Langham Road, London, N15. Photo © Roger Dean 2013
Romance of London, Volume I – John Timbs, 1800:
The nursery tale of of the poor boy, who rose to be a wealthy merchant and Lord Mayor of London, chiefly through a large sum of money obtained for him by the sale of a cat, is a proven fiction; and we have to seek some other explanation of this special wonder. Mr Keightley has well observed there were tales of a similar nature current both before and at Whittington’s date, in several other countries – in South America, in Denmark, in Tuscany, in Venice, and in Persia. During the Middle Ages, and, doubtless, at other periods, there were current a multitude of tales and stories belonging to no individual, but perfectly fabulous, but which the popular mind was continually fixing upon persons who had rendered themselves remarkable, as a manner of expressing the popular appreciation of their character, or explanation of the means by which they gained it. Hence the same story is told of different persons, at different periods, and in different countries. Such was the origin of the story of Whittington and his Cat. Its incidents were not possible in Whittington’s time, but they are exactly in accordance with the sentiments and state of things in the reign of Elizabeth, when, as far as the Whittington story is concerned, it seems to have originated.