The British shorthair, a plush feline with an unflappable, affectionate personality, has survived religious persecution, two world wars, and being voted off the island by British fanciers. Not only have these hardy cats survived, they have won over admirers on both sides of the North Atlantic. Brits, as the plush felines are affectionately called, are the perfect companions with whom to share a spot of afternoon tea. These polite, intelligent felines never slurp or bore you with tedious conversation, although you must excuse them if they drop a hair or two on the davenport.
History and Origin
The British shorthair has been around, in one form or another, for many years. The Brit is native to Great Britain in the same way that the American shorthair is native to America. Although the Phoenicians first introduced domestic cats to Britain, the Romans were responsible for their widespread establishment when they invaded the British Isles about 2,000 years ago. When the Romans conquered and colonized other lands, they brought cats with them to control rodent populations and to serve as companions. Eventually, the Romans were evicted from the Isles, but the cats they had brought with them remained, firmly ensconced in the granaries and alleys of Britain.
Rougher times were in store for the British shorthair, however. The breed lived through a particularly ugly period beginning around the middle of the thirteenth century when religious sects killed cats for an alleged link with the devil. Mass purges were held where cats were rounded up and destroyed, and ritualistic ceremonies were held to symbolize casting out evil by the killing of cats.
Even after the persecution ended, people kept cats mainly for their rodent-catching prowess rather than as pampered companions. The cats hung out in Great Britain’s alleys, gardens, barns, households and pubs, earning their keep as the perfect mousetraps.
All that changed in the 1800s. Harrison Weir, a renowned author who is considered the father of the cat fancy, was the first to see the British shorthair as more than a common household mouser. Weir’s celebrated cat show at the Crystal Palace of London in 1871 marked the beginning of the modern day cat fancy, and marked the Brit’s rise in popularity. By the end of the nineteenth century, owning purebred cats had become a status symbol, and British shorthairs were respected and prized. Solid blue Brits, called the British blue, were particularly popular then as they are today.
Just as quickly, the breed’s popularity faded as fanciers turned to the exotic longhairs such as the Persian and Angora. Two world wars further diminished both numbers and enthusiasm for Britain’s own breed. By the end of World War II, the British shorthair was an endangered species. Only by crossbreeding the few remaining Brits to other breeds such as the Persian, Russian blue, Burmese and Chartreux did the breed survive.
Although British shorthairs had been imported into North America since the early 1900s, American fanciers didn’t become interested in the breed until the 1960s. In 1967, the American Cat Association was the first organization to grant championship status under the name British blue. The Cat Fanciers’ Association granted championship status in 1980 under the name British shorthair, as it is known by all North American associations today. In 2001, the Brit ranked 18th out of the 40 breeds CFA recognizes according to the breed registration totals.
Today’s British shorthair is a large, compact, powerful cat with a broad, strong chest and short, strong legs. The massive head is round and set on a short, sturdy neck. The face has round underlying bone structure, and the muzzle and chin are well-developed. Medium-sized ears are set well apart, fitting into the contour of the head. The eyes are large, and the broad nose has a gentle dip in profile. Full cheeks and large, well-rounded whisker pads give the cat a perpetual smile. As you might guess, the overall impression of the cat is one of roundness. Brits mature very slowly, reaching their physical peak at about five years.
Although blue is still the most common color, the Brit comes in myriad hues to suit any decor. All colors and patterns are acceptable except those showing evidence of hybridization, resulting in the colors chocolate, lavender, the Siamese pattern, or these combinations with white.
The Brit’s coat is as plush as a deep pile carpet; the thick undercoat makes the fur stand away from the body. The fur feels like firm, warm velvet to the touch, prompting fanciers to dub Brits the teddy bears of the cat kingdom. The coat density changes with the seasons with the greatest density occurring in the winter months.
British shorthairs are quiet, confident cats with a bit of British reserve, particularly when you are first introduced to them. Brit fanciers describe Brits as cats that like to keep a low profile. Once they get to know you, however, they are affectionate without being demanding and playful without being hyper. Vocally, they are quiet but make up for their silence with mighty purrs.