Skip to content

Clive Murphy & Joan Lauder, The Cat Lady

March 11, 2015
by the gentle author

Joan Lauder, The Cat Lady of Spitalfields (1924-2011)

In recent years, the Cat Lady of Spitalfields has become a legendary figure in East End lore, acquiring an entire mythology of stories as time goes by. In my imagination, she is a mysterious feline spirit in human form that prowls the alleys and back streets –  a self-appointed guardian of the stray cats and a lonely sentinel embodying the melancholy soul of the place.

Imagine my delight to discover that Clive Murphy, the Oral Historian who lives above the Aladin Curry House, befriended her and recorded her entire biography over many months in 1991. Now the Cat Lady has a name, Joan Lauder, and in Clive’s portrait above you see her sitting in his kitchen at 132 Brick Lane, dictating into a tape recorder and looking uncannily feline in her dappled grey fur coat.

Although she was widely assumed to have died when she vanished from Spitalfields towards the end of the last century, in fact Joan Lauder lived in a series of homes from 1995 until her death just four years ago. Clive remained in contact with Joan and was one of her only two regular visitors right up to the end. Over the twenty years they knew each other, an unlikely and volatile friendship grew between Clive & Joan based upon mutual curiosity.

Clive Murphy has decided that now at last the truth about the Cat Lady can be revealed and he is editing his transcripts into a book of Joan’s life entitled ‘Angel of the Shadows.’ Thus Clive has permitted me to publish his introduction today as a sneak peek, accompanied by some of the photographs that he took when he accompanied Joan the Cat Lady on her rounds back in the early nineties, tending to the feral creatures of Spitalfields that no-one else loved.

At Angel Alley, Whitechapel, 5th March 1992

Feeding the cat from The White Hart in Angel Alley, 5th March 1992

In Gunthorpe St, 5th March 1992

Buying cat food at Taj Stores, Brick Lane, 3rd August 1992

In Wentworth St, 3rd August 1992

Calling a cat, Bacon St, 3rd August 1992

The cat arrives, Bacon St, 3rd August 1992

Alley off Hanbury St, 2nd August 1992

Hanbury St, 26th November 1995

At Aldgate East, 3rd August 1992

At Lloyds, Leadenhall St, 3rd August 1992

Walking from Angel Alley into Whitechapel High St, 3rd August 1992

Beware Of The Pussy, 132 Brick Lane, 26th November 1995

Clive visits Joan in her Nursing Home, 1995

ANGEL OF THE SHADOWS, The Life of the Cat Woman of Spitalfields

The women I have loved you could count upon the digits of one hand – my mother, her mother, our loyal companion Maureen McDonnell, the poet Patricia Doubell and the demented, incontinent Joan Lauder, the Cat Lady of Spitalfields who, in 1991, when I first spoke to her was already my heroine, a day-and-night-in-all-weathers Trojan, doggedly devoting herself to cats because human beings had for too long failed her. She looked at me with suspicion when I suggested we tape record a book. Only my bribe that half of any proceeds of publication would fall to her or her favoured charities and enable the purchase of extra tins of cat food persuaded her at least to humour me. I could swear I saw those azure eyes, set in that pretty face, dilate. I had entrapped her with the best of intentions as she, I was to learn, often entrapped, also with the best of intentions, the denizens of the feral world to have them spayed or neutered in the interests of control. But to the end, her end, I don’t think she ever trusted or respected me. I once found her surreptitiously laying down Whiskas in my hallway for my own newly-adopted cat which I named Joan in her honour. And she once spat the expletive ‘t***’ at me in a tone of total dismissal. To be called a foolish and obnoxious person was hardly comforting, given that I believe my own adage ‘in dementia veritas’ holds all too often true.

- Clive Murphy

Clive’s cat ‘Joan’ in his kitchen, 6th July 1996

Mustakim and Joan, 11th April 1998

Joan on the rooftops of Brick Lane, 21st February 1996

Mullah’s pupil with Joan, 10th April 2001

15th June 1995

Photographs copyright © Clive Murphy

You may like to read my other stories about Joan Lauder

The Cat Lady of Spitalfields

Remembering the Cat Lady of Spitalfields

and take a look at my other stories about Clive Murphy

Clive Murphy, Writer

A Walk With Clive Murphy

At Clive Murphy’s Flat

Clive Murphy, Phillumenist

Clive Murphy, Snapper

Clive Murphy, Exhibitionist

Clive Murphy, Autograph Hunter

Clive Murphy Up In Lights

9 Responses leave one →
  1. March 11, 2015

    A virtuous woman indeed. And who knew that Clive was such a good photographer?

  2. March 11, 2015

    Joan was an angel to those cats, and I am glad that Clive befriended her in her last years, and visited her in the nursing home. Valerie

  3. March 11, 2015

    Loved reading this. Do let us know when Clive’s book is published as should like to buy it. What a noble lady she was was and how the Spitalfields’ cats must miss her.

  4. March 11, 2015

    I’m hooked!

  5. David permalink
    March 11, 2015

    One of a succession of ‘cat ladies’. I remember one back in the early 70s who used to feed the cats in Whitechapel. She lived in a tiny gaslit cottage in the City of London and went about like Joan with her shopping trolley delivering meat to various derelict or demolished properties. I think she worked on behalf of the Cats Protection League.

  6. March 11, 2015

    Brilliant!

  7. Barbara permalink
    March 11, 2015

    Oh , I am so pleased that Clive Murphy has captured her story . It is lovely to see her smiling in the photos and good to know that she was looked after and visited in her last years . What is it about our feline friends that commands such devotion ? I am really looking forward to the publication of the book , bravo Clive !

  8. Jayne permalink
    March 12, 2015

    I remember her so well with her little shopping trolley. She would often get bits of liver sausage and the like for the cats from the back of Blooms, which used to be just opposite. She could chat for hours and I often wondered what happened to her as she just seemed to vanish.

  9. April 5, 2015

    Be blessed forever Dear sweet Lady n you were an angel and will be for ever . We love you <3

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS