Town & Country (UK)
The much-loved furry residents of the National Trust’s venerable homes
History may have dubbed Winston Churchill the ‘British bulldog’ but in fact he was more of a cat person. His family bequeathed his house Chartwell to the nation on condition that there was always a marmalade tom with a white bib and paws ‘in comfortable residence’, in memory of the late Prime Minister’s beloved Jock. Churchill’s is not the only National Trust property with a resident feline – a little known fact explored in a delightful new book documenting the love famous former inhabitants had for their pets.
Another unexpected ailurophile was Florence Nightingale, who owned more than 60 cats during her lifetime, many of whom brought the pioneering nurse considerable heartache. There was Mr Muff who died tragically, having been accidentally shot by a gamekeeper; Mr Bismarck, best remembered for his overwhelming passion for rice pudding; and a Persian kitten named Quiz, who leapt out of a train window near Watford and was later retrieved, miraculously unhurt, by the stationmaster.
Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top farm in Cumbria, meanwhile, has long been home to an array of moggies – very fitting, given that it was the setting for The Tale of Tom Kitten. And although readers will be familiar with many of the properties in this book, from Vita Sackville-west’s Sissinghurst to Ellen Terry’s Smallhythe Place, the stories of their animal occupants animate these historic houses with fresh warmth and life. cg ‘Cats of the National Trust’ by Amy Feldman (£9.99, National Trust Books) is published in June.