You can see where I've been this week. In the footsteps - well, the paw steps - of the country's most famous cat.
Larry was selected to be the Downing Street Cat from a shortlist of three inmates of the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. Although he now has the title 'chief mouser', he was chosen not because he showed any aptitude for catching mice but because he was good with people. You can imagine the scene if Larry had shown his claws to Gavin Williamson or snarled at Matt Hancock!
My visit to Battersea was to make a donation. Not money, but a slice of history.
Many year ago, I bought at an ephemera stall a fragile handbill from the 1860s soliciting support for a 'Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs'. I was attracted to it because I live not far way from the onetime dogs' home in Holloway. But it turns out that in 1871, this dogs' home moved to Battersea and became ... yes, you've got it.
Battersea's archivist explained that they have vanishingly little in their holdings about the home before it moved south of the river. Well, now they have this -
And if you're curious what the dogs' home looked like in its Holloway incarnation, a drawing of it has survived:
Wonderful! But you can sort of see why the neighbours were keen to wave the home goodbye.
The handbill emphasises that it's for lost and stray dogs only, not for ancient or no-longer-wanted domestic pets ...
Indeed, as you can see, it suggests that if your favourite pootch is getting a little long in the tooth, perhaps the kindest thing would be to put it down. Given the lack of veterinary care at the time, that's perhaps understandable ... but it's the exact opposite of Battersea's current approach.
The home is happy to accept and rehouse unwanted pets, and says the cost of living crisis has sadly prompted more pet owners to wave a fond farewell to Rover or Mogs (the home's name was changed to include cats in 2002). And they only put down animals with very serious health problems or those dogs that are aggressive.to the point of being unhousable.
The Battersea campus is ultra-modern - and indeed the oldest building there, dating from 1905, looks almost comically out of place amid the lines and curves of the new wings and the Battersea Power Station development beyond.
The home also makes use of a row of railway arches, a couple of which used to be the home of a small rail station (Battersea Park Road station, which opened in 1867 and closed in 1916). The station's splendid late Victorian decorated brick is worth a look.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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