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Pumpie the Elephant

The Cattleys of Ealing and Russia

It all started with one of my blog posts about Oswald in June 2019…

My great, great grandfather Oswald Cattley led a very interesting life. He and his brother James lived and worked in St Petersburg in Russia.

James married Edith Klockman in 1883 and moved to Pernau (now in Estonia). James later became the British Consul in Riga, Latvia.

Maud, Donald, Constance (Connie), Helen (Nellie) and Gilbert were all born in Pernau or Riga, then the family moved to England around 1895-1900 where James had a house built at 57 Corfton Road in Ealing in West London.

Maud, Donald, Connie, Nellie and Gilbert around 1896

A researcher contacted me and asked me if I knew anything more about the children and if they had any descendants. Yes and no. Yes I knew of them and no, none of them ever married or had children. In fact, four of them spent the rest of their lives in the same house (the other son, Donald, died out in Kenya in his 40s).

Secrets of the Museum

She was working on behalf of a film company who were doing a series about the restoration of some of the treasures of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. There was a stuffed elephant called Pumpie in the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood and he had been chosen to be one of the stars of the programme. After a couple of conversations I was invited to come and meet Pumpie at the V&A and take part in the programme.

So, one Friday afternoon in September I found myself in the textile department of the V&A meeting Jo, the curator who did Pumpie’s restoration, Will, the curator of the Cattley collection at the Museum of Childhood and of course, Pumpie himself!

Pumpie has been well loved and needed a lot of TLC to help him survive for a few more years. Jo took me on a tour and showed me some of the nets she’d dyed different colours to match to his grey felt body.

I went home after having a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. If you ever get the chance to see behind the scenes of somewhere like the V&A I highly recommend you take it as it’s fascinating to see what goes on… Jo showed me a 15th century armoured doublet whilst I was there.

Pumpie and friends at the Museum of Childhood

Pumpie has lots of friends including Georgie, Tommy, Jack, Trippie and Ben at the Museum of Childhood and there are some photos of them having picnics at the beach in Southwold, Suffolk and some beautiful paintings by the children. The one below is by their mother Edith.

Pumpie and friends by Edith Cattley

Thank you

Many thanks to Jo and Will at the V&A and the team at Blast Films for looking after, conserving and publicising Pumpie so lots more people can enjoy him and for making my experience of filming and visiting the V&A such a pleasure.

And once lockdown ends Pumpie should be back on display at the Museum of Childhood.

PS – I’ve been contacted by several people since the programme aired so now have lots of new Cattley cousins…you never know what publishing a blog post will do!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Claudia

    Just watched the show, Im a conservator myself. I was incredibly moved by the story, your story, Pumpie´s story, the amazing labor of love of the conservator and curator for this beloved toy. That is the true nature of conservation, and the true nature of a curator is to be able to tell the story of an object.

    Best Regards

    From El Salvador, Central America.

  2. Melissa O’Neill

    Pompie was the star of the show and those children were wonderful.

    1. Emma

      Thanks Melissa, Pumpie is amazing and the other items in the collection at the Museum of Childhood are worth looking at too.

  3. sue banahan

    I loved the whole programme, and will certainly be visiting pumpie he reminds me of a little pink felt mouse my brother made 53years ago he is in my box of memories can’t wait to see the paintings and the other toys.

  4. Nic Marr

    Such a beautiful story. We loved the pictures of Pumpie and friends at the beach and wish we could see him in his kilt. Can’t wait to see him when we visit the museum in Bethnal Green!

    1. Emma Cox

      I was fortunate to visit the Museum just before lockdown and saw Pumpie’s clothes and all the other soft toys (bears, rabbits and more) and their clothes (a selection is shown below including his kilt). The Museum should be reopening in a year or so.
      Pumpie's clothes
      More of Pumpie's clothes

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