In the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century, a remarkable Iden resident called Ted Catt compiled a scrapbook of the village covering a 60 year period of his observations of the natural world. As a result, many notebooks were filled with jottings and sketches of the wildlife, flora and houses he saw in the surrounding countryside with vivid insights about how life was in those days, with crafts long since gone.
The records Ted made are now of considerable historic importance, as they show the pace of life was so much slower in those days and that much harder for so many. The abundance of wildlife particularly is something regrettably we no longer see and it is indeed so fortunate that Ted had the foresight to record what he saw, in his life long passion for the countryside and environment.
Ted was a founder member of the Iden Natural History Society, which celebrated its centenary two years ago and he played an active role by hosting and giving lectures at his home and in 1930 contributed watercolour paintings of 353 species of the flora that were identified in a survey.
He was also a taxidermist, but unfortunately none of this work is believed to have survived. Much more can be written about this David Attenborough of his time, but thankfully Ted’s scrapbooks were preserved by the family and became a source of reference for the Society since Ted’s death in 1951.
These records were under the care of Ted’s great nephew, Alan Catt of East Guldeford. It was always Alan and his wife Frances’ ambition that they should be published for wider distribution and this was shared by Rene Regendanz, a highly respected local environmentalist, and Melvin Smith who were both members of the society.
However, in those days the task of publishing such a bulky work was daunting and probably financially unviable, particularly as they did not have today’s printing technology. Unfortunately, both Alan and Rene died before they could see any of this being achieved.
However, in the intervening years and quite by chance a telephone call from France enquiring about the whereabouts of Ted’s taxidermy works was made to Pat Morris in Ascot, who had an interest in this field.
This brought Pat down to East Guldeford in the spring of 2019 where he met Frances Catt and Melvin. Between them a plan was made to publish the book that would show the drawings and notes by way of a condensed version without diluting the quality of the contents. Pat spent considerable time photographing each page and talked to publishers in Lavenham.
With Melvin, the drawings were transposed to have several on each page and great care was made to include the various notes to produce a comprehensive book which entirely respected the integrity of Ted’s work. The book has come together during the past year and an initial print run of 300 was ordered which arrived just before last Christmas.
To enable the publication to be widely available, the price for each copy was fixed at just £12 and any surplus over and above the printing costs will be donated to the Iden Natural History Society and Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.
Thanks to Pat, Melvin and Frances, Ted’s work is now available and already sales have exceeded expectations. We also have to thank Christopher Strangeways for the interest he has taken as the project progressed and Frances would be very interested to hear from anyone who can remember Ted. The book is on sale at the Salts Farm shop and Iden Stores.
We know that Ted, Alan and Rene and all those pioneers of the Iden Natural History Society would have been immensely proud that, at last, what they saw in our countryside has now been brought so brilliantly into life by way of this book, the result of a chance telephone call from France.
Image Credits: courtesy of Frances Catt .