London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Street-Sellers of Sporting Dogs.
THE use, if use it may be styled, of sporting, or fighting dogs, is now a mere nothing to what it once was. There are many sports—an appellation of many a brute cruelty—which have become extinct, some of them long extinct. Herds of bears, for instance, were once maintained in this country, merely to be baited by dogs. It was even a part of royal merry-making. It was a sport altogether
|congenial to the spirit of Henry VIII.; and when his daughter, then Queen Mary, visited her sister Elizabeth at Hatfield House, now the residence of the Marquess of Salisbury, there was a bearbaiting for their delectation— Queen Elizabeth, on her accession to the throne, seems to have been very partial to the baiting of bears and of bulls; for she not unfrequently welcomed a foreign ambassador with such exhibitions. The historians of the day intimate—they dared do no more—that Elizabeth affected these rough sports the most in the decline of life, when she wished to seem still sprightly, active, and healthful, in the eyes of her courtiers and her subjects. Laneham, whose veracity has not been impeached—though Sir Walter Scott has pronounced him to be as thorough a coxcomb as ever blotted paper—thus describes a bear-bait in presence of the Queen, and after quoting his description I gladly leave the subject. I make the citation in order to show and contrast the former with the present use of sporting dogs.|
The suffering which constituted the great delight of the was even worse than this, in bull-baiting, for the bull gored or tossed the dogs to death more frequently than the bear worried or crushed them.
The principal place for the carrying on of these barbarities was at , not far from St. Saviour's Church, . The clamour, and wrangling, and reviling, with and without blows, at these places, gave a proverbial expression to the language. "The place was like a bear-garden," for "gardens" they were called. These pastimes beguiled the afternoons more than any other time, and were among the chief delights of the people, "until," writes Dr. Henry, collating the opinions of the historians of the day, "until the refined amusements of the drama, possessing themselves by degrees of the public taste, if they did not mend the morals of the age, at least forced brutal barbarity to quit the stage."
Of this sport in Queen Anne's days, Strutt's industry has collected advertisements telling of bear and bull-baiting at Hockley-in-the-Hole, and "Tuttle"--fields, , and of dogfights at the same places. Marylebone was another locality famous for these pastimes, and for its breed of mastiffs, which dogs were most used for baiting the bears, whilst bull-dogs were the antagonists of the bull. Gay, who was a sufficiently close observer, and a close observer of street-life too, as is well shown in his "Trivia," specifies these localities in of his fables:—
Hockley-hole was not far from Smithfield-market.
In the same localities the practice of these sports lingered, becoming less and less every year, until about the middle of the last century. In the country, bull-baiting was practised times more commonly than bear-baiting; for bulls were plentiful, and bears were not. There are, perhaps, none of our older country towns without the relic of its bull-ring—a strong iron ring inserted into a large stone in the pavement, to which the baited bull was tied; or a knowledge of the site where the bull-ring was. The deeds of the baiting-dogs were long talked of by the vulgar. These sports, and the dog-fights, maintained the great demand for sporting dogs in former times.
The only sporting dogs now in request—apart, of course, from hunting and shooting (remnants of the old barbarous delight in torture or slaughter), for I am treating only of the streettrade, to which fox-hounds, harriers, pointers, setters, cockers, &c., &c., are unknown—are terriers and bull-terriers. Bull-dogs cannot now be classed as sporting, but only as fancy dogs, for they are not good fighters, I was informed, with another, their mouths being too small.
The way in which the sale of sporting dogs is connected with street-traffic is in this wise: Occasionally a sporting-dog is offered for sale in the streets, and then, of course, the trade is direct. At other times, gentlemen buying or pricing the smaller dogs, ask the cost of a bull-dog, or a bullterrier or rat-terrier, and the street-seller at once offers to supply them, and either conducts them to a dog-dealer's, with whom he may be commercially connected, and where they can purchase those dogs, or he waits upon them at their residences with some "likely animals." A dog-dealer told me that he hardly knew what made many gentlemen so fond of bull-dogs, and they were "the fonder on'em the more blackguarder and varmintlooking the creatures was," although now they were useless for sport, and the great praise of a bull-dog, "never flew but at head in his life," was no longer to be given to him, as there were no bulls at whose heads he could now fly.
Another dog-dealer informed me—with what truth as to the judgment concerning horses I do not know, but no doubt with accuracy as to the purchase of the dogs—that Ibrahim Pacha, when in London, thought little of the horses which he saw, but was delighted with the bull-dogs, "and he weren't so werry unlike in the face hisself," was said at the time by some of the fancy. Ibrahim, it seems, bought of the finest and largest bull-dogs in London, of Bill George, giving no less than for the twain. The bulldogs now sold by the street-folk, or through their agency in the way I have described, are from to each. The bull-terriers, of the best blood, are about the same price, or perhaps to per cent. lower, and rarely attaining the tiptop price.
The bull-terriers, as I have stated, are now the chief fighting-dogs, but the patrons of those combats—of those small imitations of the savage tastes of the Roman , may deplore the decay of the amusement. From the beginning, until well on to the termination of the last century, it was not uncommon to see announcements of " dogs to fight for a collar," though such advertisements were far more common at the commencement than towards the close of the century. Until within these years, indeed, dog-matches were not unfrequent in London, and the favourite time for the regalement was on Sunday mornings. There were dog-pits in , and elsewhere, to which the admission was not very easy, for only known persons were allowed to enter. The expense was considerable, the risk of punishment was not a trifle, and it is evident that this Sunday game was Now dog-fights are rare. "There's not any public dog-fights," I was told, "and very seldom any in a pit at a public-house, but there's a good deal of it, I know, " I may observe that "the nobs" is a common designation for the rich among these sporting people.
There are, however, occasionally dog-fights in a sporting-house, and the order of the combat is thus described to me: "We'll say now that it's a scratch fight; dogs have each their corner of a pit, and they're set to fight. They'll fight on till they go down together, and then if leave hold, he's sponged. Then they fight again. If a dog has the worst of it he mustn't be picked up, but if he gets into his corner, then he can stay for as long as may be agreed upon, minute or half-minute time, or more than a minute. If a dog won't go to the scratch out of his corner, he loses the fight. If they fight on, why to settle it, must be killed—though that very seldom happens, for if a dog's very much punished, he creeps to his corner and don't come out to time, and so the fight's settled. Sometimes it's agreed beforehand, that the master of a dog may give in for him; sometimes that isn't to be allowed; but there's next to nothing of this now, unless it's in private among the nobs."
It has been said that a sportsman—perhaps in the relations of life a benevolent man—when he has failed to kill a grouse or pheasant outright, and proceeds to grasp the fluttering and agonised bird and smash its skull against the barrel of his gun, reconciles himself to the sufferings he inflicts by the , the consciousness of skill—he has brought down his bird at a long shot; that, too, when he cares nothing for the possession of the bird. The same feeling hardens him against the most piteous, woman-like cry of the hare, so shot that it cannot run. Be this as it may, it cannot be urged that in matching a favourite dog there can be any such feeling to destroy the sympathy. The men who thus amuse themselves are then utterly insensible to any pang at the infliction of pain upon animals, witnessing the infliction of it merely for a passing excitement: and in this insensibility the whole race who cater to such recreations of the wealthy, as well as the wealthy themselves, participate. There is another feeling too at work, and proper to the sporting character—every man of this class considers the glories of his horse or his dog his own, a feeling very dear to selfishness.
The main sport now, however, in which dogs are the agents is rat-hunting. It is called hunting, but as the rats are all confined in a pit it is more like mere killing. Of this sport I have given some account under the head of rat-catching. The dogs used are all terriers, and are often the property of the street-sellers. The most accomplished of this terrier race was the famous dog Billy, the eclipse of the rat pit. He is now enshrined—for a stuffed carcase is all that remains of Billy—in a case in the possession of Charley Heslop of the Bells behind St. Giles's Church, with whom Billy lived and died. His great feat was that he killed rats in minutes. I understand, however, that it is still a moot point in the sporting world, whether Billy did or did not exceed the minutes by a very few seconds. A merely average terrier will easily kill rats in a pit in minutes, but many far exceed such a number. dealer told me that he would back a terrier bitch which did not weigh lbs. to kill rats in minutes. The price of these dogs ranges with that of the bull-terriers.
The passion for rat-hunting is evidently on the increase, and seems to have attained the popularity once vouchsafed to cock-fighting. There are now about regular pits in London, besides a few that are run up for temporary purposes. The landlord of a house in the Borough, familiar with these sports, told me that they would soon have to breed rats for a sufficient supply!
But it is not for the encounter with dogs alone, the issue being that so many rats shall be killed in a given time, that these vermin are becoming a trade commodity. Another use for them is announced in the following card:—
A Ferret Match. A Rare Evening's Sport for the Fancy will take place at the "———," —— STREET, , MR. ——— has backed his Ferret against Mr. W. B——'s Ferret to kill Rats each, for a-side. He is still open to match his Ferret for to to kill against any other Ferret in London.
Matches take place every —— Evening. Rats always on hand for the accommodation of Gentlemen to try their dogs.
Under the Management of ———
As a rat-killer, a ferret is not to be compared to a dog; but his use is to kill rats in holes,
|inaccessible to dogs, or to drive the vermin out of their holes into some open space, where they can be destroyed. Ferrets are worth from to They are not animals of street-sale.|
The management of these sports is principally in the hands of the street dog-sellers, as indeed is the dog-trade generally. They are the breeders, dealers, and sellers. They are compelled, as it were, to exhibit their dogs in the streets, that they may attract the attention of the rich, who would not seek them in their homes in the suburbs. The evening business in rat-hunting, &c., for such it is principally, perhaps doubles the incomes I have specified as earned merely by street- The amount "turned over" in the trade in sportingdogs yearly in London, was computed for me by of the traders at from to He could not, however, lay down any very precise statistics, as some bull-dogs, bull-terriers, &c., were bred by butchers, tanners, publicans, horse-dealers, and others, and disposed of privately.
In my account of the former condition of the dog-trade, I had to dwell principally on the stealing and restoring of dogs. This is now the least part of the subject. The alteration in the law, consequent upon the parliamentary inquiry, soon wrought a great change, especially the enactment of the Sect. in the Act and Vict. c. . "Any person who shall corruptly take any money or reward, directly or indirectly, under pretence or upon account of aiding any person to recover any dog which shall have been stolen, or which shall be in the possession of any person not being the owner thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and punishable accordingly."
There may now, I am informed, be half a dozen fellows who make a precarious living by dogsteal- ing. These men generally keep out of the way of the street dog-sellers, who would not scruple, they assure me, to denounce their practices, as the more security a purchaser feels in the property and possession of a dog, the better it is for the regular business. of these dog-stealers, dressed like a lime-burner—they generally appear as mechanics—was lately seen to attempt the enticing away of a dog. Any idle good-for-nothing fellow, slinking about the streets, would also, I was informed, seize any stray dog within his reach, and sell it for any trifle he could obtain. dealer told me that there might still be a little doing in the "restoring" way, and with that way of life were still mixed up names which figured in the parliamentary inquiry, but it was a mere nothing to what it was formerly.
From a man acquainted with the dog business I had the following account. My informant was not at present connected with the dog and rat business, but he seemed to have what is called a "hankering after it." He had been a pot-boy in his youth, and had assisted at the bar of publichouses, and so had acquired a taste for sporting, as some "fancy coves" were among the frequenters of the tap-room and skittle-ground. He had speculated a little in dogs, which a friend reared, and he sold to the public-house customers. "At last I went slap into the dog-trade," he said, "but I did no good at all. There's a way to do it, I dare say, or perhaps you must wait to get known, but then you may starve as you wait. I tried —it's a good bit since, but I can't say how long—and I had a couple of tidy little terriers that we'd bred; I thought I'd begin cheap to turn over money quick, so I asked a-piece for them. O, in course they weren't a werry pure sort. But I couldn't sell at all. If a grazier, or a butcher, or anybody looked at them, and asked their figure, they'd say, '! a dog what ain't worth more nor ain't worth a d—n!' I asked gent a sovereign, but there was a lad near that sung out, 'Why, you only axed a bit since; ain't you a-coming it?' After that, I was glad to get away. I had dogs when I started, and about in money, and some middling clothes; but my money soon went, for I could do no business, and there was the rent, and then the dogs must be properly fed, or they'd soon show it. At last, when things grew uncommon taper, I almost grudged the poor things their meat and their sop, for they were filling their bellies, and I was an 'ung'ring. I got so seedy, too, that it was no use trying the streets, for any would think I'd stole the dogs. So I sold them by . I think I got about apiece for them, for people took their advantage on me. After that I fasted oft enough. I helped about the pits, and looked out for jobs of any kind, cleaning knives and spittoons at a public-house, and such-like, for a bite and sup. And I sometimes got leave to sit up all night in a stable or any out-house with a live rat trap that I could always borrow, and catch rats to sell to the dealers. If I could get lively rats in a night, it was good work, for it was as good as to me. I sometimes won a pint, or a tanner, when I could cover it, by betting on a rat-hunt with helpers like myself—but it was only a few places we were let into, just where I was known —'cause I'm a good judge of a dog, you see, and if I had it to try over again, I think I could knock a tidy living out of dog-selling. Yes, I'd like to try well enough, but it's no use trying if you haven't a fairish bit of money. I'd only myself to keep all this time, but that was too many. I got leave to sleep in hay-lofts, or stables, or anywhere, and I have slept in the park. I don't know how many months I was living this way. I got not to mind it much at last. Then I got to carry out the day and night beers for a potman what had hurt his foot and couldn't walk quick and long enough for supplying his beer, as there was rounds every day. He lent me an apron and a jacket to be decent. After that I got a potman's situation. No, I'm not much in the dog and rat line now, and don't see much of it, for I've very little opportunity. But I've a very nice Scotch terrier to sell if you should be wanting such a thing, or hear of any of your friends wanting . It's dirt cheap at , just about a year old. Yes, I generally has a dog, and swops and sells. Most masters allows that in a quiet respectable way."