The museum and art gallery on Terrace Road in Buxton, Derbyshire cares for many curious and peculiar artefacts for Derbyshire County Council. One of the more unusual objects in their permanent collection is a rather gruesome find, donated to the museum by resident Maxine Chuwen – a mummified cat.
The dead cat was found during renovations down the road from the museum in Buxton’s town centre. Not remarkable, until you consider that the unfortunate feline had been sealed in a space above a ceiling possibly for over a century, halting its decomposition and leaving it a dried-out husk. Such macabre discoveries are not unknown but did curiosity kill the cat or was the creature placed there deliberately? There is an ancient superstition which involves sealing a cat into a house to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Although strange and cruel by modern day standards, such practices would have been common as recent as the 19th century.
The unlucky puss dropped out of the ceiling onto builders renovating the former post office in The Quadrant and was saved from the skip by the building’s owner. Her first instinct was to give the cat a proper burial but Maxine decided to bring it to the museum. She was curious to know whether there might be a connection between the entombed cat and newspapers dating to the 1890s found in the same space. In which case, kitty apparently stalked the streets of a very different town.
The staff at Buxton Museum are no strangers to prehistoric animal remains but were startled to see a more recent and well-preserved domestic specimen. Collections Development Officer Joe Perry had to take action to preserve what was left:
“We gently cleaned the cat. A white residue had begun to form on the skin since coming into contact with the open air – probably a build-up of salts. Once clean, we securing the body in a sealed, low humidity environment to keep it dry and stable. When it is displayed to the public it will need a new, environmentally secure display case – so it’s come to us at the perfect moment as we’ll be having some brand new cases installed this year.”
The Buxton Museum team were initially undecided whether to accept the cat corpse and display it. However, as custodians of a stuffed bear and a famous mermaid, they know that creepy characters are extremely popular with visitors. So they intend to exhibit the Buxton Cat.
The mummified cat is usually on display in Wonders of the Peak at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery. This spectacular gallery contains over 1200 artefacts, telling the story of geology and history of the Peak district. Entry is always free.
Buxton Museum & Art Gallery, Terrace Road, Buxton, SK17 6DA
T: 01629. 533540