Which Suffolk pubs and hotels have mummified cats in their walls?
- Credit: Archant
East Anglia has strong links with witchcraft, with broomsticks and even cats hidden in homes and historic buildings. Here, three pub and hotel workers reveal what lurks within their properties.
For centuries, cats have long been associated with folklore, witchcraft and superstition.
While most people tend to think of cats as familiars or spirits animals, there’s a darker association for our four-legged friends – as dried, mummified cats have been found in the lofts and wall spaces of pubs that were built hundreds of years ago.
With their exact origins unknown, landlords can only assume that these felines were placed there when the buildings were constructed. It is thought by historians that these cats were put there to wards off evil spirits, due to cats being highly regarded as having a sixth sense.
Three pub landlords and hoteliers across Norfolk and Suffolk explain more about their dried cats, and the goings-on that have come with the territory of having a mummified moggy in their possession - from the relatively spook-free, to the more macabre.
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Peter Irwin, director of The Red Cat pub in North Wootton, has had the pub in his family for over a century.
Erected in 1898, The Red Cat pub originally operated as a local ale house, “quenching the insatiable, thirsty farm workers,” he explained.
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“My family purchased it in the year 1919, so it has been in the same family now for 100 years, that being four generations, with my grown-up daughters assisting me.”
In the 1930s, Peter’s grandparents extended the building and converted it into a sporting hotel. This consisted of large bedrooms, two tennis courts, an equestrian riding school and our own herd of Jersey milking cows.
“Later, we had regular herds of fat cattle, grazing on North Wootton Common, of which we have common rights, still in operation today,” Peter added.
The Red Cat was also the headquarters and meeting place of many local sporting clubs, with the West Norfolk Rugby Club having originated there.
Additionally, The Red Cat is fortunate enough to have a connection to royalty, too. “Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother bought her most successful and favourite racehorse, named The Rip, from my father Jack Irwin. We have been proud to have these local royal connections,” Peter added.
With strong bovine and equestrian connections, why is the pub not called The Red Cow or The Red Horse pub?
One day, Peter’s grandfather discovered a mummified cat, sheltered in a loft space, while alterations were taking place at the pub.
“So naturally he suspended it, ungracefully, in my opinion, so all could see,” said Peter.
“I, in the 2000s, lost the cat on more than one occasion, to visiting rugby sides to no doubt have as a trophy for their own club house. I commissioned a local chap to make a nice display case for the well-deserved mummified cat, so it may remain, overseeing my well-behaved customers,” he added.
Luckily for Peter and his customers, strange-goings on are kept to a minimum at The Red Cat – and could be why customers are on their best behaviour.
“All my regulars are used to being kept an eye on while consuming their pints.
“The actual mummified dead cat is now in pride of place, in a display case, on a main beam in the lounge bar - safe from inquisitive hands. To the incredulity of all who happen to glance above, while looking at all the objet d’art, exhibited around on the picture dado.”
The preserved feline certainly proves to be a definite talking point, however. Peter said: “I do of course get grilled, often by newcomers to The Red Cat, asking me ‘Why do you have a dead cat up there in a case?’
“I do, after trying to explain, say that I am more than pleased that the pub is not named The Black Horse – which would have to be a substantially-made case.”
Head down the road to near Diss and you will find the village of Thornham Magna just a stone’s throw away.
Home to The Four Horseshoes, this pub has a particularly ancient history, with its origins reportedly dating back to 1150. “We believe it makes us unofficially one of the oldest pubs in the country,” said pub landlord Tom Parkhurst.
“We have always struggled to find out much history about the pub - although we would love to,” Tom said. “It appears many records may have been lost when the pub was still owned by the Henniker family of Thornham Estate. Thornham Hall was devastated by fire, and the records were probably lost then.”
With a rather uncertain history, it comes as no surprise that when you head up into the loft, there lies a large mummified cat on the floor, which the pub believes has remained untouched for hundreds of years.
“The loft space itself is very interesting as you can see the old layers of thatch, even with some carbon which we believe is from a centuries old fire pit,” explained Tom.
“There are carvings on the ‘king post’, and the timbers used in the section where the cat lays are also very interesting.”
Unable to date exactly when the cat was placed there, the pub is also home to a working well in the centre of it – as well as a couple of friendly resident ghosts.
“I was under the impression that the cats were believed to ward off evil spirits and witches - I can confirm we do get the odd, old witch in from time to time,” Tom said. “Our ghosts don’t seem to be overly evil, although there is a story to be told.
“Our lady ghost, who has been spotted both in the main restaurant and in one of our bedrooms, supposedly had a child with some sort of deformity, and was locked away in one of the upstairs rooms, left alone apart from being fed and watered once a day.
“The man of the house, who had insisted upon the child’s imprisonment, was also the father, a drunkard named Jacob. Although we don’t know the name of our lady, it is said that following a lengthy quarrel, she pushed Jacob into the well and he surely drowned.
“After rushing upstairs to get her child, she found that, during the fight, the child’s older brother had broken down the door and fled with the child.
“The lady is said to still be searching for her children, and her presence has been felt numerous times in the bedroom – such as televisions and kettles randomly turning on and off. Also, the feeling of someone gently sitting on the end of the bed has been reported many times.”
Tom added: “Our gentleman ghost is a smartly dressed chap – with a top hat and tails. It’s amazing to hear when guests or staff have seen something, because they always describe him in the same way.
“He is only ever spotted in one room, but he has even been seen by a guest from outside through the window. We have had staff follow him through the doorway to see if he needs assistance, only for him to have completely vanished. We don’t know much about him, but he seems a friendly enough chap, and he doesn’t help himself behind the bar.”
Spooky for some, Tom isn’t phased by the ghostly goings-on – and thinks the cat may be protecting those within the pub. “I can vouch for the building always having such a warm and welcoming feel,” he said.
“I have never felt uneasy here, and I am often alone in the dark at the end of the day. Many guests always say that there is a special and homely feel to the place. So maybe the cat is working its magic from up in the loft?”
Over in Sudbury is The Mill Hotel, a converted watermill featuring 62 rooms, restaurant and lounge bar.
Nicholas Wildman, general manager of The Mill Hotel, told the East Anglian Daily Times: “Many inns and pubs claim to be haunted with the ghosts of animals long dead, manifesting themselves as live.
“At The Mill Hotel, the ghost is a mummified cat, found many years before the building became a hotel and then sold to a nearby shop.”
According to Nick, the shop is said to have suffered a handful of disasters before finally burning down.
“Somehow the mummified cat survived the conflagration,” Nick said. “Thereafter, the cat was held responsible for the mayhem and returned to The Mill Hotel, when everything happily returned to normal.”
Now located in the hotel’s main reception area, Nick added: “The cat is always talked about - most people finding it amazing, but some others very spooky.”
Visitors can catch a glimpse of the feline, which is safely encased in glass and brick.
A plaque within the hotel is dedicated to the mummified moggy, and is inscribed with the following: “An age old East Anglian custom was that by burying a live cat in a building under construction it would protect it from all harm by witches, warlocks and fire. The mummified cat buried below was found in the timber framed part of this building during its conversion in 1971. It was obviously a victim of this superstition when the building was originally constructed nearly 300 years ago. It was re-interred on November 15th 1975 after four years of eventful absence from the building.”