Writings dating back to almost 400 years are thought to refer to a breed of English terrier similar to the modern Manchester. Originally called "the black and tan terrier," the Manchester was bred as a "ratting machine," not a show dog. Early specimens were valued more for their working ability than their good looks, and it is reported that the black and tans were rough coated, quick, strong-jawed and generally more rugged in type than the Manchester as it is known today. On farms these terriers were used as barnyard ratters and to control the rabbit population. Apparently this was the extent of their gameness, the breed being unequal to the task of routing the fox or larger predators.
In the days when blood sports flourished the black and tan was highly favoured in the rat pit. Most famous was a dog called Billy, who is on record as having killed 100 large rats in six minutes and thirteen seconds. The dogs' ears were cropped to protect them from painful rat bites.
Two events were to influence the change in breed type and the eventual drop in the black and tan's popularity. The first was the abolition of blood sports in England. The second was the banning of ear cropping in 1895. The ear that took well to cropping gave an ungainly appearance when left natural. To further complicate matters a breed standard was adopted which spelled out precise, compulsory tan markings on an otherwise solid black dog. This made ideal specimens extremely difficult to breed and public favour switched to other terriers. Presumably about this time a whippet cross was introduced to give the black and tan its sleek coat, more refined outline, whip tail and finer head. One of the foremost breeders was Samuel Handley of Manchester, Lancashire. Because of his efforts in stabilizing breed type the name was changed to Manchester, although until his death in 1878 Handley protested that black and tan was a sufficiently honourable name for the breed and that good specimens were being bred in many parts of England.
While the Manchester has never regained its former popularity, it does continue to have a small but loyal following around the world.
The Canadian Kennel Club Stud Book first recorded the Manchester Terrier in 1889 when twenty were registered.