Everyone knows that York is (in)famous for its ghosts, but not so many people know about its feline spirits…
Cat ghosts are not new. The Egyptians used to bury cats with their dead or take them to the cat cemetery at Bubastis, where they were mummified.
They would even occasionally provide them with milk and mummified mice for the afterlife.
In England, cats – especially black cats – have been associated with the devil and are reputed to be witches’ pets of choice. Others believe that ghost cats are the embodiments of evil spirits, generated by diabolical thoughts or dastardly deeds.
Maybe it’s because cats are most active at night, and the wailing of cats, especially ones on heat, can sound disturbing to say the least.
While researching my first novel The First of Nine: The Case of the Clementhorpe Killer, a murder mystery from a cat’s perspective, I happened upon some of the stories of York’s supernatural cats. Six of the best are presented below.
1. Ye Olde Starre Inne, Stonegate
In the past it was believed that by bricking up a pair of (live) black cats in the walls of a house would bring good fortune and protect against fire (and perhaps vermin too).
Two cats who met this unpleasant fate now haunt Ye Olde Starre on Goodramgate.
Dog owners have reported their canine companions growling and snarling at the section of the wall between the door and the bar, behind which the cats are supposed to have been walled in. One customer’s dog is reported to have bolted at the wall and knocked itself out!
One visitor to the pub said: ‘…I was sitting right next to a permanently closed interior door which, over the course of two hours, continuously sounded like it was being scratched by an animal.’
He left convinced that he had been witness to the ghost cats in the wall….
Thankfully the tradition of putting live cats into walls has now ceased.
2. The Snickleway Inn, Goodramgate
Another pub haunted by several ghosts is the Snickleway Inn, formerly the Anglers Arms and once a brothel.
The delightfully named Mrs Tulliver and her cat called Seamus both haunt this pub along with a little girl, an Elizabethan barman and a spanner wielding spectre in the cellar.
Seamus the cat is said to rub up against the unsuspecting legs of patrons while they are having a drink.
3. The ghostly crew at 35 Stonegate
The building at 35 Stonegate is over 700 years old and was once home to Haunted, a visitor attraction aimed at ghost fanciers.
Its crew of ghosts include a girl who fell to her death from a balcony, the grey lady still searching for her lost lover, a sobbing old lady in the basement… and another cat trapped for eternity in its walls – scratching desperately to be released.
4. Ghoulish goings-on at Jorvik Viking Centre
When White Rose Paranormal (self-styled Yorkshire Supernatural Experts) investigated the Coppergate Viking Stronghold back in 2006, as part of TV’s Derek Acorah’s Ghost Towns Live, Kevin Crow spotted a feline presence.
The psychic medium said “I saw a ghost cat, and a young boy running from us. I could only see the underside of his feet.”
He also witnessed a ‘dark figure’ standing outside the Jorvik Centre before being pelted by pebbles by a display skeleton. Kevin Crow later said, “The false skeleton on display started swinging its left arm and quite a few other things happened too.”
You couldn’t make it up!
5. Jasper – the cat flap phantom
In 2004 a story began to do the rounds of an unnamed woman who was being haunted by her dead cat Jasper…
“I keep hearing the cat-flap banging in the night,” she said, “and I sometimes see a strange black shape out of the corner of my eye.
“But the worst thing is the cat hair. I opened a magazine the other day and a massive clump fell out.”
Perhaps the cat’s spirit was still tied to this world and the woman’s love for her dead puss wouldn’t let him go to cat heaven. Or perhaps it was just the wind blowing the cat flap open and closed…
6. The Golden Fleece, Pavement
Another cat in a wall can be seen above the first floor window of the Golden Fleece, supposedly York’s most haunted public house.
The ghostly white cat appears to be emerging through the wall, perhaps its spirit escaping its fate of having been entombed in the building’s construction.
The Case of the Clementhorpe Killer
Which brings me to my own story.
One Sunday morning back in May 2012, my own (very real) cat Theodore inspired me to write my book, The First of Nine: The Case of the Clementhorpe Killer.
Later that year Theodore was knocked down and died in the street in front of the house where we lived in Clementhorpe; he lived fast and died too young.
The next day I developed a bursitis on the hip and couldn’t walk for three weeks; my thoughts returned to the book we had come up with together and the first chapters had been put in a drawer (well, in a folder called ‘Cat Novel’ on my hard drive).
I began work on the novel again. I continued to write the book in my spare time and thought often of Theodore as I wrote, so that his spirit infused the book, and through the book he is still alive today.
The book represents his first life, in the knowledge that cats have more than one. Nine, to be exact.
And sometimes while I was writing The First of Nine I felt his presence in the room: sleeping on the sofa or sitting on the window sill; I would see a grey blur in the corner of my eye. I would turn round but he wasn’t there…
Maybe it was his ghost. Maybe just my (overactive) imagination…