I recently stumbled across Camden-based, Laura Ford’s 2012 work Cats 1&2. Situated at the end of Bishopsgate, appropriately close to the junction of Leadenhall Street with Whittington Avenue, these two anxious and distracted larger-than-life size cats are part of a series called Days of Judgement. Ford was inspired by Masaccio’s fresco, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, but instead of Adam and Eve, she gives us these tall, thin, distracted and abject creatures.
I started to think about the other London cat statues I know, all of whom serve either to emphasise their human companion’s humanity or serve as a memorial to the humans with whom they are connected.
Hodge, Dr Johnson’s “very fine cat indeed”, portrayed in Jon Bickley’s 1997 statue with one of the oysters he favoured, gazes out in a very proprietorially feline attitude across Gough Square from his position on a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary. He is also at good height for visitors to the Square to stroke or drape an arm round.
Trim, Matthew Flinders seagoing”close companion” looks as though he has his own interests but seems content to stay close by in the busyness of the Euston Station concourse.
These two Bloomsbury cats were indeed real and local. Humphry, on top, used to live in Queen Square (the statue, that is) but was relocated to the Alf Barrett children’s playground in nearby Old Gloucester Street. Humphrey, the real cat, lived at the Mary Ward Adult Education Centre the Square. He was named after Humphry Ward, husband of the centre’s founder Mary Augusta (Mrs Humphry) Ward, the Victorian social reformer and novelist. Humphry is the first and only sculpture completed by Marcia Solway who attended sculpture classes at the Centre and lived nearby. Sadly, Marcia died of epilepsy aged only 34 in 1992. The statue was donated by her mother Carole Solway.
Sam, portrayed jumping down from a wall in a corner of Queen Square, lived with a active local resident Patricia Penn (Penny). Penny was a nurse, actively engaged in the local residents association and a campaigner for the preservation of the area’s historic buildings. The sculpture by John Fuller, was erected in 2002 and funded by local people to commemorate Penny’s life. The current version is mark two as the original was stolen in 2007. However, Sam won’t be able to jump down from the wall this time as the new sculpture is fixed to the brickwork with steel rods!
The cat in the Salter family grouping at Bermondsey returned to the embankment wall in 2014 after a spell in protective custody with Southwark Council. Although daughter Joyce and her pet cat were unharmed, the statue of her father, local GP and Labour MP, Dr Alfred Salter was stolen in 2011. Happily, a fundraising campaign meant that sculptor Diane Gorvin, who created the original trio in 1991, was able to make a new statue of Alfred and to complete the family grouping with a statue of Ada Salter. Ada, who had been omitted from the original commission was the first Labour woman mayor in Britain and the first female mayor in London. An ethical socialist, she successfully campaigned for improved housing and the greening of London through Deptford’s Beautification Committee.
You may like to read more about Trim and Matthew Flinders