Few of Oxford’s college pets are as iconic as Hertford’s college cat, Simpkin. When I first visited Oxford before applying, back in the lockdown summer of 2020, I remember walking past the Bridge of Sighs and coming across a black cat with beautiful long fur. Having heard of this mystical creature from a friend attending Hertford at the time, I was naturally awestruck at coming across such a celebrity. The name Simpkin, also held by three previous Hertford cats, comes from Beatrix Potter’s book ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’. The three previous Simpkins were all chosen as they had white chests and feet, resembling sub fusc, though the current cat is all black.
Prior to his coming to Hertford in 2017 and being cared for by David Haxell, Hertford porter who kindly spoke to me for this piece, Simpkin’s life was rather tumultuous. He was originally a stray cat, living in the Torquay area, who was adopted from an animal shelter by a woman, but sadly was bullied by her other cats to the extent that he experienced extreme stress and began losing fur. When he returned to the shelter for treatment and re-homing, the shelter was sadly destroyed in a gale by a falling tree. All of the shelter’s animals had to be rehomed, and Simpkin was moved to Blue Cross Animal Home near Burford in Oxfordshire, where David found him whilst looking for a successor to the third Simpkin who had recently died. Since then, he has served as Hertford’s 4th Simpkin, and 5th college cat overall, carrying on a continuous tradition of cats at Hertford since the 1970s.
Described by his owners as ‘Feisty, Furry, and Formidable’, Simpkin enjoys invading libraries, curling up in students’ laps, and stroking and petting, though on his own terms. Many Hertford students speak adoringly of him, featuring on many an Instagram story throughout the term. He even has his own account, ran by the college’s JCR, testimony to how popular he is among students.
Though an extremely friendly and kind cat to most, Simpkin does have his enemies. He has notably been involved in a public feud with Walter, Exeter’s college cat, hiding in their college library and stealing Walter’s favourite seats and food. This led to him being banned from Exeter’s library in January 2022, yet defying this on multiple occasions. Though there has been less animosity between the two as of late, the saga negatively impacted Simpkin’s reputation, with the story even making it to Mumsnet where many declared themselves to be #TeamWalter, though many on Oxfess declared themselves Simpkin loyalists.
Despite this scandal, Simpkin remains a treasure of Hertford college, and continues to provide stability and comfort against the turmoil and stress of Oxford life. Like many other college pets, he holds an important place in the college community, as well as playing a significant role in everyday student welfare. Even outside of the college, it’s incredibly entertaining to see their adventures on social media, especially when missing my own cats at home. A true rags to riches story, Simpkin is a beloved member of the University, and undoubtedly one of its most famous animals.