Picking Pockets

Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a penny was there in it, Only ribbon round it.

When I was a kid, I remember wondering how on earth Lucy could lose a pocket – they were surely sewn into your pants (or skirt)! But now, with the wisdom of age, I know that pockets were not sewn into garments but were worn outside them on ribbons hanging from the waist. So, of course, one could be lost. Easily.

Pocket dated 1718, thread on cotton with central access slit

Pockets could also be stolen: “pick-pockets” or “cut-purses” slashed their ribbons and ran off with them. In 1714, for example, a London criminal court heard that Katherine Priest “catch’d hold of [her victim], and pretended to kiss, and be very familiar with him, and presently he found his Pocket cut out, and his Money gone.”

A few years later, Katharine Cason testified in court that “a Person struck her, and with that she being affrighted clapped her Hand on her Watch, in the interim he pulled off her Pocket with that Violence, she thought he pulled off her Petticoat also…”

Finely decorated pocket from the early 18th century, gold and silk thread on linen

But what about Lucy and Kitty? There’s a story here with a double entendre that is less suitable for children. Both ladies were both courtesans, one downscale and the other upscale: one in the tavern and the other in the salon. Lucy Locket worked in Ye Olde Cock Tavern in Fleet Street, London, where she took a lover who paid her for her time, thus becoming her “pocket.” He ran out of money, so she ditched him. The “pocket” that she lost, therefore, was not her purse, but the gentleman who filled it.

Kitty was an upscale version of Lucy and ran a fashionable business – she was even painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. It appears that Kitty tried to add Lucy’s ex-pocket to her client base – he was well dressed (signified by the ribbon): but her poaching didn’t pay off, he was flat broke. A story with a moral, even if a bit of an immoral one.

As a kid, I would have been quite happy knowing that Lucy’s pocket dropped from its ribbons, the money in it was stolen and when Kitty came across it, there it was, empty. But as an adult…

By the way, if you want to break into song, the rhyme goes to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Kitty Fisher, dressed as Cleopatra, by Sir Joshua Reynolds

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