Taking a look at the often-suggested connection between the Otter Hound and the ancestor of the Bedlington Terrier.
The current Covid -19 lockdown and the renewed restrictions that now apply in the Greater Manchester area has again hampered any possible joint Bedlington terrier activities in the garden, luckily our agility field in Disley is in East Cheshire and is not affected.
Nevertheless, it has meant that I living just within the boundary line, it has curtailed the ambitious exigently of possibly achieving certain activities along with our daily 10-kilometre walks, and has by result somewhat encouraged another possibly brief spate of writing on the subject of the Bedlington Terrier, or in this case the possible ancestors of the Bedlington Terrier.
Luckily, on our daily walk, we live close by a stream that allows Pep to take to the water like a duck, while Benjie just looks on, as if to say that he is not getting his hairdo wet although he can swim perfectly well when need be, he now acts more like a granddad at the sea side with a short paddle and out again, as you can see, I try to incorporate a variety of activities into each walk.
Meanwhile, back in front of the computer once more, trying to discover or at least attempt explain the origins of the Bedlington terrier, is an exercise, that has occupied the minds of many canine experts for a considerable number of years, resulting in many points of view being advanced for consideration.
Unfortunately, few if any of those experts who without the availability of written records to support their theories, do not appear to have visited Northumberland let alone explored its early social complexities in any depth, or to note the still visible vast lightly inhabited areas that made Northumberland in the1600’s one of England’s most sparsely populated if politically unstable counties.
We need therefore to look beyond the once undisputed territory of Bedlingtonshire, to unravel the heterogeneous beginnings of the ancestor to the Bedlington Terrier.
Unfortunately, as we place some of the many mythologised tales and long held beliefs regarding the ancestry of the Bedlington terrier under scrutiny, most of them fail the litmus test of truth.
Numerous suggestions and ideas have been put forward, though none appear to have been substantiated, and several attempts utilising those ideas to recreate the Bedlington terrier have invariably failed.
Possibly because the type of dogs responsible for such an original creation were at the time of the experimentation, extinct.
However, there appears to be a general consensus of opinion amongst certain experts, that a number of the ancesters of some of our modern sporting breeds may have played some part in the original creation of the ancestor to the Bedlington Terrier.
One breed that appears to get the expert’s nod of approval without them actually providing any supporting evidence regarding a date, place, or occurrence, is by repute, and its many variations by type the long-established early Norman hound utilised for hunting otters.
Meanwhile, for those of us that still remember when history was a much taught subject at school, the medieval years of the 12th to the end of 15th century although a period of considerable social change and internal religious and political conflict and eventually to become free from the absolute power of the Pope in the 1600’s and the gradual phasing out of record keeping in Latin, was still to our annoyance, singularly lacking in reliable records and detailed information.
It was not called the “Dark Ages” for nothing.
However, due to its sparsity of records, that period alone presents us with certain difficulties in that the early otter hound had by all known accounts a much varied ancestry, from it first recorded royal use in the late 1100’s by King Henry in the south of England, we therefore need to look to his son King John for a more detailed usage, at least in Northumberland and the Border region in the 1200/ 1209 period..
If what historic records suggest, the Welsh otter hound, the Talbot, the southern hound, and possibly other Norman hounds such as the Chien Gris de St. Louis, all seem to jockey for position in the early ancestral history of the modern otter hound, making the otter hounds exact contribution to the early ancestral line of the modern Bedlington terrier virtually impossible to assess before the 1600’s cut off point.
If one were to try and single out a possible connection, I think that the Welsh otter hound would come out my favourite, based purely on type alone. It too now sadly extinct.
We can also disregard by virtue of the date, the late introduction of the bloodhound, the foxhound, the Grand Griffon Vendeens, the Griffon Nivernais, the Chien fauve de Bretagne, and surprisingly the wolf cross as having had any possible connection to the ancestor of the Bedlington Terrier.
All remarkable working dogs in their own right, able to navigate deep water in pursuit of the otter. (and probably one of the many reasons why the later experiment to recreate the Bedlington terrier from these remarkable hounds failed.
The history of the Border region through the centuries, was one of constant turmoil as English and Scottish armies crossed the Tweed laying waste to each other’s territory with regular monotony.
Crossing the Tweed through the Bishop of Durham’s territory of Norhamshire was a favourite route for both armies.
Little wonder the region boasts of the highest number of castles, pele towers, bastles (fortified farmhouses) in the UK. Where too the Border reivers operated from their safe havens in the Debateable Lands.
A period of tyranny for the local inhabitants and farmers, that only ended, when King James imprisoned a number of lairds known to be sympathetic to the reivers and then proceeded to hang members of the known reivers families, especially the notorious Armstrong’s, that a period of stability finally arrived in the Border areas known as the Badlands.
In 1609 King James ( rescinded the previous writ of protection given to Johnny Faa, the King of the Scottish gypsies, known as the Egyptians) when under pressure from the nobility, ordered along with the Scottish privy council, that all Romany gypsies were to leave Scotland within thirty days under pain of death, several of those that remained were later hung.
The indigenous Highland traveller families were not affected by the ban and several gypsy families assumed Scottish names to escape detection, the shipping of gypsies convicted of minor offences to the colonies as slaves continued well into the 1700’s.
Of course, it should be noted that from 1700 to the Act of Union in 1707 Scotland was technically bankrupt, due to the total failure and abandonment of its Darien colony on Panama, an ambitious project financed by virtually the whole of Scotland and was designed to carry trade goods across the narrow isthmus of Panama to the west coast, both England and Spain fiercely blocked all trade with the fledgling colony dooming it to failure, and ruining thousands of Scottish investors..
During the reformation when Scotland under King James, became a protestant nation the 250-year-old Auld Alliance between France and Scotland had by then ended, leaving behind its indelible mark on all aspects of Scottish life, only the elite Garde Écossaise the personal guard of all subsequent French monarchs remained until 1830.
It is during this early period that any French connections to the origins of the ancestor to the Bedlington terrier appear most likely.
As the migration of the Catholics from Norhamshire and Islandshire to the large Catholic owned estates in Northumberland started mainly in 1660, when the then Bishop of Durham finally banned them from his territory, we can see that any possible connection between the ancestor of the Bedlington terrier and the Royal otter hounds appears extremely remote.
It is recorded that Queen Elizabeth the 1st was known as the first Lady Master of the Royal otter hounds; no record appears to exist of her ever-hunting otters or of them being used in Northumberland.
The long established practice of the royal monarchs keeping specialised packs of otter hounds appear to have ended with the death of King Charles in 1685, when shortly afterwards, the royal packs were disbanded and sold off to wealthy land owners, there is no mention by the Earl of Carlisle before he was dismissed by Queen Anne in 1702 from his role as Master of the Royal foxhounds and harriers, of any further packs of royal otter hounds.
The Earl of Carlisle in his ownership of the manors of Morpeth and Castle Morpeth plus several of the surrounding sporting estates along with his trusteeship of the attained Meldon estate once the property of James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater executed in 1716 for his part in the Jacobite rebellion and his estate given to the Royal Greenwich Hospital.
Charles Howard having been educated at Morpeth Grammar school would have been aware of the later otterhounds kennelled at Meldon and that where the maintaining of such packs had become more of a sporting activity pursued by the country squire, his estate followers and local tradespeople in the mid to late 1700’s .
In the absence of any form of written records regarding the otterhound breed before 1600, we are left relying heavily on artist impressions, which seem invariably to portray smooth hair hounds, mainly of the southern hound type, or Talbot, with few options, other than to consider those from indirect sources such as various early estate records regarding some of the older lines in the region, for example, the much later Carlisle or Dumfries otter hound packs, or re-examining a number of the traditional tales pertaining to the otter hound breed and any possible connection to the ancestor of the Bedlington terrier.
In examining these traditional tales, even though they have been much modified in the telling over the years, there usually a kernel of truth in them somewhere.
Let us see what we can find.
There appears to have been remarkably little written about the otter hound, that is if they actually existed as a recognisable type between 1300 and 1600 and we rely entire upon artists impressions of otter hunts for a glimpse of the type of hound employed However, there is one traditional tale that intrigues me, and is probably the only notable connection to the border region prior to 1600, is the one concerning King John, that is confirmed by historic fact and possibly worthy of further investigation.
By all accounts he was an avid otter hunter, and whenever he travelled north with his four hundred retainers and attendants, he would take his pack of Norman otter hounds with him.
These by artistic reference were not large dogs, twenty inches to the shoulder at best and not particularly well defined by type, though apparently mainly white and smooth haired and certainly nothing like the present day larger and densely coated otter hound.
Records show, that King John made three journeys north to meet with King William the 1st of Scotland, the first meeting was held in the neutral territory of Bedlingtonshire, by permission of the Bishop of Durham, it was not successful.
Two later meetings were held on an island in the centre of the river Tweed under the shadow of Norham castle owned by the Bishop of Durham.
The final meeting in 1209 ended in a successful conclusion for King John, where he extracted a tribute payment of £10,000, the cessation of building a castle by the Scots at Berwick, and King William’s two daughters to be married to English nobles of King John’s own choice.
Apparently, he was so delighted at the successful outcome of his new treaty, that he decided to extend his visit in the area, and to spend time hunting otters in the tributaries of the river Tweed and the otter rich area of the Glendale marshes.
He also spent time at Carham Priory, where it is said, that in an unusual act of generosity, one might venture to say a “mirabile dictu” in order to show his appreciation for the protection and hospitality afforded to him by the Bishop of Durham while passing through the hostile area of Northumberland, that he gave the priory a couple of his otter hounds to protect their fish ponds, though the mating of his otter hounds with the priory’s resident terriers seems to be a more reasonable conclusion, considering their rarity and availability.
It should be noted that due to the draconian hunting and forest laws incorporating vast areas of England imposed by successive Norman kings, few if any of the non-land owning peasant classes were able or even allowed to own hunting dogs, and that only the early monasteries by royal dispensation where allowed the considerable privilege to breed hunting dogs for the nobility, and were a valuable source of breeding stock.
They were also afforded certain hunting privileges, normally only available to the land-owning nobility.
So, it is not outside the realms of possibility, that the astute clergy took the opportunity to introduce the new genetic material into their indigenous Scottish terriers to create a type of otter terrier to protect their valuable fish stocks.
Certainly, after King Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1540, throwing thousands of clergy out of work, necessitating some of the trade orientated clergy to earn a living in other occupations, that some took up as travellers using their previous in house monastery skills servicing the needs of the various village communities.
A number of tales of the early 1600’s survives, of ex clergy families such as the Baillie’s riding with their pack of hunting terriers, and still wearing their previously privileged hunting coats in the border regions of Scotland.
While in Northamshire, and along the banks of the river Tweed, early tales abound of a type of terrier used by the salmon fisher men to assist in their work, the otter terrier perhaps.
Certainly, the early type ancestor to the Bedlington terrier seemed to share some of the otter terrier’s suggested qualities regarding working in water, and even as late as the 1800’s it was seen as a valuable addition to the otter hound packs operating in Northumberland…
However, if such an original otter hound connection were true, it seems that maintaining the required genetic diversity would be virtually impossible in such a small gene pool over an extended period, without the introduction of further original material from at least an antecedent of the original line.
Present evidence suggests that persevering in such an early genetic connection without the reintroduction of the original material in one form or another from an ancestor of the primogenitor seems from a first examination, to be apart from the theory of Darwinism to be an extremely remote possibility. However, there are several other breeds and historic avenues still to be explored, that may yet give us possible answers to the pre 1600’s ancestry of the Bedlington terrier.
As with the Otter hound, the ancient and venerable breed the Skye terrier in its various forms and several other breeds such as the Dandie Dinmont also comes high on the list of possible ancestors to the Bedlington terrier, let us see if history can offer us any clues, possibly the historic dalliance between some of the breeds may not be so remote after all.
If I get time, let us look and see if the tattered pages of history can offer us any clues to a possible connection.
Enigmata, what ways you choose, defeat me so.
If I may not of your own truths, bestow.
Where we ourselves, wish seek propone.
That very thought, we hope to own.
Alas, like autumn leaves are blown.
A mind now left; its aegis hopes to mourn.
Bloody Hell, these Covid-19 restrictions must be getting to me, I thought that I finally lost the desire to write any more doggerel verse, it’s a sad life!
Thankfully, I have Benjie and Pep to keep me from going ad insaniam convertunt.
Let us today, stroll over the boundary line and enjoy the pleasures of East Cheshire instead.