The standards for most rats in the marked section call for clear and crisp demarcation between the coloured areas and the white, but Essex rats should shade gently from their top colour to the eventual white on their stomachs.

Essex are named for their origins, in deepest, darkest Essex. They have been bred in most colours, though the colour fading seems more subtle and prettier in agouti-based shades – and of course it’s easier to hide less-than-perfect colour fading on a pale agouti belly than on a dark self Essex.

The Essex gene is referred to as a lethal gene, which is more alarming than it sounds – basically this means that all Essex rats have only one copy of the Essex gene, an embryo with two Essex genes will just never be born.

All Essex rats have some sort of facial marking. Most have a pretty decent sized headspot (a white spot on the forehead), but some have blazes instead. The headspot is considered the “classic” marking, but both varieties can be shown.

Genetics: HHro (one copy of the wild type H allele and one copy of the Essex allele on the h-locus).

NFRS Standard: To be recognised in any standard colour, remembering that the effect of the gene responsible is to lighten the top colour. The darkest area is along the spine, becoming less intense down the sides of the animal. The gradual fading of colour continues onto the belly which is off white, with no spotting of darker colour. When viewed from above, the fading effect should be symmetrical, having no clear demarcation. The fading effect also to be seen on the legs so that the feet are also off white. There should be no obvious patches of contrasting colour. Pied tails not to be penalised. A head spot or blaze is essential; this must be well defined, centrally placed on the forehead and symmetrical.