Heritage: Charity for unwanted cats is as old as the city it serves

An early Sheffield Cats Shelter van used in 1930
An early Sheffield Cats Shelter van used in 1930

Wealthy Sheffield philanthropist set up a home to help deal with huge numbers of starving strays wandering the streets.

The Sheffield Cats Shelter, one of the oldest charities in Sheffield, is in fact as old as the city itself.

Sheffield Cats Shelter shop opens

Sheffield Cats Shelter shop opens

Established in 1897, the shelter is celebrating its 120th anniversary.

As previously reported on these pages, this year also marks the official 120th anniversary of the grant of the title of Lord Mayor of Sheffield, the year that Sheffield became a city.

To mark this occasion, the team at the shelter have taken a nostalgic look into the past and have written a book about their history, and that of its founder, Jane Barker.

The daughter of a wealthy pottery manufacturer, Jane Barker was a local philanthropist who set up a ‘Home for Starving Cats’ to help cope with the many homeless cats wandering the streets.

Animal control was more of a priority than welfare in the 19th century

She was very well socially connected and managed to persuade both the Duchess of Portland and the Dowager Countess of Wharncliffe to become patrons of her charity.

She also set up the Sheffield Cripples Aid Association with her sister, Mary Beatrice, to care for disabled children.

Although Jane cared very deeply about cats, animal control was more of a priority than welfare in the 19th century.

Many animals that were taken in were euthanised.

Sheffield Cats Shelter in 1976

Sheffield Cats Shelter in 1976

This might sound horrific to us today but at the time, it was more humane than other control measures, such as death by drowning or bludgeoning.

And veterinary treatment, at best, would have been basic and expensive.

Charities simply didn’t have the resources to save animals that needed treatment.

Keeping cats as pets became popular among the upper classes during the Victorian era. The young Queen Victoria owned several cats herself.

Cats Shelter, Sheffield'1983

Cats Shelter, Sheffield'1983

However, the reality of the lives of working class people meant that their 
approach to animal welfare took longer to change.

The cat population was out of control because neutering was not readily available and cats were normally kept primarily to keep the rodent population under control. Because of this, many cats lived on the streets in colonies.

The growing number of uncared-for cats led Jane Barker to open the shelter.

The shelter moved to Gell Street in 1905, and to its current location at 1 Travis Place in 1964.

Today the Sheffield Cats Shelter rescues over 400 cats each year who would otherwise suffer or die from neglect.

The shelter relies on the generosity of donors and corporate supporters to carry on rescuing these cats, providing them with warmth, food, medical treatment, and above all love, until they can be placed with a family or foster carer.

Without the shelter, many of them would endure terrible suffering, hardship or die.

To help celebrate this significant year, the shelter is holding an open day.

The current Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Coun Anne Murphy, has been invited to attend.

It will take place at 1 Travis Place on Sunday, August 6, 12.30pm to 4pm.

As well as being able to view the cats, there will be refreshments, entertainment for the kids, a selection of goods on sale, including a new range of branded goods, and an exhibition with historic pictures and posters that tell the history of the shelter.

For more information about the work that the shelter does, and ways to donate, visit the website, Sheffield Cat Shelter

And if you would like to read more about the fascinating history of the charity, the book, The Sheffield Cats Shelter: Celebrating 120 Years, is on sale for £8.99 now at both the shelter and their retail outlet at 285 Ecclesall Road.