The History of British Shorthair Breed
There are two theories of the origins of British shorthair cats.
According to the first theory British shorthair cats were originated from domestic cats of Rome and Egypt and were brought to Britain by Roman legionaries more than 2000 years when Rome invaded the islands. Historical data about these events we have right now describe cats as symbol of good luck for people. Historical chronicles about Ancient Rome mention big grey cats with sharp claws and huge yellow rounded eyes. It can easily be a description of a British shorthair cat.
Second theory refers to France as a birthplace of British shorthair cats. In XVI century French monks of La Grande Chartreuse monastery raised a very special breed of cats. It was quite hard to get these cats –monks sold only spayed cats to public. Monks had these cats so they could catch rats in wine cellars because they were excellent rat catchers.
Only after a while French sailors brought these cats on their ships to British Islands. The cats lived in the holds of ships and kept food supplies safe by catching rats. It is quite possible that because cats always lived in the condition of constant waves their paws developed to be very short, steady and strong.
It does not really matter which theory is accurate, what is more important is that the cats arrived to British islands and local people liked them a lot for their aristocratic calm character.
Thus, this type of cats with bright rounded eyes and rounded heads, which had short and dense plush coat was formed on the Islands. These cats had excellent health, were very resilient, they were great hunters. These very cats were the origins of the British Shorthair breed.
In the end of 19th century British people decided to breed their own pure British breed and began this process very seriously with all their sincerity and determination. British breeders started selecting the most beautiful cats and purposefully mated them thus building on best qualities and characteristics. The main goal was to make the breed look aristocratically attractive combining forthcoming qualities of local shorthair cats. The person who took first effort in creating British shorthair breed was Harrison Weir. He was a founder of cat lovers’ movement and an organizer of the first felinology cat show. He adored aboriginal cats – he wrote:” these ordinary alley cats can survive in the hardest circumstances. The fact that these cats exist is the best proof of its endurance and strength”.
That’s why the official history of an origin of British shorthair breed starts from 1898 when the first pedigree was issued. However, the first time the breed was presented at the cat show was in 1880. The breed was given official scientific name only in 1930.
The history of British shorthair cats was not simple. During the World War I the breed almost disappeared because breeding programs stopped. After the war K. Wilson resumed breeding programs selecting domestic cats with similar characteristics. Due to a very small number of existing at that time British shorthair cats breeders started to mate them with Persian cats. Legally litters from such matings could not be registered as British Shorthair and the number of true British shorthair cats kept getting smaller every year. In fact breeders, did not have any other choice in that situation. The population of true British shorthair cats was very small and inbreeding was not a good choice either.
Thus besides Persians breeders started to mate British shorthair cats with other breeds like Chartreux or Karthauser cats, European and American shorthair cats, Russian Blue cats. As a results of such mating massive cats with big bones, great health and variety of shades and patterns were bred. But the most popular were solid blue British shorthair which was bred from Karthauser cats. Karthauser or Chartreux cats with its’ skeleton and coat qualities (soft, thick with double textures) have the most similarities with British Shorthair cats.
Genetic characteristics were significantly improved especially in terms of health qualities of litters but there were too many deviations from the breed standards. Breeders had no other choice than start breeding British cats with Persian cats again.
So, in 1966 two breeds “British Shorthair” and “European Shorthair” were officially separated. Karthauser or Chartreux cats remained an independent breed as it always was.
Nevertheless breeders kept mating these breeds. Even nowadays when looking at pedigrees of purebred British shorthair cats you can find origins of different breeds like Persians, Exotic cats and very often Scottish Folds. Such breeding can be explained by the lack of breeding material but it is not desirable.
In the middle of 20th century the breed came to the American continent and British Shorthair cats started to actively participate in American cat shows. More and more catteries opened every year. In 1980 CFA approved the Champion status of the breed.
Today’s British Shorthair cat is a harmonious, medium or big size animal with muscular, massive and well developed body on sturdy low paws. With massive chest and well-rounded head with full cheeks on a short and thick neck. All body parts of this cat should look massive and rounded. Modern standards approve more than 100 variations of colors and shades of this breed (some organizations do not approve color point shades). The breed has been accepted by all major international cat organizations and now it stays at the peak of its fame.