This story was first recorded in 1605.It rapidly became a favourite, and was included in several other collections, including the fairytale collections of Joseph Jacobs. Richard Whittington was a real person, the son of a knight and himself a rich merchant in London. He served three terms as Lord mayor of London: 1397-99, 1406-07, and 1419-20. He died in 1423.
Long, long time ago there lived a poor boy called Dick Whittington. He had no mother and no father, and often nothing to eat. One day he heard of the great city of London, where, said everyone, even the streets were paved with gold. Dick decided to go to London to seek his fortune.
London was a big and busy city, full of people both rich and poor. But Dick could not find any streets that were paved with gold. Tired, cold and hungry he fell asleep on the steps of a great house. This house belonged to Mr. Fitzwarren, a rich merchant, who was also a good and generous man. He took Dick into his house, and gave him work as a scullery boy.
Dick had a little room of his own where he could have been very happy if it had not been for the rats. They would run all over him as he lay on his bed at night and would not let him sleep. One day Dick earned a penny shining shoes for a gentleman, and with it he bought a cat. After that Dick’s life became easier – the cat frightened away all the rats, and Dick could sleep in peace at night.
One day Mr. Fitzwarren called all the servants of the house together. One of his ships was leaving for a far-off land with goods to trade. Mr. Fitzwarren asked his servants to send something of their own in the ship if they so desired, something which could perhaps be traded for a bit of gold or money. Dick had only his cat to send – which he did with a sad heart.
Dick continued to work as a scullery boy for Mr. Fitzwarren, who was very kind to him. So was everyone else except the Cook who made Dick’s life so miserable that one day Dick decided to run away. He had reached almost the end of the city when he heard the Bow Bells ring out. ‘Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London’ chimed the bells. Dick was astonished – but he did as the bells said and went back to Mr. Fitzwarren.
When he returned he found that Mr. Fitzwarren’s ship had returned, and that his cat had been sold for a great fortune to the King of Barbary whose palace had been overrun with mice. Dick had become a rich man.
He soon learnt the business from Mr. Fitzwarren, married his daughter Alice, and in time became the Lord Mayor of London three times, just as the bells had said.