History of the Breed

The origins of the British Shorthair most likely date back to the first century AD, making it one of the most ancient identifiable cat breeds in the world. It is thought that the invading Romans initially brought Egyptian domestic cats to Great Britain; these cats then interbred with the local European wildcat population. Over the centuries, their naturally isolated descendants developed into distinctively large, robust cats with a short but very thick coat, the better to withstand conditions on their native islands. Based on artists’ representations, the modern British Shorthair is basically unchanged from this initial type.

Selective breeding of the best examples of the type began in the nineteenth century, with emphasis on developing the unusual blue-grey variant called the “British Blue” or “English type” (to distinguish it from the more fine-boned “Russian type”) in particular. Some sources directly credit UK artist and pioneering cat fancier Harrison Weir with the initial concept of standardizing the breed; others suggest a group of breeders may have been involved. The new British Shorthair was featured at the first-ever cat show, organised by Weir and held at the Crystal Palace in London in 1871, and enjoyed great initial popularity.

By the 1890s, however, with the advent of the newly imported Persian and other long-haired breeds, the British Shorthair had fallen out of favour, and breeding stock had become critically rare by World War I. At least partially to alleviate this, British Shorthair breeders mixed Persians into their bloodlines. The genes thus introduced would eventually become the basis for the British Longhair; at the time, however, any long-haired cats produced were placed into the Persian breeding program. As all cats with the “blue” colouration were then judged together as variants on a de facto single breed, the Blue Shorthair, outcrossings of the British with the Russian Blue were also common.

A young British Blue male showing the copper eyes typical of cats with ‘blue’ fur.
After the war, in an attempt to maintain the breed standard, the GCCF decided to accept only third-generation Persian/British Shorthair crosses. This contributed to another shortage of pure breeding stock by World War II, at which point the Persian and Russian Blue were reintroduced into the mix. British Shorthair breeders also worked with the French Chartreux, another ancient breed, which although genetically unrelated to the British Blue is a very similar cat in appearance. After the war, breeders worked to re-establish the true British type, and by the late 1970s the distinctive British Shorthair had achieved formal recognition from both the American (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA). According to the GCCF’s 2013 registry data, it is once again the most popular pedigreed breed in its native country.