The Cat. That simple domesticated puss-cat we see, sitting by our fires, chasing mice, caterwauling 'neath the moon, purring contentedly on our knee, presents itself on our open-air National Gallery of Inn Signs in a positively schizoid kaleidoscope of personalities! Some are easy to interpret, but others are difficult.
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and show off your pub moggy to the world!
The Cat as at Cat Hill, East Barnet, often refers to a feral or wild cat, probably commemorating one which terrified local inhabitants at one time and clearly left its mark on the history of the area. But the combination of other feline qualities portrayed on inn signs is endless: The Fat Cat, The Ginger Tom, The Tabby at, The Black Cat, The Old Cat, The Alley Cat, The Copy Cat, The Cat's Eyes, The Cat's Whiskers - to name but a few. Usually this last brings back memories of the Cheshire Cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, though sometimes it refers to the modern expression meaning 'something of excellent quality' and referring of course to the comforts of the inn itself and the drink it serves.
The Cheshire Cat at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, is said to have taken its name from the first reference we know (1770) to the phrase 'grinning like a Cheshire Cat', but so far no one has ever explained why cats native to Cheshire should grin more than others. Cheshire is noted for its cheese and dairy products, perhaps they had more cream in their diet than their relatives in other parts!
The Burmese Cat, in Melton Mowbray, Leicester, is explained by having a Brewery Chairman whose wife bred Burmese cats, so when the pub was built and the name suggested it seemed to satisfy one and all. The Squinting Cat at Harrogate derives from the habits of a former landlady, known in uncomplimentary vein as 't'owd cat', because of her way of peering from behind the curtains to scrutinize approaching customers! The Mansfield sign won first prize in a Paint-a-Pub Competition, and displays a cat who has obviously sampled the contents of a leaking barrel all too well and far too freely!
Naturally there is a 'Whittington and Cat' in London as also in Hull. 'Puss in Boots' are to be found also, and a cat features on the 'Whittington Stone' at Highgate, London and The 'Whittington Cat' at Whitehaven.
'The Cat and Bagpipes,' however, has nothing at all to do with the animal. It is a corruption of the old Latin term 'catphractes', troops, usually cavalry, who wore breastplates of iron, a form of body protection adopted later on by the northern border robbers, who were sometimes on horse but often footmen. In the days of the constant Border raids the skirl of bagpipes meant the warning cry of 'The Cats are coming!' was raised and the name and sign are a reminder of those times.
Some Cat Sign names come from Heraldic origin and others have strangely, perhaps, a derivation derived from a Saint and its popularity as a girls name in the early centuries.