The first cat show was held at London’s Crystal Palace on July 13, 1871, attracting an of entry of sixty-five felines. Like their dog equivalents they soon became regular events and popular. What they seemed to lack, though, was a bit of Cruft magic. Approached by a group of cat fanciers, Cruft seized the opportunity by the tail by organising “Cruft’s Great International Cat Show”, held at St Stephen’s Hall in the Royal Aquarium in Westminster on March 7th and 8th 1894.
Considering he had given himself a matter of weeks to organise the event, , it is astonishing that he had managed to attract 567 entries, making it the biggest cat show of the time. Critics suggested that entry standards were not high, Cruft even exhibiting his own tabby, Tiddley, but attractive prize money may have helped. There were seventy-four classes, each of which offered a first prize of thirty shillings, a second of a pound and a third of ten shillings. While there was no Best in Show award, exhibitors could walk away with cups valued around twenty-five guineas. One exhibitor’s cat won three pounds, two cups, a silver cigarette case, a silver whistle and matchbox combination, and a medal.
The showman in Cruft ensured that the event was memorable for its visual and aromatic impact. “The masses of red drapery, the innumerable Japanese lamps, umbrellas, flags, and other ornaments which adorned the walls and roof, to say nothing of the magnificent palms which were largely in evidence about the floors of the building, all helped to give the visitor the idea that they were attending some fashionable fancy fair rather than a Cat Show”, wrote a correspondent of Fur and Feather. “The disinfecting was beyond praise”, they gushed, thanks to “the use of Spratt’s new pens, filled with earth drawers, and Mr Carvill’s Air Purifier”.
Perhaps having sniffed too much of Mr Carvill’s purifier, the correspondent went on to predict that “Cruft’s Cat Show has come and it has come to stay…henceforth we shall look forward to the Cruftonian event as one of the great features in the cat exhibition world”. The reality was somewhat different.
Despite an extensive advertising campaign, opening until ten o’clock at night for each of the two days, and the assistance of the railway companies who made available special carriages to ease the problems of bringing the cats up to London, it was poorly supported. The weather in March was atrocious; it rained cats and dogs, you might say. Even the press, other than those with a vested interest, paid it scant attention and when Cruft drew up the accounts for the event, he found that he had lost £100.
He was, though, persuaded to organise a second show, at the same venue on March 13th and 14th 1895. Again, it attracted around six hundred entries, but it was clear that Cruft’s heart was not in it. The event was poorly advertised, the prize money was considerably reduced, the hall was not as grandly decorated, and Tiddley was a notable absentee. Exhibitors were allowed to sell their cats to the public to add a bit of interest, but the weather was against Cruft once more and attendances were disappointing.
The ever-faithful Fur and Feather proclaimed it a success, though, and Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper reported that the trio of tortoiseshells named Samson, Hope, and Charity, which scooped Mrs C Heslop Cruft’s Challenge Cup, were remarkable because Samson was one of only two tortoiseshell toms known to be in existence.
Unsurprisingly, the accounts showed another loss. In March 1896 the Fur and Feather reported that the cat show had been postponed due to Cruft’s other business commitments. He never seemed to find space in his diary to hold it again and the dream of a Cruft’s Cat Show to rival his dog show was lost for ever, a victim of the English weather.
Instead, Britain’s premier cat show is the Supreme Cat Show, held under the auspices of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), which has been running since 1976. It is only open to cats which have won an open class at another championship show under GCCF rules, rather like the modern entry requirements are for dogs at Crufts. It is also held at the NEC, but unlike Crufts, organisers went ahead with the 2021 show which, together with the Annual World Cat Congress, took place on October 23rd.
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