Sunday, 12 September 2010

A Short History of Kitty Doors.

So many people enjoyed the previous post (Sir Isaac Newton and the kitty door) that I couldnt leave the subject of cat flaps without a brief look at their history.
The earliest recorded mention of a kitty door was in a medieval poem by religous writer and teacher, Hugo von Trimberg. The scourge of many a school boy, in the 1200's Von Trimberg wrote the history of 100 great latin authors. In one of his very long poems he grumbles about an Abbot, droning on interminably during a formal banquet about  'the cat window installed in the abbey gate.'

St Peter's Cathedral, Exeter.
Perhaps the oldest known cat flap is in the door of the North Tower of St Peter's Cathedral, Exeter, England. Cats were allowed to roam the grounds of this Norman cathedral to keep the rats and mice under check. Indeed on medieval scrolls there is an entry to pay wages to 'Custorbis et cato,' or 'the verger and his cat.'

Fishing Upon Blythe Sands, Tide Setting In.
J M W Turner 1775 - 1851.
And finally, my favourite kitty door from history belongs to the romantic landscape painter, J M W Turner.
Turner's works are now beyond price now and his painting 'The Fighting Temeraire' was voted Britain's greatest painting in a 2005 BBC poll, however he didnt always value his work.
'Fishing Upon Blythe Sands' depicts a scene facing Canvey Island in the Thames, exhibited in 1809, Turner offered it for sale to his patron Sir George Beaumont. Some time later it seems the painting ended up back in Turner's studio, perhaps to repair some minor damage, only to be treated with stunning disregard.
In the past decade, conservation work at Tate Britain, revealed that the picture had once been slashed, and there were paw prints on the back. Joyce Townsend, head conservator for the gallery, concluded the canvas had been propped up against a draughty window and then cut to provide an entrance/ exit for Turner's cats.

'The Fighting Temeraire'
The great warship being tugged for scrappage.
Voted Britain's greatest painting in a 2005 BBC poll.

Next blog: Historical Slang - Tuesday 14th September 2010
                 Blog entry         - Sunday 19th September 2010.
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