College Hill, a narrow lane parallel to Queen Street is one you’ve may never gone down. At the bottom of it stands St Michael Paternoster Royal. A Wren church, it was one of the last to be built after the Great Fire.
It’s named after the paternosters, the ‘Our Father’ chants the priests used to utter, and the town of La Reole, in Bordeaux, which had connections with the wine trade. Now the church is the headquarters of the Mission of Seafarers but its claim to fame really lies in one of the burials, for it was here that Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London was buried in 1423. His house once stood next door.
What we know of Dick Whittington and what the pantomime tells us is very different. He was born in fact in 1354, the younger son of a Gloucestershire knight, who went to London to become an apprentice to the Mercers’ Company, dealing in fine fabrics. He did very well and made a massive fortune.
So much so, in fact, that he lent money to Richard II, helped build the Guildhall and bought Leadenhall Market for the Corporation. At a famous feast he ceremoniously burned a debt of £60,000 owed by Henry V on a pyre of sandalwood. Whittington became a City alderman and, when the incumbent Lord Mayor Adam Bamme died in office in 1397, the king chose him to succeed.
He was subsequently re-elected and became mayor again in 1407 and 1419, so he ended up being Lord Mayor 4 times under 3 kings. He married an Alice Fitzwarren but there were no children from the marriage. When he died in 1423 he used his great wealth to benefit the City. He built almshouses for the poor people, which are still going strong but are now in East Grinstead.
His Whittington Charity, set up to help disadvantaged Londoners still functions and is run by the Mercers’ Company. Fortunately his public lavatory, known as Whittington’s Longhouse, has long gone! As for the cat, we’ll never know but it may have referred to a ‘catte’, which was a vessel for transporting goods on the river.