People love to pamper their pets, but back in the Victorian era, London’s felines received daily, hand-delivered skewers or packages of meat from a peddler known as the “cat’s meat man.”
Writer and editor Carrie Frye recently wrote about this long-gone profession in her newsletter, Black Cardigan. She discovered the profession after reading about Harriet Hardiman, a cat’s meat (wo)man, who lived at 29 Hanbury Street, the location where Jack the Ripper's second victim, Annie Chapman, was found in 1888. While Chapman had no prior connection to the address, everyone there was questioned, including the woman whose job it was to deliver meat to cats.
A cat’s meat man sold chopped meat (usually horse scraps from local slaughterhouses) to cat owners—as Frye writes, “meat for cats, not of cats.” They had regular routes and clients, just like a milkman, and were a fixture of London street life: hundreds, if not thousands of vendors serviced London’s estimated 300,000 cats.
If this description from 1880’s Harper's Young People is any indication, it was a dream job:
“Everywhere the cats and kittens are anxiously waiting and watching for him, and sometimes they run out and meet him at the corners half a block or more away from their homes. Often when he is feeding the cats on one side of the street, those living on the other side run across, and rubbing against his legs, mewing and purring, seem to beg him to hurry and get over to their side … The cats all know and love him, and are generally expecting him; but if he opens the door of a store where one of his cats lives, and she is not to be seen, he calls "Pss-pss-pss," and the kitty comes racing down stairs, or from some distant corner, so fast that she nearly tumbles head over heels in her hurry to get at her breakfast.”
We wouldn't mind bringing this lost profession back—and performing it ourselves. For more (including what Charles Dickens has to do with all of this), check out Frye’s post and subscribe to her newsletter, Black Cardigan, here.