The Whittington Stone commemorates Dick Whittington (or Sir Richard Whittington) who was from the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.
He was born some time in the 1350s and was sent to London to seek his fortune where the streets were said to be paved with gold. He managed to get an apprenticeship as a mercer (or cloth maker).
There is a famous fairytale which has been turned into a successful pantomime about how Dick Whittington ran away from his cruel master and then go a job on a ship because his cat was very good at catching rats. Apparently this made him very wealthy and he ended up becoming Mayor of London.
However, this is not true. Legend has it that he ran away from his master, Hugh Fitzwarren, and reached Highgate Hill when he stopped to rest his weary bones. He then heard the sound of the Bow Bell drifting across the fields which he thought were saying “Turn again, Whittington, thrice Mayor of London”.
So he did return to his master who was a wealthy mercer and he married his daughter and became very wealthy and successful.
The monument on Highgate Hill called Whittington Stone features a cat simply because of the fairytale but there is no evidence that he had a cat.
Dick Whittington did go on to become Mayor of London and by all accounts he was a good mayor. He was actually mayor 4 times and was considered very generous and charitable! (He was not Lord MAyor of London. The Lord Mayor is the Chief Justice Admiral and General and takes precedence over the monarch in some cases. The City of London having its own government separate from the monarch since Roman times.
He had once lent money to King Henry V and when the king came to visit him he built a huge lavish fire with fragrant woods and spices and threw £60 000 worth of bonds onto the fire announcing that he was cancelling the King’s debts, to which King Henry V replied, “Surely never had a King such a subject!” and Sir Richard Whittington (now knighted) replied, “Surely never had a subject such a king!”
He built St Michael’s Church (where he is buried) in the city, restored St Bartholomew’s Hospital and had many aqueducts built. He even fined breweries if they served bad beer! He also rebuilt Newgate prison and prohibited the washing of animal skins in the river Thames by young apprentices because they would often die of cold.
Not a bad set of achievements for someone who died aged 48!