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The Cats of Spitalfields

August 27, 2013
by the gentle author

Contributing Photographer Chris Kelly is renowned for her volume of cat photography The Necessary Cat – A Photographer’s Memoir, so I asked her if she would make a survey of the cats of Spitalfields and am delighted to publish her portraits of local felines and their human slaves.

In the Bell Foundry Office, Whitechapel

Sooty the Bell Foundry Cat

Sooty the Bell Foundry Cat & Kathryn Hughes, Master Bell Founder

“Sooty came from a London charity called Paws for Life, they rehome elderly cats or those with medical problems. He was a fighting tom taken off the streets and is FIV positive. For the first few months here he just hid in corners, but the whole house is his domain now although heʼs not allowed in the foundry.

We got him to deal with the mice and he catches any that come out from under the cooker. He sleeps upstairs with our two girls and follows us around. Itʼs lovely to have him here, especially if any one of us is alone in the house.

We think heʼs about seven or eight. Heʼs fairly scarred and scabbed and half of one ear is missing. He likes to be king of the castle. Heʼs usually fine with girls, although heʼll give ours a nip if theyʼre a bit slow to put out his breakfast. He doesnʼt like men much, especially if theyʼre wearing big boots and he only comes down to the office when the men have gone home.

He loves listening to music but only piano music and singing, he hates the trumpet and violin. He sometimes sits on a chair near the piano when my daughter is playing.

Our previous cat Sandy walked in off the street and stayed for ten years. He was the complete feral cat, he could climb a vertical ladder in the yard and be away over the rooftops. He was never really ours. He was an excellent ratter and there were plenty of the nasty large creatures around when foundations were being rebuilt. Heʼd present them to us, of course.

We acquired the toy cat in the office when Sandy died. Itʼs very lifelike and a source of great amusement and cat jokes.”


Fitzroy & Rodney Archer

Earl & Fitzroy & Rodney Archer

“I was mourning my last cat for two years and I didnʼt want another cat. But then mice moved into the guest rooms upstairs, so I went to a cat rescue place just before Christmas last year. It was like an adoption agency – I had to be interviewed but there was no problem because Iʼve kept cats for forty years. They phoned me after a while and I had to explain that the cats were undergoing a personality change due to being renamed.

The black and white cat is Earl and the black cat is Fitzroy. Theyʼre named after good friends although one of them is allergic to cats. He does sometimes feed them when Iʼm away though. Because they werenʼt kittens, they came already formed but Iʼm beginning to love them although they do knock things off window ledges and I find vases on the floor. They get on pretty well together even though Earl tends to jump out at Fitzroy, and whereas Earl will sit on the bed, itʼs a huge honour if Fitzroy enters the room.”

Sparkly & Melanie & Harvey Denyer

Sparkly is a curious cat

Sparkly & Melanie & Harvey Denyer

Melanie – “Sparkly came from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home three years ago. Sparkly is quite famous in the area and even before we had the cafe he was always known as The Rag Factory cat. (The Rag Factory on Heneage St is used for rehearsals, filming, classes and exhibitions)

Then he became well known in the cafe too. He liked to be with the customers, and children from the local school would stop and talk to him. Unfortunately, we had a visit from the environmental health people and heʼs banned from the cafe now.

Sparkly was twelve weeks old when he came and my son Harvey was only three, but Battersea are fantastic about matching cats with families. Sparkly was a lot more forgiving then he might have been.

Our worst experience with Sparkly was when he disappeared from The Rag Factory last November. He was missing for five months. We think he must have got into a builderʼs van. He was found in Essex and taken to the PDSA but when they examined him the vet didnʼt find his chip. Then a local shelter fostered him but before he was rehomed he was scanned again and they found the chip. When he came back, he behaved as though heʼd never been away though heʼs a bit more of a homebody now.”

Harvey  – “Heʼs my cat really. I named him. We were going to call him Sparkle but I accidentally said Sparkly.”

Carlos & Rupert Blanchard

Carlos & a piece of Rupert’s furniture

Carlos & Sofia & Rupert Blanchard & Polly Benfield

“Rupert Blanchard (cat person) met Polly Benford (dog person) in Swindon in 1999 and in 2003, they moved in together in Hackney.

The guys next door got a pair of cats to deal with mice, but moved to Mexico after having had the cats for only six months. Polly turned into a cat person because, she says, “Carlos is gentle and friendly like a dog” and we inherited the cats. The cats had been named Carlos and Sofia after King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain. The first week we had Sofia and Carlos, they presented us with six mice. We havenʼt seen another one since, although one of the cats caught a moth recently.

They have a holiday once a year in the Wiltshire countryside with six other family cats. Just about everyone in the family has cats. Carlos always dominates.

We think they are brother and sister and are about eleven years old. Carlos is strong, healthy and very friendly but gets scared easily by the Hoover. He loves going out onto the rooftops. He also gets into every film and photo shoot possible. Sofia is always in and out of the vets, prefers life under the bed or on an Eames chair and is scared of new people. Both are much loved.”


Theodora & Charlie de Wet

Theodora & Charlie de Wet

“Opera is my passion and Theodora is named after an opera. Maybe the next kitty will be called Aida, Nora or Maria Stuada!

Theodora, or “Dorable Dora” as she also is known, is my granny cat. She sleeps twenty-two hours of the day and night in front of the Aga dreaming. During the remaining two hours, always from 2.00am to 4.00am, she climbs three floors to tell me about these dreams. I get a swipe across my face to wake me up to listen. And then she plays like a kitten and relates every detail of her dreams. Aghhhh…but I love her dearly. When Theodora has told me everything she can remember she jumps off the bed and, if I am lucky, I get to sleep. If not, memories of all my furry family come flooding back – Puppy, Gorgeous Ginger Tom, Miss Gingerbits, Debbie & Greta, Dee Dee & Kennington. All were strays and some were in the most appalling condition, but they were all wonderful characters who shared and enhanced my life.

We were a five kitty household and Theodora is the last of that family. She and her sister Miss Fluff Bunny cost £5 each and came from Fiona Wheeler who, fourteen years ago, lived in Wilkes St. Mother Cat had several litters and so quite a few homes in the area have kitties who are related. Before Fitzroy and Earl moved in with Rodney Archer, he used to have a very fine cat called Horace who would drape himself around Rodneyʼs shoulders. He was a cousin of my girls and there must be many more of them …”

Bungy & Sammy Dobkin at Forest Reclaim


Bungy & Shadow & Sammy Dobkin at Forest Reclaim

“Iʼve worked here for a couple of years. Itʼs a family business and Daniel the owner is my cousin. Bungy, the black and white cat and Shadow, the black cat, live on the premises. Theyʼre both good mousers and Shadow loves a pigeon. I feed them both – Shadow prefers dry food and Bungy likes wet food.

Shadow turned up about a year and a half ago. He could be from anywhere because he tends to jump into strange vans. Someone put Bungy through the fence when he was just a kitten and heʼs been here for about eight or ten years.

Customers like them and people who are passing often stop and talk to them, but theyʼre spending a lot of time in front of the fire at the moment.”

Madge in the office at Dennis Severs’ House

Madge & David Milne, Curator

The ashes of Madge’s predecessor are in the urn.

Madge & David Milne, Curator at Dennis Severs’ House

“Thereʼs always been a cat here, and the last three have been called Madge. The first Madge was buried in the back yard in September 1991, and the ashes of the second cat are in an urn in the Victorian room beneath a portrait of Dennis Severs.

The current Madge came from a rescue place in Hackney. She was a bit frightened at first but she was only a baby, so we kept her in the office then slowly took her out into the rest of the house. Now she has secret places all over the house, including the attic. We donʼt know where she goes.

Sheʼs often around during visits. Unfortunately, some people think sheʼs a prop and give her a prod. Sheʼll respond with a miaow or a nip. She often sits in the same places and the same chairs that the previous cat liked.

She knows we put food out when the visitors come and she likes licking the butter off the toast. And sheʼs been known to tip over the eggs and eat the yolk.

She likes to be outside on the terrace in warm weather. She has friends too. She goes into Tedʼs house next door. I donʼt live here but Dennis and I were good mates and I always enjoyed the house before I became Curator.

My own cat is an Oriental Havana with emerald eyes. I was on a waiting list for two years for that particular colour and her breeders said, “If she doesnʼt like you, you canʼt have her.” Luckily when I brought her home she came out of her box, had a look round and went to sleep. Sheʼs very possessive and if there are other people in the flat sheʼll bring something to me so that I notice her.”

Lenny, pub cat at The Pride of Spitalfields, with admirer Dean Whatmuff.

Lenny snuggles in a cosy corner.

Lenny napping watched over by Terry Hutton.

Lenny at The Pride of Spitalfields with Anne Butler, landlady & Terry Hutton & Dean Whatmuff, regulars.

Anne Butler – “Lenny is from a Liverpool refuge centre. He is nine years old and immediately took to being among the customers, but moving for no-one. He is very good with my other cat, Patch, although they fight a bit, he is always cleaning him and lets Patch get to his dinner first. He has a real good fan base and affection for all those who give him titbits.”

Terry Hutton – “Iʼve been coming here since I was fourteen. I like the atmosphere – and the cat. I was born in Spelman St and the old chicken market used to be nearby, so there were always a lot of stray cats and sometimes the cat lady used to feed them.”

Dean Whatmuff – “Iʼm from Yorkshire and Iʼve lived in Spitalfields since 1981. I went to the Slade in 1983 and my first studio was near here in the early eighties. Shoreditch was like a ghost town at night then and you had to come to the beigel shop to get something to eat. Iʼve been sketching the customers here for a while now. Itʼs part of a long term project and I hope theyʼll be displayed locally. I do some building work at the pub too and rehang the pictures occasionally. It doesnʼt change much. And Iʼm a DJ at the disco here every Monday at six. Itʼs called ‘mondayvinyl’ and weʼre the ‘one-deck-wonders.’


Battie with Philippa Stockley

Battie & Philippa Stockley

“Battie is a rescue cat, heʼs half Bengal and half Fat Tabby. There was a pair of kittens and this little cat on its own in a box looking miserable. Suddenly, he jumped into my arms – and I gave him back because Iʼm heartless. So he walked round my legs and sprayed me like a tree. Iʼd been marked out as his.

He was frightened at first but now heʼs my constant companion. Heʼs nearly seven, heʼs always waiting when I come home and heʼs only happy if Iʼm within smelling distance. And heʼs a most beautiful jumper.”

Ambrosia & Rev Andy Rider, Rector of Christ Church

Ambrosia & Rev Andy Rider, Rector of Christ Church, Spitalfields

“Weʼve only had Ambrosia for four and a half months. We wanted a tortoiseshell and her name had to begin with the letter A, so sheʼs named after my favourite pudding. Our golden retriever, Archie, is her role model. She definitely aspires to be a dog and she doesnʼt realise sheʼs quite small. Sheʼll make a dive and hang on to Archieʼs leg but, luckily, heʼs very tolerant.

I always say Iʼm not all that bothered about pets, but my wife would dispute that. Our first cats here came from Eric Elstob, who lived in Fournier St. He was one of the great champions of the restoration of Christ Church and, when he died in 2003, his house-keeper asked us to take on the two cats Julio & Antonio. Towards the end of their lives, we thought weʼd better have a new cat to take over mousing duties. So far no results from Ambrosia, but weʼre encouraged by some scurrying under kitchen cupboards.

The painting by Alison Neville, where Ambrosia is sitting, was part of an exhibition in the Rectory gallery. Itʼs a detail of St. Johnʼs, Smith Sq and the sale of that church paid for part of the rebuilding work at Christ Church.”

Mittens & Yasmin

Mittens & Rosie Dastgir & her daughter Yasmin

“Mittens came from the 5th Ave Cat Clinic, Brooklyn. Sheʼd been in the window for a while with a sign saying CAT FOR SALE. My daughter Yasmin used to walk past the window and she really wanted this cat. When she saw the SOLD sign she was so disappointed. Luckily for her, Iʼd just bought the cat.

Bringing her back to this country was a complicated business – there were problems with the microchip (the vet put in an American chip instead of a European standard one), there were questions about the size of the crate, she was driven from Heathrow to Aldgate in a Defra endorsed van, and the whole operation cost a fortune.

But now sheʼs taken control of her territory better than she did in New York. There was an aggressive stray where we lived that used to fight with her. We named it Evil Kitty. So far, we find the London cats more friendly.”


Sebastian & Mark

Sebastian & Cordelia & Lindsay Friend & Mark Jackson at IMT Gallery

“Sebastian & Cordelia are Sphinx cats. They are named after characters in Brideshead Revisited and theyʼve grown into their namesakes. Sebastian is a bit roguish and he eats anything he can find – he once tried to eat staples – whereas Cordelia is more sensible, she tells him off and looks after him a bit.

Iʼve always liked this breed. I saw a picture of them in a book once when I was a child and immediately wanted to have one. And theyʼre the friendliest of all breeds. Mark likes them because he studied axolotl salamanders in a biology class and he thinks their faces are similar.

They came from a north London breeder. We just wanted Sebastian, but at our interview Cordelia took a shine to Mark so then we had to have them both. Theyʼre brother and sister and they were three and a half years old in March. Theyʼre quite high maintenance, they have to be bathed once a week and have their ears and claws cleaned.

They live with us at the gallery, so thereʼs constant stimulation and they are always around when people come to the gallery. Our exhibitions are constantly changing and some of our artists produce particularly cat-friendly work. Sebastian & Cordelia joined in during a session of voice recording recently.

The little girl who lives opposite, who is about eight, likes to come and see the cats when theyʼre sitting on the window sill. They adore her and sheʼs transfixed by them. We once overheard her telling her friend, ‘These are my cats. Well, theyʼre not actually my cats but they love me.’ She has two cats of her own now but she still comes to see Sebastian & Cordelia.”



Truman & Stella & Chris Dyson

“Truman came from a Mare St pet shop. His father is a Russian Blue and his mother a Norwegian Long Hair. We bought him as a kitten in 2009 and our other cat, Stella, came six months later. We found her very pregnant mother on the doorstep of Number Eleven and took her to Samantha Morton who lives nearby because we knew she looked after cats. So when the cat produced her litter the very next day, we felt obliged to have one of the kittens. And Truman was going slightly nutty on his own – these cats love company, they always want to join the party.

You never know with cats how the chemistry will work. Stella is basically a street cat, sheʼs a mixture of ginger tabby and tortoiseshell and sheʼs always been very nervous. The two of them get on reasonably well although Truman picks on her if he gets bored. But she fights back and now heʼs got a bit of ear missing, so heʼs more careful.

Theyʼve both fallen from the parapet of the gallery. Truman used to run around on the rooftops and, one wet day, he fell off. Fortunately, he landed on all fours but his chin was bruised. He never did it again. Stella has done the same too, so theyʼve both fallen three storeys to solid ground and are still standing.

Truman sometimes disappears for a few days but we know he calls on friends. He likes the girls in offices nearby who feed him titbits and someone else said recently, ‘Your cat calls on me on Thursday afternoons.'”

Photographs copyright © Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly’s THE NECESSARY CAT – A PHOTOGRAPHER’S MEMOIR is available from many independent bookshops including Brick Lane Books, Broadway Books & Newham Bookshop.

You may also like to read about

Mr Pussy in the Dog Days

Mr Pussy is Ten

Mr Pussy in Winter

The Caprice of Mr Pussy

Mr Pussy in Spitalfields

Mr Pussy takes the Sun

Mr Pussy, Natural Born Killer

Mr Pussy takes a Nap

Mr Pussy’s Viewing Habits

The Life of Mr Pussy

Mr Pussy thinks he is a Dog

Mr Pussy in Summer

Mr Pussy in Spring

and take a look at these other pictures by Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly’s Columbia School Portraits 1996

Chris Kelly’s Cable St Gardeners

Chris Kelly’s Cable St Gardeners in Colour

Chris Kelly & Dan Jones in the Playground

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Paul Kelly permalink
    August 27, 2013

    This one’s a really good article. I like the Bell Foundry cat and the “Pride of Spitalfields” one too. Always love it when they catch a rat – means to me they’re earning their keep!!!

  2. August 28, 2013

    Pure self endulgence (for me!) – but lovely! Very many thanks for the blog.

  3. Sambal permalink
    September 6, 2013

    Lovely, especially like Lenny!

  4. December 22, 2014

    I love my dogs and cats and decided to have a photo converted into a real painting. It looks amazing and I am so pleased I did it. For more details on Pet Paintings why not take a look at this as you may find it helpful. Regards Villalta Dolezal

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