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It was Humphrey who really brought the position of resident mouser at Downing Street to the public's attention.He was a stray, long-haired, black-and-white cat who became one of the most popular and admired cats in Great Britain.There's a story that when he began to decline in his latter years, becoming thin and rather languid, the Secretary to the Treasury submitted a claim to the Lords of the Treasury that Bill's food allowance was insufficient owing to a sharp rise in the cost of living, and should be increased by at least fifty per cent.Their lordships replied that after giving 'careful consideration to the matter' they were 'unable to approve a rise'.The black-and-white feline proved to be a terrific mouser; he also outlasted several later prime ministers as well as Heath.The policeman on security duty at the front door of Number 10 had instructions to ring the bell for Wilberforce whenever he wanted to enter (right).
He was, though, treated with great kindness, as Churchill was very fond of cats.
Thatcher's chief press secretary, Bernard Ingham, said the cat caused him, as an asthmatic, some trouble when he came to work on Monday mornings as Wilberforce 'lounged on my desk over the weekend in between mouse-catching duties'.
Wilberforce retired in 1986, after 13 years of loyal service, and went to live with a retired caretaker from No.
A painting of Wilberforce can be seen at the end of this article.
Photo of Wilberforce above right courtesy of Dave Webster at Flickr where it can be seen full-sized.