The grinning Cheshire Cat
But this puss was no Lewis Carroll creation

"...It vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone."

Lewis Carroll did not invent the enigmatic Cheshire Cat. Sorry ! Please don't feel disillusioned, for the truth of the origin of the Cheshire Cat pays a greater tribute to the scholarship of the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson than to the imagination of his alter ego, the children's writer.

Bom in 1832. Charles grew up in what was then the isolated small country village of Daresbury, where his father began his career as curate. The elder Dodgson was himself no mean scholar, becoming in later life Archdeacon of Richmond and a Canon of Ripon.

As the eldest son of a family of eleven, Charles showed an early aptitude for amusing small children. He devised games, and edited a series of family magazines to which all his brothers and sisters were expected to contribute.

Painfully shy, with a stammer, deaf in one ear, and with few friends outside his family, the young Dodgson was a voracious reader and academically brilliant.

Picture this quiet, studious, but fun-loving boy devouring the ancient books in his father's library. Was it here that he first became familiar with the tale of the disappearing Cheshire Cat?

The story begins with the eleventh century Earl of Chester, Hugh Lupus, a nephew of William the Conqueror, Hugh 'the Wolf', a very big man, was also known as Hugh 'the fat'.

Hugh Lupus bore as his coat of arms a wolf's head, jaws open and teeth bared. He had this symbol of authority displayed all over the conquered Cheshire countryside given to him by his royal uncle as a reward for his services.

Medieval provincial artists had a somewhat primitive drawing technique, and his noble emblem soon debased to a pale imitation of the original. The snarl of the wolf began to resemble a grin. Defeated Saxon peasants were quick to call their new master's badge -'Fat Hugh's Cat.'

Fat Hugh the Wolf had no son. Both his Cheshire estates, and the family tendency to obesity, were inherited by his nephew Gilbert, also known by a nickname - Le Gros Veneur, 'the Fat Hunter'.

Gilbert Le Grosvenor took as his arms the devise azure, a bend or. That Is a gold diagonal stripe on a blue background, a fairly simple badge, as were most early examples of heraldry. It was quite common then for two or more families to have very similar coats of arms but, providing they lived some distance from each other, no confusion would arise.

As heraldry became more complicated and more people became entitled to display their own devices the system was formalised and regulated by the Court of Chivalry.

It was in 1389 that Sir Robert Grosvenor, of Hulme, fell foul of the Court of Chivalry when Sir Richard Scrope, Baron of Bolton, won the exclusive rights to the arms azure, a bend or. The Grosvenors were required to find an alternative.
"I have just the thing," says Sir Robert (or words to that effect). "I shall take as my arms those of my illustrious ancestors the Earls of Chester, the Grasvenor family."

Spelling, you will notice, was another medieval art still to be perfected.

Indeed that is what Sir Robert did. He took as his arms the golden wheatsheaf, not the wolf's head, 'Fat Hugh's Cat'.

And so it was, because our ancestors could neither draw nor spell, the embodied grin of the Cheshire cat finally, accidentally, disappeared 600 years ago.