Bloss and Bess, the tale of the airedale terrier

Vistors to Cliffe Castle are often curious about Bloss, the Airedale terrier on display in our Keighley Stories Gallery.  Our Curator for Natural Sciences, Dr Gerard McGowan has agreed to write a blog post to give some additional insight!

He writes:

Airedale Terriers are synonymous with Yorkshire. The most famous taxidermy example, named Bloss (CC 9238), which dates from 1900, was donated to Keighley Museum in 1935 and has been a much loved iconic object with locals and Airedale Terrier enthusiasts around the world. People from as far afield as Japan and North America have travelled to the heart of Yorkshire to see this truly iconic and historically important specimen.

Photograph of Bloss with Maurice Longbottom Curator of Keighley Museum in 1939ttom Curator of Keighley Museum in 1939
Bloss with Maurice Longbottom Curator of Keighley Museum in 1939

When first acquired Maurice Longbottom, Curator at Keighley Museum was informed that Bloss was the first of the breed and she was always described and exhibited as such. However, the tale of the Airedale Terrier is, like their curly coat, a little more twisted than that. Read on…

Bloss, the most famous Airedale Terrier taxidermy mount.
Bloss, the most famous Airedale Terrier taxidermy mount.

The first Airedale Terrier was apparently bred by Mr Thomas Foster from Bingley, West Yorkshire. According to a newspaper article in 1939 by Joseph Foster, son of Thomas Foster, the breed was initiated in 1863 by his father when he was only 17 years old. In 1872 Thomas Foster had a bitch named Floss, which looked similar to our Bloss specimen.  He crossed Floss with a dog called Tick that had a black silky coat, tan legs and a little tan around the muzzle. A dog from this litter named Dick sired a bitch named Bess, which was taken to Keighley when Thomas Foster, now in his early 30s, moved there in 1878.

Bess, the grandmother of Bloss was acquired by Keighley Museum in 1952
Bess, the grandmother of Bloss was acquired by Keighley Museum in 1952

Bess was crossed with a black terrier between 1878 and 1881; one of the offspring becoming well-known in Bradford, Leeds, Colne, Nelson and around Skipton and the Airedale valley. This dog was called Manifold and was all black with a curly coat like a retriever. It was reported by Joseph Foster, in the 1939 newspaper article, that there was an intermediary between Manifold and Bloss although its name escaped him at that time. Bloss, herself, was from the third litter after this cross and was born in 1887. Bloss was a black and tan (seat blue); in old age she naturally lost her youthful colours, becoming greyish (see Fig. 4). Mr Joseph Foster also stated that it was the line after Bloss, a larger and heavier type of whom some had the curly coat, so typical of the breed, that were then used as the primary stock from which all Airedale Terriers are descended. So does this now make Bess the oldest of the Airedale Terrier line…?

Fig. 4. Bloss, photographed alongside a modern Airedale Terrier at Cliffe Castle Museum Keighley in 2008.
Bloss, photographed alongside a modern Airedale Terrier at Cliffe Castle Museum Keighley in 2008.

In addition to these two noted and historically important specimens we also have a smaller terrier (CC 9840) that dates from 1803 that is reported to be an ancestor of the Airedale Terrier line (see Fig. 5). This small terrier is reported to have been bred in 1803 by Israel Foulds, the Parish Clerk of Keighley Parish Church and was donated to Keighley Museum in 1936 by J.W. Foulds of 26 Clarendon, Knowle Park, Keighley.

Early terrier dating from 1803.
Early terrier dating from 1803.

So what is the oldest Airedale Terrier specimen? Is it Bloss or Bess? What about the small terrier dating from 1803? Are these three specimens all related? I sense a DNA study coming on. To be continued…

Key Facts:-
Thomas Foster resided at Bingley until 1878, when he moved to Keighley in that year. He died in March 1925 at the age of 78 years, and was interred at Keighley Cemetery. Thomas Foster named the breed Airedale Terrier whilst still living at Bingley and before Bloss was born. He stated that there ‘were seven breeds of sporting dogs incorporated in his breeding of the Airedale’. Information is from a 1939 letter and newspaper article by Joseph Foster, the son of Thomas Foster.

Bloss was born 1887. She died at 13 years old in 1900 and was mounted as a taxidermy specimen. She was donated to Keighley Museum in 1935 by Miss Foster of 2 Grant Street, Keighley and is currently on display in the Keighley Stories Gallery at Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighley.

Bloss’s grandmother Bess (CC 87.52) is dated to circa 1890. Bess was donated to Keighley Museum in 1952 by Mrs M.A. Sunderland and Mrs E.M. Davies, and was mounted by the noted local taxidermist Jabez Bancroft of Beechcliffe, Keighley.

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