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London Referendum Thursday, 16 April, 1998, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Clever Dick
Whittington's memorial
Whittington's memorial, Highgate Hill, London
As the government sets out to establish the new office of London mayor, the legacy the city's most famous mayor lives on.

Pauntley
Pauntley
Dick Whittington, who is remembered today for the rags-to-riches story still performed in pantomimes, left his substantial fortune to charity.

Thanks to the careful investments by the executors of his will, the former mayor's will still provides dozens of charities with much-needed funding more than 500 years later.

Streets paved with gold

Born in the second half of the 14th century, Whittington left his hometown of Pauntley in Gloucestershire as a young man to seek his fortune in the big city.

Whittington's name appearing in the King's accounts
Whittington's name appearing in the King's accounts
Unlike his pantomime counterpart, he was never poor and started his commercial career as an apprentice to a mercer, or merchant. Soon after, he began supplying fine cloths to members of the aristocracy. At court, Whittington gained contacts that eventually led him to supply King Richard II himself.

Whittington rose quickly becoming the master of the Mercer's Company in 1395, a position he held three times. According to "Who's Who in Late Medieval England," Richard Whittington was the "outstanding London merchant of his day." In 1397, the King appointed him mayor of London.

By the time of his death in 1423, Whittington had amassed a fortune totalling 7,000 - making him the medieval equivalent of multi-millionaire.

The myth is born

But it was only at his death that the legend was born. A widower with no children, Whittington left his entire fortune to charity.

The executor of his will, the Mercer's Company, quickly set about constructing, libraries and almshouses in Whittington's name for the "poor and needy" of London.

plaque
His house in the City no longer stands but a plaque marks the spot
But it also invested brilliantly. Today, more than 60 elderly people are still cared for in Whittington's College (more an almshouse than academic institution). The fund also provides charities such as Scope, Gingerbread and the YMCA with funds for their good works as well as other good causes in London.

In 1996, the fund donated over 2m to a variety of charities. Not a bad annual return on an initial investment of just 7,000.

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