Yes, you did read that correctly. Before 1780, Leicester’s Mayor, once a year would drag a dead cat behind his horse.
I am sure the first question you are thinking is why?
That’s the question I was asking myself when I come across this sentence in an old history book based on our city. Unfortunately, the book didn’t explain the reason. But I was hooked and after searching forgotten local history books and defunct Leicester blogs on the internet, I may have found an answer.
On Easter Monday every year, the city’s Mayor would lead a parade to celebrate the new season of spring. Spring has forever been associated with renewal, re-birth and the end of winter.
The mayor would start at Weston Park and lead a procession of spectators to his home, wherever that may have been. He would be wearing his ceremonial uniform and his horse would be perfectly groomed.
But the main attraction of this parade would be the dead cat that was dragged behind the hose, on a golden coloured rope. And this cat would have been drench in aniseed.
I couldn’t find out who supplied the cat. I personally hope it was already deceased and not murdered for this weird tradition.
The reasons behind this custom.
The location of the start of this parade is our first clue on the reasons behind it. Weston Park was said to be the location of the cave of Leicester’s most infamous legend, Black Annis.
Black Annis was largely depicted as a monstrous cat in the 18th century. This is the reason behind the cat. The reason behind the cat being drenched in aniseed was maybe it was used in a drag-hunt to end the festivities.
So Leicesters Mayor would drag a dead cat drenched in aniseed that represents a local legend to celebrate the end of Winter?
Yes and your not alone if you think this custom is oddly barbaric and very weird. So did the people of Leicester and the custom died out in 1780.
Black Annis is a bogeyman type figure in English Folklore, she is traditionally imagined as a blue-faced witch with iron claws and the taste for children’s flesh. She is also sometimes described to be half-human, half-cat.
She is said to venture out at night looking for unsuspecting children and lambs to eat, then tanning their skins by hanging them on a tree before wearing them around her waist.
If you are interested in the darker side of Leicester’s history then check out this book on Amazon. (Click on the image or link below)
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