History of the Manchester Terrier

Early Documented History

Like many breeds of pedigree dog, the origins of the Manchester Terrier are obscure. We are unlikely to ever know the true origins of the breed, although recent advances in genetic science may result in more light being shed on the subject.

virginThe earliest known illustration of a black and tan terrier type dog appears in the illustrated manuscript ‘The Hours of the Virgin’ This document has been dated at around 1500.

The ancestors of the Manchester were well known in Tudor times, so clearly it had emerged as a recognisable type of dog well before then. The earliest known written description comes from Dr Caius, once the physician to Queen Elizabeth I. He described, in detail, small black and tan coloured, terrier type dogs, working as ratters, that bear a remarkable resemblance to later documented examples of the type.

Through the 1600’s information on these dogs is scarce, but smooth coated types were occasionally documented during this period. The pictorial record suggests that these dogs were not an uncommon sight.
It is likely that during this time the reputation for black and tan coloured terrier type dogs being good rodent killers became established.

A quotation from Bewick’s book, ‘The General History of Quadrupeds’, published in 1790, states:

There are two types of terrier, one being smooth and sleek, beautifully formed, reddish brown in colour with tanned legs, and is similar to the rough terrier in disposition and faculties, but smaller in size, strengh and hardiness.

Daniel, in his 1802 book, ‘Rural Sports’, writes about

Types of terriers which are elegant and sprightly, with smooth coats, black in body and tanned on the leg’.

It would appear that the black and tan terrier was already showing the elegance and agility that typify the Manchester Terrier.

jackblackOne of the most famous ratcatchers was Jack Black. He lived and worked in London around the 1850’s, and was once the Royal Ratcatcher. The black and tan terrier of these times was a working dog, used as a ratter, particularly in buildings, to control vermin. Being very efficient ratters, black and tan terriers were a widespread choice of dog for rat catchers during the 19th century.

Development of the Breed

rathunting3During the 1800’s black and tan terriers were also used to hunt rabbit, both for food, and for the sport of rabbit coursing.
The idea to make the breed finer and faster for this purpose must have occured to John Hulme, around the 1850’s or 60’s.
He developed a finer, longer legged variety of black and tan terrier. This was probably achieved by crossing his black and tan terriers with ‘snap dogs’, the type of dog thought by some to be the precurser of the whippet.

Other breeders followed suit. Early enthusiasts of dog shows adopted this type of terrier, and in so doing influenced the changes that ultimately resulted in the type of black and tan terrier we see today.

In 1882 Stonhenge wrote: ‘The Black and Tan Terrier has as good a right to be considered the representative of the Old English Terrier as any breed.’ He continues:

The breed at this time is not such a favourite of the public as it deserves to be, for it has many excellent qualities to those who like a dog that doesn’t need nursing, an affectionate, lively and amiable companion, not given to quarrelling. Very active and graceful in its actions and with pluck enough and keen zest for hunting and destroying such vermin as rats that infest houses and outbuildings. With fox and badger generally he has not the hardiness to cope or stand their bites, he is built for speed rather than power.’

……a description that still holds good today.

The use of the name Manchester Terrier began to appear when referring to the breed during the 1890’s. This is assumed to be because so many Black and Tan Terriers were found in an area of the north west of England, known as the Cottonopolis. This was centred around Manchester, the heart of the cotton industry.

This group photographed during the 1890's, shows Black and Tan Terriers before ear cropping was made illegal. Ch Beswick Beauty (A Bitch) was born in 1891. Bred by Lieut. Col Dean Ch Starkie Ben (A Dog) was born in 1892. also Bred by Lieut. Col Dean.

In 1897 the Kennel Club banned ear cropping. This caused a notable fall in the number of Black and Tan Terriers registered for exhibition. In H Compton’s book of 1904, Lieutenant Colonel Dean, one of the most important breeders of the time, writes:

I do not think that the Black and Tan Terrier is more difficult to rear than any other high bred stock, but they are most difficult to breed to perfection, on account of the numerous points that have to be secured.

Clearly Manchester breeders did not have an easy time back then.

Sporting Past

A claim to fame, or perhaps notoriety, of this breed, was its use in the so-called sport of the Rat Pit, a popular pastime in the 19th century.

The pit consisted of an enclosure about six feet in diameter, with wooden sides at elbow height and a rim for the clients to lean on. Into this pit they tipped rats. They then put the dog into the pit to despatch a given number of rats in a set time. Enthusiasts would take bets on the proceedings. Various terrier type dogs, including the black and tan competed in the rat pits.


Jemmy Shaw, who owned one of the largest sporting public houses in London, would buy over 500 rats a week from the local ratcatcher for his rat pit. Rat pits were found in most cities and large towns, another famous venue was the Three Tuns, in Bolton, owned by Joe Orrel.

Information supplied by ‘H’ Hockley, the BMTC Archivist.

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