Skip to content

London cats of the nineteenth century – and in the Willesden factory of 1966!

2020 July 28

Stories of cats – and often their visual images- occur in archives of the nineteenth century, particularly London. .In the Bank of England in the City of London around fifty cats were kept – to act as mousers- and a weekly sum was regularly allowed for their support. On one occasion in 1819 a principal clerk in one of the offices was bitten a couple of days before by one of the cats. Consequently “suspicion having subsequently arisen that the animal was mad” resulted in all the cats being destroyed (with the clerk having the bite excised).

Images occur of cats for sale in a range of shops including those also selling birds and dogs, as shown in The English Magazine of 1886.

A bird shop from Hugh Thomson, The English Magazine 1886

In the early accounts of London factories in the 1840s there are depictions of cats , including,just sitting in a sugar refinery.

1840s image of a cat in a London factory

Although accounts of animals, including cats, appeared in a range of radical accounts, such as those of the Chartists,or the later Justice press of the SDF, I have rarely come across progressive accounts during the twentieth century in factories. However in the Past Tense – which often includes materials about politics in London – I have come across “A series of guerilla strikes begin at the ENV Engineering Works, Willesden”. “E.N.V. was an early manufacturer of aircraft engines… ENV’s works in Willesden became a hotbed of rank and file union activity, which peaked in a series of strikes in 1966” closing in 1967.

Reference is made to the work of Joyce Rosser and Colin Barker who described activists stating “The obvious candidate for the post of convenor among the remaining stewards was the deputy convenor, Sid Wise, an ex-member of the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party, and for a short time, with Gerry Healy, a member of the Socialist Outlook group. The Communist Party stewards, however, not wanting a Trotskyist convenor, proposed in his place Harry Ford.One of his jobs was the setting of traps round the factory to catch the numerous cats that infested the place, and workers went around releasing the cats. Harry Ford complained of ‘lack of cooperation.’ ”

I do not recall this being accounted for in many trade union activities. It seems rather than being killed – as happened at the Bank of England – the cats were being freely released into the factory – despite the apparent position of the leading CP convenor!

I’ve been looking at cats’ existence in the 1800s – no doubt the 1900s now also need to be explored…

Today in London striking history, 1966: A series of guerilla strikes begin at the ENV Engineering Works, Willesden

Leave a Reply

Note: You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.