Sunderland, Hartlepool and South Tyneside Branch

Jean & The Cat Lady of Spitalfields

An unusual title for a hidden gem of a story within the history of, Branch Trustee, Jean.

It’s been a while since we penned a profile of a branch member. So we thought we’d step away from the current troubles of the world for just a moment, and give you an interesting read. This particular profile comes with a serendipitous link to times gone by, and the hint of a thread that runs through a small part of a family tree: the love of animals, cats in particular. So, without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to Jean.

Jean has been a trustee of the branch since 2018, and she is a keen volunteer when it comes to events, and hands-on fundraisers such as raffles, stalls and sales.

Jean has a broad spectrum of skills and experiences when it comes to her working life; including running her own cattery in her early 30’s, caring for up to sixty to seventy cats at a time. Jean’s rescue cat, Tyler, is now approximately 10 years old – and what a handsome lad he is too.

It was Jean’s compassion towards animals, as well as her support for the branch and our team, that brought her on board as a trustee and volunteer.

But Jean’s family history offers a somewhat sad, yet beautiful, story of a long lost auntie, that lives on in the hearts and minds of those who encountered her.

Jean knew her auntie Joan growing up, and got to know her more when she was in her mid-twenties. Joan was has been described, by many, as a lovely lady who perhaps had ‘something spiritual’ about her. She was a talented artist who, as a hobby, would centre her artwork around fantasy and folklore: beautifully painted scenes of fairy lands and the like.

Joan was unconventional. By the late eighties, Joan had no fixed abode, and would be content to roam from place to place. In a gesture to help Joan, her family (Jean’s mum) organised for her to live in a flat close by. However, only two weeks after, Joan vanished from the area.

Her family never saw or heard from her again. That is, until recently.

An article by The Gentle Author in December 2020, sprouted from a collection of stories and memories about a lady who used to walk the streets of Spitalfields, London, using all of her time and energy to find and feed all of the stray cats. She was known as The Cat Lady of Spitalfields.

Photo by Phil Maxwell (used with his permission): Joan, The Cat Lady, taken in the 1980’s.

The opening of the article seems an apt summary from one looking at Joan’s story and commenting with warmth and interest. It reads:

“In my imagination, Joan Lauder (1924-2011) was a mysterious feline spirit in human form who prowled the alleys and back streets, a self-appointed guardian of the stray cats and a lonely sentinel embodying the melancholy soul of the place.” – The Gentle Author, Spitalfields Life.

You can read the article and see some brilliantly captured photos of Joan, here. And we encourage you to do so, as it is a fascinating and lovely read.

Joan passed in 2011. While it is a sad part of the tale that Jean and her family would only hear of Joan again through this article after so long a time had passed, it is also quite amazing. Fitting with how Joan was described by those who knew her, perhaps this story’s ending, now uncovered, was something of a spiritual ‘breadcrumb’ – only to be found when the story was ready to be told.

But we thought it was something quite special.

So, here’s to Jean, our brilliant trustee, and to Joan – The Long Lost Cat Lady of Spitalfields.