The children's character Dick Whittington was a poor street urchin who travelled to London after hearing that the streets were paved with gold.
The story goes that having arrived to find this not so, he was on the point of leaving the city when he heard the bells of St Mary-le-Bow ring out "Turn again, Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London". In the tale Whittington then stayed in London to become Lord Mayor three times, and he was eventually knighted.
Of course this is a fictional children's story, but like many such stories the source of the tale lies in reality. There was a real man called Richard Whittington who did indeed become Lord Mayor of London in the 15th century.
However the real Dick Whittington was the son of a wealthy Gloucestershire family. He arrived in London as an apprentice textile trader, and by the age of 21 he had become one of the richest merchants in London.
Whittington did indeed become Lord Mayor, although four times rather than the fictional three. He wasn't knighted as the story suggests, however he probably deserved to be for he was an early philanthropist.
He helped to build almshouses, women's refuges, hospitals and even one of the first public lavatories in London! He also left a lot of money to the Guildhall, and there is now a stained glass window in it commemorating him.
There is no evidence that the real Dick Whittington had a pet cat, but one theory that has been put forward is that "cat" was a nickname given to coal barges at the time. As it is believed that Whittington made some of his fortune in the coal trade it is suggested that this is the origin of his legendary pet cat.
There is now a milestone on Highgate Hill, with a bronze figure of his legendary pet on top, marking the spot where Whittington is supposed to have heard the Bow bells urging him to return to London.
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