Our capital city is full of unexpected and quirky wonders and some of these are pet related! In the trail below you can encounter a small selection of cat and dog statues, as well as many other memorable sights along the way.
Please note that a good old–fashioned A-Z map book or your phone’s sat nav will be invaluable to help locate the statues.
Start at Trafalgar Square where arguably you can see your first cats – albeit not pet ones! These lions were designed by Sir Edwin Landseer who certainly took the commission very seriously. It is said he spent countless hours watching the big cats at London Zoo and after one of the zoo’s lions died he requested it be moved to his studio where he made many sketches and models of it. Unfortunately, the poor beast began decomposing before Landseer had finished his studies and some think this may explain why the Trafalgar Square lions actually have paws more like those of domestic cats than their wild relatives. The Landseer lions were finally finished and installed in 1867.
Walk west via Pall Mall, turning left into Waterloo Place and then into Carlton House Terrace, where at the foot of a large tree near number 9 you can see the grave of Giro.
Looking a little wonky in its plastic and wooden housing, the grave’s inscription states:
A true companion!
LONDON FEBRUARY 1934
Giro was the pet dog of Leopold von Hoesch, who was German ambassador to Britain from 1932 until his unexpected death in 1936. Hoesch initially represented the Weimar Republic and was well-liked by British politicians. However, after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 he reluctantly found himself representing the Nazi party.
Sadly, like his owner, poor Giro was not to survive long in the UK. Just two years after being brought from Germany the dog was electrocuted after chewing through some cables at the Embassy. He was buried in the garden of 9 Carlton House Terrace and given the endearing little tombstone we see today.
From Giro’s grave walk south-west on Carlton House Terrace towards Carlton Gardens. Turn left onto The Mall and about halfway along find a bronze frieze by Paul Day featuring the Queen Mother and two of her corgis, Rush and Minnie.
The Queen Mother seems to have been just as fond of corgis as the Queen and is said to have instigated many of the routines that are still used around the royal dogs today. For example, she determined that each should have its own wicker basket to nap in and that these baskets should be placed on shelves to avoid draughts!
Walk down The Mall towards Buckingham Palace, and from there up Constitution Hill to Hyde Park Corner and on into Hyde Park itself. Find the Animals in war Memorial at the very easterly edge of the park beside the A4202 and Park Lane, just south of Marble Arch.
It’s hard not to be moved by this huge and multi-faceted tribute. Built from bronze and Portland stone and unveiled in November 2004, the memorial bears two poignant inscriptions:
“This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.”
“They had no choice.”
Time to give those legs a rest! Take the tube from Marble Arch (just north of the Animals in War memorial) to Mornington Crescent (3 stops east on Central line, 4 stops north on Northern line). Outside the station, look left down Harrington Square to see the Carreras cats on the right hand side of the road.
When I first visited this stunning art deco building with my daughter we were both slightly blown away. Built in 1926–28 to an Egyptian Revivalist style by the Carreras Tobacco Company, it is a real delight for cat lovers. Perhaps most eye-catching are the large and imposing black cats who appear to be guarding the entrance, and are stylised versions of the Egyptian god, Bastet, but the colourful columns and the huge cat face motifs are also a sight to behold.
It is hard to believe it, but when the factory was converted into offices in 1961 the Egyptian detailing was covered up. Thankfully it was restored during a renovation in the late 1990s, and replicas of the giant cats (that had been removed in the 1950’s) were again placed outside the entrance. Let’s hope they stay there for a long time to come.
From the cats walk south-east on Harrington Square towards A400. Turn left onto Lidlington Place and then turn right onto Eversholt Street. Turn right into Euston station at Lancing Street. Here, in the courtyard, you can find Captain Flinders and his ever loving cat, Trim.
Captain Matthew Flinders was an English explorer from Donnington, who circumnavigated and mapped an area of land in the Southern Ocean called New Holland, giving it the name that we now all recognise – Australia. He is a bit of an unsung hero here in the UK but in Australia he is rightly held in high esteem, being celebrated in statues and over 100 geographical features and places.
One of the many things to admire about this intrepid explorer was his regard for his cat, Trim. Trim, who accompanied Flinders on several voyages, clearly endeared himself to the Captain, who wrote about him at length, including, for example, this touching tribute:
“His head was small and round – his whiskers were long and graceful, and his ears were cropped in a beautiful curve. Trim’s robe was a clear jet black, with the exception of his four feet, which seemed to have been dipped in snow… He had also a white star on his breast, and it seemed as if nature had designed him for the prince and model of his race.”
On July 19th 2014, some 200 years after Flinder’s death, a statue was unveiled by Prince William with descendants of the navigator in attendance. The statue, by acclaimed sculptor Mark Richards, shows Flinders in a typical working pose, kneeling over one of his charts, dividers in hand and with Trim, of course, at his side. Then, in January 2019, there was cause for more celebration when the coffin of Flinders, long considered forever lost, was discovered, having been identified by its well-preserved lead coffin plate during an HS2 dig.
From Euston station walk south on the A4200, then diagonally across Russell Square park and onto Montague Street. Turn right into the British Museum which is on Great Russell Street. There are, of course, many wonderful things to see at the excellent and free British Museum but, judging by the considerable crowds, one of the most popular exhibits by far is that of the Egyptian cat mummies (Rooms 62-63). Certainly this is a fascinating exhibit, but if you are more of a dog person, never fear, for in Gallery 22 you can visit a famous and very beautiful dog too – The dog of Alcibiades.
This statue is a Roman copy of a bronze Molossian hound from Ancient Greece. Molossian hounds are now extinct but many of today’s larger breeds such as Mastiffs, St Bernards and Great Danes are thought to be their descendants. This particular example was discovered in the 1750s when the Englishman, Henry Jennings visited Rome, rescued it from a pile of rubble and brought it back home. In 1778, Jennings reluctantly had to sell his beloved statue to pay off gambling debts and so the dog went to stay with Charles Duncombe in Duncombe Park, Yorkshire, which in 1925 became a girls’ school. Here the pupils apparently liked to pat their huge dog for luck and wipe their dirty hands on him to save washing them!
From the museum walk north-east on Montague Place towards Russell Square, wander through the square to the far side and turn right onto Southampton Row. Turn left onto Cosmo Place and find Queen Square gardens straight ahead of you. Here in the corner, not far from the old telephone box, find Sam the cat.
Sam was a pet of local nurse Patricia (Penny) Penn (1914-1992), who campaigned tirelessly to protect the area from development. I think she would be pleased to see that the gardens have been beautifully kept and tended. Stop to rest for a while with Sam before the one mile (twenty minute) walk to our next statue. Don’t worry it’ll be worth it!
Walk south down Boswell Street and turn right into Red Lion Street. At the end of this street turn left into High Holborn and, after a short while, go right into Chancery Lane. Here it gets a little complicated so sat nav/map at the ready. Turn left into Bream’s buildings, right into New Fetter lane, slight left onto Nevill Lane, slight right towards Great New Street, slight right onto East Harding Street and finally slight left into Gough Square. Phew!
And there you will see the bronze statue of a very fine cat indeed – last but by no means least – is the excellent Hodge.
Hodge was the much-loved pet of Dr Samuel Johnson, a prolific writer and, famously, the creator of a dictionary of the English Language, a mammoth undertaking that occupied him for over eight years. Johnson was a caring man, showing empathy for his fellow humans as well as his feline friends. In fact, Boswell, a close acquaintance of the writer, seemed rather bemused by the affection Johnson bestowed on his cat. Boswell writes:
“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge…his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature.”
The statue of Hodge by Jon Bickley is shown sitting on top of Johnson’s dictionary and next to some empty oyster shells. It is one of London’s talking statues and so, if you have a mobile phone, you can swipe a plaque on the statue’s plinth and hear the voice of the late, great, Nicholas Parson’s telling the cat’s story.
That, then, is the end of our trail. How fortuitous that just 1 minute’s walk from Hodge is one of London’s oldest pubs, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (unfortunately closed on Sundays) You can sample the famous Taddy Porter ale here. When I last went in a group of Japanese students were valiantly working their way through their glasses of the black stuff with a mixture of giggles and grimaces. An acquired taste perhaps but I quite liked mine.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy wandering around our lovely capital city, pet spotting. And if you happen to take any photos, please send them in and we’ll add them to the website.
To find out much more about all these lovely statues and the fascinating stories behind them, please see the Monumental Tales book which is available from the publishers, Lutterworth Press and from Amazon.