We are on the cusp of a house move and we’ve been spending our last few weekends in Dorset revisiting our favourite places… one last time.

One of these special places is Swanage – a little coastal town known as ‘Knollsea’ in Thomas Hardy’s The Hand of Ethelberta, perfectly described by him as being a “seaside village lying snug within two headlands as between a finger and thumb”.

Aside from the beautiful surroundings, another big attraction for us is the attitude of the shop, restaurant and cafe owners, many of whom welcome dogs and most visitors to the town seem to take full advantage of this by having a canine companion or two.

Last Sunday, Swanage was a pedigree dog lover’s delight. Several Bulldogs, a stately pair of Leonbergers, a Miniature Longhaired Dachshund, a tiny Chihuahua and several Shih Tzus were all promenading along the seafront with their proud owners.

However on entering the town I was astonished by the amount of Pugs to be seen; every other cafe table seemed to have a Pug in attendance while others were busily dragging their adoring owners along the pavements and what struck me most forcibly was the popularity of the black variety.

The table next to us had a gorgeous black pug snuffling around and he suddenly became quite enamoured with me and Alfie (who up until then had been dozing surprisingly quietly on my lap but was most definitely not amused by the sudden intrusion of the happy little black dog with the curly tail). Passing my indignant Dachshund to a friend I reached down to give the friendly Pug some much craved attention. However a pat wasn’t enough for this little fellow, no, he wanted to climb up on my lap – and this he did, covering me in warm licks and kisses as if I was a long lost friend!

I’ve always had a particular fondness for the black Pug and this little chap’s attention made me think back to the very first time I saw one. As a lad I used to exercise my Miniature Longhaired Dachshund, Lucy, over Forty Hall – the closest I could get to open countryside, it was a sprawling parkland estate on the edge of Enfield, North London. Occasionally I would see a very regal-like elderly lady exercising her ‘pack’ of nine or ten Pugs. They made quite a spectacle, the tall frail looking woman (usually dressed in a heavy fur coat) and racing energetically around her feet were these robust excitable dogs – every one of them a rich apricot, that is, all except one, who was jet moleskin, black.

Eventually I got speaking to this lady and told of my admiration for her black Pug. She seemed quite shocked and informed me that I was ‘very much in the minority’ as most people preferred the fawn kind (this of course was the early 1980s and Eastenders’ infamous ‘Ethel’s Willy’ was rarely off our screens or featuring in some tawdry tabloid headline!).

Jack Valentine

Over the course of several months I got to know this well spoken elderly lady quite well (although I never did learn her name) and I thoroughly enjoyed our times ‘talking dogs’ and one thing that stuck in my mind was her insistence that her Pugs were not just any old Pugs… hers were ‘Morrison’ Pugs and ‘quite different from the kind one usually sees’.

This declaration only had any real significance to me many years later.

Of course some extraordinary views as to the requisite proportions of the Pug have been entertained over the years. Initially their ears were closely cropped, and it was considered correct that the tail of the bitch should curl to the left and the tail of the dog should curl to the right! For the fawn, Stonehenge, stated that a black mole on each cheek was vitally important and in this mole there were to be three hairs! Amusingly he even allotted points to the moles with the three hairs in each. A total of ten points! Again and again in all the old canine books there is a strong recommendation of them as lap dogs and the assertion of their freedom of foul smelling breath (which for some strange reason in Pugs of my acquaintance does appear to be true!). The Pug was brought into prominence in the UK by Lady Willoughby de Eresby and Mr Morrison, who each independently established a kennel of these dogs with such success that all fawn Pugs were spoken of as being either Willoughby or Morrison Pugs. The Willoughby was apparently a cold stone (silver grey) colour and the Morrison was a rich apricot colour (the same colour as the dogs in the park).

My particular favourite, the black Pug, appears to be a more recent production with Lady Brassey credited with showing some of the first ones at the Maidstone Show in 1886. Although Mr Rawdon Lee states that Queen Victoria had ‘one of the black variety in her possession half a century ago, and that a photo of the dog is to be seen in one of the Royal albums.’

Leighton writes this about the black Pug;

By whom he was manufactured is not a matter of much importance, as with the fawn Pug already in existence there was not much difficulty in crossing it with the shortest-faced black dog of small size that could be found, and then back again to the fawn, and the thing was done. In every respect except for colour, the black Pug should be built on similar lines as the fawn, and be a cobby little dog with short back and well developed hind quarters, wide in skull, with square and blunt muzzle and tightly curled tail.

Her Majesty Queen Alexandra, when Princess of Wales owned some very good black Pugs but the first dog of the variety that could hold its own with the fawns was Ch Duke Beira, a handsome fellow, who was the property of the late Miss C F A Jenkinson. Then Mr Summers startled the Pug world by buying the famous Ch Chotee for £200. This price was, however, surpassed when the late Marquis of Anglesey gave £250 for Jack Valentine, who is still very much in evidence, sharing the hearthrug with his comrade, Grindley King.

Jack Valentine was bred by Miss J W Neish, who has a fine kennel of Black Pugs at The Laws in Forfarshire.

A dog that has quickly forced his way to the front is Mrs Howell’s Ch Mister Dandy, who is a beautiful specimen of the breed; but the biggest winner up to the present time has been Miss Daniels Ch Bouji, an excellent specimen all round, who has proved himself an exceedingly good stud dog. Amongst other prominent exhibitors and breeders of black Pugs are Mrs Rayleigh Grey – who in Rhoda owned one of the best females in the breed – Miss H Cooper, Mrs Recketts, and Mrs Kingdon.

Whatever their colour the charming, charismatic Pug is here to stay and it does appear that today examples certainly have a far hardier constitution then their ancestors.

In the ‘stock-keeper’ of April 1885, under the heading of ‘Pug frightened to death’ appears:

‘One of the entries at the Central Hall was that of the Pug, ‘Lady Rosebud’ but the bitch was absent, having died from fright caused by being chased by another of her owner’s Pugs which was tied to a basket. The dog dragged the basket along and so frightened Lady Rosebud and another ‘Prince Edward’ that both died. Their owner, Captain C R Harris, last year lost a Pug under very similar circumstances. It was frightened to death by a tramp looking into the room through a window.’