It was good to see a number of younger villagers and their parents attending the pantomime, Dick Whittington at the Octagon Theatre, Yeovil during the Christmas period, but I wonder whether anyone knew that our village has a close link with some of the main characters of this well-known pantomime!

The legend of “Dick Whittington” was first performed as a play around 1605 and was first staged as a pantomime in 1814. Though you may think the story is a fairy tale, it is in fact based on the life of Richard Whityngton, who was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1397, 1398, 1406 and 1419. He was not, however the penniless boy he is depicted in pantomime, but was in fact the son of Sir William Whittington of Pauntley. He arrived in London
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around 1379, and began to deal in costly textiles, and became an extremely wealthy merchant.

Now in the story, Dick Whittington was a poor boy from Gloucestershire who walked to London to seek his fortune. He found work in the house of a rich merchant named Fitzwarren, and fell in love with his daughter, Alice. The merchant invited his servants to invest money in a sailing voyage to a foreign land but Dick had no money, just his cat, which he gave to the captain of the ship. To cut a long story short, Dick’s cat killed or drove out the rats which had infested the court of a king of a foreign land visited by the ship and that in thanks, the king had paid a huge amount of gold to buy the cat. Dick was now a very wealthy man. He married Alice Fitzwarren, and eventually became Lord Mayor of London.

In reality, he married Alice, the daughter of Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn (Alderman Fitzwarren in the story) in 1402 when he was about 42 years of age. It turns out that Sir Ivo, sometimes referred to as Hugh Fitzwaryn, whilst still a teenager, became Lord of the Manor of Stourton Caundle (then known as Caundle Haddon) when his father died in 1361. He led a very eventful life eventually being knighted and remained Lord of the Manor here for more than 50 years. He died in 1414 and is buried in Wantage Church. There is a parchment scroll in the Dorset Record Office, written in 1415 following his death, which I have consulted, and which mentions Ivo, Richard Whityngton and Caundle Haddon all in the same sentence!

Unfortunately, unlike the pantomime, following their marriage Richard and Alice did not live entirely happily ever after. Alice sadly died in 1411 without giving birth to any children. Richard died in March 1423 and having no direct heir, he bequeathed the whole of his vast fortune to charitable and public purposes, which is in part why he is so fondly remembered especially by Londoners. We might speculate that over 600 years ago, during their happier times, Dick Whittington and Alice may have both visited our village where they would have stayed in the “Castle” on Court Barton near Manor Farm – now that’s another story!

Richard Miles