Posts Tagged ‘Dick Whittington’

Dick Whittington and his Cat

I always thought Dick Whittington was just a fairy story  – like Aladdin and the Forty Thieves, or Cinderella, which usually shared the billings with ‘Dick’ in the Pantomime season.

But in fact,  Dick Whittington really did exist.

Oh, sorry, that should be Sir Richard Whittington.

He was the younger son of a knightly family from Gloucestershire, sent to London to learn the mercer’s trade. Dealing in both plain woollen cloth and luxury textiles such as velvet, he became immensely rich; he was made Mayor of London in 1397.

In fact his first Mayoralty seems to have been a bit dubious as the King made him Mayor directly – still, when an election was held the next year, Whittington walked it. He became Mayor four times and MP twice, lent money to both Richard II and Henry IV, and left much of his estate for public benefit, including the rebuilding of the Guildhall.

Now this doesn’t have a lot to do with the pantomime story, in which Whittington is a poor boy (he wasn’t), and comes to London with his cat (for which there’s no evidence). In the tale, Dick is about to give up and go home when he hears Bow Bells ringing ‘Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London!’ Hearing this, he turns round – and marches back to the City.

You can see the Whittington Stone at Archway – it’s the place where he is said to have ‘turned again’. The cat on top is a twenteith century addition – and rather a disappointing cat, I feel, looking rather dog-eared. The stone is older – it was already there in 1820,but I don’t know how much further it goes back.

By the way, the thing that really impresses me about all this is the way the pantomime has the apprentice Dick marrying his master’s daughter, Alice Fitzwareen. That’s got to be made up, hasn’t it? But in fact, that’s just about the one thing in the pantomime version that is absolutely, cast-iron, one hundred percent true!

Photo by <<Graham>> on flickr


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