Champion Ratcatcher, English School

Artist unknown

about 1840

Oil on Board

24 x 29 cm

‘Ratting’ events such as that described here were common in the nineteenth century. This painting closely resembles an engraving in Henry Mayhew’s highly influential book London Labour and the London Poor, published in 1851, which described brightly-lit ‘ratting’ pits fitted with high wooden rims. Unlike other contemporary views of the ‘sport’, this view is unusual in that shows no human figures, creating a bleak and claustrophobic atmosphere. Mayhew believed that the sport of ratting was then on the rise: ‘The passion for rat-hunting is on the increase, and seems to have attained the popularity once vouchsafed for cockfighting. There are now about seventy regular pits in London, besides a few that are run up for temporary purposes.’

The most famous rat-catching terrier of all, ‘Billy’, who was kept by the landlord of the Seven Bells pub in London’s St Giles, was said to have killed 100 rats in five minutes during a ratting match of 1823.