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Animals in the Archives

22nd February 2019 in Archives Centre, Our Collections

The Archives Centre here at Churchill College is filled with the papers of truly remarkable men and women who have helped shape the last century – their furry, scaled, and winged companions, however, are far less often remarked upon!

This latest display looks at some of the extraordinary stories of animals from our collections and the menagerie collected by our most famous archive resident, Winston Churchill.

Animals played an important role in Churchill’s day-to-day life. Through them we can see his fascination with the exotic and how his curiosity was captured by a variety of animals including  lions, leopards, kangaroos, platypuses, black swans, and tropical fish - to name a few!  Domestic animals were of no less importance however, and he became besotted with Nelson, Jock, Rufus I, and II – the cats and dogs that would compete for his affection in later years … occasionally even writing him letters!

His speeches too drew on animal analogies for emphasis, and he himself was regularly zoomorphised by friends and opponents alike. Among his family this was no different. Winston, Clementine and each of their ‘kittens’ had individual creature characters and would often end letters signing off as their animal avatars.

Letter from Clementine Churchill to her husbandLetter from Clementine Churchill to her husband

Letter from Clementine to Winston - “My Sweet Amber dog” - signing off with a drawing of her “Puss cat” (College Archive, CSCT 1/1/12)

Margaret Thatcher too had a soft spot for animals and kept a cat-shaped draught excluder while at No. 10. ‘Stanley’ bravely guarded the entrance to her flat throughout the Falklands Campaign. The often very sentimental relationships that both Churchill and Thatcher developed with their animal counterparts present us with a different aspect of their personality - a gentler side that contrasts their tough personas of ‘The Iron Lady’ and the ‘Bulldog’.

Thanks are due to Piers Brendon for his work “Churchill’s Bestiary” - a fascinating, enlightening, and entertaining book which both inspired and helped put together this display. Take a look in the display cases outside the main dining hall to find out more!

— Tom Davies, Archives Assistant

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