St Giles’ Fair Cat Show, Winchester 1598

Possibly the first cat show was held during the time of William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) at St. Giles’ Fair in Winchester, England in 1598. I had always believed that the first show was at Crystal Palace, London in 1871 but that apparently is not quite true. Perhaps we have to describe the Crystal Palace show as the first formally organised cat show (by Harrison Weir), which attracted international attention.

Shakespeare mentioned it. He called the cat a ‘harmless necessary creature’. A disdainful remark without much affection demonstrated. The only reason why there is a photo of Shakespeare and a cat on this page is the tenuous link mentioned above!

British Shorthair cat becomes first passenger of Moscow Metro's Shakespeare train
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – OCTOBER 12, 2016: A British Shorthair cat in a car of a train marking the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Image: The Calvert Journal.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Dr Bruce Fogle, in his Encyclopaedia of the Cat, says that the 1598 cat show was probably more about the cat’s abilities as mouse catchers than appearance and personality.

As is to be expected there are no images of this incredibly early cat show!

Over the pond, there were cat shows in America before the first one to attract wide attention in North America which occurred at Madison Square Garden, NYC in 1895. I remember reading about Maine Coons (‘Maine cats’ as they were then called) being shown in the mid and late 1800s. Appropriately a Maine Coon won the Madison Square Garden show.

You would have thought that there were some more cat shows in England over the period 1600 to 1871, almost 300 years. It is certainly possible that informal cat show events did take place but they were unreported or recorded.

Selective breeding took place in England during the mid-eighteenth century to the time of the 1871 show and beyond. Perhaps formal selective breeding commenced in England in the mid-to-late 1800s, as the cat fancy began to be formed.


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