Winston Churchill and marmalade cats at Chartwell
Jock the cat will live at Chartwell for ever, says Sue Corbett
Ms Leighton with Jock III
Never have so many owed so much to a cat.
Stately homes left to the nation seldom have a permanent resident, bar the odd ghost, mouse or housekeeper. One National Trust house, however, goes out of its way to ensure it is always occupied - by a fat marmalade cat.
"Sir Winston requested in his will that there should always be a marmalade cat named Jock in comfortable residence at Chartwell," explains Victoria Leighton, part of whose job description is to look after the current incumbent, six-year-old Jock III. "We have to be careful where he goes, though, as his claws could do a lot of damage. We try to ensure he keeps to the garden, where he sits happily in the catmint or any patch of sunshine."
Sir Winston Churchill was silly about cats - particularly marmalade ones, which would sit next to him on a specially reserved chair. None of his spoilt marmalades were fond of the other furry creatures of Chartwell, though. Churchill reported to his wife in August 1954 that her Siamese cat Gabriel "gets on very well with everyone except his yellow rival", with whom the relationship could best be described as "an armed neutrality".
The great wartime leader was capable of dividing his favours, however, and was to be observed working at his memoirs with a budgerigar perched on his head, a ginger cat on his lap and a poodle asleep across his feet.
A ginger cat with white chest and paws was an 88th birthday present for Churchill in November 1962, and was promptly named Jock, after the private secretary Sir John Colville, known as Jock, who gave it to him. This cat was such a favourite that he is even seen sitting on Churchill's knee in his grandson Winston's wedding photographs. Jock was only two when Churchill died in 1965, but lived on until 1974 at Chartwell and is now buried in the pet cemetery there.
In compliance with Churchill's wishes, the National Trust - which inherited Chartwell on his death - has since acquired ginger cats called Jocks II and III.
Another good reason for barring Jock III from the main rooms may be the goldfish in what was Churchill's study. "When Sir Winston was at Downing Street," says Mrs Leighton, "some children knocked at the door to give him some goldfish they'd won at the fair. He soon became an expert and kept them ever after. So we maintain that tradition, too."
Denied the goldfish, Jock III has to content himself with tins of catfood and the occasional mouse from the garden. "He's certainly a mouser," says Mrs Leighton, "but I'm thankful to say he doesn't bring them indoors."
The public can visit Jock III at Chartwell, Westerham, Kent (01732 866368), or visit his Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/chartwellnt.
Copyright © G. Phillips, 1998-2013. All rights reserved.