“Camberley Kate” Ward : “A Very Extraordinary Lady”
Kate Ward’s nickname “Camberley Kate” is said to have been given to her by historian Sir Arthur Bryant in his book “The Lion and the Unicorn”. It became the title by which she was known to everyone.
Kate’s early history is somewhat hazy – When interviewed she stated that she was born in Middlesbrough on June 13th 1895, and remained proud of her Yorkshire roots. Orphaned before she was ten, she was brought up by an aunt in a strict religious atmosphere. As a young girl she went into service, in Yorkshire and eventually found her way to Camberley. In later years she once claimed to have been Head Cook at the RMC at the time of the Battle of the Somme, although she would have been only 21. She also mentioned that she knew what it was like to be homeless, though this may have been a reference to her early years. Whatever the correct story, in 1943 Kate bought a cottage in Yorktown, and soon afterwards took in her first stray, a dog which had been about to be put down due to lameness.
As word grew, the number of dogs in her cottage increased – some being tied to her door, some left in carrier bags, others brought in by the police or other agencies. At the end of her life she estimated that she had looked after more than 600 dogs and local vet Geoffrey Craddock, a great admirer of Kate work testified that they were well looked after. An entry in the 1957 directory FOR Camberley reads “Ward K 218 London Road., Cam., Dogs Home”. In 1976 she stated that she had 34 dogs, although by 1977 she had cut this down to 19, as she had been told to go easier at the age of 82! The growth of other dog rescue centres helped in this regard. She also had at least one cat.
Kate and her olive-green painted hand cart, labelled STRAY DOGS, was a familiar sight locally as she pushed it from Yorktown to Camberley each day, through the town centre and up to Barossa Common, on a route suggested by the police. Some of the dogs were allowed to ride in the cart, others were attached to it with lengths of string, and occasionally a favoured few ran loose alongside. Inside the cart, there was usually some meat for the dogs and a shovel to clean any mess away. The dogs were controlled with the help of a whistle. Locals became used to the sight of Kate pushing her cart along the busy London Road although it never ceased to amaze outsiders.
As a local celebrity Kate and her dogs were much photographed, a situation she tolerated as long as the photographer gave a donation for the upkeep of the animals. She also sold her own photographic postcards, and gave short shrift to those who tried to take their own pictures. Generous supporters gave money to assist her work and some even left bequests. She was scrupulous that this money should be used only for its intended purpose: the dogs had their own bank account, administered by 2 trustees. She left money in trust for the few dogs left at her death.
A diminutive figure with her shock of white hair and her beret, Kate defended herself and her work passionately against her critics, such as those who wanted her out of the town centre or who regarded the dogs as dangerous or a health or traffic hazard. On one occasion she rammed a new car which was blocking her way. She also had a number of disputes with the authorities. These clashes were often recorded in the columns of the press. However she won the backing of the local police for her work in taking abandoned dogs in off the streets.
In 21 August 1969 Kate was in the Camberley News fighting plans to introduce a bye law making it illegal for dogs to be out without a lead. This followed complains from residents of new housing estates, and concerns about road accidents caused by stray dogs. In her customary forthright fashion she condemned “The Council is nothing more than a collection of dog-haters. I think this will be rotten. It means that dogs will be chained up all day”. A proposal to ban dogs from the new precinct in Camberley also met with a terse response, particularly since she was in the habit of shopping at Sainsbury’s and leaving some of the dogs tied up outside. When protests about the local drag-hounds running out of control when being exercised attracted her support Kate, in typical fashion, addressed her complaint directly to the King. The Royal family continued to be a favourite route for correspondence. When a local schoolteacher complained that she had seen her beat her dogs with a stick, Kate immediately wrote in protest to the Queen. This was not their first encounter - when Princess Elizabeth got married one of the dogs sent a present of a dog lead.
As these anecdotes show, Kate was an excellent publicist. A local policemen recalled that occasionally a dog would get loose and be brought to the dog pound. If the Police Station was empty she would pay the fine quietly and readily, but if there was an audience she would protest vocally!
Following a series of strokes old age and ill-health forced her to leave her cottage and her remaining seven dogs were put into kennels. Her last weeks were spent at Kingsclear residential home and she died on 4th August 1979. Her funeral was at St Michael’s, Yorktown.
Despite her avowed dislike of people, Baptist Minister the Rev Chris Russell who officiated at her funeral, remembers her private generosity to those in need. This aspect of her life she kept anonymous, passing on her donations through third parties.
After her death, Camberley vet Geoffrey Craddock was quoted in the Camberley News as saying “Camberley has lost its most celebrated and best known character. She will be greatly missed by those of us who had the rare privilege of knowing her”.
During her lifetime, Kate’s fame spread far and wide. She featured In the national press and on television programmes such as “Nationwide” and “Tonight”. was featured on NBC in the United States and her story appeared in publications across Europe from France to Rumania. She also received the ultimate accolade of a feature in “Time” Magazine, and was photographed by Lord Snowdon. To her surprise, in 1967 she received an award from the magazine “Dog’s Life” for her work. In answer to the inevitable question, why she did it? her invariable reply was that she preferred dogs to humans.
Her home at 218 London Road was just a few doors along from the former Lamb pub, near the present Meadows roundabout, but Is no longer standing. The Katherine Court retirement flats were named after her at the suggestion of a local resident in 2000.