Dick Whittington and His Cat is an English folk tale that has often been used as the basis for stage pantomimes and other adaptations. It tells of a poor boy in the 14th century who becomes a wealthy merchant and eventually the Lord Mayor of London because of the ratting abilities of his cat. The character of the boy is named after a real-life person, Richard Whittington, but the real Whittington did not come from a poor family and there is no evidence that he had a cat.
Dick Whittington was a poor orphan. Hearing of the great city of London, where the streets were said to be paved with gold, he set off to seek his fortune in the city. Once there, of course, Dick could not find any streets that were paved with gold. Hungry, cold and tired, he fell asleep in front of the great house of Mr. Fitzwarren, a rich merchant. The generous man took Dick into his house and employed him as a scullery boy. Unfortunately, Dick’s little room was infested with rats. Dick earned a penny shining a gentleman’s shoes, and with it he bought a cat, who drove off the rats.
One day, Mr. Fitzwarren asked his servants if they wished to send something in his ship, leaving on a journey to a far off port, to trade for gold. Reluctantly, Dick sent his cat. Dick was happy living with Mr. Fitzwarren, except that Fitzwarren’s cook was cruel to Dick, who eventually decided to run away. But before he could leave the city, he heard the Bow Bells ring out. They seemed to be saying, “Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London”. Dick retraced his steps and found that Mr. Fitzwarren’s ship had returned. His cat had been sold for a great fortune to the King of Barbary, whose palace was overrun with mice. Dick was a rich man. He joined Mr. Fitzwarren in his business and married his daughter Alice, and in time became the Lord Mayor of London three times, just as the bells had predicted.