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Rattus norvegicus

Rattus norvegicus

Definitely my favourite and probably the best studio album by The Stranglers, released in 1977, so the copy in my collection is now 44 years old which is a sobering thought. Anyway I digress.

Rattus norvegicus is the latin name for the Brown or common rat which is the most prevalent native London rats. The phrase “You’re never more than six feet away from a rat” has been disproved over the years and I believe that todays figure is more like “You’re never more than 164 feet away from a rat“, which doesn’t quite have the fear factor that the adage coined over a hundred years ago conveyed, thought to have been used to try to promote better hygienic practices within the nations households.

It appears, according to the Daily Mail of the 14th April 1903 that the six foot figure was also rather inaccurate in certain areas of London, and possibly not in those that would be your first choice. Not as you might think in the East End, but it appears that a plague of rats, unprecedented in the annals of London, had broken out on the north side of the Strand.

Rat infestation in blue

The streets principally infested were Catherine street, Drury lane, Blackmore street, Clare Market and Russell street. Something akin to a reign of terror prevailed among the inhabitants after nightfall. Women refused to pass along Blackmore street and the lower parts of Stanhope street after dusk, for droves of rats roamed the roadways and pavements, and could be seen running along the window ledges of the empty houses awaiting demolition by the County Council during the Strand to Holborn improvement scheme.

The rats, indeed even for the early 20th century appeared in almost-incredible numbers. “There are millions of them,” said one shopkeeper, and his statement was supported by other residents. The unwelcome visitors had been evicted from their old haunts by the County Council housebreakers, and were now busily in search of new homes. The Gaiety Restaurant on Catherine Street seems to have been the greatest sufferer. Rats had invaded the premises in such force that the managers have had to close the large dining room on the first floor and the grill rooms on the ground floor and in the basement. Behind the wainscot of the bandstand in the grillroom were found large mound of linen shreds. It was estimated that these were 1,728 serviettes carried there by the rats to build their nests.

Gaiety Theatre & Restaurant 1890s

In the bar the removal of a panel disclosed the astonishing fact that the rats have dragged for a distance of seven or eight yards some thirty or forty beer and wine bottles and stacked them in such a fashion as to make comfortable sleeping places. Mr Williams. the manager of the restaurant, estimates that the rats have destroyed £200 worth of linen. Formerly the Gaiety Restaurant dined 2000 persons daily, but the rat infestation closed the enterprise for good and the restaurant and adjoining theatre were demolished later in 1903.

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