Dick Whittington is a well known pantomime. Of the many versions of it, we at Educational Musicals have our own version, Daring Dick Whittington. https://eml.coolski.co.uk/index.php/product/daring-dick-whittington/
In our version, Dick Whittington comes from a rich background. However, as he is not the first born son, he is not going to inherit any of his families fortune. He has to make his own way in life, fortunately, he does have a head for business, so he starts selling fine cloth. He then decides to head to London to make his fortune. He takes with him his best friend, Simon Lookout, the local village idiot and part time inventor. Then Simon’s mother, the indomitable Sarah the Cook, invites herself along for the adventure.
On the journey to London, they find a stray cat and decide to take it with them. Just as they arrive, the capital city is plunged into chaos by an invasion of plague carrying rats.
Most of this is the story of the pantomime, but what is the real truth, did Richard Whittington really become “thrice Lord Mayor of London”.
The Real Dick Whittington.
Yes, he was a real person but no he didn’t become thrice Lord Mayor of London, he became Lord Mayor four times! He was Lord Mayor of London in 1397, 1398, 1406 and 1419.
Richard Whittington was born in 1354 in the parish of St Michael Paternoster Royal, which was within the City of London. He was the third son of Sir William Whittington a wealthy landowner from Pauntley in Gloucestershire, which is in the Forest of Dean. This is interesting as our pantomime and several other Dick Whittington’s start in Pauntley, as well.
As third son he didn’t inherit anything, he had to make his own way, so he came to London and became a successful merchant. He imported silks and velvets, both luxury fabrics, which he sold to royalty and nobility while exporting to Europe English woollen cloth. It has been recorded that just between 1392 to 1394 he sold King Richard II cloths worth £3,500 (£1.5M in today’s money).
Then in 1388 he became a money lender and within ten years he was even lending money to the king, lots of it! He appears to have been a natural entrepreneur.
It is said that the story was originally written to inspire others from humbler beginnings that even they could succeed. You see in those days as the third son of a wealthy man he was regarded as lower than dirt by the populous.
Richard Whittington was so successful, that even today people are still benefiting from him.
While alive he financed:
- The rebuilding of the Guildhall
- A ward for unmarried mothers at St Thomas’ Hospital
- Drainage systems for areas around Billingsgate and Cripplegate
- The rebuilding of his parish church, St Michael Paternoster Royal
- A public toilet, seating 128, called Whittington’s Longhouse in the parish of St Martin Vintry, which was cleansed by the River Thames at high tide
- Most of Greyfriars library
However, his greatest legacy is the Charity of Sir Richard Whittington, a non-profit organization that even 600 years later is still operating!
Today it is managed by The Mercers’ Company, one of the City of London’s livery companies, of which he was a member. He created the Charity while he was alive and, on his death, his will entrusted it to the Mercers’ Company. It has over all these years continued to provide sheltered housing accommodation for older people, while also supporting individuals experiencing need, hardship or distress.
To me this is his greatest achievement.
As I have explained, he was a very wealthy man, when he died, he was buried next to his wife Alice. Now you may recognise that name, because yes, he married Alice from the Pantomime.
Interestingly, there was a rumour that he was buried with his treasure, so during the reign of Edward V, rector, Thomas Mountain, dug him up. There was no treasure, but Thomas Mountain did take his leaden shroud. The rumours persisted so during Queen Mary’s reign he was dug up again, then again in 1949, all this had an effect on his body. The 1949 opening showed no body but there was a mummified cat in the grave, so that’s what happened to the cat!
Therefore, Richard Whittington, who we know as Dick Whittington, wasn’t really a pantomime character, he was so much more.
However, if you want to have fun with a Potty Panto try Daring Dick go to https://eml.coolski.co.uk/index.php/product/daring-dick-whittington/
Isn’t history fun?
For more information on this astonishing man: