An innocuous-looking hole in a door at a cathedral in southern England is now thought to be the world’s oldest cat flap, with archives dating back to the 16th century showing payments to carpenters to cut a hole for the cat – and payments to the cats for killing rodents even older than that.
In 1598, Bishop Cotton arrived at Exeter Cathedral with his cat. Upon arrival, he paid the local carpenters eight pence to cut a hole into a historic door for his cat to pass through, inadvertently commissioning the oldest cat flap we have on record. But why did he do it?
Exeter Cathedral had a rodent problem. Another part of the cathedral’s storied history is a clock dating all the way back to 1376. When Bishop Cotton arrived, the clock was still lubricated by animal fat, and while this kept the clock ticking, it had another, more detrimental effect: it attracted lots and lots of rodents.
Employing feline friends to combat the rats and mice was not Bishop Cotton’s idea. “Back in the 14th and 15th Centuries we have records in the cathedral of payments of 13 pence a quarter for the cat and occasionally 26 pence a quarter for the cat,” said Diane Walker, the cathedral historian and author.
“We don’t know if that was double rations because they had been doing a good job or whether there were actually two cats.”
It was only the more recent archival discovery of Bishop Cotton paying the carpenters that confirmed that this hole’s purpose was for cats to pass through. The door in question leads to a large cavity behind the clock, making it prime hunting territory for the cathedral’s cats.
Because it is simply a hole, it is slightly inaccurate to call it a cat ‘flap’. Pet door, however, is still applicable. The old passageway has garnered coverage from Radio New Zealand and a Japanese author interested in cats in Britain.