SWEET PHILLIS (1901)
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'Sweet Phillis' was owned and shown successfully by Mrs. Louisa Herring in 1903. But it is important that she be seen in the full historical context of the exhibiting silver classic tabby short-haired cats during the early period of the cat fancy, and in particular, those tabby shorthairs owned specifically by Mrs. Herring, who remained a tour-de-force amongst breeders of both short-haired and long-haired cats since joining the ranks of cat fanciers more than twenty-five years earlier.
One of her earliest and possibly most famous silver tabby cats, was 'Champion Jimmy'; who left an indelible mark on the early fancy, both in the winners' circle at shows and through his numerous and often famous progeny. Cat judge and author Charles Lane, who owned his litter sister, recalled:
"Her brother, (Ed: Jimmy) was a very handsome cat, took numerous prizes, and was the only cat I remember taking the Gold Medal of the National Cat Club, at the Crystal Palace Show, as 'Best Cat, Long or Short-haired,' in the show."6
Fellow cat fancier and writer E. Leuty Collins also noted:
"Champion Jimmy, the property of Mrs. Herring, the veteran pioneer of lady fanciers, always holds his own. He revels now under the titles of 'Champion' and 'Premier', and has gained for his mistress over fifty first and special prizes, with silver cups and medals. He is a magnificent English silver tabby, with perfect markings, and, having captured so many coveted honours, considers himself beyond the average professional. Of course Mrs. Herring exhibits her other famous beauties, both Persian and other foreign scions of the cat tribe; and I was much amused lately to see them all gambolling over the lawn at 'Lestock', in the company with six or seven beautiful King Charles spaniels."7
Mrs. Herring was extremely active in the fancy, having started as an exhibitor in 1877, and serving on the committee of the National Cat Club since the first days of the Register and Stud Book (first published in 1893). Her interest in cats and dogs was rather eclectic, having raised and exhibited Persians in Blue, Silver Tabby, Chinchilla and other varieties; as well as Siamese, Abyssinian, Manx, Russian, and English short-hairs. Mrs. Herring's fame as a breeder and exhibitor, extended well beyond English shores, with the Sultan of Turkey purchasing direct from her, a beautiful 'brown tiger tabby' "with which he has expressed the greatest pleasure, and declares that he admires it greatly."8
It was against this historic background, that 'Sweet Phillis' entered into the 'Herring' cat colony.
Unknown Sir Nigel | Unknown Sweet Phyllis, May 1901, Silver Tabby English Shorthair, F | Unknown Sarah Unknown
We have two original sources of registration information on 'Sweet Phillis'. In the first instance she appears in the published registration records for the National Cat Club, in 'Our Cats' magazine, on 12th April, 1902`. Here she is listed as 'Phillis', rather than 'Phyllis', with her breeder of record being Mrs. Saw. The second source is the National Cat Club Stud-book, Volume 6, where she is listed as 'Sweet Phyllis' born May 1901, but with the breeder as Mrs. Love and the owner listed as Mrs. Herring.5
It is certainly possible that Mrs. Saw had changed her name to Mrs. Love in the intervening period, but our preference is to stick to the earlier listing and Mrs. Saw. Mrs. Love may have been an earlier owner, but we can probably discount that possibility due to the fact that the sire of 'Phillis' was Mrs. Herring's 'Sir Nigel', (NCC: 1562)5, raising the distinct possibility that 'Sweet Phillis' may have been taken by Mrs. Herring in lieu of a stud fee, or by the not uncommon arrangement of 'pick of litter'
'Sir Nigel' is described as a short-haired 'dark grey tabby', (Born 20th May, 1893). The dam of 'Sweet Phillis' is recorded as 'Sarah', so we must assume that 'Sarah' was a Silver Tabby. 'Sarah' appears to have been owned initially by Mrs. Charles Heslop, who, alongside Mr. Young, bred some of the best shorthaired cats in England. But she must have later been moved on to Mrs. Saw, who owned her by the time she was bred to "Sir Nigel.
Two possible older dam-siblings exist for 'Sweet Phillis'. The first of these is 'Cinderella of Londesborough' (NCC:2074)5, born 5th November, 1894, who is registered as a Tortoiseshell short-haired female, bred by Mr. Charles Heslop and owned by Miss Cockburn-Dickinson. The other is a litter sister, 'Darlington Tibby' (NCC:2040)5, bred and owned by Mrs. Heslop but with no details recorded with regard to colour or pattern.
The only official show wins recorded for 'Sweet Phillis' are a 1st at Victoria Hall in 1903, and a 2nd against 'Dame Fortune' at the Crystal Palace in 19035. However other memorable wins are alluded to in an excerpt from the editorial columns of 'Our Cats' with regard the cover illustration of Mrs. Herring and 'Sweet Phillis':
"Our Front Page - We feel sure that the sight of our front page this week will give pleasure to very many of our readers, and that it will give them great pleasure to possess a likeness, and an excellent likeness, of Mrs. Herring. This lady has had for many years, a seat on the Committee of the National Cat Club, and been one of the largest and most successful exhibitors at the Club shows. Many well-known cats have come from the Lestock House Catteries to win fresh laurels in the show pen, far too many to quote from memory. Silver tabbies, both long and short-hair, have been prime favourites with Mrs. Herring, and in each variety she has possessed a champion. 'Ch. Jimmy' is no more, but 'Ch. King Alfred' is as vigorous as ever, and as excellent a stud cat, though he sends his young son 'King Alfred II', to take his place at shows. Mrs. Herring has just had a heavy loss in the death of 'King David', her well known winning blue Persian. But we must not forget 'Sweet Phillis', Mrs. Herring's charming companion in the photograph. Her markings come out with with wonderful distinctness, and her beauties require no pointing out at our hands. Needless to say, she is a very high prize-winner."2
Regretfully, there are no official records of progeny from 'Sweet Phillis'. Mrs. Herring however, had extensive catteries and of these we have some excerpts from a remarkable review of her premises by a reporter for The Sketch, published on 18th September, 18959:
"… I found myself on Lee railway station, from whence a short walk through the grounds of a flourishing nursery, and along a road bordered on either side by a row of mountain-ash trees in all their autumn bravery of scarlet berries, brought me to the gates of Lestock House, and the kindly welcome of its charming mistress. 'We will first have lunch,' she said, after we had exchanged greetings, 'and then I will show you all my pets.'
"On an emerald lawn some splendid full-grown cats lay basking in the sun, while the lovely fluffy kittens amused themselves tumbling one another over with all the natural grace and true poetry of motion inherent to most young animals.
"There was the beautiful Champion Jimmy, and the graceful Chinchilla Irene; the stately English tabbies, Sir Peter Teazle and Tommy Dodd; the magnificent orange King Harry, and an exquisite pure blue kitten with topaz eyes, the offspring of Queen Nita and Blue Jack, with many others, most of them winner of numberless first, specials, team, brace, and challenge prizes.
"Along a wall which encloses the end of the lawn, and half hidden by a shrubbery, are the pens for the day accommodation of the Toms, their night-houses being in a different part of the grounds. One of these pens was occupied by a graceful pair of ladies, Cora, a splendid Russian cat, and Queen Indiana, a snow-white beauty with turquoise-blue eyes. After inspecting these, Mrs. Herring took me to the ladies' quarters and the nurseries. Here I saw again the splendid Siamese cat Queen Rhea, who was the admired of all admirers at Cruft's Cat Show in the Royal Aquarium in March of this year….
"Mrs. Herring's pretty rooms, with their wealth of old china and valuable pictures, contain many trophies in the way of silver cups and vases of the victorious competitions of her cats, as well as many rare books, including a volume of 'Ally Sloper', won by a cat of the same name, and having the most unique autograph of the donor on its first page.
" 'These are my medals' said Mrs. Herring. Unlocking the box which her dear dead retriever Carlo used to near suspended round his neck when on many Hospital Saturdays he collected at Charing Cross for the London hospitals. What a display it was. There were gold, silver and bronze medals and pendants, those of the National Cat Club bearing a special design by Harrison Weir; Crystal Palace medals, Brighton Aquarium, Canterbury, Clifton, Tunbridge Wells, the Animals' Institute in Kinterton Street, Knightsbridge - from all these shows there were these testimonies to the perfections of Mrs. Herring's cats.
"Full of admiration as I was for these beautiful felines, and at their mistress's arrangements for their comfort, I had plenty for her even still more fascinating pack of tiny King Charles Spaniels, who are the perfection of breeding and good manners. Two of these, Duke of Buckingham and Princess Voska, were exhibited at the Ladies' Kennel Association Show at Ranelagh in June last, and were greatly and justly admired. It was indeed a pretty sight to see eight or ten of these beauties disporting themselves on the lawn. Some are included in the photo reproduced of Mrs. Herring and her pets. Prince Lestock is at her feet, El Dorado and Princess Voska in her lap, Duke of Buckingham on the table beside her, while the cats, Lady Snow, Queen Irene, Braemore, and others, make up the 'happy family'.
"Mrs. Herring, though a most evident object of adoration to her dogs, confesses that her cats are nearer to her heart, and asserts positively that, if properly treated, they are the equal of dogs in intelligence and affection.
"After a prolonged and most enjoyable visit, I reluctantly tore myself away from 'Pussy's Paradise,' bearing with me a pen and ink drawing by Miss Rosa Bebb, of Ridgeway Park Road, Bristol - some of whose water-colours adorn the walls - as well as several photographs which Mrs. Herring had kindly lent for reproduction."9
When the above photograph featured on the cover of Our Cats in early March 1904, Mrs. Herring was moved to write a complimentary letter to the Editor, stating the following:
"I must write and tell you everyone is repeating how splendidly 'Our Cats' has reproduced Sweet Phillis and myself. I think Messrs Russell also should be complimented for the photography, which has been very much appreciated by those who understand photography. Many people here wish to have one of the books."3
When we view the photograph of Mrs. Herring with her 'Sweet Phillis' we cannot help but be impressed with the striking, extraordinarily clear and well-defined, wide-banded classic patterning of the coat on 'Sweet Phillis', which would be the envy of any breeder of silver tabbies to this very day!
Mrs. Herring's contribution to the early growth of the fancy and the preservation of some of its founding bloodlines across a range of breeds and varieties cannot be overlooked. But just like the reporter who spent a happy afternoon reviewing Mrs. Herring's cats and dogs, we, too, must reluctantly tear ourselves away from 'Pussy's Paradise', taking with us the memories of the historic beauty and achievements of Mrs. Herring's beloved cats.
Registers associated with this article include The Incorporated Cat Fanciers Association of Great Britain (TICFAGB), National Cat Club (NCC), The Cat Club (CCR), Beresford Cat Club (BCC), Feline Federation Francaise (FFF), Siamese Cat Registry (SCR), US Register & Studbook for Cats (USR)including Supplement(USRS), The Studbook of the American Cat Association (ACA), and the Studbook & Register of the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA).
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