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Great Londoners: Who Was Dick Whittington (and his cat)?

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Dick Whittington was a famous historical figure who is known for his rags-to-riches story and his contributions to the city of London. Eventually, he became mayor of the City of London, was a member of Parliament, and at one time the sheriff of London. His story was also adapted into the famous folktale Dick Whittington and his Cat, ensuring an enduring legacy. Most English children know who Dick Whittington was (he’s almost unknown in America).

Born in the late 14th century as Richard Whittington, he was the son of a wealthy merchant who died when Dick was young, leaving him with limited resources. Despite this, Dick was determined to make something of himself, and he left home to seek his fortune in London.

Upon arriving in London, Dick struggled to find work and was forced to sleep rough on the streets. However, he refused to give up and eventually landed a job as a kitchen boy in a wealthy merchant’s household. Over time, he worked his way up the ranks, learning the ins and outs of the merchant trade and making valuable connections along the way.

Through his hard work and determination, Dick eventually became one of the most successful merchants in London. He served as the Lord Mayor of London four times, and his wealth and influence allowed him to make significant contributions to the city. He funded the construction of hospitals, schools, and other public works, and his legacy can still be seen in London today.

In popular culture, Dick Whittington is perhaps best known for the English pantomime that bears his name (and his cat). The pantomime tells the story of Dick’s rise to power and features a cast of colorful characters, including his trusty cat. The pantomime is a beloved Christmas tradition in the UK, and it has helped to keep Dick’s story alive for generations.

Dick Whittington and His Cat

“Dick Whittington and His Cat” is a famous English folklore that has been told in various forms for centuries. The story tells the tale of Dick Whittington, a poor boy from the countryside who dreams of making his fortune in the city of London. He sets off for the city, but upon arriving, he struggles to find work and is forced to sleep on the streets. However, he meets a cat who becomes his loyal companion and helps him to catch rats, which he then sells to make some money. Eventually, Dick’s hard work and determination pay off, and he becomes a wealthy merchant and even the Lord Mayor of London. The story is an inspiring tale of perseverance and the power of friendship.

The story of Dick Whittington and His Cat has become a beloved part of English folklore and has been adapted into many different forms, including plays, books, and even a pantomime. The story’s enduring popularity is due in part to its message of hope and perseverance, which resonates with audiences of all ages. Additionally, the story has a special place in the hearts of Londoners, as it celebrates the city’s history and the spirit of its people. Today, visitors to London can still find reminders of Dick Whittington throughout the city, from statues and street names to the annual pantomime that bears his name.

The cat even has its own statue! The Whittington Stone is an 1821 monumental stone and statue of a cat at the foot of Highgate Hill, a street in the Archway. It marks roughly where it is recounted that a forlorn character of Dick Whittington, loosely based on Richard Whittington, returning to his home from the city of London after losing faith as a scullion in a scullery, heard Bow Bells ringing from 4+1⁄2 miles (7.2 km) away, prophesying his good fortune leading to the homage “Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London!” This quotation and a short history of the man cover two faces of the stone. The pub next to it is of the same name.

During his lifetime, Whittington donated much of his profits from his businesses mto the city and contributed to various projects in London. He financed the rebuilding of the Guildhall, a ward for unmarried mothers at St Thomas’ Hospital, drainage systems for areas around Billingsgate and Cripplegate, and the rebuilding of his parish church, St Michael Paternoster Royal, and most of Greyfriars library. He also funded a public toilet seating 128 called Whittington’s Longhouse in the parish of St Martin Vintry that was cleansed by the River Thames at high tide.

In March 1423, Whittington passed away at the age of approximately 68 or 69 years old. He was laid to rest in the church of St Michael Paternoster Royal, where he had generously donated significant amounts of money throughout his life. Sadly, the location of his tomb is now unknown. During a search for the tomb’s whereabouts in 1949, a mummified cat was discovered in the church tower. However, this cat likely dates to the time of the Wren restoration and is not related to Whittington’s burial.

Richard Whittington died childless, leaving £7,000 in his will to charity, which was a large sum in those days, equivalent to £6,300,000 in 2021 pounds. This amount was used for several purposes, such as rebuilding Newgate Prison, building the first library in the Guildhall, repairing St Bartholomew’s Hospital, creating an almshouse and hospital originally at St Michael’s, and installing the first public drinking fountains. The Whittington Charity continues to disburse money to this day each year to the needy through the Mercers’ Company. Today, his legacy is remembered through the Whittington Hospital at Archway in the London Borough of Islington which was named after him on its establishment in 1948. The almshouses he funded were relocated in 1966 to Felbridge near East Grinstead. Sixty elderly women and a few married couples currently live in them.

Dick Whittington is an important figure in English and London history and culture, and his story serves as a reminder of the power of hard work, determination, and perseverance. His contributions to the city of London have left a lasting legacy, and his story continues to captivate audiences around the world.

jonathan
Author: jonathan

Jonathan is a consummate Anglophile who launched Anglotopia.net in 2007 to channel his passion for Britain. Londontopia is its sister publication dedicated to everything London.

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