Both a legendary and historical figure, Dick Whittington was an English merchant and Lord Mayor of London. The real Dick Whittington was the son of a knight, and he became rich and famous selling fabrics to kings and nobles. The wealthiest merchant of his day, he served three terms as Lord Mayor of London in the late 1300s and early 1400s.
English legend, however, places Dick Whittington as a poor orphan boy from the countryside who went to London because he had heard that the city streets were paved with silver and gold. In search of a job, he found work as a cook's helper in the home of a wealthy merchant. The cook treated Dick very badly, so he ran away. On his way out of the city, however, he heard church bells ringing. They seemed to say "Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of great London," so he stopped and returned to the city.
Upon reaching his master's house, Whittington discovered that his only possession, a cat, had been sold for a huge sum to a Moorish ruler of North Africa, whose kingdom was overrun with rats. Whittington invested the money wisely and became a successful and rich merchant. He married his master's daughter and became Lord Mayor of London.
The legend of his early life as a poor orphan was first recorded in 1605. According to the popular story, he was a kitchen boy who was so badly treated that he was about to run away, when he heard the bells of London ringing as though saying, ‘Turn again Whittington, Lord Mayor of London.’