Cats in History – Meet the Cats of the National Trust

Paul Tanqueray, Elinor Sutherland, Mrs Elinor Glyn (1864-1943) with her two cats 'Candide' and 'Zadig' at Montacute House, Somerset.

Meet the Cats of the National Trust

From Sir Winston Churchill and Thomas Hardy, to Betty Hussey, who left her cat – along with her house – to the National Trust: we meet some of the fabulous felines that reigned in these stately homes and the people who loved them.

Chartwell, Kent: Sir Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine owned many a cat – and not all of them well-behaved. One day, his tabby, Mickey, started playing with a telephone cord while Churchill was on the phone to his Lord Chancellor. ‘Get off the line, you fool!’ exclaimed Winston, before quickly assuring the Chancellor, ‘Not you!’.

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Perhaps the most famous of Churchill’s cats was Jock, an 88th birthday gift. The marmalade, who had four white paws and a white bib, became so much a part of life at Chartwell that when the house passed to the National Trust, Churchill’s family requested that a marmalade cat with the same white markings always be in ‘comfortable residence’. The Trust honours this request and the current incumbent is Jock VI.

Max Gate, Dorset: Thomas Hardy

From Comfy and Kitsey to Kiddleywinkempoops (‘Trot’ for short), the writer Thomas Hardy and his wife, Emma, owned at least nine cats while living at Max Gate. Others included Pella, who met her unfortunate end at the hands of a train, and Cobby, a blue Persian rumoured to have disappeared without a trace after Thomas’s death in 1928.

The couple adored their pets, inviting them to mealtimes regardless of whether they had human guests. Many are commemorated with ivy-covered gravestones in Max Gate’s garden and one, Snowdove, was even posthumously the subject of Hardy’s mournful 1904 poem, ‘Last Words to a Dumb Friend’.

Montacute, Somerset: Elinor Glyn

In 1907, the romantic novelist Elinor Glyn embarked on a passionate affair with Lord Curzon. In 1911, Curzon leased Montacute House, which had fallen into disrepair, and invited Elinor to live with him. For 18 months she endured freezing temperatures to help knock Montacute into shape. Curzon repaid her with an engagement announcement in The Times – to another woman. Elinor left Montacute and never spoke to him again.

Paul Tanqueray, Elinor Sutherland, Mrs Elinor Glyn (1864-1943) with her two cats 'Candide' and 'Zadig' at Montacute House, Somerset.
© National Trust / James Dobson

Glamorous Elinor was devoted to her two fluffy cats, Candide and Zadig. In March 1939, when attending a literary lunch as a guest speaker, she even wore, ‘with fine panache, her huge Persian cat, Candide, asleep around her neck’ (Anthony Glyn, 1955).  According to Anthony, the cats were ‘beautiful, proud, independent creatures … in many ways very like their mistress’.

Scotney Castle, Kent: Betty Hussey

In the grounds of fourteenth-century Scotney Castle is a fountain. On one edge, a stone cat lies with its paw dangling over the side, lazily attempting to catch a fish.

The fountain was commissioned by Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Hussey. Since moving to Scotney in 1952, Betty had always owned a Burmese cat, each one named Minou (French for ‘kitty’). The same name is engraved on to the collar of the statue, which she had created for her 90th birthday and funded by selling some of her jewellery.

Oil painting on canvas, Elizabeth (Betty) Kerr-Smiley, Mrs Christopher Hussey (1907-2006) in Middle Age by John Ward, RA (Hereford 1917 - 2007), signed in brown at the bottom left: J Ward '65' [1965]. A three-quarter length portrait, seated slightly to right, looking out, gazing at the spectator, in a green sofa with two embroidered cushions, and with japanned etagere behind her, a black cat in her lap, looking out; wearing blue dress, plum-coloured cardigan over her shoulders, and single-row pearl necklace. Mid brown hair, and green eyes.
© National Trust / Charles Thomas
The insides of Scotney are also bursting with Betty’s feline trinkets and paintings. And the Trust didn’t just inherit inanimate objects: Betty asked if she could leave her final cat, a tortoiseshell named Puss, at Scotney in their care. The Trust agreed, looking after Puss after Betty passed away in 2006. Puss pretty much had the run of the house, though they did have to make a few adjustments – including removing her food bowl and basket from the top of the piano.

Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton: Rosalie, Lady Mander

Rosalie, Lady Mander met Ricardo of Pimlico (or Ricky), at Pimlico Tube Station. He was a stray cat and she adopted him. The two travelled together from Lady Mander’s London flat to her William Morris-filled home, Wightwick Manor, sharing a ham sandwich on the train (she had the bread, he the ham).

Black and white photograph portrait of Lady Mander seated on bench in the gardens at Wightwick, holding cat. Glazed in moulded gilt frame.
© National Trust / Sophia Farley and Claire Reeves

Ricky wasn’t Lady Mander’s only cat. Miss Tabby Cat received a dedication in Rosalie’s 1981 anthology of feline-focused writings, CATegories: ‘Without whom sitting Sphinx-like on the desk or playing “with sportive grace”, kittenish on the keys, this book would have been finished much sooner.’

Discover more aristo-cats past and present in Cats of the National Trust (£9.99, National Trust Books), out now!

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