Once a black and white cat named Humphrey was just a homeless and nameless stray living on London streets. But he was lucky enough to meet the right people and he took a post in the cabinet of the British Prime Minister, received a serious salary, and saw three ministers change before retiring himself. He fled, he was planned to be kidnapped, he was written about in every newspaper – such was the stellar life of the Downing Street cat.

Source: Legion Media

It is said that the first chief mouser appeared in Downing Street in the 16th century, when the then Cardinal Thomas Wolsey took his favorite cat with him to a government hearing.

Until 1924, cats had not been paid a salary in the Lord Treasurer's office. It was not until June 1929 that a representative of the Treasury Department decided to spend 1 penny a day on the "efficient cat." With that money one could then buy 3.5 oz of meat. It was probably assumed, however, that an efficient cat would get its own food without help.

Ten years later, the allowance of the cat was seriously increased – up to 1 shilling 3 pence a day. Indeed, the staff cat justified the money spent on him. In 1989 Humphrey took up a post as a mouser on a salary of a 100 pounds a year. The rat problem in Downing Street was then very pressing: a specially hired man with a salary 40 times higher could not do anything about pests, which felt at ease in the old buildings of the Government.

Source: Legion Media

Before Humphrey, Wilberforce the cat had worked there. He served Britain until he died of old age. There were other cats before him, but their names have not remained in the history; the cats changed, and so did prime ministers. Sometimes it was the prime minister's personal cat that became the chief mouser, but more often it was the animal from the outside. Humphrey was only one year old when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, decided to deal with the rat problem and brought a stray kitten from the street. He was named Humphrey after a character in a comedy series about the British prime minister.

Source: Legion Media

Margaret Thatcher was in power when Humphrey took his post. Londoners and the press simply adored him and dubbed him the most charming civil servant and employee number 10.

Source: Legion Media

However, soon Humphrey's health was beginning to deteriorate. At the age of five Humphrey was diagnosed with kidney disease; he was put on a special diet (it is unknown if it included mice), and all employees of the Prime Minister's office were forbidden to feed their furry colleague.

Source: Legion Media

In 2007, Tony Blair came to power; he settled in Downing Street with his wife Cherie. Sheila Gunn, who by then had become the Prime Minister's press adviser, started rumors that the Prime Minister's wife was not very fond of the chief mouser.

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Source: Legion Media

Even a photo published in the press of Cherie Blair with Humphrey in her arms did not dispel suspicions. There even were rumors that Humphrey had been sedated for the photo shoot (although if it was the problem of the Prime Minister's wife, it would have been more logical to sedate her). Anyway, the conflict ended with Jonathan Rees, Humphrey's chief caretaker in government, filing a memo on behalf of the cat asking for a retirement. The request was granted.

Cherie Blair and Humphrey. Source: Legion Media

In his eleventh year, six months into Tony Blair's administration, Humphrey secretly retired to the country home of a member of the Prime Minister's office. The way the cat's departure was handled only fueled rumors: it was said that the Prime Minister might have killed the cat. However, the point was that the staff were afraid that popularity would play a bad joke with the mouser because there had been attempts to kidnap him. The cat lived in retirement for more than seven years, in silence and away from gossip, rumors, and political games, and passed away after turning 17.

Do you think it's a good tradition to keep cats in the service to catch mice?

Source: novochag

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