many people of my vintage, I was a child at a pantomime when I first
learnt of Dick Whittington and his famous cat. Well, itís precisely on
stage and in childrenís books where the cat business belongs, since it was
no more than a piece of folklore that sprang up about 200 years after his
death. To an adult, the story of his philanthropic deeds is far more
fascinating than the legend of his cat.
Whittington (c1358- 1423) was the youngest son of the
wealthy Sir William Whittington of Pauntley in
Gloucestershire. Richard became even more prosperous when
he set up as a mercer. In fact he became the richest
merchant of his time. He even traded with and lent money
to Henry IV and V, a mediaeval practice (whereby the City
of London made loans to an insolvent King) that lasted
until 1694, when the Bank of England was established.
was a generous benefactor in his lifetime (for example, he built a library
at Greyfriars, established a ward at St. Thomasí Hospital for unmarried
mothers and rebuilt the Church of St. Michael Paternoster Royal), and an
even more munificent one in his will.
some of the diverse purposes for which his vast fortune was bequeathed:
building of a library at Guildhall,
rebuilding of the squalid Newgate Gaol,
foundation of an almshouse and college at East
construction of a College of Priests.
extraordinary bequest to London was a public lavatory near the mouth of
the Walbrook River at Dowgate. It had a row of 64 seats for men and a
similar one for women.