Guest Post: “The Cat-Mummy of Curzon Street Station” by James Brogden
Based on the real-life British mystery of “Bella in the Wych Elm”, The Hollow Tree is a dark tale that mixes fantasy, horror, and urban myth to weave a moving narrative about identity, family and mortality. The story’s protagonist Rachel has been plagued by nightmares ever since losing her hand in a tragic accident, but are the visions in her dreams of a hollow tree and reaching hands a sign of madness from the trauma, or could there possibly be darker forces at work? Today we are pleased to welcome the book’s author James Brogden to The BiblioSanctum to write about another real-life urban legend – one that is local to him – and it is a fascinating one, so you definitely won’t want to miss this meow-nificent post! His new novel published by Titan books was released on March 13, 2018 and is available now wherever books are sold, so check it out!
THE CAT-MUMMY OF CURZON STREET STATION
by James Brogden
The British government is currently spending billions of pounds to build a high-speed rail link between London and the Midlands, and when it gets here it’s going to be greeted by a mummified dead cat.
In 1838 the London to Birmingham Railway company opened the Birmingham station at Curzon Street, but at some point during the construction process a cat had managed to become trapped underneath the floorboards – the quality of Victorian joinery being so good that it created an airtight void, leading to the unfortunate feline being naturally mummified rather than simply rotting away.
Whether this was accidental or deliberate, nobody knows for certain. The mummification of cats is an ancient practice which goes back to the Egyptian worship of Bastet. Originally a warrior lioness goddess, Bastet evolved into a deity of more ordinary domestic cats. Folklore experts have plenty of evidence that cats were believed to have the ability to see ghosts and spirits, and so their entombments within the fabric of domestic buildings were often as good luck charms to ward off supernatural threats such as witches, the evil eye, or the Devil himself. Bastet was also associated with the highly ornate jars which Egyptians stored perfumes and cosmetics, becoming known as the ‘perfumed protector’, her scents providing a defense against contagious diseases and evil spirits. So revered were the animals that they were mummified in vast numbers, and when an Egyptian farmer discovered an underground chamber in 1888 it contained hundreds of thousands of preserved animals – they were in fact considered so commonplace that they were sold by the ton and ground up for use as fertilizer in English fields.
There have been numerous discoveries of mummified cats in recent years. In 2011, engineers found one hidden in the wall of a cottage close to Pendle Hill, site of the infamous witchcraft trials of 1612 in which nine women were executed for witchcraft, leading some to believe that the cottage had been the coven’s meeting place known as the ‘Malkin Tower.’
The Curzon Street cat was discovered by workmen renovating the station in the 1980s, and set in a wall-mounted display case when the building became office spaces, almost as an affectionate ‘mascot’ for the site. Subsequently it has been removed and is in the care of the council until the high speed rail link known as HS2 is complete. At the moment, all that remains of the great rail terminus of the 1830s is the main station building: three stories of Palladian masonry, its heavy double doors flanked by four massive columns, sitting grandly amidst a wilderness of concrete, rubble and weeds.
When finished, HS2 will incorporate the old station house as part of the new terminus, and the hope is that the Curzon Street Cat will return to greet passengers, and maybe even protect them on their journeys.
James Brogden was born in Manchester in 1969, and lives with his wife and two daughters in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, where he teaches English. His short stories have been published by the Big Issue, the British Fantasy Society’s Dark Horizons, Alchemy Press and Anachron Press. His first novel, ‘The Narrows’, was published by Snowbooks in 2012, and the follow-up – ‘Tourmaline’ – in 2013.
His most recent work is the sequel to ‘Tourmaline’ called ‘The Realt.’
When he’s not writing or trying to teach children how to, he gets out into the mountains whenever he can, exploring the remains of Britain’s prehistoric past and hunting for standing stones. Fortunately they don’t run very fast.