The cat throwing
Ypres was a cloth city and owed its prosperity to the cloth industry. The wool, imported from England, was stored in the Cloth halls until it was sold to the artisans. After the wool was processed into cloth, it returned to the halls where it remained until it was time for the annual fair. The cloth attracted mice, which feasted on it and nested and procreated in the fabric. As a solution to this problem the population of Ypres decided to release a few hungry cats in the Cloth halls. Everything worked well at first. The cats ate the mice and the cloth was saved. But soon it became clear that the plan had a flaw. The cats not only gave in to their hunting instincts, but procreated too. Instead of too many mice and rats Ypres had too many cats after a while. Nothing better was found than throwing the animals off the Hall tower as a means of pest control. The true reason will probably never be known.
The earliest descriptions of cat throwing can be found in the city chronicles of the years 1410-1420. The Ypres chronicles often link the cat throwing with the Ascension fair that already existed in 1127. After the fair was moved to the second week of the Lent in 1476, the cats were thrown on 'Cats' Wednesday'. One chronicle states that the animals were first thrown off the St Martin's church and since 1231 from the Belfry tower. According to another chronicle the latter tower was not finished until 1304. From texts in the diary of Augustus van Hernighem, a chronicle writer, it can be deducted that the number of thrown cats had a symbolic value. More cats were killed in years the city was not that prosperous than in good years. In 1594 for example, a year when things looked up, only three cats were thrown. It is not clear why.
Jean Jacques Lambin, an Ypres archivist who died in 1841 witnessed the cats throwing several times. He was there when living cats were thrown off the tower for the last time in 1817. According to Lambin the very last living cat survived the fall. The little animal scampered as fast as it could, not ready to be caught once more for the same purpose.
From 1817 until the First World War all that remained of the Cat festival in Ypres was the playing of the carillons on Cats' Wednesday.