Skip To Content

London Cats

A Cat-Themed Bicycle Ride

James Houston

9 July 2016

COPY.content.1.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

This 26 mile (42 km) cat-themed bicycle tour starts at London Bridge. The route visits a number of London’s notable cats and passes through Bermondsey, the City, Westminster, Soho, Camden, Archway, Bloomsbury and the East End before returning to London Bridge.

COPY.content.2.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

And it’s cat-shaped!

Dr Salter’s Cat

Bermondsey

COPY.content.4.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Alfred Salter was born in Greenwich in 1873. At 16 he won a scholarship to study medicine at Guy’s hospital. As a student, he visited many working-class homes in Bermondsey, which developed in him a committed social conscience.

COPY.content.5.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Shortly after qualifying in 1896, Dr Salter met Ada Brown, who shared his compassionate attitude towards the poor.

They married and decided to devote their lives to the poverty-stricken residents of Bermondsey. They moved into the area and set up a practice on Jamaica Road, providing medical services at very low cost.

COPY.content.7.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

They had a daughter, Joyce. When Joyce was eight she contracted Scarlet Fever. The local community were greatly concerned for her health and followed updates which the Salters pinned to their front door. Sadly Joyce died and the couple never overcame their grief.

COPY.content.8.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Collectively titled ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’, these sculptures remember the greatly-loved Salters who brought so much to their local community. The family cat sits on the river wall.

Cat and cucumber cafe

Bermondsey

COPY.content.10.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

The name of this cafe pre-dates the 2016 internet meme of mean cat owners scaring their cats with cucumbers.

Closed at the weekends unfortunately.

St Michael Paternoster Royal Church

City of London

The original church building, which was first recorded in the 13th century, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was rebuilt, but severely damaged again during the blitz. It was restored again between 1966 and 1968.

COPY.content.13.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Richard Whittington lived locally. One of his earlier philanthropic acts was to pay for the rebuilding and extension of St Michael Paternoster Royal after a vacant plot of land was acquired.

COPY.content.14.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

On the south wall, a stained glass window depicts Dick Whittington with his cat.

COPY.content.15.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Sir Richard was buried in St Michael’s in 1422. His grave has since been lost. An attempt to find his grave in 1949 did uncover a mummified cat, but no Lord Mayor.

Faith, St Augustine’s Cat

City of London

St Augustine’s church was first recorded in the 12th century. Like St Michael Paternoster Royal Church it was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt to the designs of Christopher Wren.

COPY.content.18.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Faith, the church cat, gained fame after the air raid which destroyed St Augustine’s in 1941. Days before she was seen moving her kitten, Panda, to a basement area. Despite being brought back several times, Faith insisted on returning Panda to her refuge.

COPY.content.19.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

On the morning after the air raid the rector searched through the ruins and eventually found Faith, surrounded by smouldering rubble and debris but still guarding the kitten in the spot she had selected three days earlier.

Hodge

Fleet Street

Hodge was one of the cats of author Dr Samuel Johnson (1709–1784). A bronze statue of Hodge by Jon Buckley stands in the courtyard outside Dr Johnson’s House (now a museum) at 17 Gough Square. Hodge is depicted sitting atop a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary with a pair of oyster shells at his feet, and an inscription underneath which reads “a very fine cat indeed”.

In James Boswell’s biography Life of Samuel Johnson, Boswell wrote, “I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat”.

Templar Cats

Temple

COPY.content.23.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Four Templar cats decorate a column at Temple Church, located between Fleet Street and the River Thames. The church—built by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters—dates to the 12th century, and although much of the building is restored, the cat heads are original. Each cat head faces one of the four cardinal directions. Between the heads, a shoot springs vertically upwards from a seed.

Kaspar at The Savoy

Covent Garden

COPY.content.25.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

The two topiary cats outside The Savoy hotel are in the shape of the hotel’s wooden scultpure, Kaspar the cat.

In 1898, the diamond magnate Woolf Joel gave a dinner party at The Savoy before he departed to South Africa. One guest cancelled at the last minute and thirteen sat down to table. The host laughed off the superstition that the earliest to leave the table would be destined to die first. A few weeks later, however, Woolf was shot dead in his office in Johannesburg.

COPY.content.27.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Since 1926, whenever there is a booking for a table of 13 at the Savoy, the wooden Kaspar sculpture is seated at the table at a full place-setting to bring the number to 14.

The sphinxes at Cleopatra’s Needle

Embankment

COPY.content.29.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Cleopatra’s needle is one of a pair of ancient Egyptian obelisks originally located in Heliopolis around 1450 BC and moved via a trecherous journey to London in 1877-1878. It’s twin is in New York.

Two large bronze Sphinxes lie on either side of the Needle. These are Victorian versions of the traditional Egyptian original. The benches on the Embankment also have winged sphinxes on either side as their supports.

South Bank Lion

Lambeth

The South Bank Lion is a stone sculpture which stands at the east end of Westminster Bridge. It was cast in 1837 from Coade stone which is very weather-resistent, hence it’s features still look very sharp.

It was originally mounted at the nearby Lion Brewery. Between 1951 and 1966 it was painted red as a symbol of British Rail and situated outside Waterloo station. It was removed from the station in 1966 in order for the station to be extended and moved to Westminster Bridge. A similar stone lion from the Lion Brewery is painted gold and is situated at Twickenham stadium.

Humphrey

City of Westminster

Humphrey was employed as the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street from 1989 to 1997. He arrived as a stray and served under Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair. He was frequently seen in photographs of number 10, and was popular with the media. Humphrey was said to be of considerably better value than the Cabinet’s professional pest controller, who charged £4,000 a year and is reported to have never caught a mouse.

Landseer Lions, Trafalgar Square

City of Westminster

COPY.content.37.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

The four monumental bronze lions in Trafalgar Square were added in 1867, guarding Nelson’s column which had been erected 24 years earlier.

COPY.content.38.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

The first sculptor to be commissioned for the work produced four stone lions. These were deemed not grand enough and were removed.

COPY.content.39.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Bizarrely, the commission for the sculptures was then given to a painter, Sir Edwin Landseer. He took nine years to complete the project. The first four years were spent visiting London zoo and making sketches.

COPY.content.40.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

He asked for a lion that had died at the zoo to be brought to his studio. He took so long to complete sketches that it began to decompose and some parts had to be improvised. Hence the statues have paws that resemble cats more than lions.

Soho Hotel Cat

Soho

COPY.content.42.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

The hotel’s lobby has a 10ft bronze sculpture of a cat by sculptor Fernando Botero. His signature style, also known as “Boterismo”, depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume.

Heal’s Cat

Fitzrovia

The Heal’s cat sits halfway up the stairs at the back of the store. In the Twenties, this large bronze cat was just another item for sale, but the staff became very fond of the cat, fanned in part by a shop assistant who said that wishes may be granted if you touched its paws. One day the cat was sold for £40, but Sir Ambrose Heal wrote to the customer cancelling the sale and placed a card on the cat saying, “Heal’s Mascot. Not for Sale”.

Carreras Cigarette Factory Cats

Camden

Carreras cigarette factory is a large art deco building built in the 1920’s and is an example of Egyptian revival architecture. Dominating the entrance to the building were two large bronze statues of cats, stylised versions of the Egyptian god Bastet. The image of a black cat was a branding device which Carreras used on cigarette packets.

In 1959, Carreras merged with Rothmans and moved out. In the 60’s, the factory was converted to offices and the Egyptian stylings removed. These were added back, along with replicas of the cats, in 1996.

Boris the cat plaque

Kentish Town

In Anglers Lane a commemorative plaque reads ‘Boris the cat lived here 1986-1996’. No further information available!

Whittington Park

Upper Holloway

COPY.content.51.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Whittington Park features a large cat made of plants and flowers at its Holloway Road entrance, and has a nice looking community-run cafe.

Whittington Stone

Archway

COPY.content.53.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

The Whittington Stone is a monumental stone at the foot of Highgate Hill which marks the spot where Dick Whittington is said to have heard Bow Bells prophesying his good fortune: “Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London!”. The cat is sat facing away from London but with its head turned back towards London.

Whittington Hospital

Archway

COPY.content.55.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

The current hospital, named after Richard Whittington, has its origins in the Small Pox and Vaccination Hospital, built in 1848. In addition to a cat featuring on the sign at the front of the building, two cat statues can be found in a garden within the grounds.

Sam, Queen Square Gardens

Bloomsbury

Installed in 1997, a bronze sculpture of Sam the cat honours local resident and nurse Patricia Penn (1914-1992), a ‘formidable lady’ — but very popular — who had been very active in the area in the 1970s, campaigning to protect it from developers and to preserve historic buildings. MS Penn was a cat lover: Sam was one of her pets. Sam’s statue was stolen in August 2007, but in May 2009 a new Sam was unveiled.

Saint Bartholomew the Great’s cat

West Smithfield

The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great is an Anglican church originally founded in 1123. It is one of the few churches in the city not to have been destroyed by the Great Fire of London. It was the first Anglican priory church to charge an entrance fee to tourists not attending worship.

COPY.content.60.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

The Smithfield cat is located inside the south transept, just above and across from the bookstall. Much of St. Bartholomew’s interior predates the tradition of corbel heads on arches and pillars, so the cat is an unusual and unexplained ornament.

Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium

Shoreditch

COPY.content.62.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

Lady Dinah’s is London’s first Cat Cafe. It is a calm and quiet tea house and home to around 9 rescue cats.

Cheshire Street graffiti

Shoreditch

COPY.content.64.caption [column does not exist in sheet]

The graffiti in Cheshire Street in London’s East End frequently has a cat theme.

That’s all Folks!

Thanks heaps to the London Brompton Club for the company and good times, and the NPR Visuals Team for kind permission to use their website code.

If you’re thinking of doing the ride yourself you may wish to download the .gpx file of the route.

Back to the start

Project Credits
James Houston