This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Non-Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland, Non-Sporting Division.
Without distinctive feature, there was one dark fawn dog, others light fawn with black muzzles, and an animal that had been obtained to improve the strain that would have been best relegated to the tan yard. I was sorry to come to the conclusion that the Lyme Hall mastiff, with its historical traditions, was become a thing of the past, its place being usurped by inferior specimens not good enough to obtain a prize at any of our smallest dog shows. For the sake of his ancient repute it would have been better had the mastiff of the Leghs been allowed to entirely disappear, like the wild cattle which not many years ago grazed in the adjoining park, than to degenerate into the poor creatures we saw in the kennels there a few months ago.
Some twenty years or so since, my friend Mr. H. D. Kingdon did his best to restore life and give prominence to the Lyme Hall strain, but his energy was entirely thrown away, and the few dogs he did bring forward were small and poor creatures in comparison with the superb specimens that had for some time emanated from other kennels. About half a century ago there was a turning point in the history of the mastiff, which the succeeding establishment of dog shows facilitated.
Is the story of the origin of the Lyme Hall mastiff too stale to be reproduced here? On St.
Crispin's day, October 25th, 1415, the battle of Agincourt was fought, and the English had a decisive victory over their Gallic neighbours. Sir Peers Legh, of Lyme Hall, fighting for the victors, lay wounded on the field, and when found by his comrades he was guarded by a magnificent mastiff bitch, who did not leave her master until he died of his wounds in Paris, whither he had been removed. The bitch pupped shortly afterwards, but this did not prevent the warrior's family making arrangements for the conveyance of the knight's protector and her family to Lyme Hall, whither the corpse was taken for subsequent interment in the private vault of the Legh's, within the walls of Macclesfield Parish Church. From these puppies there sprung what was once supposed to be a pure strain of mastiffs. But history is silent about even the parent bitch herself, although it has been stated positively that the Lyme Hall strain was descended from dogs born generations before Agincourt was won. I do not think that anyone who wishes to improve his strain of mastiffs to-day would fly to the Lyme Hall Kennels for the purpose.
At the time of my visit, there was a very fine painting by Nettleship, about 1876, of a mastiff, and a right good dog too, evidently quite as good as Miss Aglionby's Turk, and some others that have had more to do with the foundation of our present strain than some people would imagine.
The Duke of Devonshire had an old strain of mastiffs at Chatsworth, but this has been lost, and so have those that were once known at Elvaston Castle, near Derby, in the family of the Galtons.at Hadzor Hall, Worcester. There had been a special strain at the Duke of Sutherland's, at Trentham, and the author of the "History of the Mastiff" mentions strains kept by Colonel Wilson Patten, at Bold Hall, which had been at this seat since its occupation by the Honourable Peter Bold; and later by Mr. John Crabtree, of the Kirklees Park, near Halifax. The latter was head gamekeeper to the Armitage family, and he, about 1820, came into the possession of a brindled mastiff bitch, which he found caught in one of his fox traps that had been set in the park. From this bitch, and by judicious crossing, he obtained a strain of dogs highly spoken of by Mr. Wynn, which, it seems, Mr. F. Crabtree used principally as assistants to himself and his under-trappers in the apprehension of poachers.
Mr. J. W. Thompson, another Yorkshireman, about 1830 and later, gave considerable attention to the breeding of mastiffs, but to Mr. H. V. Lukey, of Morden, Kent, must modern admirers of the mastiff turn to find the man who has done most to improve or to develop the breed. His first mastiff came into his possession about 1835. This was a brindled bitch, with cropped ears and docked tail, said to be an Alpine mastiff from the kennels of the Duke of Devonshire. This seems to be something of an anomaly, though vouched for both by the late Mr. Lukey and by Mr. Wynn, and the latter tells us the ears of the Alpine mastiffs were cut to prevent them becoming frost bitten. Personally, I should think they would be far more likely to suffer from the attacks of frost-bite when cruelly cut than if left intact. However, this by the way.
The bitch in question was obtained from a dealer named White, at Knightsbridge, who was the predecessor of the late Bill George, of such great celebrity as a dog dealer, and father to the present Alfred George, of Kensal Town, equally well known in canine matters. This bitch mated to a black dog belonging to the Marquis of Hertford, produced two puppies, one of which died. The other, a bitch, was in time put to another so-called "Alpine mastiff," and so came Mr. Lukey's and subsequent modern strains.
It would seem strange that, with all the pride Englishmen have had in their dogs and in the ancient reputation they have borne, that of our modern mastiff so much is due to an animal that was known as the Alpine mastiff, and which in reality cannot have been more nor less than a smooth-coated St. Bernard. One writer has written that the black dog of Lord Hertford's was a Thibet mastiff. Most likely he was a very dark coloured brindled dog of our English strain, for certainly none of Mr. Lukey's dogs ever showed the hound type and bloodhound expression which would have been obtained from a cross with a Thibetian dog; and if it had been used, the evil would have kept cropping up generation after generation.
Writing in "Dogs of the British Isles," Captain Gamier came into prominence as a mastiff breeder, and his communication is worth reproducing here in part. He says:
About this time (1847) I bought of Bill George a pair of mastiffs, whose produce, by good luck, afterwards turned out some of the finest specimens of the breed I ever saw. The dog Adam was one of a pair of Lyme Hall mastiffs, bought by Bill George at Tattersall's. He was a different stamp of dog to the present Lyme breed. He stood 3o½in. at the shoulder, with length of body and good muscular shoulders and loins, but was just slightly deficient in depth of body and breadth of forehead; and from the peculiar forward lay of his small ears, and from his produce, I have since suspected a remote dash of boarhound in him. The bitch was obtained by Bill George from a dealer in Leadenhall Market. Nothing was known of her pedigree, but I am as convinced of its purity as I am doubtful of that of the dog.