Friday, 19 February 2010

Folklore Accounts Part One: Cobbett's 'puma'

Although much of what we know about the Surrey puma legend originates from around the 1950s, and moreso the 1960s, previous to such sightings there are a handful of legends which could suggest that such an animal had been roaming the Surrey wilds, long before anyone realised. What is clear is that the Surrey puma legend born in the swingin' '60s is the product of a released or escaped 'pet', and nothing more.

One of the most quoted references pertaining to sightings of unusual cats in the British Isles comes from naturalist William Cobbett and his 'Rural Rides' book. Whilst visiting Waverley Abbey in Surrey sometime between 1766 and 1770 Cobbett recorded he’d seen an unusual cat which he would tell his son Richard about on another ramble, stating, ‘Farnham, Surrey – Thursday 27th October (1825) – We came hither by way of Waverley Abbey and Moore Park. On the commons, I showed Richard some of my old hunting scenes, when I was his age, or younger reminding him that I was obliged to hunt on foot. I showed him an old elm tree which was hollow even then, into which I, when a very little boy, saw a cat go, that was as big as a middle-sized spaniel dog, for relating which I got a scolding, for standing to which I at last got a beating; but stand to which I still did, and I would take my oath of it to this day. When in New Brunswick I saw the great wild grey cat, which is there called a Lucifer; and it seemed to me to be just such a cat I had seen at Waverley.’

An intriguing tale. Many researchers have commented that what Cobbett saw was indeed a wild cat (Felis silvestris), now confined to the Scottish Highlands, although some suppose he saw a lynx, jungle cat or a small puma, which can also sport a silvery-grey coat

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