Britain is known as a nation of pet lovers, but did you know some of our 4-legged friends have left their pawprints on the country’s history? Here are 5 stories that are sure to make you feel all warm and fuzzy…
At Winston Churchill’s country pad, Chartwell, the former prime minister was given a marmalade cat by one of his private secretaries, Sir John "Jock" Colville, for his 88th birthday in 1962. Jock the cat became a loyal companion and important presence in the house, prompting Churchill to request that there always be a marmalade cat with 4 white paws and a white bib residing at Chartwell, which was left to the National Trust in 1966. The National Trust have honoured this ever since, and if you visit today you will see Jock VI roaming the gardens or snoozing on a Persian rug in the charming house.
This brave puss got good value from his 9 lives – he survived no fewer than 4 ship sinkings during World War II, before retiring to live with a seaman in Belfast, Northern Ireland, until 1955. Unsinkable Sam was such a maritime treasure, he even has a purr-trait at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.
Mike the cat, gatekeeper of the British Museum
Mike the cat had an important role guarding the main gate of London’s British Museum from pigeons between 1909-1929. He had become such a treasured 4-legged figure, his obituary featured in both the London Evening Standard and Time magazine.
The Cheshire Cat
The cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland drawn by John Tenniel (1820-1914) in the 1866 edition.
Although fictional, the tale of the Cheshire Cat has intriguing roots in reality none the less. Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is believed to have found inspiration for his enduring character from a 16th-century carving of a grinning cat on a church tower in Cheshire. A favoured theory on the origin of the phrase “grinning like a Cheshire cat” is that Cheshire was an area of Britain that was highly populated with dairy farms, so the sheer abundance of milk and cream left cats more than happy...
And fair’s fair, we must include a dog…
This little pooch became known in 19th-century Edinburgh for keeping vigil over his master’s grave in Greyfriars Churchyard for 14 years until his own death in 1872. So affected by Bobby’s heart-breaking story, the city of Edinburgh erected a statue commemorating the terrier, which you can see today on the junction of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge, and you can give his shiny bronze snout a rub.