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I had the pleasure of spending some time with Alan Johnston who's Grandfather had one of the first Lakeland Kennels. I thought it appropriate that his description of the history of the breed be used. Here is his summary which he graciously shared with me.

Good Morning,

My name for those of you who don't know me, is Alan Johnston. My Grandfather founded our kennel, The Oregill Kennel in 1921 and I suppose this is the reason that I have been asked to do this talk on the history of the breed. When I first agreed to do this talk it sparked comment from some that I should make a video and have subtitles added. However, this is a talk about Lakeland Terriers and I'm afraid you'll have to put up with the Lakeland dialect!

A poster at Crufts showing the history of the Lakeland Terrier

I'd like to start at the beginning with the reason for the existence of the breed. As anyone who has visited the Lake District knows, the fells are grazed by Herdwick sheep, a very hardy breed with extremely wiry, dense wool. The Herdwick has been bred in the lakes for hundreds of years because it is best suited to the fells as it can withstand the climate, and as one old farmer once told me it's the only breed that can stand hunger.

So imagine if you will, a fell farm in the 19th century , very picturesque but not the easiest of places to make a living. On these farms, one would find three different breeds of dog, all connected to the keeping of sheep. Each of the dogs of the fells had to be different from their lowland counterparts.

Firstly the sheepdog, not quite the same as the type you see on "One Man and his Dog", these dogs are expected to drive and gather the sheep out of crags and gills and a good one will work independently out of sight of the shepherd.

The second breed you would meet on this farm is the Fell hound which differs to it's lowland counterpart in that it is lighter in build to aid agility and perhaps whiter in colour so that it can be seen at a distance. The fell hounds usually belong to the Fell pack and will return again when the hunting season starts. The Fell pack hunts on foot because it would be simply impossible to follow on horseback.

The third breed to be encountered and the one that we are concerned with is of course, the terrier. These little dogs have been bred in the lakes for centuries and have been molded into a terrier best suited for the work and conditions they will encounter.

However to establish the purpose of these terriers, I'll tell you more about the fell farm. The sheep are gathered and brought down off the fells three or four times a year for dipping, clipping and lambing. The sheep are brought down into the fields near the farm in April to lamb; this is later in the year than the lowland flocks because the climate is so cold. The birth of the lambs coincides with the weaning of the fox cubs.

Not all the foxes take lambs but the ones that do play havoc with the lambs at that time of year. So the fox has to be controlled. Many of the shepherds would go round looking round the known places where the fox might have cubs and try their terriers to ground hoping to catch the vixen and her cubs. Our terriers share the same ancestry as the Welsh terrier and I suppose they are bred for the same job in a very similar terrain. These little black and tan dogs were bred in the Lakes for centuries mainly on the farms and later by the packs of Fell hounds and Otter hounds of the area.

The Fell fox usually gives birth in a scree bed or a disused slate quarry spoil heap, so when hunted it often goes to ground in these places. A Scree bed is fonned by stones that have fallen off a crag. These stones that fonn a scree vary in size from the size of a car to the size of a pebble. When a fox goes to ground in these sorts of places it is the job of the terrier to try to drive out the fox for the hounds to kill. A fox that has been chased for a few miles is usually tired and does not want to bolt. This is when the terrier is expected to kill the fox underground. A scree can be a dangerous place for a terrier as the rocks may fonn caverns from which a terrier may not escape. This is why the short-legged terriers are no good for the job, they might get into the fox but they haven't got the leg length to jump and scramble out again. The heavy broad fronted dogs are also no good because they can't follow the fox into tighter places underground, and can also get stuck there. The weather in the fells is very changeable and it seems to be the only place on earth where you can experience all four seasons in one day! It might be bright sunshine when we set off hunting, but the higher in the fells we get, the colder it gets and the wind blowing in off the Irish sea brings in the clouds, that may fall as rain in the valley bottoms, but will fall as sleet or snow higher in the fells. This is the reason that the terriers must have a good hard weather resistant coat. A soft coated dog when wet soon suffers from hypothermia and many dogs have perished for this reason.

Tommy Dobson the founder of the Eskdale and Ennerdale foxhounds introduced Bedlington Terrier into his strain of hunt terriers, they prove very game and worked well, but their coats were their downfall. Most of the terriers were bred at the hunt packs but many would end up on farms, some of them returning when the hunting season started again. Not all of the terriers belonged to farmers, some were owned by miners and other tradesmen for sport. This was mainly badger digging, rabbiting, ratting or fox hunting.

Much new blood was added from time to time. It is thought that Cornish miners working in the ore mines in west Cumbria brought terriers with them and crossed them with the local terriers. It is also thought that some Irish miners did the same.

The local shepherd Meets started to put on classes for Foxhounds and terriers, mainly to create some variety in the meets. You can imagine it was inevitable that terrier classes would take off. Before long, people were keeping terriers for show and some of them would never see a fox. They were first classified as coloured working terriers, this was to separate them from the white terriers, although many of the white terriers could have been out of the same litter as the coloured-working terriers.

Interest in the coloured working terrier grew and competition got harder. Even today, the shepherds meets and Dales shows have terrier shows, but just for the working terriers, Russell's, Borders and Lakelands. (Although Lakeland Terriers are sometimes referred to as Fell Terriers). In 1921 the Lakeland Terrier Association was formed. This was the simplest way to include all the different strains and names that had been used up until then. They included Patterdale Terriers, Ennerdale Terriers, Fell Terriers and Cumberland and Westmorland Terriers. Many were also referred to by the packs they belonged to, for example, Coniston, Eskdale, Melbreak, Blencathra and Ullswater .

Now they were all sailing under the same Flag, It wasn't long until the Kennel Club recognized them as a breed. The first certificates were given out in 1931.


Although many dogs were being bred throughout the lakes, and a few even further afield, the majority of the dogs were bred in my hometown of Egremont. These dogs were the descendants of the Eskdale & Ennerdale and the Melbreak and the local working dogs that had belonged to ore miners. There were well over 20 breeders in Egremont alone, and many were breeders of Top class Lakelands, some made it to the big shows but most breeders could only afford to show locally. Remember; during the 1930's depression many working class people were out of work and a few pounds from the sale of a litter of pups would have been very welcome.

Fell Foot Park Fieldstone fences that the dogs
 chased the foxes over until they reached
their dens in the craggy rocks

What the breed needed was some money thrown at it. This happened when Tom Magean of the Mockerkin Kennel became interested in the breed. He was a very wealthy man who owned the Cumberland Bus Company. Magean asked my Grandfather, Alf Johnston, who was also an employee of his, to retire from driving buses and handle his dogs. Magean bought most of the Oregill dogs and changed their name to Mockerkin. Many of these dogs at this time were half bred Lakeland and Wire Fox Terrier. A lot of Fox Terrier was introduced to try to improve the shape of the Lakeland. In the 1930's the Mockerkin Kennel was the leading Kennel and because it was exhibiting country wide, many southerners became interested and took up the breed. In the 30's and 40's competition was very stiff in Cumberland and it was much harder to acquire best of breed in a local show such as Whitehaven and Workington, than to win best of breed at Cruft's today. The breed as a show dog was developed between two world wars, only about 21 years. Although as a breed the Lakeland had come a long way, many improvements were still to be made. When the Second World War commenced most of the shows were put on hold and many breeders cut down their stock in numbers because of food shortages. At this time a lot more Wire Fox Terrier and Welsh Terrier blood was added and when the dog shows started again after the war, the breed came out vastly improved and almost a new breed. The breed that we all recognize today as the Lakeland terrier. “

Today Alan still breeds Lakeland Terriers but he also breeds the working terrier. See the picture of "Billie" below.





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