WOODBURN BILLY (1887)
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Although 'Billy' was in fact a Blue Tabby and registered as such in the Register of the National Cat Club, he was also referred to as a Blue, as the dilution of 'blue' was still relatively new in Longhairs. The dilutes were scarce, among the few known ones, were the solid blues like 'Turco', (NCC:1183)¹ (owned initially by Lady Gaskell, then later by Mr. A.A.Clarke); 'Old Jumbo'; as well as Mrs. Pell's 'Thunder and Lightning' (USR:11*)³; the latter denoted as being of 'Persian origin'.
Miss Frances Simpson is known to have been the first serious breeder and promoter of blues. Her queen 'Mater' was a blue, and was already producing blue kittens around the time of the birth of 'Billy'. Her blue female 'Bluette', born in 1889, bred by Miss Jevons, was sired by Mr. Clarke's 'Turco' and is the first solid blue to appear in the Register (NCC:1003)¹. But even Miss Simpson did not seriously exhibit blues until around the time when 'Billy' was being shown so successfully.
The quest for the colour 'Blue' was challenging, with a number of the earliest blues coming out of blacks, whites and brown tabbies. Even the later well-known and successful breeder of Blues, Miss G.E. Jay of the 'Holmwood' cattery started out with a Blue Tabby male, named 'Skittles' born in 1890, (NCC:1266)¹, later re-registered as 'Holmwood Skittles'. Then followed the notable Champion males - 'Blue Boy The Great'(NCC:1090)¹ also born in 1890 and owned by Mrs. Thompson, (sired by Jumbo); Mrs. Cary-Elwes 'Champion Bundle' born in 1891, (sired by 'Thunder and Lightning); and later the magnificent 'Champion Wooloomooloo', born in 1892, owned by Mrs. Hawkins.
Unknown Unknown | Unknown Woodburn Billy, 1887, Blue Tabby, M | Unknown Unknown Unknown
Nothing is known about the breeding of 'Billy' nor indeed very much about his owner. He is registered in Volume One the Stud-book of the National Cat Club, (NCC:1394)1 where he is shown with sire and dam as 'unknown'. His date of birth is given as 1887, but no breeder is recorded. His owner is listed as Mrs. T. Fry, whose cattery name 'Woodburn' is also listed to Mrs. Theodore Fry, but there are no other cats registered in the name of Mrs. T. Fry.
Similarly, there are no known siblings of 'Woodburn Billy'. However, in the short period 'Billy' was shown, he did amass some notable wins, which included:
1st and Special, Northend, 18881
1st and Special, (Duchess of Abercorn's Special for 'Best Cat in Show'2) Pulborough, 18881
1st and Special, Pickering, 18881
1st, Wharfedale, 18881
1st, Cleckheaton, 18881
1st, Durham, 18881
1st, Otley, 18881
1st, Crystal Palace, 18882
1st and Special, Bath, 18901
1st, Bishop Auckland, 18901
1st, Haughton-le-Skerne, 18901
1st and Special, Grantham, 18911
Although we can find no named progeny, there is certainly evidence in the Register that 'Billy' was a proven sire and passed on his genes for the dilution factor to his progeny. A Brown tabby female, named 'TOPSY' (NCC:1991), is shown as his grand-daughter, her dam being simply listed as "a cat belonging to Mr. Cleminson, by Ch. Woodburn Billy."
When Topsy was subsequently bred to a male named 'Herod' owned by Mr. Goodwill, this resulted in producing a Blue male (with white spot) named 'PERKY' (NCC:1992). Given his numerous wins, it seems likely that 'Billy' would have been a relatively popular male for this period.
This illuminating drawing of 'Billy' was apparently the first ever reproduced of a cat, in The Rabbit Keeper and Show Reporter which was a predecessor of the better-known Fur and Feather. In the article, which accompanies the illustration, the following information about 'Billy' is provided:
"The illustration is of "the famous Blue Persian cat 'Billy', the property of Mrs. Fry, of Darlington. Billy's pedigree we are not in a position to give, but he was bred, we believe, in Darlington and is from a Cornwall strain. He is now undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cats before the public and is considered by the judges to be perhaps the best of his kind within the Fancy. He is quite a young cat, being only about a year old, but he has already proved his superiority by winning: 1st and Special Prizes at Darlington; 1st at People's Palace; 1st at Otley; and 1st and Special Prizes (including the Duchess of Abercorn's Special for Best Cat in Show) at Pulborough."
None currently available.
The story of 'Woodburn Billy' is an illuminating walk into the past. It shows very clearly, how, when presented with new colours, breeder's interests were peaked and immediately they would consider how to logically and effectively introduce lines into their breeding programs that might assist to reproduce these colours, within their own breed variety. This is very much still the case to this day!
How often have we heard the lament of those with experience who wisely advise us to perfect the colours we have before us now, before embarking on introducing a new colour within a variety just for the sake of doing so. In this day and age, and with a more advanced general knowledge of genetic principles, we are more aware of the effect of polygenes and dominant and recessive factors that may have a lasting influence within our chosen breed. But in the 1880's, this was not the case, and the theories around breeding were largely those learned from breeders of other types of stock, from dogs, from birds, and from farm animals. This helped with 'selection' principles, but understanding the principles and genetics of colour inheritance was still very much in its infancy.
'Billy' therefore stands representative of the range of 'Blue' tinted cats (including Blue Tabbies, Blue Smokes, Blue Silvers, and Blues with white) that further stimulated a serious interest in the Self Blue. It is from the period immediately after his show successes, that we find a serious effort was made to produce solid blues of consistent colour and quality. He lived literally at the dawn of this new era in Persian breeding, and there was of course, no way of knowing then, just what an incredible influence this search for the perfect 'Blue' Persian cat, would have on the continuing development of the Persian breed as a whole.
Registers associated with this article include The Incorporated Cat Fanciers Association of Great Britain (TICFAGB), National Cat Club (NCC), The Cat Club (CCR), Beresford Cat Club (BCC), Feline Federation Francaise (FFF), Siamese Cat Registry (SCR), US Register & Studbook for Cats (USR)including Supplement(USRS), The Studbook of the American Cat Association (ACA), and the Studbook & Register of the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA).
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