Dick Whittington and his Cat

The ants of London have retreated to their office hives so travelswithadiplomat rolls a coin and sets off after it down the hill from London’s Bank, past Cannon St station and down towards the Thames via College Hill. It is a small warren that the black clad march forgets as they scuttle out of Cannon St; a tangled bramble they divide around before heading westwards. Yet here, hidden in small obscurity are the house of the Duke of Buckingham (1672), the scoured churchyard of St John the Baptist upon Walbrook (c1480-c1880) the house of the famous London Mayor, Dick Whittington, and lastly, the Church of St Michael Paternoster. Have a look carefully at the photo…go on…click on it and read the flagstone 😉

I wander in. I am the only person there. Just as I like it.

Its history is much like all churches in the City of London; destroyed in the Great Fire, rebuilt under the guidance of Sir Christopher Wren, bombed in WWII, rebuilt by the late 60s. Of the seven churches dedicated to the Archangel Michael pre-1666, this one was the oldest, from 1219. Inside, the usual reredos has four Corinthian columns and two flaming urns with baroque statues of Moses and Aaron. There are three stain glass windows in the east wall, the main one depicting St Michael trampling a red-winged Satan. The windows either side have the Virgin Mary and Adam and Eve with St Gabriel and the serpent.

More importantly one window was stained with a rendering of Lord Mayor-philanthropic-rags-to-riches Sir Dick Whittington and his famous cat. A story of Dick Whittington that has captured the attention of all English school children from an early age. The story goes something like this…

A long time ago there was once a poor boy called Dick Whittington who had no Mummy and Daddy to look after him so he was often very hungry.  He lived in a little village in the country. He’d often heard stories about a faraway place called London where everybody was rich and the streets were paved with gold. Dick Whittington was determined that he would go there and dig up enough gold from the streets to make his fortune….

…unfortunately, the story is somewhat embellished; the reality a little harsher. Still there was the narrative tolling of London’s bells which turned him back and he was thrice Lord Mayor of London. There have been plays, prose, opera, and ballads about the man. At one time, Whittington’s statue with a cat was erected at Newgate prison. Its fate is the topic of some speculation; some historic sources claim it was there till 1666 when it perished in the Great Fire, others that it was destroyed or removed in 1776 when Newgate itself was demolished. What is certain though, is that this church housed (at one time) the remains of the man and his cat.

The church, these days, is a patron for The Missions to Seamen. In 1835 the Rev. John Ashley looked at a fleet of vessels lying in Penarth Roads and heard a call to undertake a mission to the crews on board. From that foundation in 1837 was built the Bristol Channel Mission; reorganised in 1845 and renamed The Bristol Seamens Mission, extending its work to the English Channel. By 1858 the flag with its Flying Angel insignia was adopted. Finally it became the Mission to Seafarers in 2000.

Time to go, a small hill to climb. Oh…take a look at these 😉


Is this what diplomacy is all about?



Categories: London

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