The origin of the Beagle is not completely clear, but in the 11th century William the Conqueror is thought to have brought the St. Hubert Hound and the Talbot hound to Britain. It is believed that both of these strains were then crossed with Greyhounds to give them speed and stamina for deer hunting.
From medieval times, Beagle was used as a generic description for smaller hounds, though these dogs differed considerably from the modern breed. Miniature breeds of Beagle-type dogs were known from the times of Edward II and Henry VII, who both had packs of Glove Beagles, so named since they were small enough to fit on a glove, and Queen Elizabeth I kept a breed known as a Pocket Beagle, which stood 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 cm) at the shoulder. Small enough to fit in a "pocket" or saddlebag, they rode along on the hunt. Elizabeth I referred to the dogs as her singing Beagles and often entertained guests at her royal table by letting her Pocket Beagles cavort amid their plates and cups.
The British countryside began to change in the 18th century as land gradually turned to cultivation of crops resulting in the smaller hounds struggling to hunt their quarry. In the early 1800s the numbers of Beagle packs went into steep decline and by 1850 there seems to have only been about a dozen known packs in existence. The Beagle itself had to change and the improvements were undertaken by a few knowledgeable people so that by the early 20th century there were over 50 packs registered with the Master of Harriers and Beagles Association.
19th-century sources refer to these breeds interchangeably and it is possible that the two names refer to the same small variety. Standards for the Pocket Beagle were drawn up as late as 1901 although these genetic lines are now extinct.
The early history of the show Beagle is closely shared with pack hounds. Show and working hounds were at one time one and the same, as the better looking pack Beagles were, in fact, those seen in the ring. The split between the show and working types scarcely existed, and certainly it is not the wide gulf that we have today. Beagles were then shown at specific Hound Shows, the most famous being Peterborough which was the hunting enthusiasts Crufts. Here entries were accepted only from recognised packs.
The Kennel Club registered show Beagle really began to flourish after the Second World War and by 1950 there were four sets of Challenge Certificates on offer for Beagles. It became obvious that a small band of enthusiasts were putting in some hard work because by 1951 there were no fewer than eight sets of Certificates on offer. Amongst the exhibitors there were some new names that became part of Beagle history. These included Miss N Wilmshurst, Miss R Brucker, Miss J Whitton, Mrs T Grey and Mr and Mrs D Appleton. All the Beagles shown by these exhibitors were bred by packs.
By 1955 there were ten shows that had CCs on offer, and two famous names came to the fore; Mrs G Clayton with Ch. Barvae Paigan and Mr F Watson with Ch. Barvae Statue hitting the headlines. These two hounds did a great deal of winning and left a huge impression on the breed.
Beagles were definitely on the rise as by 1958 there were fourteen sets of Certificates available. This was also an important year for the breed as the first American imports were released from quarantine. These smaller hounds helped to rejuvenate the breed following the ravages of the war. As well as Barvae, other kennel name such as Appeline, East Nene, Derawuda, Rozavel, quickly followed by Dialynne, Rossut, Crestamere, Southcourt, Korwin and many more, all contributing to the improvement of the show Beagle and thereby the breed in general.
The question of size has always been a cause of great discussion. The Kennel Club standard now requires the Beagle to be between a desirable minimum height at the withers of 13 inches (33 cm) and a desirable maximum height at withers of 16 inches (40 cm). The American standard differs and states there are two varieties: hounds not exceeding 13 inches in height and 15 inches for hounds over 13 but not exceeding 15 inches.
The UK Standard has allowed the exhibitor some leeway in the height of the hound however, ‘desirable’ has at times stretched to nearer 17 inches which is moving closer to the size standard for harriers.
From the 1960s, through the ‘70s, ‘80’s, ‘90s and into the 21st century the breed has gone from strength to strength. With improved nutrition, health checks and testing, carful rearing and socialisation techniques, thoughtful breeders have continued the development of our favourite breed to be a great show dog and wonderful pet and companion. At the same time the Beagle remains fit for purpose: a merry hound whose essential function is to hunt, primarily hare, by following a scent. Bold, with great activity, stamina and determination. Alert, intelligent and of even temperament.
email Sally Kimber: firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: 01474 814796