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Churchill’s feline dynasties


30 November is Winston Churchill’s birthday. This most celebrated of Prime Ministers would be 142 years old today and, if he was still with us, it is not unreasonable to speculate that wherever he was, there would probably be at least one cat nearby.

Churchill, along with his wife Clementine were animal lovers and usually had a veritable menagerie of cats and dogs about wherever they went – whether that be at their country home Chartwell, Kent, or in No. 10 Downing Street.

‘He loved cats … He always had a cat, if not two,’ one of Churchill’s secretaries recalled. Perhaps the most famous feline legacy that Churchill bequeathed to the nation was that of the Jocks Of Chartwell, a dynasty of six marmalade cats with white bibs and paws who have had run of the historic home since it was given to National Trust after Churchill’s death in 1965.

The first Jock was given to Churchill by his trusted private secretary Sir John ‘Jock’ Colville as an 88th birthday present. Churchill held the original Jock in great affection, so much so that it was rumoured the cat sat on his bed as he died a few years later. After Churchill’s death his family gave Chartwell to the nation, on the condition that a ‘Jock’ would always have the run of the house.

The National Trust has been as good as its word. Chartwell is currently home to Jock VI, who arrived aged seven months from a rescue home in March 2014. According to Chartwell’s website, Jock VI is a ‘mischievous character’ who likes ‘afternoon naps, eating tuna, Persian rugs and cuddles’, but does not favour heights, lightning or opera.

But while the dynasties of Jocks at Chartwell are perhaps the best known of Churchill’s cats, they are perhaps not the most streetwise cats to have been owned by Churchill.

This title probably goes to Churchill’s cat Nelson, whose bold nature so impressed Churchill that he was quickly elevated from the gutter to the very heart of government, No. 10 Downing Street.

Churchill first met Nelson outside the Admiralty buildings in London, where he witnessed the fearless feline chasing a dog down the road. Impressed, he adopted the moggy and named him after Britain’s most famous sailor, Horatio Nelson.

In 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister, taking control of government during the dark days of the Second World War. Nelson came with him to No. 10, and this pugnacious pussy ensured that it not only mainland Europe where conflict raged.

Nelson’s fighting spirit was not diminished by his elevation in society; indeed he quickly took issue with by the Downing Street cat left by departing Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain. Nelson didn’t appreciate sharing the office of Downing Street’s ‘top cat’ with Chamberlain’s mouser (who Churchill unkindly nicknamed ‘The Munich Mouser’ after his master’s derided ‘peace in our time’ speech) and chased the other cat out in short order.

Churchill would no doubt be buoyed that today Whitehall’s cat population is once again on the rise with the high profile mousers of the Cabinet Office, Foreign Office and Treasury – Larry, Palmerston and Gladstone – the darlings of the media; and, in Larry and Palmerston’s case, as equally pugnacious as their 1940s predecessor Nelson.

By Christopher Day

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