Shropshire History

Dick Whittington


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Several places in Britain have claimed to be the birthplace of Richard (Dick) Whittington. However, in 1350 boy called Richard of Whittington was born at Newnes (between Whittington and Ellesmere). In 1368, he set out for London with a recommendation from the local vicar to the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitallers of Saint John at Clerkenwell. An alternative claim can be seen at Wikipedia, together with a more detailed account of his career.


Whatever his origins, Dick became a successful woollen merchant and his timeline was as follows :-


1384 – he became a Councilman of the City of London.


1388 – he sold silks and velvets to the King. He also began money lending.


1392 – over the next 3 years he sold goods to King Richard II totalling £3,500 (equivalent to more than £1.5m today).


1393 - he became an Alderman of the City of London, was appointed Sheriff and became a member of the Mercers' Company.


1397 - he was lending large sums of money to the King.


1397 - the Mayor of London died and the King made Whittington Lord Mayor to fill the vacancy.


1399 – he continued supplying the new King Henry IV and also lent him money.


1406 - he was elected mayor again.


1407 - he was simultaneously Mayor in both London and Calais.


1416 - he became Member of Parliament for the City of London. He lent large sums of money to Henry V,  who employed him to supervise the expenditure to complete Westminster Abbey.


1419 - he was simultaneously Mayor in both London and Calais again.


1423 - he died in London. He bequeathed his fortune to create the charity of Sir Richard Whittington, which nearly 600 years later continues to assist people in need.


The story of Dick Whittington was made into a play, “The History of Richard Whittington, of his Lowe Byrth, his Great Fortun” in 1604. In the 19th Century, this became popular as a pantomime called “Dick Whittington and his Cat”. There are several versions of the traditional story which tells how Dick, a boy from a poor family, sets out for London to make his fortune, accompanied by his cat. At first, he meets with little success and is tempted to return home. However, on his way out of the city, he hears the Bow Bells of London ringing and believes they are sending him a message. There is now a large hospital on Highgate Hill, named the Whittington Hospital, after this supposed episode. The traditional rhyme associated with this tale is :-


Turn again, Whittington,

Once Lord Mayor of London!

Turn again, Whittington,

Twice Lord Mayor of London!

Turn again, Whittington,

Thrice Lord Mayor of London!


On returning to London, Dick embarks on a series of adventures. In one version of the tale, he travels abroad on a ship and wins many friends as a result of the rat-catching activities of his cat. In another, he sends his cat and it is sold to make his fortune. Eventually he does become prosperous, marries his master's daughter Alice Fitzwarren (the name of the real Whittington's wife), and is made Lord Mayor of London three times.


A tiny cottage at Newnes is still known as Dick Whittington's Cottage.