Posted by: christinelaennec | June 22, 2011

The cats of Aberdeen

This is not a post about our darling cat, Tilly, who as far as we are concerned is THE cat of Aberdeen.  This isn’t actually a post about real cats at all, but about symbolic ones.  Cats, and leopards in particular, are an important part of the iconography of Aberdeen.  Let me try to explain:

The city crest of Aberdeen. Golden Square, Aberdeen.

Here is a cast-iron version of the city crest that graces one of the older squares of the city.  As you can see, there are two leopards holding a shield.  Apparently, James I of Scotland granted the (symbolic) leopards to the city of Aberdeen because the city underwrote his expenses while he was in exile in England in the early 15th century (R M Urquhart, Scottish Burgh and County Heraldry, London, 1973, via Wikipedia).

The local history magazine is called The Leopard, the shopper’s creche is called “Leaping Leopards” and one of the city’s Christmas decorations is a leopard:

Leopard made of light: part of the civic Christmas decorations of Aberdeen. 24 November 2010.

I really love this leopard, and look forward to seeing it prowling through the empty flowerbeds every year!

Just over a hundred years ago, Aberdeen’s leopards took shape in the form of what are now fondly known as “Kelly’s cats”.  The architect William Kelly was commissioned to decorate the newly-widened Union Street Bridge in 1908, and he chose to do so with these leopards:

One of "Kelly's cats" on Union Street Bridge. Aberdeen, September, 2010.

Last of all, departing slightly from leopards but staying with the big cats, there is the stately granite lion of Cowdray Hall:

The granite lion at Cowdray Memorial Hall. Aberdeen, September 2010.

So there you go – some of the (other) cats of Aberdeen.



  1. I always wondered why the magazine was called The Leopard! The leopard in the gardens is new since ‘my day’, I think. The one on the bridge looks more like a domestic moggy – rather charming.

  2. Not so long ago I watched a TV programm about this, but had quite forgotten about it, so thank you for reminding me. I agree, it must be lovely to see the Leopard all lit up prowling through the city 😉

  3. Interesting post – something you would not normally think about as you go along past all these cats. Hope you have dried out now. xx

  4. Very interesting bit of History. Who would have known? Lovely to know.

  5. Great post! I have to tell you we have a few prowling cats on this farm too…BOBCATS and COUGARS. Granted, I’ve only seen a bobcat twice but my husband has seen cougars several times. Personally, your big cats there would probably be a little safer come face to face! 😉

    Loved the pics. Makes me want to go to Scotland sooner rather than later!

  6. Thanks to everyone for your comments – it’s always so fun to see them.

    Linda – I can’t believe I’ve been able to fill in a gap in your knowledge of Aberdeen! Yes, the leopard of light is relatively new. When we first came to Aberdeen there were beautiful Celtic spirals hung in the trees across from the theatre.

    Knitsister – gosh I missed that t.v. programme! Glad you didn’t mind hearing about it again.

    Jacqui – We have dried out a little bit today, as there’s been sun in between the showers, which makes for a change!

    Karen – I’m so glad you liked the post!

    Dianne – Ooh you do have big cats! I wouldn’t fancy coming face to face with those. As a girl I used to beg my Grampa to tell me the story about the time he walked home from school in the winter, with a mountain lion following along beside him, but behind the trees. He knew he couldn’t run, so walked as fast as he could, and as you can tell he did get home unharmed. Scary! He had another story about a man who was tracked by a cougar and fainted once he got inside his own door. Glad you liked the photos.

  7. I worked in Aberdeen for more than 30 years, and I didn’t discover any of this! Thankyou so much.

    • You’re most welcome! Next time you’re here you can enjoy all the cats in their various manifestations. I should have included the lion (and the unicorn) at King’s College – with whom I know you will be acquainted!

  8. When it comes to Aberdeen cats, Tilly rules supreme – in my view anyway.

    • Tilly is completely unaware of any other cats in Aberdeen, as she stays indoors and is frightened of the Scary Outside. And, as she doesn’t read my blog, she does indeed reign supreme in her own world!

  9. Hello Christine — I will be in Stirling at the end of August and I am so longing to see “what I should” especially in the area of fiber arts – wool and weaving. Can you and your readers give me some insider’s advice on where to go and how to find things? As this is at the end of your cats article, I must add I have seven and wouldn’t trade them for anything! Hoping you can help me enjoy your beautiful country… Sandie

  10. There’s also a great big crest with the two Leopards in the Winter Gardens, and some more Kelly’s Cats there too.

  11. I had no idea about the cat connection with Aberdeen, how fascinating. I did wonder why they had a big cat lit up at Christmas, but my curiosity never led to me finding out why. Now I know!

  12. Reblogged this on shepherdgregory.

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