Conan Doyle tells in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" with Sherlock Holmes as
main character, ".... it was a dog, a huge dog, black as tar, but not a dog that
mortal eyes might have seen. Never, not even in the
hallucinatory dreams of a maddened brain it would have been possible something
more frightening, more obsessive, more hellish than that dark shape, that wild
apperition that suddenly appeared in front of us, out of the foggy wall..."
It may be stupid or childish, I don't know and I cannot explain, but every time
I read these few lines of the novel by Sir Conan Doyle, a shiver runs through my
whole body and lightens up my passion for this breed. The molosser among the
molossers, a molosser that is a monument, the Mastiff for me is not only a
passion, a pleasure, it is a challenge and an incessant devotion of a part of my
life to an awesome animal that much deserves, much more than he has received so
Today in italy this breed is facing a moment of real crisis, very few subjects
are entered to Enci and very few kennels aknowledged by Enci-Fci. If we also add
the poor, and sometimes non-existent collaboration among breeders, you can see
the reason of this disaster.
But, to be true, the English Mastiff has already crossed dark periods especially
in his home country, England.There are
several theories about the Mastiff's origin:
the first, I share more than the others, sees it already present in England at
least 600 years before 55b.c., the year when Caesar's Roman troops decided to
invade those lands. In fact, according to history, the Roman legions faced some
very big dogs, endowed with extraordinary strength, very similar to
Assyrian-babylonian dogues. Charmed but at the same time impressed by these
animals, after the conquest of the English land, the Romans decided to bring
some subject back to Rome to use them for fighting against wild beasts.
According to the second theory the Mastiff was instead introduced in England by
the Celts already in 2000 b.c. The third and last one assumes that it descends
from the Greek-Roman dogues, brought to England by the Romans themselves in 55
b.c., when they conquere the British Isles.
Talking about its spread, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Mastiff was
used as guardian dog in the courtyards, in the years from 995 to 1035, during
King Knud's reign, it was even compulsory for each village to have at least one
mastiff to saveguard and protect the lives of men and cattle.
After King Knud, also Henry III of England (1207-1272) used him for hunting, and
for this reason the subjects were cut three fingers of their fore feet so that
they could not attack the game. In reality, the name Mastiff started to be used
only after the year 1300, taking the place of the name Mastin and before that of
Ban Dog. Ever since and abyway after 1400/1500 about the real and serious
selection of the English Mastiff started, in 1515 the Leigh family had Lymehall
Castle built, today it is a real museum, a masterpiece of sculpture, drawings,
photos and pictures, everything about the English Mastiff.
In those years and for about half a century the Mastiff met moments of great
popularity as it was considered as a very good guardian and protector of the
family. Unfortunately, and I repeat unfortunately, some not very noble lords
decided to use it for fighting, a bear or lion against three or more mastiffs.
Of course, in those years, very often were used cross breedings to improve one
or more characteristics. Bulldogs were used to increas strength, Bloodhound for
the sense of smell, and to make it bigger they used Saint Bernards.
Only at the end of 1800 the Mastiff started to be pure bred, even if every now
and then some blood of the above mentioned breeds was used, with the aim to stop
In 1833 the Old English Mastiff Club, OEMC, was founded, the most ancient club
in England, that since that moment will ward the breed.
About in 1870 the first important dog shows started with a high number of
entered subjects, and it was then that very important dogs started to be seen,
such as Peter Piper, who had an extraordinarily shaped head.
According to me, it was very fine, and I think that it would be pleasant to see
dogs like him in rings today.
At the beginning of 1900 most of the English breeders agreed about the
definition of the mussle's length, which had to be 33% of the whole head.
Unluckily, with the beginning of the First World War, the Mastiff breed collapse
down and it was necessary to use Bullmastiff blood, a breed obtained by crossing
Mastiff and English Bulldog, and once again Mastiff.
In the years between 1930 and 1940 the breed was popular again and a witness of
this is Ch. Drake of Havengore, a very good subject, with an extraordinary power
and excellent construction.
During the Second World War, the situation worsened again and the result was
devastating for this breed. In fact, at the end of the war in England there was
only one female that could be used for reproduction, and thank to the help of
Mrs Nora Dickins, at the time the Club secretary, with committment and hard
work, it could bring back from America a male and a female, who had been
previously sent there to avoid the extinction of the breed. This wondeerful,
extraordinary Woman... It is only her credit if today we can still enjoy this
wonderful breed as the English Mastiff is, a patrimony for all of us.
Certainly for me....