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British Longhair

Chapter 6: British Longhair

Why is the British Longhair a related breed?

From a show standards point of view, the British Longhair is a variant of the British Shorthair. [1] [3] [7]

The Original Longhair and the British Shorthair breeds have two totally separate origins and genetic make-up. However, 
there are people who wrongly believe that the British Longhair is the UK version of the Original Longhair. This misconception is defended by the fact that about a century ago Persians in the UK were indeed allowed by the GCCF to breed with British Shorthair. Any recessive longhair offspring at that time were absorbed into the Persian gene pool  - more about the reasons for that later. 

The British Longhair is genetically the mirror image of the British Shorthair, except for the longhair gene. In other words, genetically they are the same breed except that the British Longhair has two longhair genes. To quote the TICA breed description [3]: "The British Longhair takes the recipe for the British Shorthair and adds a longer coat resulting in an imposing longhaired cat with all the same characteristics that have made the British Shorthair such a loyal companion."

Origin of the British Shorthair 

The British Shorthair is probably the oldest English cat breed. Their ancestry can be traced back to the domestic cats of Rome, which accompanied the Romans when they invaded Great Britain around 50 A.D. 

The Romans in turn obtained these domestic cats from Egypt. 

They have changed little over the centuries. 

Wikipedia [7] explains:

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.[1]

An early example of the "English type" Blue Shorthair, from Frances Simpson's Book of the Cat, 1903

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.[1]

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 WWII, 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 Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA).[1] According to the GCCF's 2013 registry data, it is once again the most popular pedigreed breed in its native country.[2]

Origin of the British Longhair

World War 1 (1914 - 1918)

During World War 1, an estimated 500,000 cats were dispatched to the trenches, where they killed rats and mice. Some were also used as gas detectors. [5] 

A gunner with the regimental cat in a trench. Cambrin, France, February 6th, 1918. [IWM] [5]

Lots of cats also had to be deployed to ships, where they were used to protect ships by ridding ships of Vermin. The U.S. Naval Institute [6] explains:

It is likely that the ancient Egyptians were the first seafarers to realize the true value of having cats as shipmates. In addition to offering sailors much needed companionship on long voyages, cats provided protection by ridding ships of vermin. Without the presence of cats, a crew might find their ship overrun with rats and mice that would eat into the provisions, chew through ropes and spread disease. The more superstitious sailors believed that cats protected them by bringing good luck. It was also common for crews to adopt cats from the foreign lands they visited to serve as souvenirs as well as reminders of their pets at home.

Out-crossing between the British Shorthair and Persian occurred between 1914 and 1918 (World War 1). This introduced the recessive longhair gene into the British Shorthair gene pool. Cats with short coats stayed part of the British Shorthair, but cats with longhair went over into the Persian breeding programs. Note that these longhair cats were not called British Longhair during that period, but, because they were adopted into the Persian gene pool, they were called Persians. 

After World World I, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) ruled that only 3rd generation offspring of Persian/British Shorthair crosses could be shown. This reduced the breeding stock. World War II also affected the breed. Therefore the British Shorthair lines were also crossed with other cats like domestic shorthairs, Russian Blues, and Persians.

Out-crossing the the Original Longhair (Persian)

Impact of the Chinchilla colouring

In the 1970’s a program to introduce the Chinchilla colouring into the British Shorthair was pioneered by Norman Winder of the Peerless cattery. Chinchilla (longhair) and British Silver Tabby were crossed. A breeding program ensued, which included the British Blue and other cats from the silver series, culminating in the development of the Black Tipped British Shorthair. This was recognized as a distinct British type by the GCCF in 1978. The ‘Tippy’ can be bred in any of the British colours. However, it is the gorgeous Black Tipped that is seen out most often.
British Shorthair Silver Black Tipped
Source: [1] p 83 

Impact of the Longhair gene

By crossing Chinchilla (longhair) with British Shorthair, not only were the Chinchilla colour introduced into the British gene pool, but also the longhair gene. 
British Longhair Silver Black Tipped
Source: [1] p 103

Breed recognition status

Outside of the GCCF, the British Shorthair has grown in popularity and gained championship status in all the WCC member organizations.

However, the British Longhair currently does not share the same status as their shorthair counterpart. While longhair kittens recessively appear in litters, it languished in obscurity as a breed by some organizations. 
  • The British Longhair is currently registered with the GCCF as a Variant of the British Shorthair and as such cannot be shown. There is a good deal of interest in this very pretty cat. Variously known throughout the world as The British Long Hair, The British SemiLong Hair, The Britanica, The Lowlander and a bit confusingly the Highlander this cat is described by most registries to have the same standard of points as the British Shorthair, but with a Semi-Long coat standing away from the body. [
  • Today, the imposing British Longhair is a fitting companion breed to the British Shorthair resembling the Persians and Angoras of the early 1900s, obtaining championship status in TICA effective May 2009. 
  • The British Longhair is accepted for championship status with WCF, TICA, CCA, and beginning May 1, 2015 also with ACFA.

References used in this Chapter

 [1] British Shorthair Breed Advisory Committee: Guidelines For Healthy And Responsible Breeding,
September 2010
Retrieved 2015-04-03 at
 [2] History of the British Longhair
Retrieved 2015-04-04 at
 Tamkins Cattery
 [3] TICA - British Longhair Overview
Retrieved 2015-04-04 at
 [4] TICA - British Breed Group Standards (BS/BL)
Retrieved 2015-04-04 - at
 [5]Mark Strauss: These Are the Brave and Fluffy Cats Who Served in World War I
Retrieved 2015-04-04 at
 [6]U.S. Naval Institute: Cats in the Sea Service
Retrieved 2015-04-04 at
 [7] Wikipedia: British Shorthair - History
Retrieved 2015-04-06 at

Abbreviations used in this Chapter

 BAC Breed Advisory Committee
 TICA The International Cat Association

Last update: April 13, 2015.