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Mark Olly is a Cheshire writer and archaeologist who runs the Celtic Warrington Project Archaeological Unit. You can read about Mark's work in the 'Celtic Warrington & Other Mysteries' volumes.




Mark Olly

  The Cheshire Cat
Alice In Wonderland's Cheshire cat

"One needs not go far to account for a Cheshire cat grinning. A cat's paradise must naturally be placed in a county like Cheshire, flowing with milk."

Cheshire Folklorist Egerton Leigh

St. Christopher's church in Pott Shrigley, just north of Bollington, also has a famous 'Cheshire cat'. Inside the church, under the chancel arch close to the altar and built into the wall, there is a very large representation of the famous 'Alice In Wonderland Cheshire cat' as it is usually depicted today.

It is possible that Lewis Carroll may have known of this and other 'Cheshire cats' via his father, Rev. Charles Dodgson (vicar of Daresbury 1827 to 1843), who was a travelling Cheshire clergyman who also had relatives living in Cheshire.

On the outside of the church there is another representation of a grinning stone 'Cheshire cat' and a head which resembles the 'Queen Of Hearts' character from 'Alice In Wonderland'. The arms of the 'Pott' family of Pott Shrigley are also topped by a representation of a Cheshire wild cat chained up and patiently sitting.

A Black Kitten

There is a story of King Arthur, Sir Gawain, Merlin and a monster cat contained in a Cambridge manuscript version of 'The Vulgate Merlin' edited by Mr. Wheatley and told by Lady Wilde in her 1887 book 'Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms And Superstitions Of Ireland'.

Cat & Fiddle on the Buxton 'Cat Road' over Axe Edge

In the story a fisherman vows to devote his catch to God but breaks the vow three times catching a black kitten on the third trawl. This kitten then grows, kills the fisherman and his family and moves to a cave in a hill overlooking the 'Lake of Lausanne'.

Arthur hears of this and arrives with Gawain and Merlin to find the surrounding country deserted and the giant cat hiding in its cave on the mountain. There follows the conflict between Arthur and the giant cat in which it looks like Arthur may lose and much royal blood is spilled. A short extract of the battle will suffice:

"Then the King ran at him with his sword, but the cat stood on his hind legs and grinned with his teeth, and coveted the throat of the King, and the King tried to smite him on the head; but the cat strained his hinder feet and leaped at the King's breast, and fixed his teeth in the flesh, so that the blood streamed down from breast to shoulder."

Eventually two of the cats feet and claws become embedded in Arthur's shield and Arthur cuts them off and wins the day. "Then Merlin and the others ran to him and asked how it was with him. "Well, blessed be our Lord !" said the King, "for I have slain this devil, but, verily, I never had such doubt of myself, not even when I slew the giant on the mountain ...."

'The Mountain Of The Cat'

Although this story is often placed in Ireland as part of the 'Cuchulling Saga', given the connections of Arthur and Merlin with Wales and Gawain and the cat in Cheshire, the stories conclusion is geographically interesting.

"So the King let the shield be with the cat's feet; but the other feet (of the cat) he laid in a coffin to be kept. And the mountain was called from that day 'the Mountain Of The Cat', and the name will never be changed while the world endureth."


Inevitably this leads us to look at our own local geography. In his 1947 book 'Companion Into Cheshire' J.H. Ingram has no hesitation in labelling Cheshire as the "County of Cats and Cheeses" and rightly so. He adds:

"Around the headwaters of Todd Brook rise the highest hills in Cheshire south of Soldier's Lump. Cat's Tor's 1700 feet curve round in a saddle-backed ridge to Shining Tor, whose 1833 feet make it the highest hill in the western part of the Peak District."

(Author's note: One possibly linked to the 'Cheshire cat' of the land or the Arthur story, the other to the 'shining bright' of the river Mersey and the Goyt).

Cat And Fiddle

It is only a stone's throw, one might say, to the Cat And Fiddle Inn - second only in height to Tan Hill Inn in England - which crowns the windswept crest of the Macclesfield-Buxton road at a height of 1690 feet. The Macclesfield-Buxton highway is popularly known as 'the Cat road', so named after the Inn which crowns its summit. There are several explanations of the name, the most popular being that it is derived from 'Le Chat Fidele', the faithful cat. A London merchant is said to have built the first inn on the site, and to have called it after the tavern of that name which he owned in London. Or it may have been derived from the old nursery rhyme, there being some subtle con nections between Cheshire and cats. Anyway, for what it is worth, there is a carving over the door of a cat playing a fiddle."

It is most likely that the Macclesfield banker and prominent Freemason John Ryle, who actually built the inn in about 1830, was fully aware of local connections to 'Cheshire cats' and either named the inn as it is now or like the London inn 'Le Chat Fidele', French for 'The Faithful Cat'

43 Bath Street, Leek, Staffs. (01538) 399033.

If you can offer any information please contact Mark Olly on olly@virtual-knutsford.co.uk
Please note that this is not a personal email address for Mark
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