The British Saddleback is the result of the
amalgamation of two similar breeds, the Essex and Wessex Saddleback.
The origin of the Improved Essex Pig is better authenticated than
most. Lord Western, while travelling in Italy, saw some Neapolitan
pigs and came to the conclusion that they were just what he needed
to improve the breed of Essex pigs. He procured a pair of
Neapolitans and crossed them with Essex sows. One of his tenants
Fisher Hobbs of Boxted Lodge availed himself of the opportunity to
use the Neapolitan-Essex boars belonging to Lord Western and crossed
them with his coarse Essex sows and in process of time established
the Improved Essex. Sidney in his last edition of Youatt on the Pig,
says The improved Essex probably date their national reputation
from the second show of the Royal Agricultural Society, held at
Cambridge, in 1840, when a boar and sow, both bred by Mr Hobbs, each
obtained first prizes in their respective classes.
The Essex pig was mainly found in East Anglia. This pig had a black
head and neck, as well as a clearly defined belt of white extending
over the shoulders and continuing over the forelegs. The rest of the
body was black with the exception of white feet and the tip of the
The Wessex originated in the New Forest as a cross between two
indigenous old English bacon pigs. By 1914 the breed was also found
in the South and South West. It was black all over, asides from a
continuous belt of white hair over the forelegs and shoulder. W. J.
Walden writing in the 1931 NPBA Gazette explains that stringent
rules were put in place by the Wessex Saddleback Pig Society at its
foundation to prevent alien blood being brought in where the
foundation on one side was not of New Forest origin. The breed
prided itself on having resisted the trend to introduce Chinese
blood. In his article on Wessex Saddleback markings Walden asks
Why then make a feature of the chief colouration marking? Surely it
does not take a high intelligence to see the correctness and
advantage of the one conspicuous trade mark when two China free
breeds are brought together?
The respective breed societies amalgamated in 1918 and the herd
books followed suit in 1967 when the British Saddleback breed was
The two breeds enjoyed great popularity during the Second World War
when 47% of the total pedigree sow registrations were from the Essex
and Wessex breed. In 1949 there were 2,435 Essex and Wessex boars
licensed representing almost 25% of the licensed boars for that
year. The sows retained some of their popularity in the post war
years. In 1954 they made up 22% of the total registrations for that
year. The boars, however, had lost considerable ground to white
breeds and in the same year less than 10% of the licensed boars were
from the Essex and Wessex breeds. The recommendations of the time
were to cross sows of either breed with a white boar to produce a
dual-purpose pig for combined pork and bacon production.
British Saddlebacks are hardy and noted for their mothering ability.
The breed continues to be used mainly to provide coloured dams for
the production of first-cross porkers, baconers and heavy pigs. The
breed is known for its grazing ability and is very hardy. It has
secured a niche in outdoor and organic production.
Many Saddlebacks have been exported to Nigeria and the Seychelles
where the pigs have performed on coarse grazing in hot climatic