News - Cats on the Page


A free exhibition celebrating cats in literature opened yesterday in the Entrance Hall of the British Library...

Cats on the Page brings familiar and much-loved feline favourites together with the eclectic and unexpected to celebrate the myriad ways in which cats have captured the cultural imagination for hundreds of years. Through an array of poetry, artwork, fables and fairytales from around the world, this free exhibition explores the various literary guises that cats have appeared under throughout the centuries: from comical cats to master criminals, the lovable to the mysterious and magical.

Books, manuscripts and artwork from the British Library’s own collections are displayed together for the first time alongside a number of original illustrations, with loans from Seven Stories, Judith Kerr, Posy Simmonds, Axel Scheffler, Quentin Blake and the T. S. Eliot Foundation. The exhibition’s run coincides with the 80th anniversary year of the original publication of Eliot’s classic poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.


Highlights include:
  • Original illustrations by much-loved artists including Mog by Judith Kerr, Beatrix Potter’s Kitty-in-Boots as imagined by Quentin Blake, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams, Fred by Posy Simmonds and two illustrations for T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by Axel Scheffler
  • Lewis Carroll’s own copy of the exceptionally rare third edition of Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there (1893), in which the author notes his frustration with the printing including a comment on an illustration of Alice’s kitten
  • A selection of sound recordings for all ages including a reading of Macavity the Mystery Cat by T.S. Eliot, songs from the musical Cats and Disney’s The Aristocats and music by The Cure
  • Edward Lear’s charming doodles of himself and his cat, Foss, contained within a letter written to a friend in 1879
  • A 16th century pamphlet on witchcraft describing the activities of Elizabeth Stile and three other ‘notorious witches’, with a woodcut image accompanying the description of the black cat or familiar belonging to Mother Devell (who is alleged to have fed it with milk mixed with her own blood)
  • A letter written by T.S. Eliot to his friend Geoffrey Tandy’s daughter, Alison,containing a draft of his poem ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer’ and signed off with his nickname ‘Possum’; displayed alongside Alison’s reply including delightful drawings of the two cats, on loan from the T.S. Eliot Foundation

Alison Bailey, lead curator of Cats on the Page at the British Library, said ‘Cats have inspired our imagination and creativity for many years - long before their days of dominance on the internet. At an early age we meet them in rhymes and picture books whilst as adults we are introduced to more stories to savour and reflect upon. By bringing cats we know and love together with new ones from unexpected sources, Cats on the Page showcases the light-hearted side of the British Library’s world-class collections through a selection of just some of the hundreds of paws prowling the pages of its books and manuscripts.’

Staged in the British Library’s Entrance Hall, Cats on the Page also contains family-friendly elements such as a family trail, sound recordings and a children’s reading corner. The accompanying events programme contains events to appeal to all ages, some of which are already sold-out. 

Highlights include:

  • 24-25 November: A stage adaptation of Tabby McTat, the children’s classic by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, by Freckle Productions
  • 3 December: Legendary illustrator and author Judith Kerr in conversation with her art editor, Ian Craig
  • 11 December: Performance storytelling for grown-ups: Crick Crack Club delve into the world of Felix Catus and other feral felines
  • 15 January: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats: A Celebration featuring poet Christopher Reid, author Michael Rosen and actor Simon Callow, chaired by Nicolette Jones
  • 23 January: Philosopher John Gray explores the relationship between cats and humans, asking: what can cats teach us about how to live?
  • 26 February: Cats on the internet: an expert panel delves into the web science of how cats took over the internet, chaired by science writer and comedian Helen Pilcher
The exhibition is kindly supported by Animal Friends Pet Insurance. Wes Pearson, Managing Director of Animal Friends Pet Insurance said: ‘As the MD of a company which was established in order to both provide excellent pet insurance as well as to fund animal welfare organisations around the world, I am extremely pleased that Animal Friends is partnering with the British Library for this brilliant and very entertaining exhibition. Cats are a vital part of many families and humans have loved them down the centuries. To have their many excellent attributes and quirks celebrated at the BL is welcomed by all of us at Animal Friends. We hope that this exhibition will be enjoyed by many people.’

For more information, visit www.bl.uk/events

A range of handpicked books and gifts is available from the British Library Shop and online, for a limited time only. For more information, visit www.bl.uk/shop.

Images - The Pretty Playful Tortoise Shell Cat, London, 1817 (c) The British Library Board
Mog's Christmas image, 1976 (c) Kerr Kneale Productions Ltd
Lewis Carroll Through the Looking Glass (c) The British Library Board
Jellicle Cats illustration (c) Axel Scheffler published in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (c) T. S. Eliot and Faber & Faber