If you haven’t seen the new photos in the photo gallery of our new kittens. Click here to see them.
Monday, 5 December marked the return of Van cats to Charlton after a gap of six months, the first time in twenty-two years when the house has been without a Van cat. We made our first contact with Suzann Lloyd of Tansdale Cattery at Chieveley, Newbury, Berkshire, when her beautiful Vankedisi, Hanim, was just pregnant and we were delighted when she gave birth to six kittens on 4 September. Sadly only three survived and as we couldn’t decide which two to have, we decided on all three, especially as the only female Vankedisi was deaf and we felt she should stay with her siblings. Suzann has been a great support and even let us visit the kittens when they were only a month old as we were off to Australia during October. While we were abroad she stayed in touch, sending updated photos of the kittens, so we could see how they were progressing. We felt really happy to have chosen our kittens from the Tansdale Cattery as the cats are wonderfully cared for and she has a well deserved reputation as an experienced and professional breeder. She also gave us a huge “goody” bag, full of toys which the kittens love.
As with all our cats, they have been given Armenian names. The white & auburn boy is Senekerim, after a tenth century Prince of Vaspurakan (the area around Lake Van) of the Artsruni dynasty; the white & auburn female is Hripsime, after the third-century Roman virgin who became the protomartyr of Armenia and our Vankedisi female is Shoushan, the Armenian name for Lily. Trevor has taken to calling Hripsime Ripley for short. Shoushan takes after her mother, Hanim, in being blue-eyed although both her grandmothers were odd-eyed Vans. Although three months old, they were still close to their mother and she will clearly miss them.
Until they get used to us and their new home we are confining them to the kitchen and the adjacent breakfast room. Shoushan is very adventurous and clearly the leader with a keen desire to clamber on things, whether our backs or tables & chairs. The bookshelves around the walls are very inviting although too narrow for a secure perch ! She has a purr like a motor engine revving and loves to be petted, but her two siblings are gradually growing in confidence. Whilst Shoushan is a little clumsy when climbing, Ripley demonstrates greater skill and balance, especially on the backs and under-seat spindles of chairs.
Gregory I and Sarkis were first painted in 1989 by Vanessa Tinker, ARCA, looking out of an upstairs window above the front door. As this was a ‘blind’ window overlooking the front entrance porch, it serves as a reminder that this is a feline residence. It has led some passers by to refer to it as the Cats’ House, which seems an appropriate designation.
Later they were immortalised on parchment by the late distinguished heraldic artist, John William Bainbridge (1940-1996), who in 1991 included them in the Grant of Arms issued by the College of Arms in London.
Gregory II was included in a group portrait of the household at Charlton painted by the talented young artist, Philip Stephen Huxley in 2009. By fixing the viewer with his steady gaze, he provides the link between the portrait and those who view it.
My interest in Van cats goes back to 1965 when I read an article on “The Swimming Cats of Van” by Laura Lushington in Animals magazine. From childhood I grew up with cats at home but my particular interest in this breed was their connection with Van. Although Van is now in Turkey it was part of the historic heartland of the Armenians and during the 10th & 11th centuries was an independent principality of Vaspurakan under the Artsruni dynasty, with its capital on the island of Aghtamar. The Armenian presence was significant here until the Genocide of 1915. My particular interest was that I am an Orthodox Christian and the Armenians were not only the first Christian nation but had valiantly maintained the Orthodox faith throughout the centuries despite having lost their nationhood.