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History Overview

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington was born in Pauntley near Newent sometime in the middle of the 14th century. Quite how he found his way to London in the first place is unknown but the earliest recorded mention of him in the City seems to be in 1379 when he contributed 5 marks to a municipal loan. Whittington was a mercer by trade and in fact he served as Lord Mayor of London on three separate occasions: first in 1397, then again in 1406-07, and for the third and final time in 1419-20.

The famous nursery-rhyme account of his life has him arriving in the capital a poor orphan from the West of England, having heard that the streets of London were paved with gold. Unfortunately he found himself the victim of repeated beatings by the cook in the household of a rich merchant who had given him shelter and so (according to his entry in the DNB), he stole away from Leadenhall Street early in the morning of All Hallows Day, and left the City behind him, but as he rested at Highgate he heard Bow bells ring out a merry peal (although it is perhaps unlikely that there would have been more than one bell at this time), which seemed to say:

  Turn again, Whittington,
  Lord Mayor of London

whereupon he returned to his pots and spits and married Mrs Alice (his master’s daughter), and rose thrice to be Lord Mayor
of London.

Whittington’s cat had been on a lengthy voyage on a ship belonging to Dick’s master while the young Whittington was having such a rough time of things back in Leadenhall Street. The vessel stopped to take on provisions at a previously unknown part of the Barbary Coast where the king of that country, whose palace was overrun with rats and mice, bought the cat for an enormous price. Dick never saw his beloved cat again but the sale proceeds were shipped back to England and on the return from that particular overseas investment he and his wife Alice lived happily ever after!