by Dana L. Jacobs
Originally published in The Cat Fanciers Almanac, 1995

In 1870, Harrison Weir, father of the cat fancy, “conceived the idea that it would be well to hold Cat Shows so that the different breeds, colours, markings etc., might be more carefully attended to and the domestic cat, sitting in front of the fire, would then possess a beauty and an attractiveness to its owner unobserved and unknown because uncultivated heretofore.” He then contacted his friend Mr. Wilkinson, manager of the Crystal Palace, who agreed with the idea. In a few days, they developed the plan, establishing prizes, price of entries, classes, points by which the cats would be judged, and the varieties of color, form, size and sex. Mr. F. Wilson, show manager for the Company, took charge of promoting the show, getting together a large number of cats, and arranging the judging. Arrangements having been made, in 1871 the first organized cat show took place in the Crystal Palace. Best in Show was awarded to a 14 year old female blue tabby British Shorthair, owned by Mr. Weir. Cat shows were held annually at the Crystal Palace until 1936, when it was destroyed by fire. The first shows were almost all given to the exhibition of shorthairs. Harrison Weir wrote, “My first love will always be for the shorthaired domestic cat,” and he observed of the blue longhairs exhibited in these shows: “cats of this colour more closely resemble in type the roundness and expression of our shorthairs and I expect this comes from a time when they may have been accidentally bred to our blue domestic cats.”

For hundreds of years the cats found in the cities and farms of the British Isles were of robust type with round eyes and faces and short, thick, water-repellent coats of all colors. They were valued first for their great hunting prowess, but as their peaceful, confident personality was discovered, they became desired companions and took their place within the home. Not until the late l800s were any attempts made to breed these cats for type, color or to maintain a pedigree. Mr. Jung, who later became a noted shorthair judge, wrote: “if the British cat could be thoughtfully bred, there would grow a race of cats bearing aristocratic pedigrees, as a result they would become popular and wanted.”

By the beginning of the 20th century, British Shorthairs were being exhibited in large numbers and standards had been written for the following classes: solid colors (black, white, blue), tabbies (brown, red, silver), spotted tabbies, narrow striped tabbies, smoke (black, blue), black and whites, white and blacks (vans), tabby and white, tortoiseshell, and tortoiseshell and white. Each color was its own class and had its own standard, but type was generally as seen today, round compact cats with large round heads and eyes, coats described as short and deep, fine texture with dense undercoat. Size was smaller than preferred today with males being 9-l2 pounds, females 6-9 pounds.

British Shorthairs were very successful in the early cat shows, receiving many Bests, medals and awards. By 1910, no cat had done as well as the British Shorthair silver tabby male CH Jimmy, owned by Mrs. Louise Herring. The top winning female at that time was his silver tabby sister, CH Laurel Queen, owned by C.H. Lane. The success of these cats created quite a stir in the cat fancy and cats of this color were much in demand. Many of them were exported to the USA. In fact, the first shorthaired cat registered in the Americas, in 1901, was a male red tabby British Shorthair, Belle of Bradford, imported by Jane Cathcart, an ear]y supporter of the breed. In England, among the top breeders of the time was Lady Alexander who used the prefix Ballochmyle. Some of her cats who won awards and championships were: CH Ballochmyle Billie Blue Eyes, a white male, CH Ballochmyle Brother Bump, a blue male, CH Ballochmyle Samson, a tortoiseshell male, and CH Ballochmyle Otter, a tortoiseshell and white female. C.H. Lane bred cats using the Laurel prefix and exhibited British Shorthairs in all colors. In addition to the previously mentioned CH Laurel Queen, his cats included: Laurel Leonidas, a white neuter, Laurel Luther, a black male, and Laurel Luke, a smoke male. Lady Decies bred and exhibited wonderful brown tabbies under the name Fulmer, including CH Fulmer Xenophon.

World War I brought a dramatic slowdown to the cat fancy in England. When the war was over and an interest in pedigreed cats redeveloped, breeders had a difficult time finding worthy, registered British Shorthairs to work with. Breeders introduced unregistered domestic shorthaired cats to their programs and found the resulting offspring lacked the type the breed had achieved prior to the war. Accordingly, they lost much of the winning status previously enjoyed. As a shortcut to regaining type, some breeders began to outcross to Persians. Because the British Shorthair was an established breed, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy objected and ruled these offspring could not be registered or shown as British Shorthairs. It took three generations of these cats bred back to British Shorthairs to make them eligible for registration as British Shorthairs. Due to these complications and the increasing popularity of Persians and foreign shorthairs, the British Shorthair registrations and show entries continued to decline.

In the 1930s Miss Kit Wilson took an interest in the breed. Through her work and with the help of dedicated breeders, the breed was kept going through the Depression and Second World War. By the end of the WW II, very few quality British Shorthairs survived and those who did were usually too closely related to form a strong gene pool. In the interest of genetic diversity, breeders once again introduced unpedigreed domestic shorthairs along with other breeds of registered shorthairs such as Russian Blues, Burmese, and Chartreux, into their breeding stock. This insured the health of the cats, but the resulting look was a more foreign type. Once again the breeders turned to a generation of outcrosses to Persians to restore the original British Shorthair type. It was a harder job than expected; the foreign type was lingering in the background and breeders found it necessary to keep introducing Persians occasionally to keep type. In doing so they knew they also had to be careful to avoid the undesired attributes of the Persians, such as long, soft coats and pug faces. The British Shorthair breeders’ desire was to reach a point where the cats would once again breed true without any outcrosses.

The shorthair domestic cat from Great Britain has certainly been an immigrant to America since the arrival of the English ships, but registered British Shorthairs have been imported since 1900. As mentioned earlier, silver tabbies were imported in large numbers in the early 20th century and probably played a role in the development of the American Shorthair. Imported British Shorthairs continued to be registered in the United States as Domestic Shorthairs until the 1950s, when the American associations began to recognize the British Blue as a distinct breed. Several fine blues were imported and shown on exhibition since they were still not eligible for Championship. In 1967, Mrs. Levy, of Long Island, NY, imported two Blues from Mrs. Joan Richards’ Pensylva Cattery. These cats, Pensylva Damcus and Pensylva Blusette, were exhibited in CFF and ACA. The ACA was the first American association to grant British Blues Championship status, and in 1967 GC Pensylva Bluesette was awarded Best All American British Blue with GC Pensylva Damcus receiving Best of Opposite to this title. In 1968, Damcus was awarded Best All American. Other imported colors of British Shorthairs continued to be registered as Domestic/American Shorthairs until a black female British, Manana Channaine, was imported. She was registered and shown in ACFA as an American Shorthair. When she did substantial winning, other breeders complained that this was not an American but rather a British Shorthair. This opened the eyes of other fanciers to the fact that British Shorthairs came in many other colors besides blue. In the 1970s, CFA British Shorthair breeders concentrated on achieving Championship status for the breed. They logged many hours and miles, presenting their cats in as many shows as possible, so they could be seen. Alice Huemmer and Lydia Messir traveled to Texas and presented to the Board of Directors three British Shorthairs: Tikikat’s Snowmaiden of Denimar, a white female owned by Alice, Joseph, and Kimberly Huemmer, Jindivik Appollo of BeMy, a blue male owned by Bettijane and John Myjak, and a blue male owned by Lydia Messir.

In 1980, over a century after the first cat show, CFA granted the British Shorthair Championship status. GC Tikikats Snowmaiden of Denimar was the first British Shorthair Champion, Grand Champion, and National Best Of Breed. Among the first British Shorthair Catteries dedicated to showing in CFA were: BeMy (Bettijane Myjak), Denimar (Alice, Joseph, and Kimberly Huemmer), Jedi (Jean and John Thawley and Diane Crowe), Beaufort (Christine Broughton), Anesa (Nora Wilson and Carolyn Hammond) and Supakatz (Fay Adamson). These catteries form the basis for the cats being shown today. BeMy and Denimar catteries are still active and producing quality Brits. The Beaufort line is being carried on by Marian Johnson’s Maou Cattery and others. Carolyn Hammond (now Hillmer) with the Elende British along with the Appleshaw, Atocha, and Devonrose Catteries are using Anesa in their programs. Supakatz is represented in the Castlkatz and Belnute lines. The Jedi Cattery has been one of the most successful and has helped start many other breeders.

In 1988, the British Shorthairs earned their first CFA National Win with 3rd Best Cat in Premiership going to GC, GP, NW Jedi Blusun of Vegamar. Sired by GC Jedi J.R. Blue out of CH Anesa Siobhan of Jedi, DM, Blusun was bred by Jean and John Thawley and owned by Gail and Mark Alsager. The following year, 1988-89, Blusun’s half brother, GC, GP, NW Jedi Issy Blue, became CFA’s 4th Best Cat. Sired by import GC Brynbuboo Georgypeorgy of Jedi out of CH Anesa Siobahn of Jedi, DM, Issy was breeder-owned by Jean and John Thawley. Issy was later neutered, and in 1993-94 became CFA’s Best Cat in Premiership. Early CFA British Shorthair breeders often complained that the standard was written in favor of the blue male, but observation over the past few years has shown that the other cats have come into their own. In the past five years, National 1st and 2nd Best of Breed have gone to blue males only twice. The 1992-93 Best of Breed went to GC, NW Brithaven Little Sally Saucer, a blue spotted tabby female, bred and owned by Mike and Debby Poplawski. She also achieved one of the British Shorthairs’ national wins as 10th Best Cat.

British Shorthairs are strong cats with few health problems. The large gene pool available in establishing this breed and careful, informed breeding practices have helped insure this. In the late 1970s, hemophilia was found in a litter of British Shorthair kittens. Responsible breeders contacted Dr. Jean Dodds, an expert on feline blood disorders, and by testing all suspected cats and altering all cats involved and carriers, they were able to eliminate it from any further generations. British Shorthair lines also contain the two blood types identified in cats: A and B. Breeders have been very supportive of the blood type testing program. By testing, being informed and planning breedings accordingly, breeders experience very few problems with the blood types.

British kittens are large and vigorous at birth. Litters average 4-5 kittens with the queens giving birth easily. Mothers are loving and attentive but still willing to spend time with their humans while the kittens are young. Eyes usually open in less than a week and kittens show interest in solid foods as early as 3 weeks. The kittens are very attached to mom and will continue to seek her out for love and food as long as allowed. Other British in the household eagerly help with the kittens. British Shorthair kittens put on weight fast staying round but not fat through kittenhood. Adolescence, though, can be quite discouraging for the exhibitor, with Brits going through many growth spurts and probably being at their worst just as they enter the adult classes. British Shorthairs mature very slowly, not reaching their peak until nearly 5 years of age. (The British system of judging would be very favorable for judging these mature cats at their best. In this system, these fully developed breeding cats are judged at their bench rather than being carried up to 4 rings per day to cages previously occupied by other sexually mature cats.) For this reason, the truly mature British Shorthairs are rarely seen in the Championship classes and never in large quantities. Because this breed does mature late, they look good for many years and are long lived. At the 1994 International Show in Atlanta, 11 1/2 year old GC, GP Anesa Mayfair of Appleshaw, who was just recently spayed and received her Grand Premiership, was the oldest cat in the show, but looked and showed like a 5 year old.

With today’s hectic lifestyles in this “rush-rush” world, many people find British Shorthairs to be perfect additions to their households. They are calm, quiet companions, appreciating quality time without demanding your total attention. They get along with other animals in the home, as long as their needs are met. British Shorthairs are at their very best with children, and children love these plush smiling friends. Brits make great apartments cats, being alert and playful without being hyper or destructive; the one possible problem being the imagination of the downstairs resident believing you have elephants running through your living room. It is often possible to see large entries of British Shorthairs in CFA shows today. We have serious new breeders beginning every year and the existing breeders try to be helpful in guiding them. Importing is still possible for the British Shorthair fancier but care must be taken to insure these cats are eligible for CFA registration. Great Britain no longer allows outcrosses to Persians, but other countries allow the use not only of Persians but also of American Shorthairs, Russian Blues, Chartreux and European Shorthairs, which makes these cats ineligible in CFA.

For more information on the history and development of the British Shorthair or the early English Cat Fancy, I suggest the following:

  • Our Cats and All About Them, by Harrison Weir
  • The Book of the Cat, by Francis Simpson (1903)
  • Rabbits, Cats and Cavies, by H. Lane
  • Fiftv Years of Pedigree Cats, by May Eustace and Elizabeth Towe
  • The World of Show Cats, by May Eustace
  • Periodicals: “Fur and Feather” and “Our Cats.”

A special thanks to everyone who contributed pictures and to Erin and Gordon Vosburgh for the use of their computer and their proofreading skills.