The Suffolk is one of the newest breeds of cat in the UK, accepted for registration in June 2014 by the GCCF. It has been created in response to the modernisation of the UK Havana.
The Havana began life in the 1950s, it is a man-made cat and started life as the ideal of Edit von Ulmann (Roofspriger). At the same time, Mrs Armitage Hargreaves (Laurentide) was considering breeding a cat with more stamina and less highly strung nature than the Siamese. Working together, Edit and Armitage began in 1951 to produce a self brown cat. Edit had a knowledge of genetics and in order to transfer the chocolate dilution to a self black cat she mated a short haired black female Maximilla Unterkatze, circa 1947 to a chocolate point Siamese Shusharo dob 1/8/1950 bred by Brian Stirling Webb. The progeny were as expected SH Blacks, a male and a female. Knowing that the recessive chocolate dilution would be present in both black cats together with the Siamese restriction factor, Edit used a sibling mating.
Unfortunately the birth was premature and the litter died but this litter had contained a brown kitten. However repeated matings of these cats eventually produced a self chocolate female. While Edit was involved in her breeding programme she heard of a Reading breeder Mrs Isobel Munro-Smith who had bred a self brown cat Elmtower Bronze Idol (the first recorded Havana). Edit mated one of her females carrying the chocolate dilution with this cat resulting in two of the early Roofspringer Havanas - one male Roofspringer Muscatel and one female Roofspringer Shandy born in 1953. Muscatel was the father of Roofspringer Mahogany born in 1956, who later became one of the first Havanas to be exported to America. Mrs Joan Judd (Crossways) was extremely interested in the new breed but not happy with the type being produced from the Elmtower line. Instead she mated her Seal Point Female with a Havana, Praha Gypka breed by Mrs Elsie Fisher (Praha) who was working with Laurentide decedents. This gave Joyce her first Havana Crossways Velvet Toy dob 7/3/1955. The Crossways Havanas were to include the first Champion CH Crossways Honeysuckle Rose dob 27/9/1958.
The Havana was granted recognition by the GCCF in September 1958, the breed number being 29 and the name Chestnut Brown Foreign. Although the breeders who had been used to using the Havana name were not happy, this was not changed by the GCCF until 1972 when permission was granted to revert back to the original name Havana. At this time it became apparent that problems had developed within cats in America that had been imported from Britain. The Chestnut Brown group were extremely concerned and enlisted geneticists for advice, unfortunately not every breeder agreed to the lengthy period of test matings needed to establish which cats were carriers of the dominant gene producing abnormalities.
The more responsible breeders were not able to influence the dissident element, and interest in the variety waned during the 1960s. Happy a few breeders kept the breed going until a re-kindled interest in the later part of the decade amongst these were Mrs Sybil Warren (Senilac), Mrs P Kirby (Crumberhill), Miss Swer (Elvyne), Mrs St Erme Cardew (Sterme) and Mrs Beryl Stewart (Sweetthorpe).
Renaissance of the breed occurred when a female self brown kitten appeared in a breeding programme for the Foreign White cat, Scintilla Copper Beech dob 29/4/1967 bred by Miss P Turner owned by Mrs P Wilding, was some eight generations away from both the sire and the dam's side out of Laurentide Ludo x Silvershoen Blue Peter.
Copper Beech also inherited the chocolate factor on both sides. She was mated in 1968 with Champion Tijha Ares, a lilac point Siamese and later in 1969 and 1972 to Champion Winceby Imperial another Lilac Point. The Havanas descending from Copper Beech culminated in the significant Dandycat Havanas bred by Mrs P Wilding, Mrs B Stewart, Mrs S Shaw and the Solitaire cats bred by Mrs A Sayer, all of which were credited for the Havana type.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the interest in the breed waned once again, with the Havana cropping up in the occasional Oriental litter, rather than the dedicated breeding that had original created them as a breed in their own right. Joan Judd of Crossways strived to continue breeding the Havanas but only ever managed to get to F3 due to a lack of available bloodlines where the cats had been mixed back into the Siamese and Oriental gene pool.
The change in type of the modern Siamese and Oriental had both an effect on the type and the quality of coat within the breed. Joan Judd wrote an article in 1996, expressing her concerns as to the future of the Havana. She also said that it would need bloodlines from abroad to ensure the survival of the traditional Havana. At this time a small group of breeders, Mrs P Sharp-Popple (Denson), Mrs S Miller (Sambuzouki) and Mr and Mrs Spendlove (Eastpoint) under the help and guidance of Joan Judd, had developed the Pure Havana group within the H&OLCC and were working on a like for like breeding programme. An opportunity arose for Linda and Charlie Spendlove to import a Havana Brown from St Evroult Havana Browns in France bred by Claire Rassat.
In 2011, St Evroult Gatsby was brought into the breeding programme, his pedigree dating back to the Roofspringer cattery. He was registered with the GCCF as Havana and sired five litters of Havana kittens, one of which Eastpoint Beatrix Noisette was shown at the Supreme as a kitten. The Oriental BAC were unhappy with Gatsby being incorporated into the breeding programme of Havanas due to his traditional type and put in a formal complaint to the GCCF to have him removed from registry. It had been noticeable that the type of the majority of quality Havanas on the show bench was traditional and very much removed from what was becoming known more frequently as the Oriental Chocolate.
It was at this point the GCCF proposed that these cats formed a new breed in their own right, and after much discussion the name Suffolk was chosen and in June 2014 they were given new breed status, progressing in February 2016 to Preliminary level and were once again able to be back on the show bench. Eastpoint Beatrix Noisette then continued her show career and has qualified for the breed.
The interest in the new breed is developing and the knowledge that this beautiful cat is now on the foreign show bench where it was originally destined would have pleased Joan Judd. The group still have the brown velvet material and the green button she used as colour references to develop the coat and eye colour of these wonderful cats. With dilute within the gene pool, the Suffolk Lilac has also been developed with as yet only one registered in 2016, Poolside Ed Sheran bred by Dorothy Tams.
Eastpoint Poolside Zimba, owned by Dorothy Tams, was also the first out on the show bench for merits in April 2016. She then went on to achieve her 4th merit to become the 15th qualifying cat for the breed in August 2017.
The Suffolk Chocolate has a dog like character, and is devoted to its owner and family. It is extremely talkative, brave, and very happy to accompany its owner on their travels, even wearing a harness. They make an ideal house cat, as they prefer the company of their owner, rather than being left to wander. As kittens they never use their claws, and comically fall off things. They have endless patience, and make ideal children's companions. They are highly intelligent, and extremely nosey. They are the first to meet and greet any visitors to your home. They love to 'play fetch' and will do this for hours on end. They also make excellent hairdressers. The Suffolk Chocolate integrates well with other cat breeds, and enjoys the companionship of dogs.
As with all cats the Suffolk Chocolate needs a balanced diet to maintain its exceptionally shiny coat. Foods that contain oils such as mackerel, tuna etc are highly beneficial to their wellbeing. Their weight needs to be carefully monitored as some of them have a tendency to overeat. Their coat is low shedding, single in texture and very easy to look after. They are quite happy to be brushed, bathed and polished with a silk scarf, especially useful when preparing for a show. They are a medium size cat, the females weigh approx 3 kilos, and the males 4-5 kilos.
The Suffolk Chocolate is a robust cat, and to date has shown no inherent diseases. As the gene pool originates mainly from the Oriental, it is possible that they may be prone to certain conditions that affect this breed.