The History Of The Sheffield Cats Shelter


The Sheffield Cats Shelter has been helping cats and cat owners since 1897 – making us one of the UK’s oldest surviving animal charities. In that time we’ve helped tens of thousands of cats find new homes and better lives. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved, and we’d like to share our history and the story of our remarkable founder Jane Barker!

Jane Barker

Jane Barker was born into a large, wealthy family who owned potteries and, later, steelworks. From an early age she was determined to use her wealth and influence for good, and she became one of South Yorkshire’s leading philanthropists and charity founders.

Among the charities she founded were one that provided education and entertainment for disabled children and a dog charity that was later amalgamated into the RSPCA. Cats were her true passion, however, and in 1897 Jane and her sister Mary founded  ‘Miss Jane Barker’s Home For Starving Cats’. It soon changed its name to ‘The Sheffield Shelter For Lost And Starving Cats’, and finally to ‘The Sheffield Cats Shelter.’

Jane Barker outside her Collegiate Crescent home

Jane lived to a ripe old age, and she was still attending trustee meetings of the charity she founded into the 1950s. Her home on Collegiate Crescent, where she also helped cats in addition to the shelter, is still standing today and is now known as ‘Hopton Hall’. Is it time for Sheffield Council to honour Jane, this remarkable hard working woman who did so much to help cats, dogs and children, with a blue plaque?

Two Wars And A Pandemic

In our long history The Sheffield Cats Shelter has survived two world wars and a global pandemic, all of which brought great challenges. During the Second World War especially the shelter was needed more than ever before.

With fears over food shortages, and rationing in place, the government urged pet owners to have their pets put to sleep – fearing, wrongly, that they would use up valuable resources. This, and the fact that many buildings in Sheffield were destroyed during the Blitz bombing raids, meant that there was a huge influx of homeless animals on the city streets. As always, Jane and the dedicated team at The Sheffield Cats Shelter did all they could in these incredibly difficult circumstances.

We still have the minutes of our 1941 which give a fascinating insight into our shelter at this time. They show that we took in an astonishing 7093 cats that year – as well as 67 dogs, 6 birds, 3 rabbits, one fox and, believe it or not, a monkey! At this 1941 meeting, one of our trustees made this moving plea:

“In these sad times, great causes appeal for our help and human suffering must come first but even so the dogs and cats need not be denied the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Fast forward nearly seven decades, and we were met by another huge challenge – the Covid pandemic and the lockdowns associated with it. Our cat welfare team, led by their manager Becki Hollingworth and helped by lots of willing fosterers, worked tirelessly to ensure that the shelter kept running whilst adhering to the current legislation.

Our Present And Our Future

We’ve come through the challenges of two world wars and a pandemic, but we are now facing the cost of living crisis. It’s having a big impact on cat owners and their pets, and our services have never been more in demand. We are determined to be here for cats in need for the next 127 years and beyond, but we can only do it with your help. We are completely reliant on money generated in our charity shops, on gifts left in wills, and on donations – big or small. If you would like to help us help cats please do click the button below. Working together for cats and kittens we are unstoppable!