From Dilyn the dog to Sybil the cat: A history of Downing Street pets
Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’ rescue dog has been a Downing Street inhabitant since September 2019, after the Jack Russell was adopted from Friends of Animals Wales. Born with a misaligned jaw, Dilyn was saved from a puppy farm by the charity, who commented that he was ‘destined for an uncertain existence at the hands of a puppy dealer’. Dilyn was credited with sparking a surge in the popularity of Jack Russells – dubbed the ‘Boris Bounce’ – after his introduction to Number 10 and became a firm fixture on the campaign trail. More recently, however, his role hasn’t been without its controversy, with outcry over ‘vanity’ photos taken by one of the three (taxpayer-funded) Downing Street photographers. Dilyn is also apparently not always the best-behaved dog, having reportedly chewed priceless furniture and books at Chequers, cocked his leg over an aide’s handbag, and even allegedly having ‘humped’ the leg of former Downing Street Chief of Staff, Dominic Cummings.
Before Dilyn showed up, it was Larry the cat who reigned supreme in Downing Street. Officially titled Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office, he too is a rescue, having been found as a stray by Battersea Dogs and Cats home. First introduced as a pet for David and Samantha Cameron’s children, the 14-year-old tabby has lived at Number 10 ever since – which, as his (unofficial) Twitter bio points out, means he’s been ‘in position longer than the leader of any UK political party.’ His duties include ‘testing antique furniture for napping quality’ and ‘contemplating a solution to the mouse occupancy of the house’, according to GOV.UK, and he regails the 452.3k followers of his parody Twitter account with quips like: ‘I must be the only pet in the world annoyed at how much hair my human leaves on the furniture…’. Larry’s upkeep is funded by the Downing Street staff, who hold special events to raise money for their feline friend.
Another tabby cat who belongs to former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and his family, Freya formerly served alongside Larry in sharing the position of Chief Mouser (with some reports from the time suggesting David Cameron even demoted Larry from the role, on account of his laziness). The two cats were known to get into scraps, with police even having to intervene to break up a fight between them outside Number 10 in October 2012. Also among Freya’s dramatic adventures was an incident when she wandered over a mile from Downing Street before being found and returned by a charity worker, and when she was hit by a car in Whitehall (but fortunately survived). In November 2014, Freya retired from her post, giving up city life in favour of the rural idyll of the Kent countryside.
Sybil became the first cat in Downing Street for 10 years when she arrived with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling in 2007. Named after Sybil Fawlty from the hit 70s TV show Fawlty Towers, the black and white feline belonged to Maggie Darling, wife of Alistair Darling. Maggie brought Sybil to 11 Downing Street when her husband was appointed Chancellor, yet the cat was said to have had a difficult time settling in and stayed for just six months. Scottish-born Sybil soon returned to the Darling family home in Edinburgh, where she led a happier life, until her death in 2009.
Jokingly named in reference to Sir Humphrey from the 80s sitcom Yes Minister, Humphrey arrived at Downing Street as a stray in 1989, going on to see both Margaret Thatcher and John Major serve as Prime Minister. Quite the celebrity in his heyday, Humphrey even appeared on the satirical puppet show Spitting Image. A source of extreme irritation to (the puppet version of) John Major, the then-Prime Minister grew so irate in the show that he knocked Humphrey unconscious by hitting him over the head with a frying pan. Humphrey lasted just six months into Tony Blair’s Prime Ministership, however, said to have been ‘reshuffled’ out of the cabinet on account of Cherie Blair’s aversion to cats. There were even rumours that he’d been put down – strenuously denied by officials – after which photos were published showing Humphrey alive and well, living in happy retirement in suburban south London. He died in 2006, at the grand (estimated, on account of his having been a stray) age of 18.
A Jack Russell forbear of Dilyn’s who belonged to Former Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, Budget’s name was certainly a fitting one – he was known for being taken on walks through St James’s Park on the mornings of budget speeches. Howe was often spotted carrying his beloved dog in his arms as he went about his duties. Thus while Budget wasn’t technically a Number 10 resident, he was a familiar sight during Margaret Thatcher’s Prime Ministership, cutting a curiously jaunty figure amid the gravity of political life.
Arriving at Downing Street as a kitten after being adopted from the Hounslow branch of the RSPCA in 1973, Wilberforce came on the scene while Edward Heath was Prime Minister. Appointed as the Office Manager’s cat, Wilberforce was granted a living allowance for his care – a debt that he no doubt paid back in full, as he was said to be a skilled mouser. He saw no less than four Prime Ministers pass through Number 10; Heath, then Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and Margaret Thatcher. But the lack of a cat flap in the famed black door proved to be rather an inconvenience, with the policeman on security duty having to ring the bell every time Wilberforce wanted to come inside. A beloved member of the Downing Street team, Margaret Thatcher is even said to have bought Wilberforce a tin of sardines from a supermarket in Moscow while on a diplomatic visit to the city. He retired in 1986 after 13 long years, to live with a former Number 10 caretaker in the countryside, and died in his sleep in 1988.
A Downing Street resident while Alec Douglas-Home, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath each served as Prime Minister, Peta (whose proper pedigree name was Manninagh KateDhu) was the first female cat to serve as Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. It was the Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man, Sir Ronald Garvey, who came up with the idea that a Manx cat should take on the post after the death of Peta’s predecessor, although her time in the role was not without controversy. Peta was said to be loud, lazy and not toilet trained, with some civil servants seeking to have her ousted from Cabinet. She remained in the position, however, amid fears of a public backlash, before quietly retiring to the home of a civil servant around 1976.
Peta’s predecessor, Peter III, served as Chief Mouser under Prime Ministers Clement Attlee, Sir Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home. He was appointed to the position in 1947 and came to public fame after appearing on the BBC in 1958. Indeed he was said to have had quite the international fanbase, reaching to Italy and the United States, before he was sadly put down in 1964 on account of a liver infection.
A black cat who held the role of Chief Mouser from 1946 to 1947, during the government of Clement Attlee, Peter II’s time at Downing Street was sadly brief. Arriving as a kitten to replace his predecessor, Peter, his life was cut tragically short when he was hit by a car in Whitehall and killed. Had he survived longer, no doubt his career would have been just as illustrious as that of his fellow mousers.
Sir Winston Churchill was an ardent animal lover, said to have first met his cat Nelson outside the Admiralty buildings in London, where he saw the courageous animal chasing a dog down the road. He was so impressed by the display that he adopted the cat, naming him after the famous sailor, Horatio Nelson. Nelson became one the cats in residence at Downing Street during the war years and Churchill was said to bring him on trips to Chequers, where he’d feed his feline friend smoked salmon at the dinner table when his wife, Clementine, wasn’t looking. Not content to get into altercations only with dogs, Nelson is said to have had a fraught relationship with his fellow Downing Street Cat, Munich Mouser, too.
Appointed Chief Mouser in 1937, Munich Mouser served under Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Sir Winston Churchill, until 1943. Munich Mouser was a rather scathing nickname coined by Churchill in reference to the Munich Agreement, signed between his predecessor, Chamberlain, and Hitler. Munich Mouser was not impressed when Churchill arrived with Nelson, and the two cats had quite the rivalry – which seems justified considering that Nelson was fed treats from the dining table, while his predecessor received only a withering new name.
Sir Winston Churchill may be more commonly associated with bulldogs, but his own canine companion was in fact a poodle named Rufus. A fixture at 10 Downing Street, Chequers and Chartwell (Churchill’s family home) through the war years, Rufus was so beloved that he even accompanied the Prime Minister on a visit to Buckingham Palace. Churchill was heartbroken when Rufus was run over and killed in October 1947, although he was soon replaced by another poodle, Rufus II, of whom Churchill is said to have explained that ‘the II is silent’.
Post-war Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who served as Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951, adored dogs, and moved his Airedale Terrier, Ting, into Downing Street. The Labour leader and his family also owned a pet goat named Mary. Sadly, however, as a Number 10 goat would have been quite the novel idea, she lived in the Attlee’s garden at their home in Stanmore, and never became a Downing Street resident.
Overlapping with a number of other cats, Peter’s tenure as Chief Mouser spanned an impressive five Prime Ministers (Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald, Neville Chamberlain, Sir Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee) across the years 1929 to 1946 – although he actually lived at the Home Office, as opposed to behind the doors of Number 10. The black cat was only the second feline to be designated mouser and is often seen as the first, as his predecessor, Treasury Bill, didn’t have an official title. In 1929 the Treasury agreed that Peter should be allocated one penny a day for his upkeep, a decision that was implemented as something of an enforced diet, after Peter began neglecting his duties because civil servants were bringing him so much food. He then returned to mousing with aplomb and his services were much missed during WWII, when the Home Office was temporarily moved to Bournemouth and the numbers of rodents sharply increased.
Rufus of England/ Treasury Bill
Rufus of England, better known as Treasury Bill, was a marmalade-coloured tom cat who belonged to the first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. He lived at Downing Street from 1924 to 1930, during the height of the Roaring 20s. Said to be an accomplished mouser and ratter, he was known for proudly presenting his master with his kills. Rufus is believed to have earned his more widely-known nickname after it was noted that he was looking a little thin, upon which the Secretary to the Treasury submitted a claim that his food allowance should be increased.
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