About the British Shorthair Cat

The History of the British Shorthair Cat

Early History

The British Shorthair cat originated in Roman times. They are thought to have been bought to Britain by Roman soldiers and kept for their ability to keep the rodent population in check around food and grain stores. The rough, outdoor life they led over the centuries developed them into strong, hardy and self sufficient cats. They became sturdy farm and street cats by the 1800s.

English gentleman Harrison Weir, often referred to as the inventor or “The Father of the Cat Fancy”, was a printer, painter and illustrator who had a keen interest in animals and was an experienced breeder of cats, pigeons, and poultry. He recognised the sturdiness of the breed and chose the best examples he could find to begin a selective British Shorthair breeding program. He once wrote “My first love will always be for the shorthaired domestic cat”.

In 1870 Weir “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.” This was the conception of the very first cat show. He made arrangements with his friend Mr Wilkinson who was the manager of the Crystal Palace in London originally built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. They planned the show in a very similar way to cat shows of today setting out classes by colour, form, and sex, planned prizes and set entry fees. A Mr Wilson performed the task of show manager promoting the show, getting the large number of cats organised and arranging judging.

In July 1871, after great planning and arrangements, the first organised cats show was held. It was judged by Weir and his brother John Jenner Weir. Winner of the “Best In Show” award was given to a fourteen year old blue tabby female British Shorthair owned by Weir. Cat shows continued to be run at the Crystal Palace until 1936 when sadly it was destroyed by fire. Weir went on to found the National Cat Club in 1887 and was its first President and Show Manager until his resignation in 1890.

Harrison Weir wrote a book about cats that makes for interesting and historical reading

“Our cats and all about them. Their varieties, habits, and management, and for show, the standard of excellence and beauty”

From humble begins as rounded and robust farm cat in a range of colours with a thick coat the British Shorthair began to be admired for its hunting skills. It was soon their casual and confident nature that saw them become desired as companion cats. Noted shorthair judge Mr Jung once 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.”

Blue Shorthair Cat early 1900s

In the early 1900’s the British Shorthair breed had been established with many people attempting to breed them for colour and type whilst recording and maintaining pedigrees. These same cats were being shown at cat shows in greater and greater numbers.

Breed standards had been created for the breed setting out accepted colours, patterns and how the cats should look. Round, cobby and compact, large round eyes and head, short and dense coats.

The American cat association Cat Fanciers’ Association known as CFA has a great article on the breed and some of the early show cats

The British Shorthair by Dana L. Jacobs

The Effects of WW1 and WW2

The breed continued to be popular and have great show success until the first world war which saw the cat fancy come almost to a halt. After the war when breeders went to begin breeding again the lack of suitable stud males saw them resort to outcrossing to domestic cats creating a loss of type in the breed. To try and maintain the breeds type they chose the Persian cat as an outcross. This caused an issue with the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy as both the Persian and the British Shorthair were recognised breeds. They ruled that breeders would have to breed forward three generations to be able to call the resulting offspring British Shorthairs. Today this is referred to as experimental breeding. This change in type and the increasing popularity of breeds such as Persians saw the British Shorthair shown less at cat shows.

The second world war further decimated breeding lines and like many other breeds British Shorthairs, suffered greatly in lost numbers, perhaps more than any other breed. Now with even fewer stud males available breeders had to again resort to out crossing to keep the breed alive. They used what was avaiable including unregistered domestic cats, Russians and even Burmese. This meant British Shorthair breeders sarted to see the decline of the breeds cobby body until, in the 1950’s, breeders began to use big boned Persian cats again to bring back the solid frame. This caused problems in itself as the Persian has a snub face and a soft, long coat. Selective breeding plans have managed to reduce and remove these traits and we have the British Shorthair of today.

About the British Shorthair Cat

The British Shorthair has come to be known as the teddy bear of the cat world. With a cobby body and wide Cheshire grin they are hard to resist and popular the world over.

British Shorthairs are heavily boned, thick limbed and well muscled.  This makes them surprisingly heavy for a reasonably compact cat. They have beautiful, wide, round eyes that together with full cheeks give them an irresistible face. Their coat is thick and dense with a bouncy, crisp feel.  Most have deep orange eyes.  Tabbies can have green eyes and Colourpoints have blue eyes but with all colours the deeper and richer the eye colour the better.

British Shorthair Cat Temperament and Personality

Despite the rolly, polly look of these gorgeous cats, British Shorthairs are not a super cuddly breed. They don’t like too much handling and are known as a “four paws on the floor” cat. They much prefer a good pat to a big cuddle. This is important to know if you are looking for a pet as they can seem aloof and less social than other breeds.

This being said, that make exceptionally good companions and will sit with you, rather than on you.  They are affectionate and loving cats but not in a demanding way.  They will let you know when they are in the mood for smooching.

This makes them very self sufficient and not needy. They are happy to be home alone while you are out and will greet you when return then go back about their business. They do like to play with toys but are a less active breed especially as they get older.

They are amazing as an inside only cat. This makes them perfect for apartment living. They dont want or need to go outside and will happily enjoy a life of indoor luxury and safety.