400 year old mummified cat is found in walls of Whitby cottage - VIDEO

A 400-year-old mummified cat has been found in the walls of a Whitby cottage.

The cat, which still has its claws and teeth, may have been placed in the walls of the cottage in Henrietta Street to ward off evil spirits.

Property renovator and listed building restorer Stuart Brown from Sleights found the cat in the property which is owned by Tim Deacon and his wife Kate.

The cottage has been owned by Mrs Deacon's family for many years.

Mr Brown said: "We were renovating the old ceilings above the fireplace in the lounge when the cat fell out. It's dark grey, mummified and perished; it's just skin, no fur.

"According to local myth and legend, apparently 400 years ago people put cats behind walls to ward off witches. We plan to put it back on completion of the building work."

The fisherfolk of Whitby were renowned for being superstitious and in the 1816 Census of Whitby seven women gave their occupation as sorceress or fortune-teller.

It was a local custom to brick a cat up alive in the chimney when building a new house, to ensure good luck and ward off evil spirits.

Several examples are thought to have once resided in Whitby Museum in Pannett Park.

Mark Edwards, honorary keeper at Whitby Musem for the past four years said: "We have the Hand of Glory, of course, which was found at the turn of the century hidden in the lintel of a door in a cottage in Castleton but no cats.

"The legend was the hands were cut from hanged corpses with magical powers.

"There might have been mummified cats here but not in my time."

Mr Brown has been restoring period property in Sleights, Staithes and the Robin Hood's Bay areas for the past 26 years.

He was busy working on the property's Georgian windows, ceilings and fireplaces when he made the feline find.

"Over the years I have found clay pipes, coins and old newspapers. We also found some old Daily Herlads newspapers from World War 1," he said.

Marion Gibson, a witchcraft and folklore expert, from Exeter University, said: "Cats – and occasionally other animals – were sometimes placed in the walls of buildings to keep away bad luck, evil influences such as witches and vermin.

"They were often put near the chimney, because it was an opening in the house that couldn't be closed physically and so, if you believed in magic, needed to be protected from bad things coming in.

"It was a strange and cruel practice, and people must have believed very strongly that the dead animal would protect them.

"In prehistoric times, sometimes a dead person would have been placed under the floor of a house and the practice seems to be related to that.

It probably went on into Victorian times, although it is hard to date these kind of finds."

l You can see a video on this story at our website www.whitbygazette.co.uk

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