Celebrity Cooks

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To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of Mrs Beeton, Guildhall Library is currently staging the exhibition Celebrity Cooks: Mrs Beeton and her Contemporaries. As the owners of the largest collection of cookery books in a public library in the UK, we were delighted to be able to tell the story of this extraordinary woman with some of the fascinating items from our collection.

Mrs Beeton was born in 1836 in Milk Street, a couple of minutes from Guildhall Library. At the age of 20 she married Samuel Beeton and immediately became involved in his publishing business, spending four years compiling the information that would make up the Book of Household Management, published in 1861. She died soon after its publication, in 1865 at the age of 28.

In the time since her death her remarkable book has never been out of print, and the name ‘Mrs Beeton’ has become a household name. Many people are unaware that she died at such a young age: her book continued to be re-edited and published with no reference to her death, giving the impression she was still alive and working on various revisions.

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This exhibition traces her lasting impact on the world of cooking, including her influence on today’s ‘celebrity cooks.’ We also look at her place in the world of nineteenth-century cooking and two of her contemporaries, Eliza Acton and Alexis Soyer (who were, arguably, better cooks than Mrs Beeton herself, who was really a journalist!).

We also have an exciting accompanying events programme, which will cover different aspects of food history, including the lost world of the Georgian Chocolate House and the history of the English Cookbook, as well as an ‘edible exhibition’, where visitors will have the opportunity to taste sweet dishes through the ages (14 April, 6 – 8pm, £5 per person). While you’re visiting look out for our range of Mrs Beeton merchandise (including a chef duck!).

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Want to find out more? Our exhibition is free and open until 17 April. Don’t forget, you can learn more about our food and wine collections any time, without appointment or membership!

 

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Murther, Murther! Murder?

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If you sometimes wonder about present day newspaper coverage of crimes before they go to trial, things could be worse.

This account (1641) of a supposed poisoning of a man by his wife and their landlady offers evidence, persuasion of guilt and straight to the judgement on the first page and all apparently before the woman had gone to trial!

The account reads like a ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon lamenting that ‘a daughter of Jerusalem hath committed an abomination’. We are told that one Anne Hamton of the Parish of Saint Margaret’s, Westminster spent all of her husband’s money in riotous living and when her good (and a little dull) husband begs her to leave off drinking and spending, she plots to poison him on the advice of the wicked landlady Margaret Harwood. He begs her ‘oh wife, wife, take counsell by me thy hitherto loving husband, forsake that company which hate not thy body, but soule, do not drink healths to thine own confusion, nor with so greedy an appetite swallow thine own destruction’ (p3). The poor man comes to a painful end but the evil deed of the women is soon discovered.

This may be a cautionary tale rather than a factual account. Court proceedings were not written down until the 1670s and it wasn’t until the 1750s that (nearly) every case was recorded.

Guildhall Library holds many of these short accounts of criminal activity which were printed and sold as a private enterprise and had nothing to do with the formal legal system. Some offer confessions or speeches purported to come from criminals about to be executed, sometimes ‘from the ladder’ just before they were hung.

One of my colleagues has suggested that this woodcut illustration is far older than the 1641 publication. The clothing depicted suggests an earlier date. Perhaps the workshop which did the printing owned the woodcut illustration and as it was to hand made use of it.

‘Murther, Murther!’ can be ordered at the library using reference A 1.2 no1 in 12.
This and other ‘accounts’ can be found on the library catalogue and you are welcome to visit to read them – just bring along proof of your name and address.

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

The Monster Globe

???????????????????????????????Introduction

The idea for the ‘Great’ or ‘Monster’ Globe was conceived by MP, Charing Cross map maker, & Geographer to the Queen, James Wyld (1812–1887).

Wyld originally intended the Globe to be displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, but problems around the lighting and size of the exhibit and Wyld’s desire to use it as an opportunity to promote his mapmaking business, ended in his having to develop his idea as a separate scheme. The concept had been in his mind for some time but the announcement of The Great Exhibition convinced him to bring his idea to fruition.

James Wyld entered Parliament in 1847. As the Liberal MP for Bodmin he “rapidly acquired a reputation for independence and outspokenness, particularly in the discussion on the Public Libraries Bill when he roundly accused the agricultural interests of opposing public libraries because they feared that libraries might divert the poor from drinking and so decrease the nation’s malt consumption” (Hyde, 119).

Wyld seems to have been a contentious figure whose activities often ended in disputes, the ‘Globe’ venture being no exception, with legal wrangles ensuing with architects, builders, residents and creditors.

The plan is put into action

Wyld acquired a ten year lease on ‘garden’ land in Leicester Square for £3,000, (around £286,600.00 in 2014 values). In spite of local opposition, Wyld began to build the largest model of the Globe ever attempted. The original design was made by Edward Welch but this was later scaled down and substantially altered by H R Abraham. Welch’s design was thought unaffordable and perhaps unachievable.

The building which housed the Globe was 90 feet across, and the Globe within was 60 feet 4 inches in diameter. It was built over a statue of George I which stood in the square and by the time the statue was dug up again, some ten years later, it had suffered a great deal of damage. The Globe was lit by daylight from the centre of the dome and by gas at night, the latter being problematic for the Hyde Park site.

When news of the intended project emerged, there was enthusiasm as well as some incredulity and amusement. Punch suggested that before building commenced, a party of huntsmen should be hired to exterminate all the cats living in the square, they also suggested that neighbouring housetops could be used for a display of the solar system and that visiting foreigners could be accommodated inside the Globe with lodgings corresponding to their relevant countries. In fact some of this was not so very far beyond Wyld’s own ambitions!

Construction of the Globe began in early March 1851. Hyde records an eyewitness (unnamed) reporting that “Amongst the great ribs of the growing structure a number of gas jets flared brilliantly, and made the struggling grass and shrubs greener than ever before. A few men were mysteriously moving amongst the ribs which looked like the skeleton of some enormous fish lying stranded” (Hyde, 120).

ILN Wyld 22 March 1851“Mr Wyld’s Large Model of the Earth.” Illustrated London News (22 March 1851): 234.

Plaster modelling on the inside of these ribs depicted the earth’s surface. This ‘concave’ view enabled the visitor to see all the physical features of the world when viewed from a series of staircases and platforms.

The visitor experience/public reception

ILN Wyld 29 March 1851 (2)

The public flocked to the Monster Globe when it opened on 2nd June 1851. Hours of opening were 10am to 10pm on every day except Sunday and the entrance fee was one shilling. The large circular building had four entrances on the four sides of Leicester Square. Upon entering visitors found themselves in a circular passageway filled with Wyld’s maps, atlases, and celestial globes.

The convex side of the Globe was painted blue with silver stars and much of the interior design was by the theatrical scenery designer William Roxby Beverley. The interior was navigated by stairs and galleries; the world surrounding the amazed visitor who could see the oceans, the snow topped mountains and erupting red topped volcanoes (cotton wool was used to suggest the smoke).

Wyld’s giant ‘Model of the Earth’ was a great success and the attraction was so successful that in 1852 Wyld tried to get an Act of Parliament to authorize him to retain the building in Leicester Square but failed.

After the Great Exhibition

Wyld tried a series of strategies to increase visitor numbers, especially after the Great Exhibition closed. It was promoted as an educational experience and descriptive lectures were given throughout each day. In 1853 Wyld and the Globe were the subject of a scandal involving a display of fake gold in his Australian gold fields diorama, which may or may not have been ‘engineered’ to increase public interest in the attraction. Wyld created several new displays for the Globe including a model of the Crimea during the war (1853-1856) showing the position of the troops, day by day. It was his most successful exhibit and thousands visited to follow the War’s progress.

Wyld’s struggle to renew the lease on the land at Leicester Square finally failed and in 1861 the Monster Globe was taken down and sold for scrap. Legal wrangles followed the closure when Wyld failed to restore the gardens as promised.

Reports, keepsakes and guides on the Great Globe at Guildhall Library

The Library holds guides, journal articles and keepsakes on the Great Globe including:

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Notes to Accompany Mr Wyld’s Model of the Earth. Leicester Square. 1851 which was written by Wyld to promote the attraction (and his map business) and dedicated to HRH Prince Albert. The dedication celebrates past discoveries and the support for geographical research offered by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The ‘Notes’ are full of descriptions of countries, continents and oceans to accompany the exhibition as well as detail on the purpose and construction of the Great Globe itself.

Wyle Notes 4This charming illustration below is from The Little Folks Laughing Library “The Model of the Earth” 1851 by F W N Bayley.

Bayley - The Little Folks Laughing Library Model of the Earth (1851) (1c)

Having admired the alligator on his visit to Egypt, Jack exclaims:

“One enormous alligator

Kept me, I think, rather later;

For I thought he’d swallow me, bones and all,

And then I couldn’t have come at all!”

Frederick William Naylor Bayley (1808–1852) was the first editor of the Illustrated London News but also wrote verse for newspapers, popular song lyrics and fiction. He was nick-named ‘Alphabet’ and sometimes ‘Omnibus’ Bayley.   The volume is written in verse and dedicated to James Wyld Esq. MP

“For we’re told that a man uncommonly WYLD

Has built up a Globe there for every child”

Find out more

There were reports on the Great Globe which you can search online or read in hard copy at Guildhall Library. Our collections include contemporary periodicals including The Illustrated London News and The Builder as well as numerous guides to London published to co-incide with the Great Exhibition e.g. The British Metropolis in 1851: a Classified Guide to London: so arranged as to Show, in Separate Chapters, Every Object in London Interesting to Special Tastes and Occupations. London : Arthur Hall, Virtue 1851.

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

References

Bayley, F. W. N. (Frederic William Naylor) The Model of the Earth 2nd ed. London : Published for the author by Darton and Co, 1851.

Hyde, Ralph. “Mr Wyld’s Monster Globe.” History Today 20.2 (February 1970): 118-123.

“Mr Wyld’s Large Model of the Earth.” Illustrated London News (22 March 1851): 234.

“Mr Wyld’s Globe in Leicester Square” Illustrated London News (29 March 1851): 247-248.
“Mr Wyld’s Model of the Earth.” Illustrated London News (7 June 1851): 512.
Timbs, John. Curiosities of London: Exhibiting the Most Rare and Remarkable Objects of Interest in the Metropolis; with nearly Sixty Years’ Personal Recollections. London : J. S. Virtue & Co, 1867.

[Wyld]. Notes to Accompany Mr Wyld’s Model of the Earth. Leicester Square. 1851.

 

Happy 120th Tower Bridge!

084We’re wishing a hearty Happy 120th Birthday to our friends at Tower Bridge this month – on the 30th of June to be precise. To celebrate, we have digitised a copy of a lovely little book from our collections, published exactly 120 years ago to mark the opening: ‘Photographs of the Opening of the Tower Bridge, London, June 30th, 1894: by Their Royal Highnesses the Prince & Princess of Wales(London: Talbot, 1984).

078This little tome contains 24 black and white images from the big day itself, creating a real overview of the day. The photographs commence with one of the bridge at 9.30am on the day, then go on to document ensuing events, showing the opening of the bascules and various vessels passing through the bridge, with the final image taken one hour after the ceremony.

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We have created a Pinterest board showing each page from the book – which you can view at: http://www.pinterest.com/guildhalllib/photographs-of-the-opening-of-the-tower-bridge/

But you can of course view the item in real life here at Guildhall Library!

092Don’t forget to visit Guildhall Art Gallery’s striking exhibition of images depicting Tower Bridge throughout the years: 120 Years of Tower Bridge (1894-2014). Paintings, illustrations and photographs show how artists have perceived London’s iconic bridge over the last 120 years, and some engineering plans and ephemera are also on display. You can read London Historians’ excellent review of the exhibition here

Charles Pears (1873-1958), Blitz. Our London Docks, 1940, oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Charles Pears (1873-1958), ‘Blitz. Our London Docks’, 1940, oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London. © The Artist’s Estate.

The exhibition is free and runs from 31 May to 30 June. And if you can’t make it in June the good news is that it is returning again during the Totally Thames festival, and will be on show from 12 September to early January 2015.

And if that’s not enough London bridges for you, the Museum of London Docklands’ Bridge exhibition will run from 27 June to 2nd November. Bridge promises to be the museum’s largest ever art exhibition, and will feature art, photography and film from their own collections. This exhibition will cover all of London’s major bridges and is also free to attend.

Anne-Marie Nankivell
Library Assistant

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The Unsolved Mystery of Elizabeth Canning

Today in Guildhall Library our Principal Librarian, Dr Peter Ross, gave the first in a series of lunch time talks we’re holding as part of English Tourism Week. This talk featured the unusual story of Elizabeth Canning, discussed in further depth below. If this piques your interest, we have another five talks over the next week, with topics covering the plague, Jack Sheppard, Shakespeare, Victorian ‘lad’s mags’ and Agnes Marshall’s ice creams. Further details are listed at the end of this post.

Amongst Guildhall Library’s more unusual holdings are some rare pamphlets in the remarkable collection of material relating to a genuine mid-eighteenth century crime mystery – the disappearance of Elizabeth Canning.

Canning

On 1 January 1753 Elizabeth Canning, a poorly educated maidservant, disappeared on her way home from visiting relatives and reappeared on 29 January 1753 at her mother’s house near St Mary Aldermanbury. According to her story, she had been abducted by two men in Moorfields, who dragged her to a house on the Hertford Road. There, an old woman solicited her to become a prostitute. When she refused, Canning was held prisoner for nearly a month, until she escaped through a window.

On 1 February a posse took Canning to Enfield, where, at the house of Mary Wells, Canning repeated her story, with notable inconsistencies. She picked a local Romany woman, a Miss Mary Squires as the one who had imprisoned her. Wells and Squires were arrested. The trial took place on 21 February 1753 at the Old Bailey.

Trial

Mary Squires said that she had been travelling in Dorset during Canning’s supposed imprisonment, and three witnesses supported her alibi. More witnesses had come to give evidence on her behalf, but the mob, incensed against the “Gypsy”, prevented them entering the courtroom. They were both found guilty and Wells was sentenced to branding on the thumb and six months in prison, whilst Squires was to be hanged.

Chief magistrate and Lord Mayor of London, Sir Crisp Gascoyne, however, was dissatisfied with the verdict. He opened his own enquiry, which resulted in several more witnesses supporting Squire’s alibi. Gascoyne appealed to the King who granted first a stay in execution and then a pardon in May of 1753. Canning was then indicted for perjury on 9 June 1753.

Portrait

The resulting press frenzy was extraordinary. The two camps were called the Canningites and Egyptians (for “Gypsy”). Henry Fielding wrote the pro-Canning A Clear State of the Case of Elizabeth Canning (Guildhall Library A 8.6 no. 5 in 10) and two of his enemies wrote replies. Allan Ramsay wrote A Letter to the Right Honourable the Earl of — Concerning the Affair of Elizabeth Canning (Guildhall Library Pam. 3226)  Gascoyne wrote An Address to the Liverymen of the City of London, from Sir Crisp Gascoyne (Guildhall Library Large pam. 580)  Gascoyne was physically attacked in his coach, and he received death threats.

Canning’s trial began at the Old Bailey on 29 April 1754 and there followed seven full days of evidence. She was eventually found guilty of corrupt and wilful perjury and sentenced to one month of imprisonment and seven years of transportation.

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Canning was transported to Wethersfield, Connecticut where she eventually married John Treat, a great-nephew of a Governor of Connecticut and had five children. She died 1773 at the age of 38. During her later years in America, she never explained what had happened to her during her missing month.

John Trehern’s The Canning Enigma provides an exciting modern description of the real events, whilst Josephine Tey’s novel The Franchise Affair updates the story to a home counties town in the 1940s. Tey’s novel regularly appears in listings of the top 100 crime novels and was made into a film in 1951. 

Peter Ross, Principal Librarian

Tey


English Tourism Week talks at Guildhall Library
As part of English Tourism Week, Guildhall Library is holding a series of talks that take you beneath the surface of its collection and provide an insight into London through the ages. With a free mini-cupcake and the chance to win a great prize, what more could you ask for?
Each talk is free, requires no booking, and runs from 1-1.30pm

Monday 31st March 2014, The Bills of Mortality – Tissick, Tympany and Plague in 1665 
Each week in the 17th century, the Parish Clerks recorded the number of burials in the City and the causes of death. In doing so they have left us a remarkable and unrivalled record of disease.

Tuesday 1st April 2014, The Prison-Breaker triumphant – Newgate Prison 1724
Discover how, with his extraordinary escape from Newgate Prison on the night of 15 October 1724, Jack Sheppard, a 22-year-old burglar, became the most famous prison-breaker of all.

Wednesday 2nd April 2014, Shakespeare’s First Folio
The world would have lost 18 of Shakespeare’s plays had his friends not published the first collected edition in 1623. Discover the history of this remarkable book and find out why Guildhall Library’s copy is amongst the finest to survive.

Thursday 3rd April 2014, Buying under-the-counter ‘lads mags’ in Victorian London 
Our early Victorian ancestors may not have been as prim and proper as we imagine. Discover the contents of the soft-porn ‘lads mags’ they could buy in London’s Holywell and Wych streets.

Friday 4th April, 2014 Mrs Marshall: the queen of Victorian ice-cream 
Entrepreneur Agnes Marshall built up a highly successful kitchen equipment and cookery school business in late Victorian London. She specialised in creating extravagant ice-cream recipes and ice-cream machines that, today, influence the extraordinary creations of Heston Blumenthal.

Shoreditch, 1937

As part of our weekly Twitter feature on Guildhall Library’s Collections – which utilises the hash tag #GLCol – we recently ran a week-long series of tweets based on the 1937 Official Guide to the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch. This Guide was issued back in the day ‘under the Auspices of Shoreditch Borough Council’ – now part of the London Borough of Hackney – and offers many interesting insights into life in 1930’s Shoreditch.

This sixth edition of the Guide includes data on Shoreditch (population: 97,042), its buildings, thoroughfares and places of note. The preface describes Shoreditch as a ‘combination of historical old parishes and a progressive modern borough’, and its connections with early theatre and Shakespeare are also discussed. A number of lovely old street photographs are peppered throughout the Guide, such as the one depicting High Street below – apparently this street was widened ‘about half a century ago’ at the rather staggering cost of £121,816.

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The vast majority of the Guide is actually composed of advertisements for local businesses, with furniture trades and their suppliers predominating. This is hardly surprising given the area’s reputation as a hub of furniture production. There is also a separate section detailing ‘The Furniture Trade of Shoreditch’. Lacquer artists make an appearance too, in what is one my favourite adverts in the Guide:

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It was the borough’s role in furniture production that is still represented today in Hoxton’s Geffrye Museum, which itself gets a significant mention in the Guide. The institution has a fascinating background as the site of almshouses erected in 1715. The Museum opened in 1914, and is described as containing exhibits of ‘all such things as went into the making of the homes of Bygone Londoners’.

Recent acquisitions included a Queen Anne oak staircase from Lower Clapton Road, presented by Hackney Borough Council, and an entire room from the recently demolished Pewterers’ Hall. The Guide also notes that the museum had a lecture hall in the ‘South Wing’, which seated 200 and was used on Thursday nights for adults, and three mornings and three afternoons per week for local school children.

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Shoreditch Borough Council was understandably very proud of its early adoption and promotion of electricity – its motto, shown on the cover of the Guide, emphatically stated ‘More Light, More Power’. The third section of the guide is dedicated to ‘Electricity supply’. Today, the electricity sub-station it refers to on Coronet Street has been restored and is a thriving circus school, Circus Space. The Electricity Offices and Showrooms, where people once came to be dazzled by the latest innovations in consumer electrics, are now a bar and restaurant, called the Electricity Showrooms.
019These new uses for old buildings also reflect the changing face of modern Shoreditch, which is perhaps now best known for its shopping, restaurants, street art and nightlife. Even back in 1937 it was already being described as ‘a comprehensive shopping centre’. But there have been some significant changes – Thursdays were ‘Early Closing’ day, with Shoreditch shops and traders shutting up shop at 1pm!

026Some things stay the same however…You can just make out Syd’s Coffee Stall in bottom right-hand corner of the photograph of St Leonard’s Church (of ‘the bells of St Leonard’s’ fame, shown above). Syd’s has been on that site since 1919 – for so long in fact that the road’s yellow lines have even been painted around it! Drop by today and the original owner’s descendants can show you a board displaying memorabilia and old photographs…

You can also drop by Guildhall Library and view the Official Guide for yourself. We hold the 1926, 1929, 1932 and 1962 editions as well.

Anne-Marie Nankivell
Library Assistant

Puss in the wall

Cats with their ambivalent status – cherished family pets or witches’ familiars – have always had a whiff of the night about them. Until recently, black cats were seen as bringers of good luck but that now seems to be changing. According to the manager of an Animal Rescue Centre in north London, black cats are difficult to rehome because people now associate them with witchcraft, evil and bad luck. This seems to be borne out by my entirely unscientific trawl of greetings card shelves in various shops; the once ubiquitous black cat on “Good luck” cards has now been largely supplanted by shamrocks, horseshoes and a variety of cuddly animals.

Cats and humans have had a long but somewhat chequered association. Although worshipped as gods in Ancient Egypt, Egyptian tomb paintings also depicted the cat’s more utilitarian role as a hunter of wild fowl.

Egyptian catImage from: The cat past and present by M. Champfleury (1885)

Introduced to Britain by the Romans for their vermin exterminating prowess, cats suffered a severe reversal of fortune in the Middle Ages, especially in continental Europe. Sacrificed to promote the growth of fruit trees or to prevent evil spirits harming the crops, cats appear to have been seen simultaneously as both the Devil’s representative in feline form and as the possessors of magically protective properties.

The celebration of St John’s Day in France was especially dangerous for cats; even in the 16th century it was considered an encouragement to good behaviour to throw a few cats in the fire at this festival. On Wednesday of the second week in Lent it had been the custom to hurl a cat from the top of the tower of Ypres until this barbarous practice was forbidden in 1618.

So, given their ever-shifting status, the fact that cats have been found immured in walls or under floorboards, either as magical protection or vermin-scares, may seem peculiarly apt. Discounting cats which have been accidentally trapped or which have deliberately sought out a quiet spot in which to die, many instances exist over the centuries of dried or mummified cats found in places where they must have been positioned quite deliberately.

In 1950, during Ministry of Works’ alterations to a Wren building in the Tower of London precincts, one such cat was found lying against a joist beside a corner fireplace under the floor of an upper room. During post-war repairs to the church of St Michael Paternoster Royal in the City, a cat was found built into a sealed passage under the roof. As this passage had not been opened since 1691, the cat may have been placed there by one of Wren’s masons when the church was built in 1687. Was this a pale memory of foundation sacrifice, a propitiatory offering to the gods to ensure luck for the new building?

Since St Michael Paternoster Royal was the burial place of Lord Mayor Richard [Dick] Whittington, possibly the most famous cat owner in English history, such a find had a pleasing symmetry. For some years the mummified cat was kept on display in a glass case in the church – London mystery & mythology by William Kent (1952) has a photograph of Lord Mayor Sir Frederick Michael Wells inspecting said cat – but by the time Antony Clayton was researching his book on The folklore of London (2008) the cat had been stolen or otherwise disappeared.

In his quest for mummified cats, Clayton had better luck with the North London incarnation of Whittington’s cat. A correspondent to Notes and queries in 1931 had noted that, prior to rebuilding, the front window of the Whittington and Cat pub on Highgate Hill, had contained the skeleton of a cat found embedded in one of the walls, and Clayton found the “black leathery body” of a cat towards the rear of this pub, mounted in a makeshift display case.

From the mouth of this cat hung a similarly mummified mouse, so this may fall within the vermin-scare category of mummy cats. The rationale behind such charms was presumably akin to that of a scarecrow in a field, and the addition of at least one rat or mouse was no doubt intended to render it even more efficacious than the presence of a cat alone. In December 1948 there appeared in the Illustrated London News a photograph of a cat with two rats which had been found beneath 16th century woodwork in a house in Borough High Street, Southwark. In an elaborately staged tableau, the cat holds in its jaws a rat which is struggling to escape, while another rat, under the cat’s forepaws, writhes upwards as if trying to bite its attacker (shown below).

Mummified cat

Image from: Illustrated London News, December 18 1948, page 693

Similarly, when a house in Lothbury was demolished in 1803 a cat with a rat in its mouth was discovered between the wall and the wainscotting of a room. This specimen, together with another found in Lord Yarborough’s old house in Chelsea, is now in the Sir John Soane’s Museum.

If cats were placed in buildings as a lucky charm it follows that, to the superstitious, bad luck will follow their removal. In the entrance lobby of the Mill Hotel at Sudbury, Suffolk is a small glass-topped case containing a mummified cat. When the cat was first discovered during renovation work at the mill in the 1970s, it was given to an art shop. This shop subsequently burnt down and this, combined with various other misfortunes, led to the cat being returned to the mill. In a similar vein, an article in the Sunday Express of 14 April 1985 headlined “The curse of ancient puss,” related how a host of accidents had dogged the builders who had discovered a mummified cat at an old house in Coggeshall, Essex.

Finally, and possibly to the relief of cat lovers, there are instances of miniature wooden cats being deliberately hidden in old buildings. In each case their location – at the junction of an outside wall and the timbers supporting the first floor in a late 15th/early 16th century cottage at Braintree in Essex; secreted between the false and original ceilings of a late 17th century manor house at Lawford, also in Essex; and in the thatched roof of a 16th or 17th century house at East Hendred, Berkshire – militates against these being playthings accidentally lost by children. The Lawford cat had been wrapped in, or was at least near, a piece of newspaper dated 1796, showing how late such beliefs flourished.

Val Hart
Assistant Librarian