Sunday, April 3, 2016
Dick Whittington's Cat
When I was just a little kid, my grandfather read a story to me about someone named Dick Whittington and the wonderful cat he owned. The cat was so good at catching and killing rats that it saved Dick from a life of poverty when people began to hire his cat to rid the vermin from their homes.
I'm not sure why that story stuck with me all those years but it instantly came to mind when I spotted this little monument in the Highgate area of northern London.
I did some research and found that there really was a Dick Whittington but that he came from a wealthy family, was never poor and there is no record that he ever owned a cat.
The story my grandfather read to me states that Dick was about to flee London and standing on a hill heard the bells of a church and they supposedly spoke to him and told him to stay because he would become Lord Mayor of London one day.
The real Richard Whittington (1354-1423) was in fact Lord Mayor of London, four times!
The fictional version of his story comes in many forms. The earliest version dates back to 1604 when it was presented as a play. The prose version was published in 1654. There was even a ballad at one time. My grandfather's version was in a small, hard-covered book with a drawing of a cat on the cover.
Near the stone monument is this sign. The stone is supposed to mark the place where Dick heard those bells that told him to stay in London. That stone (the one the cat is sitting on in the top photo) was placed there in 1821. The cat was added on top of the stone in 1964.
The whole thing makes me wonder how the story ever came about. Whatever started this remarkable story about a very poor lad when in fact the real man was a wealthy and successful businessman?
Whatever it was, the story stuck with me for all those years so that the minute I saw the statue and the sign, it all came rushing back.