The Criminal Case Of The Victorian Cat Ladies

by Mimi Matthews

In August of 1886, an elderly maiden lady by the name of Miss Ann Lloyd was summoned to Solihull Police Court at the insistence of Mr. William Harris, Inspector of Nuisances for the Solihull Rural Sanitary Authority. Miss Lloyd lived at Llandudno House, Sparkhill, along with her two spinster sisters and a large group of cats—the number of which was later disputed in court. Harris alleged that these cats had created a nuisance in the form of a deeply offensive smell which emanated outward from the Lloyd sisters’ house and into the houses of their neighbors. Miss Lloyd, in turn, defended herself by repeatedly insisting that she and her sisters had no cats at all.

The issue first arose in September of that year when Harris began to receive complaints from the Lloyd sisters’ neighbors about an offensive smell at Llandudno House. In response to these complaints, he visited the sisters on the 20th of August where, according to an article in the September 29, 1886, edition of the Aberdeen Journal:

On entering the house there was a terrible stench, evidently from the cats. [Harris] was invited into the front room, and he remained there for some time, but eventually he was compelled to leave the apartment and go into the backyard on account of the fearful stench.

A September 27, 1886, edition of the Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough reports that the stench in the drawing room was so great that Harris “became sick.” While an article in the September 27, 1886, issue of the Birmingham Daily Post quotes Harris as testifying:

I must really say that I have had to go amongst many bad smells, but none so bad as this. While I remained in the front room the perspiration poured off me.”

the old lady and her cats illustrated police news october 10 18701 copy
Illustrated Police News, October 10, 1870.

Harris would later go on to explain that not only was the house filthy, but that, at the time of his visit, the sisters were boiling “fish offal” on the stove to feed to their cats. They were also boiling cabbage for their own dinner. The cats themselves were not present in the house at the time of his visit. However, upon withdrawing to the Lloyd sisters’ small back garden, the Aberdeen Journal reports that Harris saw “a large number of cats.” Similarly the Daily Gazette states that, in the Lloyds’ garden:

…the stench was almost as bad, and in the yard [Harris] found six or seven cats.”

The precise number of cats owned by the Lloyd sisters would become a primary issue when the case came before the police court. None of the witnesses seemed entirely sure exactly how many cats were in residence as the wily felines were continually on the move. The Birmingham Daily Post quotes an exchange between Mr. Chattock, the magistrate, and Mr. Harris, which reads in part:

Mr. Chattock: How many?

Witness: I couldn’t count them. They were going about in all directions.

Mr. Chattock: Did you try to count them?

Witness: I saw six or seven run by me into the back kitchen, where there were two pots of fish offal boiling for them.”

Harris further testified that the stench in Llandudno House was “plainly perceptible in the next house.” Part of this was due to the potency of the stench and part was due to the unfortunate architecture of the houses in that neighborhood. The Birmingham Daily Post explains:

The annoyance to the neighbours was made all the greater by the fact that the houses were jerry-built, and the stench easily penetrated the walls.”

Harris served the Lloyd sisters with a notice on August 22 and told them to get rid of their cats. At first, Miss Lloyd claimed that she and her sisters had no cats (an assertion repeated throughout the case). She then stated that they had only six cats, but that those cats were restricted to the back garden and never stepped foot in the house. When Harris questioned Miss Lloyd about the rest of the cats seen racing about the premises, the Daily Gazette reports that Miss Lloyd claimed:

…they only kept six cats, and that all the others which [Harris] saw about were merely ‘visitors.’”

In the following weeks, letters from angry neighbors continued to pour in and, on September 15, Harris was obliged to pay yet another call at Llandudno House. There, he found that the stench was unabated. It was then that the sisters were summoned to the police court to answer to the magistrate.

cats in court illustrated police news march 9 1895 copy
Illustrated Police News, March 9, 1895.

At the police court, Harris testified at length about the state of the Lloyd sisters’ house and the sickening quality of the stench. He also gave his opinion that the Lloyd sisters were running a sort of cat hospital for cats that had been abused by neighborhood boys. How the court felt about this theory is unclear since most of the reporting seems to focus on the horrendously bad smell. To that end, a neighbor of the Lloyd sisters, a man by the name of Mr. Austin, also testified, stating (as the Aberdeen Journal reports):

The smell was bad both day and night, and he could hardly live in the house. He saw one of the sisters, and complained to her of the nuisance, but it had no effect. Witness was obliged at night to sleep with all the doors and windows open in consequence of the fearful stench which pervaded the premises. When he spoke to Miss Lloyd about the matter she assured him that they had no cats.

Miss Lloyd was indignant and regularly interrupted the testimony to rebuke the witnesses. In one instance, the Birmingham Daily Post reports that she addressed Austin demanding:

How can you speak so falsely of us, when you put my sister out of the house, and hurt us very much indeed? And we have never had a cat in the house, I’ll take my oath.

In another exchange, while Austin was testifying, Miss Lloyd declared:

It is impossible for a cat that has its liberty and has never been in our house, to smell through your wall.

a performing cat in court illustrated police news november 23 1878 copy
Illustrated Police News, November 23, 1878.

When given a chance to call a witness of her own, Miss Lloyd called Police Constable White—the officer who had served the summons—expecting that he would state that the smell was not as bad as it had so far been made out. Unfortunately, White’s testimony would be some of the most mortifying of all for poor Miss Lloyd. The Birmingham Daily Post reports the following exchange between Mr. Chattock and Constable White:

Mr. Chattock (to the witness): You can say there was an offensive smell?

Witness: There was, your worships, but I don’t know what it came from. I have thought perhaps it was from the ladies’ bodies.”

This exchange was followed by loud laughter from the gallery—laughter in which the magistrate joined in. Such a reaction did not bode well for Miss Lloyd’s case. When he was done laughing at her expense, the magistrate proposed to adjourn the case until October 9 in order to give Miss Lloyd and her sisters another chance to abate the nuisance. However, when Miss Lloyd continued to claim that there was no nuisance, the magistrate “made a peremptory order for its abatement within ten days.

Ultimately, the Lloyd sisters did not comply with the magistrate’s order—at least, not within the time given. A December 6, 1886, edition of the Birmingham Daily Post reports another case involving Miss Lloyd and her neighbor Mr. Austin at the Solihull Police Court. Austin was summoned before the court by an inspector for the Birmingham Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to answer to the charge of:

…unlawfully beating and ill-treating a cat, belonging to Ann Lloyd of Llandudno Villa, Sparkhill, on November 14.

In this case, Miss Lloyd no longer denied that she had cats in her home. In fact, she admitted to taking in abused strays and nursing them back to health, after which she claimed to find homes for them. Frankly, I suspect that this was what was going on all along. As for Mr. Austin and his cat abuse, though the court acknowledged that he did strike Miss Lloyd’s cat, he suffered no penalty for his crime other than court costs. And, once again, the testimony about the Lloyd sisters and their cats engendered a great deal of laughter from the court.

Was the stench at Llandudno House really so ungodly awful? Personally, it is hard for me to imagine a smell so strong that it would overtake all the neighboring houses and cause visitors to break out in a feverish sweat. Having said that, if you add the odor of a houseful of stray cats with the odors of boiling fish offal and boiling cabbage, one can only imagine that Llandudno House had a very unfortunate smell indeed. As for the Lloyd sisters themselves, I cannot decide if they were unfairly maligned cat rescuers or garden-variety hoarders. What do you think?

a home for cats illustrated police news november 22 1879 copy
Illustrated Police News, November 22, 1879.

Alley Cat Rescue, Inc. (United States)

The Cats Protection League (United Kingdom)

Top image: “Illustrated Police News, June 1, 1867”

This post originally appeared on and has been reprinted with permission.

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