Thoughts and speculation on the early development of the terrier breeds

 From “Stonehenge”, “Nondescript terriers, mid 1800s. NB terrier at back left “A”

The existence of Terriers is mentioned in a ‘Catalogue of Sporting Dogs’ as long ago as the 15th century. A century later Dr. Caius wrote of the value of terriers for unearthing fox and drawing badger. In 1667, Nicholas Fox in ‘The Gentleman’s Recreation’ suggested that the Working Terrier type was fixed to two general kinds, one having shaggy coats and straight limbs, the other smooth coats and bent legs. Later there was more sub division with the addition of the Country of origin to the terms “Rough” and “Smooth” eg Rough Scottish Terriers and English Smooth Terriers. In 1861 John Meyrick writing in his book “House Dogs and Sporting Dogs” described The Rough Scotch Terrier thus: “His hair is long and matted and often soft and silky. His colour is usually a rich black and tan, sometimes mixed with dark gray; it is impossible to look at his coat without suspecting a cross with a Colley. In height he is seldom over 14 inches, but sometimes weighs more than 16 or 18 lbs There are innumerable varieties of this breed”.

Rough Scotch Terrier, about 1820. NB wierd eye positions..due to drawing ability?

The earliest origins of most breeds have become shrouded in myth and mystery. Though there are fairly clear indications of the Bedlington’s history back to about 1790 many questions remain unanswered, for example where did the Bedlington Terrier coat arise? One could assume that the Colley referred to by Meyrick was a shepherd’s “Colley” dog, but a Colley was also a dark coloured, curly coated sheep once found in the Scottish Borders. Is there a clue here in Meyricks’ description to the origin of the Bedlington coat?

One of the earliest mentions of a Bedlington like dog appears in the Diary of a Hungarian nobleman, Z. Molar, written of a visit to the Rothbury district in 1702. Molar was visiting a ‘Lord Charles’ and writes of a hunt in the region of Rothbury. “Today we hunted well. Lord Charles had mounted me on one of his best bays, a fine fellow…….. after two good gallops we came home just before dusk… On the way we passed a gypsy encampment. They are not as colourful as our gypsies in Hungary. These people had small Agar (Hungarian greyhound) like dogs with hair like that of the lamb. Lord Charles told me they were great dogs for hare and rabbit and some of his grooms kept them for this sport”. These woolly dogs were described as being “the red of bricks” and the old bricks in Hungary are a rosy-red, like a reddish liver Bedlington. This may be the earliest written record of one possible Bedlington precursor.

Very strange eye positions!

What of the feet? In 1829 a Captain Thomas Brown wrote of dogs brought from South America to Musselburgh which he described as differing markedly from other dogs in that the feet were “like a rabbit’s” and “the nails, in place of being wedged shaped like those of other dogs, are curved like those of the cat”. Nowhere else in any early descriptions of dogs have I read a description so like the Bedlingtons nails, most modern breeds have “cat feet” with a few exceptions. The dogs are also described as “very elegant in make“, as having pendulous ears, a long muzzle, a tail covered with long silky hairs, pale sandy coloured hair, very long over his whole body and legs and “down his forehead, almost to the tip of his nose, is a ridge of very long hairs and which is also the case on his cheeks and jaws“. Quite a few Bedlington characteristics there!!! Please note the mention of the terms “sandy, pendulous ears, ridge of very long hairs” and the description of the feet .

I came across this little terrier totally by accident. My husband was giving a talk to Solicitors/Lawyers in Stirling. We were invited to join them for their annual get together weekend. With time to spare we went window shopping and found the book containing the “South-American Terrier” in a second hand book shop, cost £60. The “South American Terriers” had been in Musselburgh (near Edinburgh) for about ten years before the book was written, taking the existence of these dogs in Musselburgh back to about 1819. One at least was bred to a rough “Scotch Terrier” bitch. Could these little imports have passed characteristics to their “Rough Scotch Terrier” offspring which could have traveled down to Carter Bar and beyond there to mingle their genes with those of our native terriers? The dogs belonged to a Custom’s official who most likely traveled the route from the docks at Leith (Edinburgh) down over Carter Bar to the Newcastle area as part of his duties. Was there a big demand for the unusual dogs he had? Did he sell the offspring on his travels? Who is the Captain Brown who wrote the book these dogs are described in? It is interesting to note that a “Captain Brown” is associated in the novel “Guy Mannering” by Sir Walter Scott with the Dandie Dinmont Terrier.

Whatever dogs may have played a part in the early development, the Rough Scotch Terrier is the most likely main origin.

The pictures above may or may not bear any close resemblance to the dogs found at the time, the drawings are crude, as is the drawing of the South American Terrier, how easy to believe that dogs have changed perhaps more than they have! How much of the apparent differences in breeds arises from poor drawing, improvement in artistic techniques, the invention of photography and the improved grooming aids and equipment we enjoy today?! Just look back at the dog “A” at the beginning of this section, compare that with some of the pictures that follow of bedlingtons from 1820 onwards…look similar? Stonehenge names this dog as a YORKSHIRE TERRIER!!!

Sketch map, with apologies for lack of drawing ability!!!

In the 1700s the terriers would be a fairly amorphous group evolved over the geographical region on either side of the Scottish border. Roads were few which led to the formation of fairly isolated local dog populations with little contact between them. When the dogs moved it would have been mainly along the few roads which did exist. Market days at the towns along the roads might have seen the sale of dogs as well as other animals and provided a chance for matings between dogs from different populations. It is romantic to imagine the proud farmer, gypsy or huntsman proudly boasting of the hunting prowess of his dogs at the market and encouraging others to buy surplus puppies or negotiate a mating with his dogs. His dogs would have been bred for their hunting ability, but perhaps a particular physical feature of the most successful dogs might have been passed on with the hunting prowess. Each area would have a terrain which governed the type of terrier most likely to succeed at hunting, short legs might suit one locality where long legs would be more appropriate in another and dogs would be chosen for mating which showed the useful characteristics. Because of the geographical isolation the dogs of a particular area would be fairly inbred and thus any physical appearance which happened to coincide with good hunting ability would be likely to be perpetuated and eventually fixed. A breeder may have noticed that, eg a pale tuft on the head was always found in dogs with excellent hunting abilities, this characteristic pale tuft could then have been used in selecting mates. To this day, in the Lake District, there are types of terrier recognised as originating from a particular valley, eg. the Patterdales. In this way many of the terrier breeds arose and this explains why so many of our terrier breeds are named after geographical locations. Once a physical type some breeders found pleasing to the eye became associated with good hunting ability they often fixed the type by very close inbreeding.

The publication of Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Guy Mannering” in 1815 led to great interest in the terriers of “Dandie Dinmont”, a fictional character but based on a farmer of Scott’s acquaintance (who lived on a large farm, Hindlee which still exists today). I have a complete, antique set of the Waverley Novels which have lengthy notes by Scott himself on various aspects of the novels. In one of the notes Scott describes how, after the publication of the novel, a letter was sent to the farmer addressed to “Dandie Dinmont” which led to the naming of the breed. Theories that the Dandie Dinmont was used to produce the Bedlington may or may not be correct. Old Flint, claimed to be the dog furthest back in history Bedlingtons can be traced to, whelped in 1782 according to Redmarshall, was around in the 1790s and pedigrees have been produced tracing the first dogs called “Bedlington Terriers” back to Old Flint. The earliest recorded Dandy Dinmonts are credited to the farmer James Davidson of Hindlee, who died in about 1820. In Guy Mannering it is claimed Dinmonts’ dogs were all called called Mustard (yellowish coloured ones) or Pepper (grayish ones).

            Hindlee area, all houses and farms were large and "posh"      Otter hound, from "Stonehenge", mid 1800s

The nearest we can probably get to a theory on the earliest origins of the early Bedlington like dogs is that Rough Scotch Terriers were behind both James Davidson’s RACE of terriers and a RACE of terriers which included Squire Trevelyan’s “Old Flint”. Some of these may have been mated together at some point leading to later “breeds” of Dandie Dinmonts and Bedlingtons. The South American Terrier offspring with a Rough Scotch Terrier MIGHT have got into ancestors of Bedlingtons imparting the unusual long nails and rabbit (or hare) shaped feet, the elegance, the long head hair and pendulous ears. Some of these characteristics might have got into what later became the Dandie Dinmont breed. There may also have been some whippet blood introduced..but certainly not as “whippets” because at the time they too were not a “proper” breed, but were around in a dog “type” given the name “snap dog”. It is possible some Otter Hound blood got into early Bedlingtons as terriers were kept alongside Otter Hounds in one of the few packs that existed in the UK, which was based in Morpeth.

Stonehenge admits in my edition of his book on breeds known by the mid 1800s to having omitted the “breed” from his earlier edition since it was little known..so was the Otter Hound a “proper breed” when Bedlingtons were first being developed? Again, we may never know. However, having found a reference, complete with drawing, to the existence, at a suitable time, of the little Canis Serpentis Destructor the need to find a breed with pendulous ears disappears, which seems the main reason cited for Otter hound blood being “in” the Bedlington breed. Many have noted the Otter hounds were much bigger, but they may not have been in earlier times and dogs are resourceful!

All the possibilities of the early origins are merely theories, and the Canis Serpentis Destructor is a FUN, romantic addition to these..but it is ALL speculation as far as one can see! If only a proper historical researcher could be found to trace the Musselborough Customs official and his dogs, to trace the breeding and movements of the Cowney’s dogs ..the list of unanswered questions is long!!



Morpeth is only a few miles from Bedlington and the development of the breed is intimately tied to this region of Northumberland in the 1820s. A bitch called Phoebe was brought to Bedlington from Alnwick and became the property of Ned Cotes (or Coates), the Vicar’s son. Ned died young and Phoebe was taken over by Joseph Aynsley (this was often spelt Ainsley) and Phoebe was mated to James Anderson’s liver dog Piper. Both these can be traced back to a dog named “Old Flint” who belonged to Squire Trevelyan and Old Flint is claimed to have associations with dogs from the Allan family.

Home of Squire Trevelyan, Netherwhitton Hall..all of this!

       Main House.                                                                            Surrounding the courtyard were many buildings which included kennels and stables.

Other notable breeders who were involved in breeding in Aynsley’s time were Thomas Thompson and William Clark. Aynsley is usually credited with naming the terriers they produced “Bedlingtons”. The name Bedlington has been in use now for almost 200 years, before which dogs of similar type were known variably as Rothbury Terriers, Northumberland, Northern Counties, Rodbury and Northumberland Fox Terriers. An early mention of a race of possible Bedlington and Dandie Dinmont ancestors in the Rothbury area is in the ‘Life’ of James Allan, a Northumbrian piper, published in 1818.

The Allans are often claimed to be “a branch of the Yetholme gypsies, the ‘Piper’ being born about 1730 in the forest of Rothbury”. He is described by some writers as:-

He was the youngest son of William Allan, a tinker by trade, a piper of great merit and ‘the devil for sport’. Otter hunting was his strong point and he was popular with the gentlemen of the area because he always kept a number of the Rothbury-type terriers, which it is said could be ‘relied on to show good sport’. His two favourites were ‘Pincher’ and ‘Peachem’.”

This and similar descriptions have given rise to the belief that Piper James Allen was “the devil for sport”, made the infamous utterances about his dogs etc., it cannot have been so.

James, “PiperAllan” with Northumbrian pipes, played differently to the Scottish bagpipe.

On a visit to a present day Northumbrian pipe maker we were directed to a bastle at Holy Stone where it is claimed the Allan’s lived. A bastle is a strange structure, they were built for protection during the time of the Border rievers. At one time there was a sort of No-Man’s Land between Scotland and England, a lawless, often dangerous area. Gangs of rievers on horse back would swoop upon a farm and take the live stock, sometimes comely wenches, and might even kill the farmer and his family. Bastles were built for protection from these raids. A typical bastle has a byre occupying the whole ground floor, with only one very sturdy door into it. Above this were one or more stories as living accommodation for the humans. The entrance to the house was a door in the middle of a wall above the byre. There was no staircase, instead access was by way of a ladder which was pulled up into the bastle during raids. There were narrow windows for shooting arrows etc. to try to fight off the invaders. Most hill tops had pyres ready to light so farmers could warn one another that raiders were on their way. In the book I bought on the Border rievers I discovered a list of Riever families, to my horror the Irvings are listed. Irving was my maiden name!!!

Trane and Chick looking out of the upper door of the bastle.

So if the Northumbrian pipe-maker was right, was Piper James Allan a gypsy or of an ordinary working family? Was he or his father a tinker, or well enough off to own or rent the bastle we visited? Did any of them ever, in fact, live in the bastle?

I have in my possession books published in the early 1800s on the Allen family. It rapidly becomes clear the it was WILLIAM Allan, father of “Piper (James) Allan”, who kept a renowned pack of terriers. William Allan, commonly called “Old Will” is described in “the Life of James Allan, The Celebrated Northumbrian Piper, and Other Branches of His Extraordinary family…..etc.” in the “new improved edition” published in 1818. According to the book Old Will was born in 1704 at Bellingham in Northumberland. From “early infancy he discovered an aversion to the regular employment of husbandry, and a country life, and began to contract habits inimical to industry”. No suggestion what-so-ever that his family were gypsies, indeed the description suggests he was born into a family practicing “husbandry”, which I guess means they were basically farmers. Old Will is described as having become an “expert practitioner” of the Northumbrian pipes (different from the Scottish pipes), He apparently occasionally “employed himself in making horn spoons, heather besoms (sweeping brushes), baskets etc”, but his “favourite employment was fishing”. Early in his life he and his brother, also called James, moved to the Rothbury area. It “was here that Will contracted an intimacy with several clans of gypsies” and met his first wife, who was “evidently somewhat of a gypsy stamp”. This is not the way we normally see the family described, the “Allans” are included as a gypsy family by many authors..obviously not true.

 The wild landscape of Northumberland.

The book states that “Will never united himself to this wandering people so as to become himself a gypsy, he only associated with them occasionally”. He did lead a somewhat nomadic existence for a time though. During this time “James Piper Allan” was born along with several other children. Will now settled in a “stated residence”. His first wife died young and his second wife is claimed to have been a person of good education, from the Scottish Borders, a clergymans daughter. It is easy to see how confusion arose and the son James has been credited by some with owning the pack of terriers which are thought to have led to both Dandies and Bedlingtons. It is the father, and not the son, who became renowned for his and his dogs’ prowess at otter hunting, as well as also being a renowned piper. A further confusion may have arisen from the fact the Old Will had a brother, also called James, who resided at Holy Stone and seems to have tried to live a “normal” sort of life! I believe it was James the brother of “Old Will” who must have lived in the bastle, certainly not “Piper Allan”.


A typical bastle at Holy Stone claimed to have been the home of the Allans.

Piper James Allan led a varied and interesting life. In his early years he appears to have been not such a bad man, for a time he was taken into Alnwick castle by the Duchess of Northumberland as one of her favourite musicians. He had previously promised himself in marriage to a strange choice of partner and when the Duchess offered much help if he would marry one of the servants he left the castle, for several reasons, and married his original choice. This seems to have been a disastrous marriage, culminating in him being cuckolded by a man described as physically deformed, which completely threw him. He then becomes a drunkard, lying, cheating and stealing his way through life, visiting many countries usually as a member of the army then deserting,..a strange, colourful life where he was seldom in one place for long enough to have owned dogs!!! Piper Allan ended his life waiting for execution for horse stealing. He was saved from the gallows only by his untimely death.

It was “Old Will” who owned the dogs, the favourites being called Peachem (sometimes called Hitchem), Charley and Phoebe. He apparently refused to sell any of his dogs, even when offered fifty guineas, a very large sum of money, for one. It is Old Will who is recorded in the book as saying “When my Peachem gies mouth , I durst always sell the otter’s skin.”

Old Will died in 1779 and was interred in Rothbury Church Yard.

                           Netherwhitton Halls' Chapel                                                              Church where one early Bedlington breeders' grave was found

The bastle is not far from Netherwhitton Hall, a very grand estate indeed, complete with its own private chapel, huge house, workers houses, stables, kennels etc. It is believed that OLD FLINT was an important ancestor of all Bedlingtons, and he lived at Netherwhitton Hall.

When my husband and I spent a holiday in Northumberland, we set ourselves the task of visiting the places where a list of early breeders lived. In each case they were either large farmhouses or fairly impressive houses. We found the gravestones of most of them, which in itself is suggestive that they were reasonably wealthy people since the poor could not afford gravestones.

Some of the graves we found of early breeders.

So, miners and gypsies dogs? Or were they developed by the squirearchy and their like?

Mining existed in ancient times, stones have been found on the Orkney Islands in jewelry and ornamental items found in tombs etc. which are known to have come from mainland Britain’s Lake District and similar areas. So we know quarrying mining dates back at least to the stone age. Mining through shallow shafts dug into hillsides dates back a long time too, but when people speak of “miners” in the UK they usually think of the organised deep mining which became an important source of employment in the 19th century. There were a few private mines in the Bedlington area, but big deep mines only came on the scene much later. Woodhorn Pit was opened in 1897, Ashington Colliery in 1867 and North Ellington Pit was as late as 1913. Miners of that time were unlikely to have had the resources to develop a breed and in any case Bedlingtons trace back to Old Flint in the 18th century (1790s) and were named as Bedlingtons in the 1820s by Joseph Aynsley. Nowhere have I found a reference to any of the earlier breeders, pre 1820, being miners and most appear to have been farmers, clergymen, stonemasons and so on. It seems to me that some writing on the Bedlington WRONGLY speak of them as “miner’s and gypsies dogs”.

There is no doubt some of the gypsies traveling in the region from Newcastle to Edinburgh may well have owned dogs which entered into the development of the terriers of “Dandie Dinmont” , Squire Trevellyan and others at a much earlier date, but to describe our breed as being developed effectively by gypsies does not match the little written material I have managed to unearth. Seventy or so years before Old Flint “Old Will” Allan is recorded as having hunted otters FOR the gentry of the area to protect their fish stocks and as we have seen he does not seem to have been a gypsy, in those days gypsies were truly of a particular race of mankind which is thought to have originated from Egypt..hence, some say, the name. These were not all nomadic people, but they had distinctive racial characteristics and they tended to marry only amongst their own kind. Old Will’s dogs as believed to be behind Old Flint through dogs belonging to, or bred by his grandson, who was confusingly also called James Allan. Gypsies may have owned some of the early, undifferentiated Rough Scotch type terriers which were ancestors to our breed, but I do not believe it is accurate to call our breed “gypsies dogs”. Coal miners came on the scene as we think of them after Bedlingtons were named as a breed in the 1820s. They may have owned the breed, but they did not develop it. In the latter half of the 1800s and beyond they and others may have crossed their Bedlingtons to other breeds, but how much of any such cross breeding entered our breeds gene pool we do not presently know.

From coronets to coal!!!!!!


The Bedlington and the Dandie, Letters to The Field.

The letters to the Field generated by the heated Dandie Dinmont controversy over the purity, ruination etc. of the Dandie breed by the mid 1800s was not greatly echoed in letters which came forward from Bedlington people of the time. There seems to have been a great deal of agreement as to what a Bedlington was like at the time and what it should be like. There seems to have been little or no dissent when pedigrees tracing back from the mid 1800s were printed. Before the start of dog showing very little was known of “Bedlington Terriers” outside the north east corner of England and area around the Scottish border. The letters to the Field and other publications round about the 1850s together with the beginning of organised dog shows changed that.

Joseph Aynsley

A point much debated is whether the ‘Dandie Dinmont’ was made from the Bedlington or vice versa. Theories abound about the connection between the ‘Dandie Dinmont’ and the ‘Bedlington’. It is very likely that they both originated from the same precursors. Early litters are claimed to have contained both long legged and short legged versions, probably the short legged types were separated from the long legged types for breeding purposes until they became fixed as distinct strains of long and short legged terriers.

I intend to add to this historical section and this Dandie/Bedlington debate will be the starting point.

Photographs of early Bedlingtons show them to be similar to modern Bedlingtons, but they were coarse, heavy eared and similar to the Rough Scotch Terriers described by Meyrick and close to the description of the Cowney dogs. William Clark in particular used “in and in” breeding which would have fixed many of the characteristics these early breeders sought to perpetuate. The purity of the breed was carefully protected by the early breeders and many of today’s Bedlingtons can be traced back to these early examples of the breed. Pedigrees can be found in “Redmarshall” for early dogs,

In this narrative I have felt a need to define what is meant by “history” and development of our breed and separate this from “later uses found for them of historical interest” ..yes, there is much of historical interest, but which is not anything to do with creating the breed. Take for example the talk of bedlingtons as “miner’s” dogs. An 80 year old miner still around today would only have memory of the pits back to about 1940 even if he went down the pit aged about THIRTEEN years!!! More than a hundred years after the breed was firmly established. I think it is important to specify the TIME we are talking about when discussing “history”, there is otherwise a danger of mixing up what possibly happened much later with, eg what was happening with the early breed about the time of its naming in the 1820s, when it seems to have been the preserve of clergymen, well-off farmers, big land owners, “guildsmen” such as stonemasons (who were much “posher” than the poor peasants who worked, for example, for well off farmers)..even earlier Old Flint came from a palatial residence

We need to be careful not to scramble different eras together.

Once dog showing began our breed began to be noticed outside its own area. Though pitmen were far from rich, they were better off then their equivalents in earlier times and had a little more leisure time. Some of them took up “sporting” with a terrier to get something for eating. They may have taken their dogs down the pits, but there is no mention of this at Woodhorn Colliery Museum for instance, though the pit ponies used, and kept stabled down the pits (poor things) get a big mention. I have also never found anything in writing about dogs down pits. The early pitmen lived mainly in long rows of terraced houses sandwiched close together with lanes of mainly earth between them, they worked very long hours and many started down the pits at little over 10 years of age, and they struggled to make ends meet.
When dog shows first started the dogs were usually sent by train to the show. They were collected by show officials from the station, looked after by the show people while at the show, then returned by train to their owners. A costly business which poorish miners, often in hoc to the “shop” provided for the miners by the pit owner, could probably not afford to indulge in.
It was into the 20th century before working class people began to be able to afford anything much other than the essentials of life! 
Another example of scrambling time scales is the famous picture (included above) of Aynsley, which some think shows the orignal dogs he owned and at that time named Bedlingtons…but photography had not even been invented in the 1820s!! From the style of dress, the type of photograph, and even the age he looks, the photo must date from about 30 years after he named our breed., I intend to write more of my own ideas on the later history of our breed dealing with these various issues and eventually covering the 20th century too.

More history to follow! Watch this space!