I grew up living next to an extreme cat hoarder. So extreme that when he passed away several years ago at the age of 78, they removed over 80 cats from his property. Before I start this post, I would like to point out that this isn't the most pleasant of stories. I shall spare you the gory details but if you are particularly sensitive, maybe this isn't the blog post for you.
We moved next door to Fred Saigeman in 1996 when I was 6 years old. He was a softly spoken, eccentric and clearly intelligent gentleman - a former teacher who had won a scholarship to study at Oxford. He had returned to Fulling Mill Cottage in Fittleworth - a former guest house - to care for his ailing Mother. When she died in 1983, Fred began to live a solitary and frugal existence, letting the house that had belonged to his family for generations steadily fall into disrepair around him.
Fred with his parents.
Fulling Mill Cottage
At first, our family got on quite well with him. My parents used to go round for the odd chat and gifted him a bottle of desert wine every Christmas. My sisters and I were both fascinated and a little frightened of him as we had never met anyone like him before (and probably won't again!) His appearance was enough to tell you Fred lived a very different life to most. He bathed very rarely - I'm not entirely sure he had a working bathroom, but I know he still had a tin bath by the fireplace. He didn't brush his hair, so he had a tennis ball sized knot at the back of his head. He wore the same pair of green corduroy trousers and thick khaki army jumper all year round - even on the hottest summer day. We literally never saw him in a different outfit. He must of worn them for years and years - his jumper was covered with holes and his trousers gathered around his ankles like he was melting with old age.
Sadly, his 15th century thatched cottage was even filthier than he was. To enter the house, you had to brave walking between the piles of rubbish which lined his driveway. You can imagine the smell of this in the middle of summer and it will come as no surprise that our house was constantly full of flies. Once inside, the floors were covered in a thick layer of mud. The shelves, china and plate rack in his kitchen where coated in a layer of cobwebs, grime and dust which had been collecting for decades. His kitchen was the only room in the house that had a working plug socket. Instead of cooking in here, he prepared his modest meals of potatoes and cabbage in a cauldron over the fire in the living room, while his cats dined on the finest steak, salmon and tuna. This room was piled high to the ceiling with books and newspapers, which formed a maze that he had to navigate through. He spent £100's of pounds on books. One day after years of neglect, his thatched roof collapsed and water poured down the walls ruining much of his collection. He then took to keeping his most expensive books in the back of his van, which he drove to the supermarket to buy cat food or to the cat sanctuary, which he visited every third Thursday a month.
The layers of cobwebs and grime on his kitchen dishes!
His living room after it was cleared of books, newspapers and cider bottles!
At the rear of the house, there was an apple orchard, which he used the fruit from to make homemade (and very strong) cider. This then backed onto acres of Sussex woodland. My sisters and I would often explore in these woods which bordered our garden. I know this was trespassing but it was too tempting for three girls who were obsessed with the 'Famous Five' and 'The Secret Island'. One day one of these adventures became more of a nightmare after we stumbled upon a pile of cat food which looked as tall as us - with flies, cats and maggots squirming all over it.
Towards the end of us living next door to him his cat hoarding became completely out of hand. He 'rescued' more and more, and as none of them were spayed they quickly multiplied. They had complete run of his house and all the land surrounding it and despite all this space they still often used our garden lawn as a toilet. Sometimes, we would go to drive to school in the morning, only to find a cat had climbed into our car engine for warmth. We found them before anything terrible happened but one cat was not so lucky. Mr Saigeman once took his van into the garage with car trouble and the mechanic deduced it might be something to do with the dead cat in the engine.
We all believed that despite living in these conditions, Mr Saigeman would outlive us all, so when he died we were all quite sad. As he had no surviving relatives (not that I know of anyway) he had wanted to leave his house to the Weald and Downland Museum. A place in nearby Singleton, West Sussex that rescues rural buildings of historic value and restores them to their former glory. But in the state it was in the museum didn't want it! Fred instead left his entire estate to the Cat Welfare Charity he had visited regularly, on the condition they looked after the 80-odd cats he had shared his life with and made sure his property was not demolished and redeveloped. Many of the cats could not be saved as they were diseased but the charity saved a lot of the semi wild cats, who went onto to become pest control for local outbuildings and farmland. They even managed to eventually restore the house. You can read about the restoration project over on the Cat Welfare Sussex's website.
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