Tag Archives: Sussex

A railway cat

Chloe is the queen, that’s the basic truth.  And her servants at Horsted Keynes obviously know this truth very well.

I haven’t been writing for a few months, I’ve had a lot of things going on – some good, some bad – but way back in March, I had a little trip to Horsted Keynes Station, on the Bluebell Railway Line, a tourist steam train that travels through some of the most beautiful countryside in England. The stations are pretty beautiful too – Horsted Keynes itself can be seen as Downton Station in the Downton Abbey series.

There’s a long history of railway cats on the Bluebell Railway: the brilliant Purr-n-Fur has a piece about five cats through the years that lived at various stations on the Bluebell line. The current cat at Horsted Keynes, Chloe, is pretty new, as her predecessor Gizmo only died in 2014, but she’s taking to it as to the manor born. It was raining hard the day I was there, so I mostly went to the carriage works facility, where the volunteers refurbish all the old rolling stock that they can lay their hands on – most of it was abandoned in the 1960s or earlier, so it’s in quite a state. Wonderful to see it being rescued now, and it’s a very popular attraction in a county of popular attractions.

Repairing the carriages
Repairing the carriages
Chloe avoiding fans
Chloe avoiding fans
Cat biscuits, in the carriage being repaired
Cat biscuits, in the carriage being repaired

I was desperate to get a good picture of Chloe, and she wasn’t at all interested that day, so the kindly volunteer I was chatting to told me that her biscuits were kept at a certain spot. I managed to restrain myself from rushing towards her just long enough to get a lovely snap of her finding the cat biscuits in their usual place … and later, of course, the only picture about cigarettes that I’ll ever publicise, advertising Black Cat Virginia tobacco cigarettes.

Black Cat Virginia cigarettes
Black Cat Virginia cigarettes

Even though the weather was so bad, I had a great day!

The Cat House in Henfield

I was out on a country walk a few weeks ago, based on a local village picked from the map more or less at random by my sister. Henfield is the charmingly medieval village name, and what should we find there but The Cat House. Amazing village, amazing house!

It’s a Grade II listed building now, since the 1950s, which is when the picture below was taken.

The lovely people at Francis Frith allow free use of their photos on websites, after a courtesy email, and I’m indebted to them for this. And this is part of the description on the British listed buildings site: “Probably 16th century timber-framed refaced with brick, now painted, on ground floor and with weather-boarding above, painted in imitation of timbering with figures of a cat holding a bird under the eaves.” And that really, really doesn’t do justice to the place – it’s so quirky, and so beautiful!

The quirkiness started with a nineteenth century owner, Bob Ward, who kept canaries. A canary was killed one day by a cat, owned by local churchman Nathaniel Woodard. Ward was enraged, to put it mildly: he put pictures of the cat, holding the bird, all round his house, so it would be seen by the churchman every time he passed the house on his way to the nearby church. Ward also put up strings of shells to rattle in the wind – presumably to disturb the cat on its future hunting forays. There’s also rumour of a black figure appearing at a small window, called the zulu hole, when the churchman walked by.

A 19th century painting by M. Russell, held by the Henfield Museum, shows how quirky the quirkiness got, shown immediately below. The Museum has been kind to me too, instantly allowing me to show this amazing painting, which was commissioned by Bob Ward himself.

M Russell, The Cat House HenfieldThis is real! Its not a hippy tangent from the 1960s, its a historically accurate depiction of what the amazing Bob Ward did over the years, painted in 1882. I think it’s fantastic, I was beside myself with joy when I discovered this photo.


The Henfield Hub website mentions that “Robert Ward bought a number of metal bird scarers – the cats that now line the upper storey – and positioned them all round his house, at ground level, threading a long string through them on which he tied a large number of bells. Whenever Nathaniel Woodward passed on his way to or from Henfield Church, pulling of the string saw him greeted by the sound of metal and bells to remind him of the ‘crime’ his cat committed.” That man must have really loved his canaries, and hated the cat.

My own photos are below, and I’m missing an overall view of the front, sadly – I was so entranced by the detail, I completely forgot. Never mind – I’ll be passing that way again, and I’ll make sure to get another view. Of course, it’s also a private house, owned and occupied, and that has to be respected too.

One of the many panels
One of the many panels

It does make me wonder about the phrase “the cat that ate the canary”, which seems to be an American saying according to this blog. Cathouse is an American phrase too – not one associated with actual cats, of course … Staying in America for a moment, cinema loves the phrase as well: there was a Bob Hope/Paulette Goddard film in 1939 called The Cat And The Canary, but the title was used as far back as 1912, in a silent short, and then in a full length film in 1927.  Thank you IMDB.


The thatcher’s cat?


A little cat struts along the ridge of the thatch, tail held high and proud: the thatcher’s signature, or extra cat-ness?





Side view
Side view



Such a great afternoon out!

Catslides and totem poles

Catslide Roof, Priest House
Catslide Roof, Priest House



Sussex is quite a place to be a cat lover. I recently came across the term “catslide roof” at the Priest’s House in West Hoathly, for instance. Never heard of it before … online research seems to say it’s American, but whichever side of the pond it’s from, it’s definitely about a long roof, sloping from the top of a two-storey structure to the edge of a one-storey add-on. It’s irresistible to think of a cat losing it’s grip, maybe in a frost, and sliding down it, but no one seems to know. I’ve even seen references to a “catslide dormer”, so it’s obviously here to stay.


Puddy Cat at Lewes Totem Pole
Puddy Cat at Lewes Totem Pole

There are no cats on catslides. But if you go to the All Saints Art Centre in Lewes, there’s a cat on a totem pole – All Saints was de-sanctified 35 years ago, so the art is cute, not blasphemous. Anonymous, though, unfortunately.  The picture below shows the little mog at the top of the pole.







Cat at the top of the world
Cat at the top of the world










Brighton Oxfam loves cats too
Brighton Oxfam loves cats too

Sussex also has Brighton, of course, which I’ve covered before. But this little group in a well known charity shop was new to me, when I visited the other day. Adorable, as is the “not for sale” notice.

In the meantime, I’m devouring all three books of The Hunger Games, and as well as liking it much more than I expected, Buttercup the cat is taking up space in my brain. More of Buttercup in the next post.

The Amberley Museum Cats

When you love cats, you find them everywhere. So there I was, out for the day at the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum, indulging one of my other hobbies – industrial and agricultural history, which I find fascinating. They run courses on countryside skills too – pole lathe turning, for instance.


There I was, wandering over the rails of the little railway that runs throughout the site, when I saw this little scene. I had to look further, as you do, and found a touching story of the cats that lived and died here from the 1980s onwards. They were brought to the site by Ian Dean, the museum’s first director.  Chalk (the gorgeous white one) wandered away to live with a family nearby, as cats do, but returned when his brother became ill. His brother, Pepper, was only five when he died, but after that Chalk stayed at the   Museum for all of his long life, 21 years in total.

They were followed by Nelson, who had an even shorter life than Pepper, but was obviously just as loved.

Another cat is commemorated here, Miss Agatha – she has no Victorian Celtic grave marker, as the others do, but a little plinth, set with her picture – she too was loved.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThey’re all buried together, in a quiet spot at the edge of the museum proper, on a slight slope, with a good view of the rats and mice they loved to catch. It’s a sweet, serene little place, and I was so happy to have found it.

National Cat Centre, East Sussex

I had an afternoon out at the National Cat Centre recently – a fascinating place. There’s a cafe and shop (a really good shop!) as well as a nature trail.

National Cat Centre

The whole thing has had a refurb and rebuild, as they only bought the site in 2002 – these are some of the catteries, which are beautifully designed. The stones in front are part of a flood defence.

Cattery space with flood defence

Everybody in the area is very proud of the visit that JFK paid to the site, just a few months before he was assassinated in 1963. His helicopter actually landed at the Centre itself, which is quite something – he was visiting the prime minister of the day Harold MacMillan, who lived close by.

They do a huge amount of work, of course – neutering, rehoming, education (lots of leaflets to download free from their website).  They get out and about a lot of the time too.

On the go

As an aside, it’s become a really good local alternative to Wakehurst Place, for locals to go have a coffee and a little walk – Wakehurst now charge for parking, they don’t have anything savoury in their free-to-access cafe, and they’ve dramatically downsized the amount of merchandise in their shop, which is weird. In contrast, the Cat Centre has free parking, lots of lovely nibbles in the cafe (it’s not as big, but there are outside tables too) there’s quite a bit of exhibition space, and even the 10 acre nature walk part of the site is free. Its an absolute bargain for a low-key afternoon out, with plenty of space for kids to run about.

Right next door is the Red Lion pub, a big, nineteenth-century country pub with modern facilities, and really friendly staff.

I had to pop in once I noticed their pub sign – which is a white lion. No one at the pub on the day knew why they had a white lion, but I thought it was pretty cute. There was more Macmillan/JFK memorabilia there too.

And here’s me, making sure I got every scrap of cat-related images I could find, I like the way this one sort of looks as though I’m a lion:I'm a white lion, really

Just to finish up, this is confession time. I didn’t see a single cat, I didn’t go into the catteries at all. I just saw dogs! But it was all very lovely.

I just saw dogs