Early beagle-type dogs

Dogs of similar size and purpose to the modern Beagle can be traced in Ancient Greece back to around the 5th century BC. Xenophon, born around 433 BC, in his Treatise on Hunting or Cynegeticus refers to a hound that hunted hares by scent and was followed on foot. Dogs of this type were taken to Rome[citation needed] and may have been imported to Roman Britain.[citation needed] Small hounds are mentioned in the Forest Laws of Canute which exempted them from the ordinance which commanded that all dogs capable of running down a stag should have one foot mutilated.

By the 1700s two breeds had been developed for hunting hare and rabbit: the Southern Hound and the North Country Beagle (or Northern Hound). The Southern Hound, a tall, heavy dog with a square head, and long, soft ears, was common from south of the River Trent and probably closely related to the Talbot Hound. Though slow, it had stamina and an excellent scenting ability. The North Country Beagle, possibly a cross between an offshoot of the Talbot stock and a Greyhound, was bred chiefly in Yorkshire and was common in the northern counties. It was smaller than the Southern Hound, less heavy-set and with a more pointed muzzle. It was faster than its southern counterpart but its scenting abilities were less well developed. As fox hunting became increasingly popular, numbers of both types of hound diminished. The beagle-type dogs were crossed with larger breeds such as Stag Hounds to produce the modern Foxhound. The beagle-type varieties came close to extinction but some farmers in the South ensured the survival of the prototype breeds by maintaining small rabbit-hunting packs.

     Development of the modern breed

Reverend Phillip Honeywood established a Beagle pack in Essex in the 1830s and it is believed that this pack formed the basis for the modern Beagle breed. Although details of the pack's lineage are not recorded it is thought that North Country Beagles and Southern Hounds were strongly represented; William Youatt suspected that Harriers formed a good majority of the Beagles bloodline, but the origin of the Harrier is itself obscure. Honeywood's Beagles were small, standing at about 10 inches (25 cm) at the shoulder, and pure white according to John Mills (writing in The Sportsman's Library in 1845). Prince Albert and Lord Winterton also had Beagle packs around this time, and Royal favour no doubt led to some revival of interest in the breed, but Honeywood's pack was regarded as the finest of the three.

Although credited with the development of the modern breed, Honeywood concentrated on producing dogs for hunting and it was left to Thomas Johnson to refine the breeding to produce dogs that were both attractive and capable hunters. Two strains were developed: the rough- and smooth-coated varieties. The rough-coated Beagle survived until the beginning of the 20th century, and there were even records of one making an appearance at a dog show as late as 1969, but this variety is now extinct having probably been absorbed into the standard Beagle bloodline.

In the 1840s, a standard Beagle type was beginning to develop: the distinction between the North Country Beagle and Southern Hound had been lost, but there was still a large variation in size, character, and reliability among the emerging packs. In 1856, "Stonehenge" (the pseudonym of John Henry Walsh, editor of The Field), writing in the Manual of British Rural Sports was still dividing Beagles into four varieties: the medium Beagle; the dwarf or lapdog Beagle; the fox Beagle (a smaller, slower version of the Foxhound); and the rough-coated or terrier Beagle, which he classified as a cross between any of the other varieties and one of the Scottish terrier breeds. Stonehenge also gives the start of a standard description:

In size the beagle measures from 10 inches, or even less, to 15. In shape they resemble the old southern hound in miniature, but with more neatness and beauty; and they also resemble that hound in style of hunting.

By 1887 the threat of extinction was on the wane: there were 18 Beagle packs in England. The Beagle Club was formed in 1890 and the first standard drawn up at the same time. The following year the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles was formed. Both organisations aimed to further the best interests of the breed, and both were keen to produce a standard type of Beagle

History from Wikipedia