mary bristol

Grave of “The church cat” outside of St Marys Redcliffe Church, Bristol.

“Tom, a tabby kitten, was found outside the priests’ entrance to the building, sometime in 1912. Maybe he liked the sound of the organ music that was being played at the time! Anyway, he decided it was a good place to stay and spent the next 15 years as ‘church cat’, becoming quite a local celebrity. For most of his life he was looked after by the verger, Eli Richards.

He would process with the choir on occasion, and also liked to sit by the organist’s side during rehearsals and for part of the services. The cat was recalled by blind organist Alfred Hollins, who mentioned in his 1936 reminiscences that Tom would sit beside him on the organ stool. He also often liked to sit on someone’s lap in the congregation! — but he wasn’t allowed in the chancel and would be removed if he went there. He was said to have attended many more church services than any one of the clergy.

Tom had an enviable reputation as a catcher of rats and mice, and also kept in check the large numbers of pigeons that would frequent the churchyard. He seems to have had a penchant for hiding the remains of his prey — or perhaps he had a favourite spot where he liked to take his victims to devour them. In any case, when the altar cross was removed in the early 1920s, a large zinc bathtub was filled three times with bones and feathers he had left behind!

This staunch church cat died in 1927, and in recognition of his many years of devoted service he was given a grand funeral; the small coffin was borne to its resting place by the verger, accompanied by the vicar and church wardens, while suitable music was played on the organ — which surely Tom would have appreciated.”

(St Mary’s leaflet about Tom, written by Stephen Richards, grandson of former verger Eli, Photo by Paul Townsend)

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St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol - quite possibly the best photo I’ve ever taken.