrier descends and today we call him The Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

The fact that a terrier breed or breeds were used with the Old English Bulldog to produce the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is without doubt as his very name confirms that a Bull and Terrier cross took place and perhaps the early and slender Bulldogs were also bred on more Terrier like lines than they obviously are today and if they were the perhaps the two distinct paths of development would have met.

We in the breed are happy and content to know we have an upstanding breed evolving from solid, traditional British stock, whether it was the bulldog or the terrier bloodline which had the greatest influence on The Staffordshire Bull Terrier does not really matter as the dog today is one to be proud.

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4 Comments so far:

  1. James says:

    Fascinating post on Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

    It is amazing how these dogs were “designed” and bred. I never knew they had such a colourful history in the UK.

    I do know that domesticated dogs are supposedly all descended from wolves. It amazes me that from wolves you can get such a diverse mix of breeds from Chihuahuas to great danes, not forgetting the staffies too.

    People who do not bring up these dogs in a kind way end up with a vicious dog on their hands. These vicious dogs then go on to attack people, many times children. I don’t hate the dogs for that, rather, I hate the human who was cruel to that dog all of its life. They messed with its mind and the results are they get branded as dangerous dogs, like we see these days.

    I have known many people with Staffordshires, and they were soft and gentle, despite their meaty, powerful looking jaws. They were just as soft and gentle as any other dog I’ve met.

    Loved this it was a fascinating read. Please do tell us more.


    • admin says:

      Every dog whether it be a cross breed or a large type can be a potential lethal weapon in the wrong hands. What is on the lead is only a reflection of what is at the other end. Thank you for your comment.

  2. richard says:

    Great write up! I’ve had the pleasure to have known many of these and owned a couple myself. my brindle Taz lived for 15 years until she passed from old age and she was the best dog I’ve ever known. She was raised around kids and I never doubted leaving her anywhere. She traveled to dead shows all across U.S. She had such a great personalty I miss her dearly. She did tear the heck out of my couch when she was a pup though lol

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