When I was a wee calf, I used to love listening to Murdoch the farm dog telling the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby, the faithful dog who slept on his master’s grave for years and was adopted, fed and protected by the locals. I remember being so excited when I was able to see the famous statue in Edinburgh when I went over to my first Highland Show, and always go back when I’m over that way.
Well, Edinburgh may have Bobby and Old Jock, but Helensburgh has its own special animal and it is that tale which I will share with you today, as I think it is a lovely story:
High above Sinclair Street, staring out over the River Clyde, is this statue of a cat, looking very much the worse for wear, but beloved by the people of Helensburgh for over one hundred years (no wonder he looks so battered!).
While the civic buildings were under construction, a stray cat used to come along to supervise and share the builders’ lunches. It soon became very tame and the men began to look forward to their little friend’s visits – it was the bright spot of their day. As the work was nearing completion, the men asked whether they could put up a statue to the cat who had been their constant companion. The architect said yes, and so there he is, king of all he surveys.
The cat himself was adopted by one of the men and, as far as we know, lived happily ever after. The stone cat, however, was never given a name deliberately so that all the children of the town who couldn’t have a pet could adopt him as their own and give it their own special name.
In “The Naming of Cats”, TS Eliot said that all cats have three names, but this wee soul must have lost count of all the hundreds of names he has had over the years:
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
Cats’ Castle, Dumbarton
Just down the road, there is a very impressive looking building between the main road and the River Clyde. It was originally called Hazelwood, but was nicknamed Cats’ Castle because of all the cat carvings on the outside – I haven’t been able to get close enough for any photos, but will keep trying!
The St Andrew’s Cat
As an aside, St Andrew’s in Fife has recently unveiled its own cat statue, this time in bronze and dedicated to local celebrity Hamish McHamish, a ginger tom cat who has been doing the rounds of the shops and cafes in the town for the last thirteen years! His original owner makes sure he sees the vet for checkups, but otherwise he now belongs to the town.
It does pay to look up when you are walking around. If you ever find yourself here in Helensburgh and go to visit the cat, do look at the carving below him, above the door to the old police station. If you look very carefully you’ll see the handcuffs carved on either side of the word “Office”:)