Today (June 3) in London History – 3 million dogs and counting

The famous Battersea Dogs’ Home moved to its Battersea residence on this day, June 3rd, in 1871. This Today in London History podcast tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Mixed bag, this one. 

A good measure of feelgood. But, alas, some of the other as well. 

Today – June 3rd – well, the pennant I’m running up the flagpole of June 3rd is the Battersea Dogs’ Home. Correction, it’s now – and has been for 20 years – The Battersea Dogs’ & Cats Home. 

It’s a great London story. A moving London story. Goes back to 1860. And not in Battersea to start with. Other side of the river. Holloway. One dog. And one Londoner. Or, strictly speaking, two Londoners. One of them four legged. The two legged Londoner was Mrs Mary Tealby. Mary came across a dying dog in the street. Mary made a promise to that dog that she would never walk past another one. And she didn’t.

The Islington Gazette in 1860 reported that Mary had found so many starving dogs in her Holloway Road neighbourhood alone that by process of extrapolation it had to be the case that the aggregate amount of suffering amongst those faithful creatures throughout London must be very dreadful indeed.”

And Mary’s response to that dreadful state of affairs: she founded The Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs. 

One dog, one compassionate London woman. From acorns, mighty oaks. Since that first dog, the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has taken in over 3 million animals. As they say in their mission statement:

Battersea Is Here For Every Dog And Cat, And Has Been Since 1860. We Believe That Every Dog And Cat Deserves The Best.

Some significant dates: well, this is the big one. It was on this day, June 3rd, 1871 that the move was made to Battersea. Where they’ve been ever since. And become world famous over that century and a half and more of taking in and looking after homeless animals. 

And of course Battersea has been the beacon. Lots of other countries looked here, saw what was happening just south of the Thames, and followed suit. Said “what a great idea, we’re going to have one of those here.”

It was in 1883 that Battersea first started accepting cats. Wonder how that went down with their dogs. “Did you say cats? They’re letting cats in here? What’s this place coming to?”

Two years later Queen Victoria became a patron. 

And then in our era, Queen Elizabeth. And the Duchess of Cornwall. 

And, yes, it needs must be mentioned that Battersea receives no government funding. Its work is made possible thanks to public support. As they say, they turn them from underdogs into top cats.

They have state of the art clinics, on-site veterinary staff – that’s the superstructure. The foundation is love, refuge and asylum for homeless and lost and stray dogs and cats. 

They have 500 staff and 1,000 volunteers and the good ship Battersea Dogs & Cats home is now a small fleet. There are two other centres in addition to the flagship in Battersea. One of their ambassadors is actress Amanda Holden. I love the way she puts it: she says, “Rescue has always been my favourite breed.”

I’d second that. There aren’t many overheard remarks on a bus or on the street that make me happier than these two: “she’s a rescue dog” or “he’s a rescue dog.” Overhearing that unleashes a lot of feelgood – I always think, “good for you, pooch” and “good on you, lady – or gentleman.”

And that brings us to the uncomfortable bit.

I’m going to quote from a newspaper article and then try to forget it.

A piece in the Times back in 1965 put it this way: “It is important for dogs here to be cute, appealing, adorable to twang the heart-strings of the animal-loving British public. Every dog in the home has his seven days’ hard, statutory residence. But after that, if his owner has not claimed him, or if a visitor has not bought him, he may have to go down the primrose path past the stores marked “biscuits” and “sawdust” to the condemned cell. Behind the locked green gates at the end of the yard lies an ugly machine called an electrothanator. Last month 415 dogs were sold, 270 were claimed but 751 passed through the green gates. So the inmates have a certain interest in attracting the attention of passers-by.” 

Enough of that.

Here’s today’s Today in London recommendation. 

Hearing great things about David Hare’s new play Straight Line Crazy. Here’s how it’s billed:

Ralph Fiennes stars in David Hare’s blazing account of the life of a man whose iron will exposed the weakness of democracy in the face of charismatic conviction. For forty uninterrupted years, Robert Moses was the most powerful man in New York.

You’ve been listening – on this day of days – to the Today in London History podcast. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

The small, time-honoured, family-owned, fiercely independent London walking tour company that is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative and that famously – and uniquely – fronts its walks with accomplished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, Guide of the Year Award winners… well, you get the idea. As that journalist put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: Guides who make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. Good luck and good Londoning. See ya tomorrow.

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