The coming of the fancy rat

Have you ever wondered how rat keeping came about? Rat lover Kerry May tells us how these wonderful furries became part of our life…

It seems it all happened in the Victorian times, a time when the human population was growing and so was that of the rats. In the name of so-called ‘entertainment’ publicans would have’ rat pits’ and dogs were encouraged to go into rat pits and kill as many as possible in a set amount of time.

To get their live bait in the first place (ie the poor wild rats) Publicans employed Rat Catchers for this purpose, who would catch wild rats and sell the ones they caught to the publican.

While out catching rats the rat catchers would come across unusual coloured rats, which would be kept as a collection. Jimmy Shaw, who ran one of London’s most famous rat pits, had found a white rat and also black and white rats in various locations.

Jack Black, who was Queen Victoria’s official Rat and Mole catcher, would breed the odd coloured rats he found and would sell them around London. They became popular pets especially among young women who would keep them in squirrel cages.

Beatrix Potter wrote a story in 1908 dedicated to her pet rat Sammy. It was around this time that rats started to be shown and breeders started to develop their colours and patterns. But interest faded and it was not until the 1970s that rat keeping became popular again.

Author : Kerry May