History of the breed
The origin of the breed is something of a mystery, because there are two opposing theories about the breed that have been put forward over the years. One side believes that the breed may be several hundred years old, which is mainly based on the belief that the dog shown in Jan van Eyck's painting `Wedding of Arnolfini 'dated 1434 is a Griffon. Certainly the little dog depicted in the painting is similar a small Griffon, but there are also those who claim that this dog is a precursor to other dwarf breeds and of course it may be possible that this is just a type of dog that many small breeds are descended from.
The second theory is that the breed did not exist until 1880, which was the year a Griffon-like dog won third prize at a large dog show in Brussels, and it was much admired. Belgian breeders wanted to preserve it and so the popularity and development of the breed started.
This is probably a bit true in both theories, the predecessor to the breed was almost certainly a small rough-haired terrier similar to a dog that had been on the streets of Brussels for some time, they were very popular with drivers in the city who kept them in the stable as rat hunters and were referred to as "Stable E'curie" (Stall) and sometimes "little street boys". The drivers often let the Griffons sit in the carriage and they got, among other things. act as alarm dogs, by barking, the driver was warned if anyone approached the carriage. The griffon became a common sight and in this way became very popular among the fine ladies who loved their cheeky and cheeky expressions. Probably there were some crosses that changed the look and made them popular and fashionable. Breeders began to cross in breeds of various kinds such as - pug that gave the breed the big head, eyes, black coloration and the short-haired variant, - King Charles Spaniel strengthened the flat face and deepened the red fur. Unfortunately, the King Charles Spaniel also contributed to the arched skull, large ears and webbed feet (which are still seen today). It is also claimed that the Yorkshire terrier was used and that it is the cause of the unwanted silk fur that we often see.
In Belgium in 1880 the club `Club du Griffon Bruxellois' was formed and a breed standard was developed, the dogs began to be registered and the first breed classes were held in 1883. The breed went from strength to strength and soon gained admirers from other European countries and the USA. many Griffons abroad, which caused them Belgian breeders to worry when several of the best breeding animals left the country.The male who won the show in Brussels in 1880 `Tom '(or" Vom "this is not entirely clear) was bought by an Englishman who brought him to the UK. Before his departure he was mated with a bitch who gave birth to a male named `Fox 'and he became a popular breeding male and was even the grandfather of England's first Champion. It was not long before more Griffons were imported to England and registered as" foreign dogs ". Some could be traced as Griffons in 1895, but it was not until 1896 that the first four approved imports were made that were registered in the pedigree. In 1898 the Griffon was recognized as a breed by the English Kennel Club. Only three were registered the year two of these went on to become the first and second English Champion, Bruno and Mousequetaire Rouge.Around this time quarantine regulations began to take effect and the law that dogs born after 1895 with hilly ears were not allowed to be shown at shows, led British breeders to start breeding their own breeding base.
World War I was a difficult time for Belgian breeders, but they recovered enough to continue breeding and exporting Griffons. It is said that there were about 5,000 griffons in the country. Between then and World War II, it was decided in Belgium that all web-photographed breeding animals were not allowed to breed. Although the homeland almost managed to get rid of the unwanted bug, it damaged the breed by causing a decline in the breed and in 1939 the breed was very small in number. During the war years no breeding took place and in 1945 Griffon had almost disappeared in his homeland.
This did not happen in Britain as the English were foresighted enough to see the benefits of keeping even the quality breeding animals that had web feet and never explain it as a mistake. It seemed that the best dogs were the ones attached to those with web feet - they were the ones with the best heads, large nostrils and high nose placement - characteristics that gave the Griffon face its unique expression. Breeding of Griffon in the UK therefore continued to increase in quality. The tide had turned and now it was British breeders who exported breeding material to Belgium.
Web-foot is when it is is like swimming skin between the toes. Normal in many birds such as ducks and amphibians such as frogs.
Although registration of puppies has never been very high in England, the Griffon became quite popular at the beginning of the last century, and in the 1920s and 30s the registrations were around 150-200. After the war, there was a steady increase during the 1950s, until it reached its peak in 1962 with 627. Since then, there has been a steady decline and they are now back to around the 150-200 mark.
The leading breeders in England before World War II were:
Lady Handley Spicer with her Copthorne prefix. She first bred during this prefix in 1901 and she dominated the breed for the next 20 years.
Mrs Whaley with her Glenartney kennel
Miss A J Johnstone with her Sunnymede Kennel
Mrs Hall with her Park Place prefix.
These four ladies dominated Griffon in the first decade of the 20th century and imported dozens of Griffons from Belgium.
Mrs Handley Spicer, Copthorne Griffons walking her dogs
Two of Lady Handley Spicers Griffons
During the period around 1910 , five well-known kennels started that made an impact on the breed:
Misses Plunkett with Castlehaven kennel
Mrs Sainsbury with her Causeway kennel
Mrs Charters with her St Margaret kennel - Mrs Charters bred some fantastic Griffons until the 1920s, when she started breeding the Sealyham Terrier instead.
Mrs Parker Rhodes and Mrs Pepper with Partridge Hill Kennel
Mrs Ionides with Vulcan kennel
The last two kennels continued to successfully breed after the First World War and Mrs Ionides had a kennel with 30 Griffos in her house in Twickenham, where she let her puppies play in the ballroom.
Partridge Hill Advertisment 1925
Cover of Hutchinson’s Dog Encyclopedia (1934) showing Mrs Parker Rhodes with her Griffons
VULCAN RIN TIN TIN
PURCHASE OF PARTRIDGE HILL
PARTRIDGE HILL PECCADILLO
PARTRIDGE HILL PEG O' MY HEART
PARTRIDGE HILL PICCOLO
PARTRIDGE HILL POLONAISE
PARTRIDGE HILL POWERFUL
PARTRIDGE HILL PRECIOUS
PARTRIDGE HILL PROVIDENCE
PARTRIDGE HILL QUATORZE
England, like Belgium, saw a rapid and enthusiastic growth of Griffon breeding during the interwar period.
To the established pre-war kennels, a large number of new English kennels were added during this time:
Rippingdon -Miss Croucher
De Mons - Mrs. Glendower
Clifton Wood - Mrs. Richardson
Australia - Mrs Powell
Doreens - Miss Caughie
Babbacombe - Miss Clay
Glenwood - Mrs. Bardwell
Rippington Griffons Crufts 1922
VICTOR OF BABBACOMBE
Some more top kennels that were formed in the 1920s and 1930s:
Mrs Lennon with the Joyvalley kennel
Mr & Mrs Cockburn with the Johnsfield kennel
Miss Fryson with the Meadowlands kennel
Mrs Bridle with the Lalarookh kennel
Mrs Thomas with Gerrard's kennel
Mrs Dennis with the Hilladene kennel
Mrs Cliff with the Irton kennel
Mrs Mitchell with the Lavenderway kennel
Mrs Street with Skibbereen kennel
SKIBBEREEN VANTA OF IRTON
SKIBBEREEN FULL CRY
SKIBBEREEN FOXFIELD POLLYANNA
SKIBBEREEN ENDCLIFFE TERRIE
SKIBBEREEN BUKA BRIGAND
SIMON OF LAVENDERWAY
LALAROOKH BLACK FURY
GERRARDS ROSE MARIE
GERRARDS NEW PENNY
FELIX OF IRTON
On the continent, the breed is on its way back, but the need for imports is still great. Primarily England, but also the USA, Sweden and Finland have contributed to getting new blood. The first griffons came to Sweden from Belgium in the early 20th century, but it was not until a few decades later, when English dogs were imported, that breeding began in earnest. Several successful dwarf dog breeders had the griffon on their program. During the 1960s, there was a new upsurge for the breed, when several very good dogs were imported from England. They still form the basis for many of today's breeders in Sweden. Subsequently, the breeding material has been supplemented with additional imports of mostly English descent. Several breeders have used US-born dogs imported to Finland (including those with mainly English dogs in the pedigree).
Griffon Bruxellois Breeders Association
The Griffon Section's history story taken from a breed compendium written by Birgitta Brunbäck and Siv Jernhake before the judges' conference in the autumn of 2004.
Mabel Parker-Rhodes: The Cult of the Griffon Bruxellois, Second Edition 1931.
Marjorie Cousens: Griffon Bruxellois, 1960.
LG Raynham: The History and Management of the Griffon Bruxellois, 1985.
The Griffon Bruxellois Handbook - Mollie E Grocott
Article on The Brussels Griffon by Mrs Handley Spicer- from the New Book of the Dog- Robert Layton -1907