Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Lancashire Folk Tales: Dildrum, The King of Cats



Following up on news that the King of Cats touring exhibition is coming to Lancaster (see news story), we thought Lancaster's many cat lovers might like to read the Lancashire legend in full...

One evening, an old gentleman who lived in the middle of Lancashire sat reading in his parlour. Outside, the wind was beginning to growl like a dog that smells strangers and every now and again the rain was dashed against the windows like a handful of gravel; but the curtains were drawn, the wet inclement night was shut out, and inside all was cosy. 

Spectacles on his nose, the old man sat back in his winged chair, and rested his slippered feet on a little footstool. He was reading, and the room round him was quiet. A big grandfather clock ticked away in the parlour, swinging its pendulum backwards and forwards with great solemnity; the stiff paper of the book rustled as the man turned over the pages; and from time to time the ashes in the grate fell with a soft crash and sent a few sparks up the chimney. the room was warm and still, and the flames of the candles burnt brightly and steadily.

Suddenly upon the wide hearth there began to fall a little rain of soot drops, and as they pattered down, the old gentleman put down his book and adjusted his spectacles.

"Ah," he said to himself, "that's the worst of these old-fashioned chimneys. They let the smoke out but they let the rain in too. It must be beginning to splash down outside."

Thereupon he put up his spectacles again, and turned back to his book, but before he had read two sentences there was a fresh fall and the fire began to hiss.

"Umph!" he said. "We must have a starling in the chimney after all. Drat those birds! the house is never quiet when they're about."

Back at his book he turned again, but this time before he could even find his place there was a fresh fall of soot. The fire dimmed strangely and went down, the candle flames began to flicker and to shake-and then from out of the mouth of the chimney there sprang a great grey cat. He was wild outlandish cat, with fur matted with the rain, a long lean body, one green eye and one brown one, and a quick eager look on his face. 

Resting his paws on the footstool, he looked up searching into the old man's face, opened his mouth and the, in a perfectly clear and intelligible voice said, "Tell Dildrum that Doldrum's dead!" - and then leaping back into the chimney, he kicked down more soot, and vanished.

The old man could scarce believe his eyes. Surely the cat had been real. there could be little doubt of that for there on the hearth were the patched of fallen soot, and there on the footstool were the marks of two sooty paws! But had the cat really spoken? had he really uttered those strange words about Dildrum and Doldrum? The old man blinked with confusion and wondered if he could trust his senses.

Just then, the door opened. In came the old man's wife and after her, Julius their own cat. Julius was no ragamuffin of a cat. He was handsome from top to toe. His fur was a lovely quaker.

"Here's your tea, Matthew," said the old woman. "I've brought you a dish of your favourite china tea, and two little...

"Why Matthew, I declare that you aren't listening to a word that I'm saying."

"I beg your pardon, my dear. I wasn't listening, I must confess."

"What has happened to you? You look as if you'd had a shock."

"Not a shock, my dear-but something has happened tonight that has made me wonder if I can trust my senses anymore."

"Then first take your tea," said his wife, "and tell me all about it as quietly as you can."


"Well, my dear," began the old gentleman, "I don't know that I can expect you to believe me, but this - I take my oath on it - this is what happened tonight i this very room. I was sitting here in this seat, with my legs crossed on this footstool, reading my favourite old book, Robinson Crusoe. I remember I had just got to the point where...."


"Yes, Dear, you can omit that detail. Go on."

"Well. just as I was reading, down that chimney, believe it or not, came a cat, a great grey creature, with one green eye and one brown eye, and a body as lean as a rake..."

The old man paused in his narrative for as he came to the description of the grey cat, Julius pricked up his ears, got up, and turned so that he sat facing the old man. Then he fixed upon his master's face so intent and human a look that the old gentleman could not go on with his tale.

"Just look at old Julius! What's the matter, old pussy? Do you want to hear, eh? Well, I'll tell you."

So, half forgetting his wife, the old man began to talk to the cat.


"Yes, down the chimney came this great grey messenger. He leapt out on the hearth, put his two feet upon my footstool, opened his mouth and said..."


"Said, Matthew?" interrupted the old woman. "Do you mean to say that this cat spoke?"


"Yes, he spoke as clearly as you or I. "Tell Dildrum," he said..."


At this, Julius opened his wide blue eyes and he looked more intently than ever.


"'Tell Dildrum, he said, '" went on the old man, "'that Doldrum is dead.'"


"Well, I never heard anything so funny in all my life! Dildrum and Doldrum! Tweedledum and Tweedledee! 'Tell Dildrum', he said - why, what's the matter, Julius?"

Julius had leapt with all four feet now on to the footstool. In his eyes there was a queer look, half of sorrow, half of excitement and triumph. then suddenly, he too opened his mouth, and in a rich and princely voice, he said "Alas! Is Doldrum dead? why that makes me the King of the Cats!"


Thereupon, the flames of the candles began to flicker again. The fire sank and dimmed. Julius - or Dildrum - leapt on to the hearth, and with one prodigious spring, vanished up the chimney.

When they had recovered from their shock, the two old people ran out and looked up; but there was nothing to be seen. The great sagging clouds were passing over the sky. The fringes of the trees were scratching at the roof of the house; but no Julius was to be seen. 

He had gone to his kingdom and was already sitting in state with a golden crown on his princely head.

• You can view the sculpture of a cat artist Julie Miles (one of the exhibitors) created last year here on her blog


• The King of Cats runs at Lancaster City Museum from Saturday 21st March until Sunday 17th May 2015. Entry to the museum is free but costs apply for the workshops (Workshop information here). Opening times are 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday. The museum is run by Lancashire County Council on behalf of Lancaster City Council





• For more information about the exhibition or the workshops telephone 01524 64637 or email lancastercitymuseum@lancashire.gov.uk. Alternatively, visit www.lancashire.gov.uk/museums

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