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In 1979 a black-and-white cat called Smudge was employed to deal with a rodent problem at the People's Palace, a museum and exhibition site in Glasgow, Scotland's largest city. The city vets declared that she was a 'fairly old cat' (in fact she seems to have been between about 7 and 9), but anyway she became chief rodent operative and also something of a favourite, popular with visitors.
After some time, and as pest control is a fairly dirty job, application was made for Smudge to have blue-collar membership of NALGO, the National Association of Local Government Officers, Glasgow chapter but this was turned down. However, the General, Municipal and Boilermakers' (GMB) Union did not discriminate against cats, and so Smudge became a member of that instead, with her own membership card.
Smudge's fame spreads
In 1987 noted potter Margery Clinton made 50 'replicats' of her, in a numbered limited edition; they became so popular that a mass edition was then made. Visitors could also choose to buy other merchandise, such as Smudge T-shirts, postcards, mugs, notebooks and fridge magnets. Some 500 of the 'replicats' were sold, and profits from the merchandise sales provided funds for a much needed word processor.
Also in 1987, in October, the adjoining Winter Gardens hosted some leftist groups celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. After that event, and whether or not connected with it, Smudge went missing. The museum's PR department made appeals for her return, as did no less a personage than the Lord Provost of Glasgow; three weeks later the cat was found safe, not far away. The following year she was the star of the Scottish Cat Club Championship Show; following that she acted as mascot for several campaigns, including 'Save the Glasgow Vet School' (1989) and 'Hands Off Glasgow Green' (the site of the Palace and Winter Gardens) in 1990. As a trade union member she became the first recorded picket cat, making an appearance during a 1989 strike at Kelvingrove. To cap it all, she was proclaimed Glasgow's 'Kitty of Culture' in 1990, coinciding of course with the city being chosen as European City of Culture that year.
A strange decision
Despite all her popularity and 'celebrity status', in about the middle of 1990 the Commercial Operations Department of the Palace sent a message to the sales desk to say that no more Smudge souvenirs were to be sold in the shop. At around the same time Elspeth King, then the Palace's long-time and popular curator (left), was made aware of certain veiled threats concerning Smudge's safety if the cat ventured into the Winter Gardens again. So Elspeth took her home. It was also decreed that the No. 1 of the limited-edition ceramics of Smudge, which Elspeth had retained for the museum's collection, was 'no longer required' so that was removed too and still 'lives' with a former employee. There was then no trace of the cat remaining at the Palace.
It seemed a strange way to behave towards one of their visitor attractions and one of the characters of Glasgow at the time; but apparently the idea of having a cat on the staff did not sit well with a new Director of Glasgow Museums who had been appointed.
Retirement and closure
Smudge retired from public life in 1991, although when Elspeth King subsequently became Director of the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Stirling, Smudge did undertake a little temporary 'contract work' to deal with a rodent problem there. She died at home with Elspeth in 2000, after a long illness; her exact age was not known, but she was thought to have been at least 28 quite an age for a cat. The Glasgow Herald & Evening Times ran an affectionate obituary from which much of our information is taken.
After her death some recompense was made by the installation of a memorial plaque just outside one of the entrances to the Winter Gardens. The photo of Smudge sitting with her replicas, and the purchase of the word processor, are mentioned in the catalogue for the Twentieth Century Gallery at the Museum of Scotland, opened in 1998, so Smudge is not forgotten.
We are very grateful to Elspeth King for supplying information and many of the photos accompanying this account. The portrait in the garden, taken by Oscar Marzaroli, is from the dust jacket of the book The Scottish Cat, edited by Hamish Whyte and published by Aberdeen University Press in 1987, ISBN 0 08 035077 1.
After leaving the People's Palace, Elspeth went to the Smith Art Gallery and Museum in the town of Stirling where Oswald is the cat-in-charge see our separate page for Oswald of the Stirling Smith.
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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Page created September 2009, with later revisions