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Was Dick Whittington the first Shoreditch hipster?

We don’t usually cover Christmas cards/greetings – in our curmudgeonly way. We are a serious publication you know – well sometimes.

However Hamish Thompson of Houston PR sent me (and doubtless thousands of other close acquaintances) these thoughts on Dick Whittington, suggesting he was the first Shoreditch-based hipster.

Living near the A1/Archway I’m surrounded by Whittington this and that. But it’s quite funny (and pertinent), wherever you are.

The global technology industry is in thrall to Silicon Valley. Yet new evidence unearthed in the archives of the British Library suggests that it was mediaeval London that was the original source of arguably the most significant innovation in the tech industry of the 21st century to date: the start-up hipster.

That hipster was Dick Whittington. Let’s examine the evidence:

Whittington came to London, enticed by rumours that he would optimise his earnings thanks to the ready availability of capital (streets paved with gold).

Whittington commercialised his cat.

The cat set sail on on a global investor roadshow on a boat called The Unicorn* (owned by a serial entrepreneur and series A angel investor named Fitzwarren).

The business model was ‘frictionless’ (Whittington owned the cat, which was subcontracted to carry out the work).

Whittington found that, with high Shoreditch rents taken into account, his cat start-up income fell short of outgoings. Sadly, Whittington was unable to leverage or scale his business model and become the Uber of cats. Nor did he patent his innovation. Had he done so, the shape of the global tech industry might have been entirely different.

Whittington left London, unhappy that his first start-up had been a failure.

Whittington returned, motivated by a pop-up music event called Bow Bells.

Whittington discovered that high-net-worth series B investors from the Middle East had put in a bid for the cat business (the cat was a hit at local banquets for its mouse-catching capabilities). The cat’s pregnancy also delivered an eight for one share split.

Whittington leveraged his fortune to go into politics and ‘give something back.’

Whittington had a beard.

Sanitary conditions in mediaeval London were poor. This meant that garments were often washed in hot water. Woollen checked shirts would shrink a size or two. Whittington, with his beard and two-sizes-too-small gingham shirt, would not look out of place in any of today’s pre-revenue workplaces.

Coffee shops didn’t come to London until Georgian times, 300 years later. This meant that mediaeval Londoners tended to drink alcohol from morning until evening rather than river water which was unhygienic.* It was a time, therefore, of irrational exuberance, years before entrepreneurs were able to wake up and smell the coffee.

Licensing revenues from pantomimes keep the story alive, but Whittington is little more than a footnote in the history of technology. Perhaps now is the time to give him the recognition he deserves.

* True

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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