Second blue plaque in Westgate dedicated to ‘cat’ artist Louis Wain

Installing the blue plaque (l-r) Mike Wilton, Andrew Samuel, Cassandra Barns, Mike Thompson, Rhys Thomas, Megan Smyth

By Mike Thompson, Margate Civic Society

Last summer a blue plaque dedicated to ’cat artist’  Louis Wain was installed at 29 Westgate Bay Avenue, a house occupied by him from 1906 until 1916.

Louis Wain was born in London in 1860 and by the time he was in his twenties he had developed into a successful commercial artist. In 1882 his mother hired Emily Richardson as governess to her youngest daughter. Although ten years Louis’ senior, Emily and Louis fell in love and were married in 1884. Emily had a cat, Peter, which she adored and Louis had spent many hours with Emily drawing Peter.

She suggested that he submit the drawings to the owner of the Illustrated London News, Sir William Ingram, and in 1886 Sir William suggested for the Christmas edition, a double page spread of a cats Christmas party which Louis duly produced. The artwork included 150 cats in a variety of poses and activities. As we would say today, it went viral! The Louis Wain cat had arrived.

Tragically, just three years after their marriage, Emily died of cancer and Louis became very withdrawn.

Louis was not financially prudent, even omitting to protect his work by copyright so he was always short of money and with five sisters and a mother to support, he was constantly chased by creditors.

With creditors constantly at Louis’s door, Sir William offered the artist and his mother and sisters a move to the up-and-coming Westgate on Sea, to take up residence in one of three new properties he had purchased there. Louis was to eventually occupy all three of them in turn.

The first of the properties he occupied was number 16 Adrian Square, staying there from 1894 until 1895.

This imposing and substantial property forms part of one of Westgate’s most attractive squares and it is now divided into five apartments.

The owners, aware of the connection to Louis Wain and the fact  he once resided there, had noticed the plaque dedicated to Louis in Westgate Bay Avenue and thought it appropriate that a second plaque should be erected in his memory.

(From top) Rhys Thomas, Megan Smyth, Cassandra Barns, Andrew Samuel

Rhys Thomas, one of the flat owners, contacted Margate Civic Society and a jointly funded project to produce and erect a plaque got underway.

Croft Cast Signs, which produces the Society’s plaques, were commissioned and the result is now on display.

As debts mounted and the creditors closed in, Louis and the family moved back to London. By 1925, with deteriorating mental health, Louis was certified insane with schizophrenia and confined to an asylum in Middlesex. Upon hearing of his plight, several notable people including a certain H G Wells made an appeal to raise funds for his on-going care and he was transferred to the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark where he spent the next five years in a much more caring environment.

He died in Napsbury Hospital on 4 June 1939 aged 78.

Margate Civic Society was delighted to be approached by the residents of number 16 and would like to thank them all for their keen interest and financial support in the project, with special thanks to Rhys for liaising with the Society on the residents’ behalf.

Louis is now celebrated and remembered at two of the three properties he occupied in Westgate leaving us wondering if there will eventually be a third plaque in his memory! Watch this space!

Additional details with thanks to Nick Evans



    • “Last summer a blue plaque dedicated to ’cat artist’ Louis Wain was installed at 29 Westgate Bay Avenue,”

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