A compilation of excerpts derived from
Researches into the History of the British Dog, G. R. Jesse (1866)
Of Our English Dogs and Their Qualities, W. Harrison (1907)
Dogs Their History and Development, E. G. Ash (1927)
edited by Casey Couturier
examination of plates, books, and documents shows that the bulldog, as
it is to-day, is indeed the astonishing achievement of the breeder's
art, started during a time when such characteristics of the breed were
desired to add to efficiency in the sports in which it was then actively
engaged. But the earlier breeders had only moved a comparatively short
way in the direction, and it is the work of more recent breeders to
bring to perfection the points required. The history of the breed is
therefore a comparatively recent one, though considerable matter has
accumulated to suggest breed antiquity. Mr. Lee states in his book of
1894, that though ancient writers have been quoted by various authors ad
nauseam, and though interesting their testimony often is, it does not
necessarily refer to bulldogs, and that the best evidence is in the
pictures of the end of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries,
which show clearly from what types the present-day species has been
evolved, and I might add, how recently this has taken place.
certainly a great achievement that the modern bulldog, without the
application of force to cause deformities, has the very developments
which in earlier times were rare, and when present, more often than not,
were the result of maltreatment.
When bull-baiting and
dog-fighting ended, the dog was bred for "fancy," and characteristics
desired at earlier times for fighting and baiting purposes were
exaggerated, so that the unfortunate dog became unhappily abnormal. In
this transition stage huge, broad, ungainly heads were obtained, legs
widely bowed were developed, and frequently the dog was a cripple. Then
gradually the desired points were rounded off and the transition stage
had passed. How these changes of type were obtained is difficult to say.
Even now, when the abnormalities are no longer so exaggerated, the
modern variety would have no chance to succeed as a bull-baiting dog,
but for that purpose he is no longer required.
mention of a bulldog occurs in a letter written in 1632 from St.
Sebastian by Prestwick Eaton to one George Willingham, of St. Swithin's
Lane, London, now in the Record Office. "Pray," it reads, "procuer mee
two good Bulldoggs, and let them be sent by ye first shipp" ; but it
is very questionable as to what the writer meant by the word "Bulldogs,"
whether merely a smaller mastiff or bandog. The bulldog then was
certainly not the bulldog of to-day, for even a hundred years later,
sporting prints and such illustrations as shown by Bewick in I790, and
by subsequent artists in the works of Taplin, Bell, and Colonel H. Smith
prove this so. Earlier illustrations, these occurring in illuminated
manuscripts, woodcuts, early etchings, and engravings as well as
descriptions, suggest that the bulldog as we know him did not exist. Dr.
Caius, Gesner, Abraham Fleming, Aldrovandus, had not heard of such a
dog, authorities only too anxious to discover strange forms of life.
Certainly in Dr. Caius' letter to Gesner we find a mention of dogs used
by butchers, known naturally enough as butchers' dogs, probably the
first step in the naming of the breed. We see that this is more than
likely the explanation, for, according to Dickson in his work on the
breeding of livestock of 1823, he shows a picture of a dog, naming it
"Bulldog or Beast dog," the word "beast" of course being a rural
expression for cattle.
The butcher, requiring a dog to bring up
his cattle, naturally valued the dog the more if able to face a bull
when such necessity arose. Quite possibly, therefore, the word bulldog
was used instead of butchers' dog, to describe such a mastiff or
mastiff-type animal more fleet on foot than the heavier variety. The
popularity of bullbaiting acted as an incentive to butchers able to
practice in the precincts of the slaughter-house, "trying" their dogs
and developing their art. A good bull-facing dog was of some monetary
value and could be disposed of to some of the wealthier frequenters of
this sport. The phrase "a dog for bull-baiting" would be shortened into
"a bull-baiting dog" and "a bull dog." Thus the term "bulldog" would
pass into the language. But the bulldog then was nothing like the
bulldog of to-day.
Whitaker, in I77I, describes the bulldog, but
does not allude to the type of head for which the breed is to-day noted,
nor to the bow legs and bow body. Illustrations of I775 show the
bulldog to be long-legged and with the face of a mastiff, and in
Linnaeus's work (I792) the bulldog is named mollosus.
Even if all
this was not enough, examinations of the butchers' dog or bulldog
depicted by Bewick and on prints of later times show that the variety
was without doubt a small mastiff. with a comparatively long head. We
might suggest, as an explanation, that the word "mastiff" was dropped
when describing these smaller mastiffs, as the mastiff proper was found
too slow for butchers' work and at a disadvantage when facing a bull.
The introduction of greyhound crosses, the later held in high esteem for
speed, would be popular, so that butchers' dogs or bulldogs, faster
than the mastiff and yet retaining that breed's ferocity, were evolved.
Here was a step to reduce size and weight and increase speed, and the
greyhound can be seen in specimens of that time.
and eighteenth centuries were the heyday of the sport of bullbaiting and
dog-fighting in England, and the development of the breed on special
lines was to be expected. Bull-baiting, though varying considerably from
time to time, could be divided into what is known as the "let-go" and
"turn-loose" matches, both needing dogs of considerable ferocity and
perseverance, but also dogs quick in their movements. But the bulldog,
though mainly engaged in bull-baiting, was also in great favor as a
In dog-fighting speed of movement was of little
importance, for a dog able to keep its body lose to the ground had the
advantage. Whilst bull-baiting, therefore, caused certain developments,
the dog-pit was responsible for others. At bull-baiting the dogs entered
into a "turn-loose" match were liberated two or sometimes three at the
same time, whilst in the "let-go" match the dogs were let go
alternately, each dog having its second, who ran towards the bull with
it, to goad it on. We might add that in these "let-go" matches, to show
the sporting spirit of fair play, the bull had its second, who by
shouting "Halloo" gave it notice of the loosing of the dog. Some bulls,
we read, would dig a hole to put their noses in, and in some contests a
hole was prepared for their use.
But though here and there, and
very frequently perhaps, bull-baiting was an organized sport, many a
meeting took place without any consideration of rules and was engaged in
by dogs of all kinds, irrespective of breeding, size, or shape. So any
dog might be a bulldog, though it appears that by common consent the
mastiff type was considered to be justified with the title.
was, more often than not, a bull securely tethered to a stake or a ring
fastened into the roadway, stirred up into a paroxysm of madness by a
crowd of men, armed with instruments of torture, and a numerous assembly
of dogs of all kinds. Taplin gives us a vivid description of such a
scene, the bringing-up of the purchased bull with the herd of cows, his
separating from them, and his leading through the streets on a chain,
and a rope attached to a stout leather collar round his neck, his horns
quite possibly muffled with tow, tallow, and pitch. The bull was led
through a crowd of ribald onlookers, [For many days before, every heart
beats high with the coming joy . . . every window is filled with
children to enjoy the scene, not a street or avenue but is
crowded."-Taplin.] and doubtlessly great care was taken not to excite
him by ill-usage whilst he had good opportunity to use his great
strength. As soon as he was tethered to the stake the attack started;
hissing, shouting, and waving hats, and the blows from sticks from all
sides, and the twisting of the tail or the pointed sticks driven into
the body, woke the bull up. Surrounded by enemies, in a frenzied
condition of blood-lust, the sport for which he was intended commenced.
The noise grew worse as the unfortunate bull, roaring with pain and
fear, and the madness to end it all, had the dogs attacking his head and
seizing on to his nostrils.
Once held, the bull was more than
ever at the mercy of his enemies and could be subject to inconceivable
cruelty. A time came when agony and misery brought no amusing nervous
response, and we read how on one occasion a bull beaten by the torment
had boiling water poured into his ears to liven him up to a more
By a will dated May I5, 1661, one George
Staverton gave the whole rent of his dwelling-house, situated at
Staines, in Middlesex (after two years), to buy a bull annually for
ever; which bull he gave to the poor of the town of Wokingham, in
Berkshire, to be there baited, then killed and divided. (In revenge
because he was once chased by a dull.-E. FARMAN) He instructed that the
offal, hide, and gift-money (collected from the spectators) were to be
laid out in shoes and stockings to be distributed among the children of
the poor, the chief Alderman and one Staverton (if one of the name
should be living in the town or neighbourhood) to see the work truly and
justly performed, that "one of the poor's piece did not exceed another
The bulldog was able to afford other forms of
amusement as well as facing bulls or other dogs in combat. In the reign
of Queen Anne, an advertisement tells us that on a Monday as well as a
great match to be fought between two dogs of Hampstead at the "Reading
Bull" for one guinea "to be spent," and the "fairest Bull of fireworks,"
bear-baiting, and other forms of bull-baiting, a bulldog was also to be
drawn up with fireworks. Pepys went to a bull-baiting at Southwark on
August 4, 1666, when a dog was tossed into the boxes-"a very rude and
nasty pleasure," he writes.
At a bull-baiting at Bury St. Edmunds
in 1801, the bull-baiters hacked off all four hoofs, during the early
stages of the affair, leaving the unfortunate bull to face his
tormentors on bleeding stumps.
Whether such a variety as the
bulldog would have existed at all if the sport of dog-fighting and
bull-baiting had not been popular is difficult to say. But it seems more
than likely that no such breed would have been evolved.
during the bull-baiting times that dogs were required about 16 inches
high weighing up to 45 lb., and attempts were made to breed such dogs,
able to hold on to a bull, without being compelled to leave go to obtain
its breath. It seems to me quite possible that pug-dog crosses, or even
pug-dogs, were used to cross with the smaller mastiffs,
crossed-greyhound to obtain the desired shortened head. Certainly
Edwards's description of a bulldog and his illustration of 1800 somewhat
substantiates such a suggestion, and indeed he even mentions that this
may be a solution of the development of the bulldog type.
the title of Canis pugnax he describes the variety to have a round head,
underhanging jaw, and smooth coat, and states that he believes that "
probably by accident or design " a mixture of the pug-dog and mastiff
took place, and suggests as the pug has been bred small and their
original size must have been much larger, that such a cross was
Bulldogs, he tells us, stood 18 inches high, and weighed about 36 lb.
round full head and short muzzle, small ears, which he describes, are
similar characteristics to those of to-day, but in some ways the
characteristics are decidedly out when compared to modern types. We read
that in some the ears are turned down; in others they were perfectly
erect and such were called Tulip-eared. (Typical of French Bulldogs, but
a serious fault in the bulldog proper.)
The chest, Edwards tells
us, was to be wide, the body round, the limbs muscular and strong, the
tail thin and tapering, and in some curling over the back, in others
hanging down, Those with tails with a downward carriage, "rarely
erected, except when excited," were termed tiger-tailed, and appeared to
be rare. He tells us also that the skins were to be loose, "thick
particularly about the neck, the hair short, the hind feet turned
inwards, hocks rather approaching each other," "which seems to obstruct
their speed in running, but is admirably adapted to progressive motion
when combating in their bellies," and that "the most characteristic
point the under jaw, almost uniformly projecting beyond the upper."
I799 there was a classic fight between a monkey and a bulldog, but the
bulldog depicted is a small and lighter mastiff and not the pug-like
bulldog shown by Edwards. The fight, indeed, was to be the slaughter of
the monkey, but it turned out otherwise. An engraving of the scene is
given in the "Sporting Magazine" of I779, with the following
A curious battle took place at Worcester, between
these two animals, on a wager of three guineas to one, that the dog
killed the monkey in six minutes ; the owner of the dog agreed to permit
the monkey to use a stick about a foot long. Hundreds of spectators
assembled to witness the fight, and bets ran eight, nine, and ten to one
in favour of the dog, which could hardly be held in. The owner of the
monkey taking from his side pocket a thick round ruler, about a foot
long, threw it into the paw of the monkey, saying, "Now, Jack, look
sharp, mind that dog." "Then here goes for your monkey "cried the
butcher, letting the dog loose, which flew with tiger-like fierceness.
The monkey, with astonishing agility, sprang at least a yard high, and
falling upon the dog, laid fast hold of the back of the neck with his
teeth, seizing one ear with his left paw, so as to prevent his turning
to bite. In this unexpected situation, Jack fell to work with his ruler
upon the head of the dog, which he beat so forcibly and rapidly that the
creature cried out most eloquently. In short, the skull was soon
fractured, and the dog was carried off in nearly a lifeless state. The
monkey was of middle size. A famous monkey to fight dogs successfully
was kept at Westminster. This monkey, when attacked, bled the dog to
In 1801 a bulldog, also of mastiff type, was tried against a
man, and, though handicapped by being partly muzzled, yet did
considerable damage to his opponent. The "Sporting Times" gives an
engraving of the scene:
"An engagement took place between a
Gentleman and a Bulldog; (for a wager) some time ago. On the sett too,
the Bulldog so far mastered his adversary as to bring him to the ground;
and, notwithstanding the animal's mouth was nearly closed by the
muzzle, he fastened on the body of the Gentleman; and if not instantly
taken off, would have torn out his bowels."
One of the first
serious attempts to put an end to bull-baiting was a Bill introduced
into Parliament in 1802. We read that " The pluck of the English nation
would certainly decrease, if the Bill became Law." [Mr. Windham, in
opposition to the Bill.] So strong Was the resistance, and so plausible
the arguments, the Bill being labelled as a conspiracy of Jacobins and
Methodists to make life dull and to bring to an end constitutional
Government, that it was defeated by I3 votes. A second attempt was made
in 1829, but it met with similar treatment, being defeated by 45 votes.
But much spade-work had been done, and there was hardly a reference to
the bulldog made in speeches or in writing that did not refer to its
moral turpitude, and the awful part it played [Further accounts of
bull-baiting appear in "Dogs in English History.] in the sickening
scenes of cruelty. [There was considerable feeling on this question. At
the end of the eighteenth century and early in the nineteenth century
writers describe the bulldog as "the criminal of the canine world as a
monster of ferocity".]
Bull-baiting, thanks greatly to the
outspoken criticism of a clergyman of the Church of England, [The Rev.
Dr. Barry in I802.] became less popular, and in 1853 was prohibited by
law. But the it sport " had done its work; the bulldog had been
developed to be a dog of remarkable tenacity and endurance. At a
bull-baiting in the North of England a man for a small wager cut off the
feet of his dog, one by one, whilst it was holding on to a bull ; and
it is recorded that a butcher on another occasion, in order to sell his
bulldog puppies, cut the bitch, then very old, and almost toothless,
after she had pinned the bull, into several pieces with a bill-hook. The
puppies were immediately sold for 5 guineas apiece. [Sheridan, in his
speech in favour of a Bill to abolish bull-baiting (1802).] On both
occasions the dog held on whilst being mutilated, in the latter until
As well as tenacity and endurance, the bulldog "fashion"
required a dog on stout legs, nimble and quick, though overmuch size was
then not desired, and to be able to " play low," as it was termed, was
considered an advantage. This "play low" gave the dog the power to
keep close down to the ground, below horn-level, if it was possible. It
led to a development towards shorter legs and bow-shaped body. These
latter characteristics were more than ever important in dog-fighting,
and so when bull-baiting ceased, the minds of bulldog breeders were
centered on the development of the bow legs and short front legs.
Cropping was necessary and the ears of the bulldog were cut off close to
the head, thus preventing an adversary from obtaining a grip there.
forebodings of writers who feared the extinction of the bulldog breed
if bullbaiting ceased [The last recorded bull-baiting took place at West
Derby in 1833.] proved incorrect. Dog-fighting was allowed and was
Of the many rendezvous the Westminster Pit was a
noted one, and here sportsmen of all grades of the Society of the
Metropolis and sightseers from other parts of the world congregated. We
read in contemporary accounts of the dogs held by their backers, howling
with rage, or " in a silence still more ominous," eyeing each other,
with their " tongues licking their jaws." We can imagine the gasping,
growling, and barking of those held waiting their turn. Some would make
for the head, others the throat, others for the legs. In a silence only
broken by the sharp, short, tense breathing, they fought it out. When a
dog released its hold, a round ended, the seconds then sponged and wiped
the fighters. A fight might last a few minutes, some lasted for three
or more hours.
Two noted dogs, "Young Storm" and "Old Storm," each
weighing nearly 70 lb., had won every contest in which they had been
entered. "Old Storm" on two occasions had brought the fight to an end by
killing his adversary, and "Young Storm" at two years old had fought
four combats of over an hour each.
There was a dog "Belcher," the
winner of I04 battles, the property of noted prize-fighters of that day.
At one time Humphreys had him, and later Johnson and Ward. Ward sold
the dog to Mellish for 20 guineas, and it was from him that Lord
Camelford obtained him, at a cost of a favourite gun and a brace of
pistols. No pedigrees were kept, and "Old Storm" and "Young Storm" and
"Belcher" may or may not be the ancestor of some of the dogs of to-day.
play-bill of 1819 advertises a match between two dogs the property of a
sporting nobleman, weighing 43 lb. each, to take place at the
Westminster Pit for 100 guineas, the contest being between "that famous
white bitch of Paddington whose wonderful performances are so well known
to require no further comment," and a brindle dog of Cambridge, "a
remarkable and well-known favourite, as his form bears extensive proof."
January 18, at the same Pit, "‘Boney’ a well celebrated dog" and "a
novice" "Gas," lately introduced to the Fancy by Charley, to whom the
dog belongs,"were to meet, the stakes to be L40. On this occasion the
pit is fully described. It was illuminated with great splendour, "an
ellegant chandelier and a profusion of waxlights, "and it proved a great
attraction, as nearly 300 persons were present. At 8 p.m. the battle
started. Though " Gas " had taken the lead from the very first, the
celebrated dog "Boney" was favourite at 3 to 1 until the last ten
minutes, and at the end of one hour and fifty minutes "Boney" was
carried out insensible, the novice lately introduced to the Fancy by
Charley had won. We read particulars of "the bleeding" and the recovery.
popular were these dog-fights that to fail to know the name of a
bulldog was to prove oneself out of touch with the world's affairs.
Jesse [Researches into the History of the British Dog (1866)] tells us
that a relative, while riding through Wednesbury, stopped at the
toll-gates, on hearing the church bells ringing, and asked the reason.
"‘Old Sal's’ brought to bed!" came the answer. Being none the wiser, he
inquired who this "Old Sal" might be. "‘Old Sal!’ ‘Old Sal!’" he
repeated as if addressing a deaf person-"don't you know who ‘Old Sal’
Then the toll-keeper explained that "Old Sal," a somewhat
ancient but celebrated bull bitch, had just borne her first litter of
puppies, and the bells were sending glad news around the countryside.
dog-fighting came to an end, the law stepped in. It continued for some
years, taking longer to die than bull-baiting! The latter attracted
attention, but a dog-fight could be carried out successfully with few
being any the wiser. Often at night the company would collect in a
backyard, or clear away the forms and tables in the bar-parlor.
1871 an article in a Birmingham paper describes a dog-fight at Walsall:
Dog-fights, according to this authority, were constantly taking place.
Visitors were subject to careful scrutiny and a detective had little
chance of obtaining admittance.
The "old-world" bulldog fancier,
to whom bulldog-fighting was a means of sustenance, gradually died out.
Such a man was Ben White, who had a "trial ground" in Harper's Field,
and later in Old Conduit Field, Bayswater, where clients could try the
dogs either on some unfortunate badger or in combat with each other.
After the death of Ben White, Bill George took over, altered the name to
"Canine Castle," and there, with a change of name, changed the tone of
the place. Dog dealing was his business: times had changed, the dog show
era was starting.
Bill George [Bill George died on the 4th of
June I884 at the age of seventy-nine.] became noted as a reliable
authority on all and every breed. His business methods were above
criticism and his name became a hall-mark, especially in the bulldog
It is to do with bulldogs that Punch, in 1864, shows us a
picture of a pleasant visit to this Canine Castle, and Mr. Punch is
evidently taking up as little space as it is possible for mortal man to
cover. The bulldogs in barrels; their chains are long; the safety-zone
limited! [see page 9 of ABR #14) But these bulldogs are not the broad,
powerful, cloddy, short-legged creatures of to-day, though they show a
marked step in that direction.
more fun reads at Bulldog Spirit