Matthew Steeples takes a look at the life of a vicar who gave services with his nine cats in tow, the Reverend Robert Hawker
Witchcraft, religion and women with cats have long been associated. Be it the cat accompanied Pendle Witches – a collection of unfortunates tried in 1612 mostly at Lancaster and in the main found guilty and executed by hanging – or Tabatha Bundesen, the owner of the multi-million making late ‘Grumpy Cat,’ long has there been mockery of women with cats.
In a letter, published last week in The Times, the author of the brilliantly titled Eccentric Britain, Benedict le Vay, referenced the story of a 19th century vicar and father of eight, the Reverend Robert Hawker (1803 – 1875), whom always took his nine cats to church with him when he gave services. Here is a contrasting example of men, religion and cats.
Aside from also inventing the harvest festival service in 1843 and helping the victims of shipwrecks, this “eccentric man” also “rode a mule bareback around [his] parish, followed by a pet black pig called Gyp.” Other animals in this “romantic poet… with a penchant for opium’s” menagerie numbered a domesticated stag named Robin and in later life aside from talking to birds developed a fascination with “witches, the evil eye and the Devil’s emissaries.” He converted to Roman Catholicism in April 1875 and died in April that year. At his funeral, this “lover of bright colours” and “flamboyant fezs” requested mourners wore purple rather than black.
You just simply couldn’t make such a character up. Perhaps Reverend Hawker’s contemporaries should follow suit. Then, they might just attract a few more people to our ever emptying churches.
Faith in cats, Letters to the Editor, The Times, 7th January 2020 – Sir, If liking cats makes you less religious (“Atheists put their faith in ‘godlike’ cats,” January 6th), no one told the Rev Robert Hawker, vicar of Morwenstow, Cornwall, in the 19th century. When entering church to take services he was always accompanied by his nine cats. He also rode a mule bareback around the parish, followed by a pet black pig called Gyp. Cats were essential companions for this eccentric man who, in the course of his long and wonderful life, also invented the harvest festival service. Benedict le Vay, author of ‘Eccentric Britain.’