One of Britain’s hard-working civil servants features in today’s unusual article culled from the stranger side of Wikipedia
The Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office is the title of the official resident cat of the UK Prime at 10 Downing Street. Only two cats, Humphrey and Larry, have been given the title officially; other cats were given this title affectionately, usually by the British press. There has been a resident Treasury or Downing Street cat employed as a mouser and pet since the reign of Henry VIII, when Cardinal Wolsey placed his cat by his side while acting in his judicial capacity as Lord Chancellor, an office he assumed in 1515.
Official records released into the public domain on 4 January 2005 as part of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 only date back to 3 June 1929, when AE Banham at the Treasury authorised the Office Keeper “to spend 1d a day from petty cash towards the maintenance of an efficient cat”. In April 1932, the weekly allowance was increased to 1s 6d. By the twenty-first century, the mouser was costing £100 per annum.
The cats do not necessarily belong to the Prime Minister in residence and it is rare for the Chief Mouser’s term of office to coincide with that of a Prime Minister. The cat with the longest known tenure at Downing Street is Wilberforce, who served for eighteen years under Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher.
In January 2011, rats were seen “scurrying across the steps of number 10 Downing Street for the second time during a TV news report,” according to ITN. There being no incumbent Chief Mouser at that time, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said there were “no plans” for a cat to be brought in to tackle the problem; however, the following day, newspapers reported that the spokesman had said there was a “pro-cat faction” within Downing Street, leading to speculation that a replacement might indeed be brought in. On 14 February 2011, it was reported that a cat called “Larry” had been procured to address the problem. The Evening Standard reported that the cat had been selected by David Cameron and his family, from those at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
On 16 September 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron sacked Larry from the post of Chief Mouser, in favour of Chancellor George Osborne’s tabby, Freya, as the new Chief Mouser to patrol Numbers 10, 11, and 12. Some sources described the new arrangement as a “job share” to avoid any hurt feelings. Chief Mousers in the past have overlapped, or been phased in – though the position can and has remained vacant for extended periods of time. Larry is the only Chief Mouser listed on the official web site for Number 10.