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18 June 2014
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Legacies - London

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Myths and Legends
Stained glass panel in St Michael Paternoster Royal
© Courtesy of 'The Mission to Seafarers'
Oh yes he was! Oh no he wasn’t!

A poor boy from Gloucester

Whilst the representations of Dick Whittington in pantomime vary greatly - one production even portrayed Dick as ‘The Last Hope of the Universe’, sent by "witch-cats" to chase King Rat across the galaxy - the basics of the story are always the same.

Young Dick, a poor boy from Gloucester, travels to London accompanied by his cat, hoping to make his fortune. Expecting the streets to be paved with gold, Dick meets with little success at first and is tempted to return home. Whilst leaving the city, however, he hears the bells of London ringing. Standing on Highgate Hill, they seem to him to say, "Turn again Whittington, three times Lord Mayor of London". So, Dick returns to London, where he embarks on a series of adventures. He finally becomes wealthy, is made Lord Mayor of London, and is able to marry his sweetheart Alice, daughter of Alderman Fitzwarren.

The real "Dick Whittington"

Dick Whittington at Derby Playhouse, 2002
Although it has been highly romanticised, Dick Whittington does actually have some grounding in reality, and the adventures of its legendary protagonist are based on the real life of a medieval man - Richard Whittington.

Richard Whittington was born in Pauntley, Gloucestershire, in the late 1350s. The third son of Sir William Whittington, a local landowner, Richard was never really poor like his more famous alter ego. However, with two elder brothers, he could not expect any inheritance, and so, needing to provide for himself, Richard made his way to London in around 1370. London has long been seen as a land of opportunity - the place to go to make one’s fortune - and in this the medieval period was no exception.

Throughout the period London was populated largely by immigrants; the possibility of accumulating riches added to London's natural attraction as a centre of trade and industry, and many younger sons with no hope of inheritance were drawn to the capital, where they believed the streets were "paved with gold".

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Your comments

1 Jamie Richardson from South London - 21 January 2004
"The original Church of St Michael Paternoster (burnt down in the Great Fire of London 1666) was part funded by Dick himself, who owned a house nearby in College Lane. The present Church - as with so many post-Fire city Churches - was re-built by Sir Chrisopher Wren. Maybe Wren 'planted' the cat as a joke?!"

2 David Orme from Winchester, Hampshire - 13 January 2004
"Richard Whittington was buried in the church of St Michael Paternoster Royal in London. In 1949 the then incumbent decided to search for the tomb of Whittington. No body was found - but he did find the mummified corpse of a cat... "

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