The Yorkshire Vet, Julian Norton unveils a statue to commemorate 'Gerald' the cat who lived at York Minster

The town crier was shouting his head off and ringing his bell loudly. “Oh, yay. Oh yay!” he bellowed as the gong clanged.

Gerald patrolled the Minster grounds and was known to many
Gerald patrolled the Minster grounds and was known to many

This was the signal for Mr Mayor and me to emerge from the little church to join the assembled group of cat fans. I was slightly anxious because I had never unveiled a statue before. In the brief chat with the mayor beforehand, it transpired that he hadn’t either.

So, we were both novices. I looked around for the monument, which was smaller than I expected and hidden under a bag. For some reason, I was expecting something like the lions in Trafalgar Square. I composed myself, said a few words and then removed the bag with a flourish to reveal Gerald to the world.

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Gerald was a cat, and the Yorkshire-stone sculpture had been handcrafted in his image to commemorate his life. The charismatic Bengal had spent much of his time patrolling the grounds of York Minster and the nearby Holy Trinity Church, where he is now immortalised.

The affection with which the gathered crowd spoke about Gerald after the unveiling was remarkable. Gerald went out of his way to meet, greet and befriend visitors to York, and he had a large fan base of visitors and local residents alike. It reminded me again just how much impact animals can have on our lives.

All cat owners will concur that the feline-human bond is a unique one.

Gerald’s story and his legacy reminded me of another cat whose presence carried significance for many. Thomas Gray was a sleek black and white tomcat who lived at Pembroke – my college at Cambridge, where I went to vet school.

Named after the English poet, who was a professor at Pembroke, the cat prowled around the tranquil grounds of the historic college in the same way, I imagine, as Gerald had done in York.

He remained aloof and totally oblivious to the amount of time any of us spent in either the library or the college bar. He was friends with many of the undergraduates, but not especially close to anyone. I’m sure he had seen it all before.

The most regarded poem written by the human Thomas Gray was called Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, which seemed apt as I admired Gerald’s sculpture in the grounds of Holy Trinity church, especially as the evocative poem alludes to the desire of humans (but not necessarily cats) to be remembered after their death.

The ceremony concluded and I said my goodbyes to the mayor, Gerald and all the people connected to the Holy Trinity Church. It was an interesting church, with ancient box pews that apparently are now very rare, and I would have liked to explore more but I needed to get back to proper veterinary work.

Later that evening, I decided to delve a little further. I discovered that the demise of the box pew was all because of Sir Christopher Wren, who was the pre-eminent church designer of the late 1600s (think St Paul’s Cathedral). He didn’t like them and so they fell out of fashion.

As I read on, it occurred to me that this was an amazing coincidence, because Sir Christopher Wren had also designed the chapel of Pembroke College, Cambridge, where Thomas Gray (the cat and the poet) and I had spent many happy years. I could never have imagined that the unlikely and unusual occasion of unveiling a cat statue could have yielded so many inter-connected stories.

The Yorkshire Vet continues on Channel 5 on Tuesday evening at 8pm and is also available on catch-up at my5.com