Clive Murphy & Joan Lauder, The Cat Lady
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
and take a look at my other stories about Clive Murphy