|The mastiff is
universally acknowledged as a very ancient breed. It seems likely that the
mastiff originated in the Middle East, and dogs of similar appearance are
still to be found in Russia, Turkey and Poland. Bas-reliefs from Babylon
displayed at the British Museum, show dogs very similar to the mastiff as we
know it today, with short broad muzzles and heavy bodies. Some believe that
the mastiff was brought to Great Britain by the Phoenicians, while others
dispose of this thought.
What is known is that there were large, fierce dogs in Britain at the time if the Roman invasion. H.D. Kingdon writing in 1871 was emphatic that the mastiff was a specific breed “as much indigenous to Britain as the Elm tree”. Their size and courage ensured that they were exported to Rome. What must be realised is that up until the last century the word mastiff meant a type, and nobody knows whether the dogs found by the invading Romans were similar to the mastiffs today.
Some historians claim that the British dogs were not of the molossian type, but were fighting dogs (or pugnaces). The name molossus simply means a large dog, not a specific breed. Many of the larger dogs today of the mastiff type are called molossian – probably incorrectly. There may indeed have been animals of this type in Britain then, but other historians believe that the native breed was lighter, shaggier and longer headed, being used for fighting and hunting. Nobody can for certain say which definition is correct. The mastiff or dogs of that type carried out tasks as guarding the homesteads, the farms and manor houses. They were guardians of property.
From the dark ages, through medieval and tudor times there were no pedigrees as such. Dogs were chosen for their ability to do the job, rather than for their looks. Cross breeding would certainly have occurred. There is however one exception. A mastiff whose owner, Sir Piers Leigh II (killed at Agincourt 1415), founded a strain of mastiffs that only died out at Lyme Hall at the beginning of the century. From pictures of these dogs we discover that they were different from our mastiffs of today. The Lyme Hall strain had narrower heads, their muzzles were more tapered and the colours were different. They were kept apart from other strains and were only bred at Lyme Hall.
During the reign of Elisabeth I, mastiffs were used in the terrible “sport” of bull and bear baiting. By the late eighteenth century, with the decline in bull and bear baiting, mastiffs had become extremely scarce and had deteriorated. In 1800 Sydenahm Edwards wrote that the breed was nearly extinct.
Two hundred years later it cannot be verified whether the breed was saved by chance or by design, whether a few gentlemen started to breed the pure survivors to a plan or whether it was accident of fate. The ancestors of today’s mastiffs can be named as dogs of the very early 1800s, and the breeders that were involved were: T. H. Lukey, George White, Commissioner Thompson, John Crabtree and Sir George Armitage. These men gave the breed a starting point and something on which to build.
T. H. Lukey acquired his first bitch from George White. This bitch together with another bitch called Dutchess would appear in all of today’s pedigrees if they were traced far enough back.
By mid 19th century the breed was on a much sounder footing. Some outcrossings of alpines and probably bulldogs were made. The outcrossings were necessary because of the shortage of original stock, but it lead to a lot of acrimonious correspondence when arguments about type, pedigrees and the outcrosses used became heated.
The last fifty years of the 19th century saw a rise of the breed. At a dog show at Crystal Palace in 1872, an entry of 81 mastiffs were recorded, a high figure even today. The Old English Mastiff Club was founded in 1883, ten years after the Kennel Club. AT OEMC’s first club show in 1890, fifty-one mastiffs were entered.
In 1867 on important litter was born. It belonged to Miss Hilda Aglionby, and consisted of five puppies. One of them, called Turk, was to have a considerable influence on the breed. He can be found in all our present day pedigrees. The 1870s display an upsurge in numbers, while the 80s gave a decade of general quality.
The mastiff as a breed has always been subject to fluctuations in popularity. Although the 1870s and 80s were good years for the breed, by the end of the century the state was quite different. The numbers were once more declining. In 1900 there were only 3 challenge certificates awarded, and the breed was once again at low ebb. The war years of 1914 to 1918 did enormous damage with hardly any breeding taking place. Only 3 registrations were made in 1918.
The 1920s were the start of a growth period. The decade saw the emergence of 3 major kennels. These were Mr and Mrs Scheerboom’s Havengore Mastiffs, Miss Bell’s Withybush Mastiffs and, Mr and Mrs Oliver’s Hellingly mastiffs. Withybush and Havengore used the lines carrying the bull and mastiff blood, while Hellingly opposed these most strongly and refused to have anything to do with these “tainted” lines.
The OEMC condemned the use of mixed breeding stock wholeheartedly. On the other hand it’s amusing to note that the famous CH Bill of Havengore carried so much of this blood and that both Sheerboom and Miss Bell were members of OEMC.
It’s to Miss Bell that we owe the continuations of the Brindle colour. She had more brindles than any other kennel.
Registrations continued to grow in the 1930s. But the most notable occurrence of the 30s was the disbandment of the Hellingly kennel. The dogs were dispersed, and most of them were sent to the US. These dogs, on the other hand, are the foundation for the stock that was returned to Britain after the war. The loss of this kennel, and the outbreak of the war in 1939, was a great blow to the breed.
During the Second World War there were only 3 recorded litters. Mrs Park Owned Hortia, she was mated to CH Christopher of Havengore and they produced a litter on December 5th 1939. A puppy from this litter was Rubin of Bronwins. On October 8th 1943 Hortia produced a litter to her son Rubin. A puppy from this litter was named Sally of Coldblow. It is to this one bitch we owe the single uninterrupted English bloodline. She was the only mastiff of breeding age left after the Second World War.
In 1946 a registration of great importance is recorded in the Kennel Club, Templecombe Taurus was registered. He got mated to Sally of Coldblow and several puppies were born. One of these puppies was bought by MR K. Holbert and registered as Nydia of Frithend. Without Nydia it is believed by many that the breed would have died out in the UK, even with imports which were later brought from Canada and America.
Nydia of Frithend was registered in 1947, and this was the start of the revival. Honey of Parkhurst was imported by Mrs P. Day from Canada. She produced one litter to the later import Valiant Diadem. Diadem was a brindle who traced his pedigree back to the Hellingly of the 1930s. Valiant and Nydia produced five litters between them, amounting to over 30 puppies.
In 1948 Mrs Hyacinth Mellish of British Columbia supplied the OEMC with two fawn puppies. Faced with the possibility of extinction of the breed the Kennel Club did what it had never done before, nor since. It gave a breed club permission to register these two mastiffs in the breed club’s name, with the initials OEMC before their titles. OEMC Heatherbelle went to Miss Bell (Withybush) and OEMC Heatherbelle Sterling Silver went to Mrs Scheerboom (Havengore).
Mrs Bell bred Withybush Magnus, and exported him to the US. In the US he was mated to a Peachfarm bitch. This resulted in the famous Weyacres Lincoln who was sent back to Britain in 52. He was mated to almost very mastiff bitch capable of breeding. Lincoln, his son Jason of Copenore and his grandson Threebees Friar of Copenore were three outstanding and most influential stud dogs of the 1950s and 1960s.
From the early 1950s the number of mastiffs again crept upwards, and the breed was firmly re-established. The Havengore and Withybush kennel produced the majority of show winners, and the first champion after the war was CH Rodney of Havengore.
During the 1950s the mastiff circle gradually increased. Mrs Day started the Hollesley kennel with CH Dawn of Havengore as the founding bitch. Mr and Mrs Lindley founded the kennel Copenore. They owned among others the famous Jason of Copenore and bred Friar of Copenore. The Saxondale kennel was founded in the early 1930s and they recommenced breeding in the 1950s. Meps and Kisumu were two other kennels that were started during the 1950s.
The loss of Miss Bell (Withybush) in the early 1960s shocked the mastiff world. She had played an influential part in saving the breed after the Second World War. A further blow was that Miss Bell’s last instructions were to put down all her dogs. She surely meant this for the best, but since breeding stock was not numerous it was a setback for the breed.
On the cheerful side the registrations increased in the 1960s to over 150 dogs in 1970. the number of shows and challenge certificates also rose. In 1964 one of the most famous stud dogs through all time (Jason of Copenore) sired the famous CH Macushla of Hollesley and CH Threebees Friar of Copenore.
CH Macushla of Hollesley was by Jason and CH Dawn of Havengore. She was owned and bred by Mrs and Miss Day. Descendants from Macushla include CH Hollesley Macushla’s Sheba, CH Hollesley Macushla’s Dagda, CH Daredevil of Hollesley, CH Devil’s Advocate of Hollesley, CH Devildancer of Hollesley, CH Copenore Rab, CH Copenore Czarina, record holder CH Hollesley Medicine Man (winner of CRUFTS 81,82,84 and also the CC in 93) and his sister CH Hollesley Rowella.
Other kennels started in the 1960s include Farnaby (Founded on the Havengore lines) by Elisabeth Baxter, the well known Buckhalls owned by Major and Mrs Reardon (founded on Friar of Copenore), and Craigavon by Mr Cogan to name a few important.
The upward trend continued in the 1970s and by 1980 registrations had crept to over 300. several new kennels started in this period, they include the Bulliff started when Mrs Say bought President of Shute. The Bulliff kennel later produced the famous CH Bulliff warrior who was twice winner of CRUFTS. The Hicks founded their Jilgrajons kennel, Mrs Robson-Jones founded Gildasan, Mrs Degerdon founded the Grangemoor kennel and she owned the famous CH Copenore Rab who sired Hollesley Medicine Man.
In the closing years of the 1970s the mastiff community saw the death of Mrs Lucy Sheerboom (Havengore). She was one that helped the breed and the OEMC through the difficult and dark years of the 1940s.
The upward trend of the breed continued into the 1980s. The famous Brewardine Kennel was founded in 1976 by Messers Thomas and Tugwell. Their founding bitch was Farnaby Voodoo Princess. She was mated to the famous CH Forefoot Prince Igor of Bredwardine, and they produced the top winning female CH Bredwardine Beau I’deal. In 1985 they imported the American and English Champion Arciniegas Lion of Bredwardine. This dog has had a tremendous influence on the breed. Some of his known offspring include CH Brewardine Brongest, CH Brewardine Bedwyr, CH Brigadier of Bredwardine, CH Bredwardine Bedwyn and CH Chevelu Blodeuwedd of Bredwardine.
Raymond Boatwright started the kennel Glynpedr with CH Forefoot Little Emily of Bredwardine. Raymond owned among others CH Misty Moondrops of Glynpedr and CH Glynpedr Dom Perignon (sired by the famous Hollesley Medicine Man and Glynpedr Bollinger). Another large kennel at the time was Namous and kennel Masnou by David Blaxter and his wife Sylvia. Kennel Prixican by Julia Manfredi was also a kennel started in the early 1980s, so was also Threvabyns by Jill and Richard Sergeant. A very major contributor to the mastiff breed was the founding of the Brookview Mastiff Kennel by Topsy Seeger,this kennel made enormous contributions to both size and type.The famous kennel Kumormai was started in 1987 by Mrs Elaine Knight. Her founding bitch was Apollinian Fizzy Bomb of Kumormai.
In the 1990s, in addition to the older kennels mentioned, several new arrived. Probably the best known was the Jengren kennel by Thelma Green. Her first and most famous was CH Dignified John at Jengren (sired by CH Glynpedr Dom Perignon and Meps Dark Ranne). Another famous Jengren mastiff was the brindle CH Jengren Pluto.
Another known dogs of the 1990s and start of 2000s include CH Farnaby Fraze and Fable, CH Farnaby Fringe Benefit, CH Darkling Finbar of Bredwardine, CH Casanova of Bredwardine, CH Penrichlar Phoenix of Bredwardine, CH Lady Lavinia, CH Francis From The Burning Mountain, CH Bulliff Dom, CH Bulliff Dacie, CH Fearnought the Barbarian, CH Kumormai All Gold, CH Kumormai Pride ‘n’ Prejudice, CH Kumormai As Good As It Gets and CH Kumormai Crouching Tiger.
The registrations rose from a little less than 400 in 1990 to over 500 in 1999. The upward swing has continued into the new millennium and exciting times await us.
The North American mastiff community saw the kennel Griener Hall Mastiffs make major contributions to the preservation of the old European lines.