The Mastiff 'type' is known to have been around in
the what is now the U.K certainly since medieval times where it was bred as a working dog
for guarding duties on farms and estates around the country. Obviously due
to the the nature of the society of the time the Mastiff would have been
owned by the more affluent members of society but it is known that
these powerful guards were kept by the working man to guard his own masters
crops and livestock from poachers and predators.
Shakespeare refered to Mastiffs as " The dogs
of war" and it is a matter of historical fact that several hundred Mastiffs
were given by Henry the 8th to King Charles the 5th of France to be used
as fighting dogs on the battle field. This produces a most frightening image
of these powerful beasts charging across the battle fields of the era which
surely would have given their masters an incredible psychological advantage
over the enemy not to mention the odd victory.
It has to be realised that in those days there was no breed standard for
any dog and no Kennel Club to define any breed but early descriptions of
fearsome large canines with huge head, mighty body and great voice clearly
referred to an early Mastiff type canine.
One early Mastiff type which was clearly defined was
that of the ' Lyme Hall Mastiffs ' these were bred and documented and
bred only at Lyme Hall forming a strain which lasted several hundred years.
Pictures show these early Mastiffs to have been smaller of head than the
Mastiff of today but clearly anyone could recognise the dogs as having been
Unfortunately probably the darkest period in the history of this great dog
was that of the Elizabethan era where Mastiffs were used in the activities
of Bull and Bear bating. Thankfully these alleged sports declined as did
with them unfortunately the number of Mastiffs. This decline in numbers can
be of no surprise since even at Elizabethan food prices a Mastiff could not
have been the most economical canine companion.Thankfully there were still
Mastiffs kept apparently for the more appropriate purpose of guarding the
large country estates of the time including Mastiffs kept at Lyme Hall.
The ancestors of todays Mastiffs were those bred by
several well known breeders of the early Nineteenth Century including Sir
George Armitage and his gamekeeper , George White a well known dog dealer
of the time and a Mr T.H Lukey. On the back of the interest of a small group
of people a modern type was being formed and built upon and interest in the
breed began to increase. If todays pedigrees could be traced far back to
these times many of todays Mastiffs would be shown to be descendent of a
few dogs owned and kept by this small group of people.
Between the mid Nineteenth century and the beginning of the Twentieth
Century the Mastiff breed was to become far more popular and sound in its
foundation and in 1859 the first dog show was held. A dog show at the great
Crystal palace in 1872 attracted over eighty Mastiffs and in 1873 The Kennel
club of Great Britain was formed followed 10 years later in 1883 by the Old
English Mastiff club of great Britain .
In the years of the 1st world war the Mastiff was to
suffer some decline of numbers this again can be of little surprise to most
people as these would have been hard times as some people who would read
this article may remember (unlike myself) but between the 1st and 2nd world
wars several influential Breeding Kennels emerged including those of the
Havengore Mastiffs and the Hellingly Mastiffs. In 1939 war was upon the nation
yet again and yet again the Mastiff was to suffer and in fact by the end
of World War Two Mastiff numbers were pitifully low as a result of which
a pair of Mastiffs were sent over to the U.K by a Mrs Heather Melhuish of
British Columbia in Canada.These were Heatherbelle Stirling Silver and
heatherbelle Portia. Other important Mastiffs were imported from North America
and this much needed stock did much to help this desperate
From the Nineteen Fifties onwards the English Mastiff breed grew and grew in number
and to this day the breed is firmly established as a popular pet and show
dog renowned for its massive size together with its loving and sociable
nature. As I have been asked by so many newcomers to the breed the Mastiff as it is known in the uk is also known around the world as the English Mastiff or the Old English Mastiff, this is of course exactly the same breed of dog.
Several books have been produced re the Mastiff by people with a great
knowledge of the breed but by writing this article I claim no great personal
knowledge , I hope only that perhaps a few people will enjoy what is a small
taste of the history of The English Mastiff and perhaps go out and buy one of several good books available on the subject written by people far more knowledgable on the subject than myself.