When The Reverend John Russell first took up foxhunting with his own pack of hounds in the early 19th century, he soon learned that Devon, like everywhere else in England, suffered from a drastic shortage of foxes. At that time disease, particularly distemper, took a great toll on the fox population, and in fact it was still prevalent until after World War I. The Reverend Russell was further exasperated by the fact that if he was lucky enough to find a fox it would habitually run to ground.
The only terriers available in his younger days showed no respect for a fox and would either kill it or maim it. So Russell set about creating a ?soft? breed of terrier that was small and game enough to follow a fox to ground but, most importantly, did not like getting bitten and so could be used consistently without having to recover from injury. So successful was he in developing this type of working terrier that within 30 years his reputation had spread countrywide. By the mid 1850s terriers that carried his name were being bought by all the fashionable foxhound packs in England. These ?soft? working terriers were famous for bolting foxes without attacking them.
Russell formed the Fox Terrier Club with the idea of standardising the breed and getting it recognised by the Kennel Club in 1856. To begin with this went well, with mostly Masters of Hounds, including Jack Russell himself, doing the judging and terriers from various hunts up and down the country being shown. However, like many other breeds they were soon targeted by dog fanciers who were only interested in winning rosettes.
As more and more fanciers took an interest in fox terriers other breeds were crossed in to enhance show point-winning eatures. One such change was the fox terrier?s long nose which came from Italian greyhound stock. Breeders introduced the foreign breed in the mistaken belief that fox terriers needed deeper chests and longer legs to keep up with foxhounds. But actually terriers were never required to keep pace with hounds as, before they were transported on quad bikes, they would either be carried on horseback or a runner would follow the hounds on foot with two terriers.
Ideally a working Jack Russell?s head should be shorter from nose to eyes than from the eyes to the back of head, and be shallow in chest like a fox, in order that they can be entered effectively. Size makes little difference. I had a bitch that was only 9in at the withers but would bay a fox all day. The show terrier was no longer fit for the purpose for which the breed was originally intended, and eventually Jack Russell resigned as a Kennel Club judge after telling a steward he wouldn?t have recognised the dogs before him as fox terriers.
But Reverend Russell?s working terriers were now so well established that almost everyone had one, from the most famous Masters of Foxhounds to the humblest country people who dug badgers to eat. The method was to bay a badger using one Jack Russell then dig down to it and shoot it. It was a humane method of despatch.
In the 1960s and 1970s there was a new trend, particularly in the Welsh Valleys, for entering harder terrier breeds to badgers and foxes. A rise in miners? wages saw many young lads travel north in their spare time from where they brought back breeds such as Lakeland and Border terriers. From the late 1950s onwards the Patterdale, another hard breed that had black Staffordshire and Lakeland blood, became popular.
In Wales at that time people valued the breed that could sustain the most punishment without quitting the fight, and the Jack Russell with its tendency to bay rather than fight its quarry was dubbed cowardly. The effect on the Jack Russell breed was dramatic with many established family lines being lost as the animals were sold off as pets with no record kept of their working ancestry. In 1974 a group of people, myself included, recognised that there was a real possibility the breed could be lost, so we set up a club to preserve remaining pure working Jack Russell stock for future generations.
For a number of years it worked well, for it was written into the constitution that any terrier showing obvious signs of another breed was not allowed to be shown or registered with the club. However, by the late 1980s the Jack Russell had become so popular as a show terrier in the US, Sweden, France and Germany that history repeated itself when Eddie Chapman was among those who set up the working Jack Russell Club in 1992 breeders began crossing Lakeland and bull terrier into their Jack Russells in order to win at shows. Like the fox terrier the modern Parson Russell breed now recognised by the Kennel Club is also too big for fox work, and too aggressive because of the working Lakeland blood that has been introduced to give the Parson Terrier a larger head and a harsher coat for the show ring.
This caused a split, with club members from the South and West of England, the home of the original breed, resigning and starting their own club in 1992, which is still going strong today.