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Whittington Stone

Restoration of the monument

The Whittington Stone is a Grade-II listed memorial stone on the south-west side of Highgate Hill, Islington, approximately 15 metres south of the junction with Magdala Avenue. It commemorates the story of Richard Whittington (c.1354–1423) who, leaving London discouraged after a disastrous attempt to make his fortune in the City, had reached Highgate Hill when heard the bells of St Mary le Bow ring out from 4.5 miles away: 'Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London.' He turned back and indeed became a successful merchant and Lord Mayor of London three times.

Having died childless, Whittington left £7,000 in his will to charity, which funded the rebuilding of Newgate Prison and accommodation in it for the Sheriffs and Recorder which is the forerunner of that in the Old Bailey, the first library in Guildhall (the ancestor of the modern Guildhall Library), repairs of St Bartholomew's Hospital, and almshouses (still functioning and relocated in 1966 to Felbridge near East Grinstead). The Whittington Charity disburses money each year through the Mercers' Company.

There had been a wayfaring stone in this location from at least the 17th century, which notified travellers of nearby Lazar House, a hospital for people suffering from leprosy which had been established in the 15th century. The stone was to attract “the notice of the traveller to the wants of the unfortunate objects of the Hospital and as a means of soliciting the alms of the charitable.” The earliest accounts of the legend of Dick Whittington date to 1602, 200 years after the death of Richard Whittington, which suggests that in the years after his death, the original wayfinding cross became part of this legend. The original stone was removed in 1795, sawn in two and used as a paving stone in Upper St and Lower St (now Essex Road). Local people were unhappy that the stone was removed so replacement was installed in 1795, which was then removed and replaced again with the current stone in 1821.

In 1821 the stone included an inscription to Richard Whittington, Mayor of London: ‘Whittington Stone / Richard Whittington / Thrice Lord Mayor of London / 1397 - Richard II / 1406 - Henry IV / 1420 - Henry V / Sheriff - in 1393’.
By 1935, local newspapers were reporting that the stone was in a poor condition and appeals were made to Islington Council. In 1964, local actor Donald Bissett commissioned art student Jonathan Kenworthy to place a statue of a cat on the stone, made from black polished kellymount limestone. The Whittington story is reflected in the nearby Whittington Hospital and visitors to the hospital often pet and stroke the cat for good luck before entering.

Extensive weathering across all surfaces has reduced the definition and legibility of the inscription panels with the west elevation lettering almost completely lost. The east inscription panel is less weathered and the dedication detailing Richard Whittington’s life and the 1935 restoration are still visible. The cement pointing between the plinth stone and the Whittington stone is beginning to fail with visible cracking around the edges. The plinth stone is weathered but intact. The two brass plaques recording the identity of the monument on the south side and the presentation of the cat in 1964 on the north side have lost their patina. The proposal for restoration includes lime putty sheltercoats to consolidate all hairline cracking & micro-pitting and ‘enhancing the lettering with a toned black paint to improve legibility.’ HOLT is discussing the possibility of carefully recutting the lettering for a more long term solution and to ensure it maximises public benefit and enjoyment.

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