Wednesday, December 31, 2014
As this year’s Rhodes Panto ‘Dick Whittington and his magical cat,’ takes us on a quest to defeat RatPutin and rid London of his rat army, we at the museum, are setting our minds to explore a little of the history of the real Richard Whytyndone, a medieval merchant, politician and owner of propetry at Thorley, near Bishop’s Stortford.
Born in the 1350s, the second son of a Gloucestershire family, Richard did not inherit his father’s estate, and so travlled to London to make his fortune. After serving an apprenticeship he became a ‘mercer’, dealing in cloth and supplying fine fabrics to both King Richard II and King Henry IV. Whytndone married Alice Fitzwarren and became four times Mayor of London. He is the real life inspiration for the tale Dick Whittington and his cat (although where the cat in the story came from is very uncertain). How his true life became the story we know and love as pantomime today is not entirely clear, but by 1606 a play had been produced about him and after that his legend continue to grow, through songs and stories, even as a puppet performance in the 18th century.
Whytndone owned the Manor of Thorley at the end of the 14th century, although there is no evidence that he ever lived there. He does however bring a little glamour to us as ‘Lord of the Manor of Thorley’ by this association alone. When Whytndone bought the manor in the 14th century he was a wealthy man and adding to his portfolio. He would have known the village as a small place consisting of agricultural land where people used to grow mainly wheat, but also barley and even beans. Thorley church has stood since the Norman period, and would have been a familiar sight to those who resided in the village in the late 14th century. Thorley Hall, still standing next to the church was the heart of the manor and part of Whytndone’s property. Before Whytndone’s time, the Domesday Book records the area as a ‘Torlei Manor’ and states that there was a knight, about 27 tenants, a priest and mention of a mill (Twyford Mill) worth 10 shillings (50p) per year rent. Its population totalled about 100 and its value was put at £8. It is interesting to note that the name of the village evolved gradually from Torlei in 11th century to Thorley from the 13th onwards. There are many explanations behind the origin of the name, but the one that stands out is that it originates from the Celtic word ‘tor’, meaning stony hill and ‘lei’ being pasture. Apparently the Normans had great difficulties in pronouncing the letter ‘h’ and that’s why it was omitted during the 11th century – Torlei.
So, if you find yourself on Whittington Way, the road that runs parallel with old Thorley Lane linking the road with Thorley village – remember that it was named in memory of Richard Whytyndone, better known as Dick Whittington, mayor of London, the man behind the legend – but more importantly (to us at least), the owner of Thorley Manor.
Blog by: Alex Andrijevic
Domesday book, Hertfordshire, Phillimore 1976
Sparrow, Yesterday’s Stortford, Barracuda books Ltd.,1981
Jacquline Cooper, Bishop’s Stortford A History, Phillimore, 2005