D'Urfey, in his poem on Knole, speaks of " The Cats " at Sevenoaks.
"The Cat" or "Cats" is by no means a common sign. The subject is well alluded to in "The Cat, Past and Present," from the French of M. Champfleury, translated by Mrs. Cashel Hoey, at page 33. A sign is pictured from the Lombards' quarter, Paris. It is there over a confectioner's shop, and is a cat seated, or rather two, a sign being placed on either side of the corner. Underneath one is "Au Chat," the other, "Noir." I may add the work is a most excellent and amusing collection of much appertaining to cats, and is well worthy of a place in the cat-lover's library.
In Larwood and Hotten's " History of Sign-boards," a work of much research and merit, occurs the following: " As I was going through a street of London where I had never been till then, I felt a general damp and faintness all over me which I could not tell how to account for, till I chanced to cast my eyes upwards, and found I was passing under a sign-post on which the picture of a cat was hung." This little incident of the cat-hater, told in No. 538 of The Spectator, is a proof of the presence of cats on the signboard, where, indeed, they are still to be met with, but very rarely. There is a sign of "The Cat" at Egremont, in Cumberland, a "Black Cat" at St. Leonard's Gate, Lancaster, and a "Red Cat" at Birkenhead; and a " Red Cat" in the Hague, Holland, to which is attached an amusing story worthy of perusal.
"The Cat and Parrot" and "The Cat and Lion" apparently have no direct meaning, unless by the former may be inferred that if you lap like a cat of the liquids sold at the hostelry, you will talk like a parrot; yet, according to Larwood and Hotten, it was a bookseller's sign.
"The Cat and Cage" and "The Cat in Basket" were signs much in vogue during the frost fair on the Thames in
1739-40, a live cat being hung outside some of the booths, which afterwards was not infrequent at other festive meetings. What the exact origin was is not quite apparent.
"'Cat and Fiddle,' a public-house sign, is a corruption either of the French Catherine la fidele, wife of Czar Peter the Great of Russia, or of Caton le fidele, meaning Caton, governor of Calais." - Dr. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
"While on the subject of sign-boards," says a writer in Cassell's "Old and New London," vol. i., p. 507, "we may state that Piccadilly was the place in which 'The Cat and Fiddle' first appeared as a public-house sign. The story is that a Frenchwoman, a small shopkeeper at the eastern end soon after it was built, had a very faithful • and favourite cat, and that in the lack of any other sign she put over her door the words, ' Voici un Chat fidele.' From some cause or other the ' Chat fidele' soon became a popular sign in France, and was speedily Anglicised into 'The Cat and Fiddle,' because the words form part of one of our most popular nursery rhymes. We do not pledge ourselves as to the accuracy of this definition."
"In Farringdon (Devon) is the sign of 'La Chatte Fidele,' in commemoration of a faithful cat. Without scanning the phrase too nicely, it may simply indicate that the game of cat (trap-ball) and a fiddle for dancing are provided for customers."
Yet, according to Larwood and Hotten's "History of Sign-boards," there is yet another version, and another, of the matter, for it is stated, "a little hidden meaning is there in the 'Cat and Fiddle,' still a great favourite in Hampshire, the only connection between the animal and the instrument being that the strings are made from cats' entrails (sic), and that a small fiddle is called a kit, and a small cat a kitten; besides, they have been united from time immemorial in the nursery rhyme:
Heigh diddle diddle, The Cat and the fiddle."
Amongst the other explanations offered is the one that it may have originated with the sign of a certain Caton Fidele, a staunch Protestant in the reign of Queen Mary, and only have been changed into the cat and fiddle by corruption; but if so it must have lost its original appellation very soon, for as early as 1589 we find "Henry Carr, signe of the Calte and Fidle in the olde Chaunge." Formerly there was a "Cat and Fiddle at Norwich, the Cat being represented playing on a fiddle, and a number of mice dancing round her."
Was not uncommon in Ireland, this instrument being the national one in place of the fiddle.
When doctors disagree, who shall decide? Thus I leave it.
Cat and Mutton, from Cassell's " Old and New London," vol. iv., p. 223:
"Near the Imperial Gas Works, Haggerston, is Goldsmith's row; this was formerly known as Mutton Lane, a name still given to that part of the thoroughfare bordering on the southern extremity of London Fields, where stands a noted public-house rejoicing in the sign of the 'Cat and Mutton' affixed to the house, and two sign-boards, which are rather curious. They have upon them the following doggerel lines:
Pray Puss do not tare, Because the Mutton is so rare.
Pray Puss do not claw, Because the Mutton is so raw.
Most likely to be a corruption of Catherine Wheel; there was a sign of this name in the Borough, Southwark.
"Whittington and his Cat" is by no means uncommon, and was not unknown in the early part of the seventeenth century. Somewhere I remember having seen "Whitting-ton's Cat" without the master, which, I suppose, arose from the painter not knowing how to portray "Sir Richard."
"Cat and Kittens. - A public-house sign, alluding to the pewter pots so called. Stealing these pots is termed ' Cat and kitten sneaking.' We still call a large kettle a kitchen, and speak of a soldier's kit (Saxon, cytel, a pot, pan, or vessel generally)." - Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
May not this sign be intended to mean merely what is shown, "The Cat and Kittens," indicative of comfort and rest? Or may it have been "Cat and Chitterlings" in allusion to the source from which fiddlestrings were said to be derived?
This seems to have no meaning other than at a tavern extremes meet, the fast and the slow, the lively and the stolid; or it is possibly a corruption of something widely different.