By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
Who was Lucy Locket, and what is the deal with her pocket? How does one lose a pocket? We’re here to answer these and other important questions in today’s blog post, the latest in our series of posts analysing classic nursery rhymes. Today, as you might have guessed, it’s the turn of ‘Lucy Locket’, or ‘Lucy Locket Lost Her Pocket’. So, here goes with the analysis:
Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a penny was there in it,
Only ribbon round it.
The go-to source when beginning to analyse famous nursery rhymes is still that vast work of literary criticism and research, Iona and Peter Opie’s The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford Dictionary of Nusery Rhymes).
The Opies can usually be relied upon for some sound and accurate research into the history of a good nursery rhyme, and with ‘Lucy Locket’ they don’t disappoint. Or rather, they do and they don’t.
You see, the thing is, as with many classic nursery rhymes, we’re on dangerous ground if we try to connect ‘Lucy Locket’ to real people from history, or a real historical event, or throw interpretations about such as the idea that Lucy Locket is Cardinal Wolsey (he usually turns up somewhere in origin-stories about every nursery rhyme).
We simply don’t know if Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher were originally based on any actual people.
Among the readings that have been put forward are these: that Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher were courtesans at the time of King Charles II, or that Kitty Fisher is based on a woman of that name from the eighteenth century (also a prostitute). On this latter point it is true that there was a woman alive in the eighteenth century with that name, and the great portrait-painter Joshua Reynolds even painted her.
The Opies record that this real Kitty Fisher was the inspiration for other verses and rhymes. But in none of these other Kitty Fisher rhymes does Lucy Locket appear.
Lucy Locket is referred to (as Lucy Lockit) in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), but whether Gay originated the name, or was merely drawing on a much older character, it’s difficult to ascertain, since nursery rhymes tended to exist in oral culture for a good while before they found their way into print.
So, in conclusion, who Lucy Locket originally was, and why she lost her pocket, is not clear. But it seems clear that Kitty Fisher stole the money that was originally in it. Whoever she was…
The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University. He is the author of, among others, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History and The Great War, The Waste Land and the Modernist Long Poem.
You could ‘lose your pocket’ in the 18th century because it was a small cloth bag, tied round the waist, worn under your petticoats, so it was considered underwear. The rhyme is a little bit naughty already, referring to an intimate item of clothing, like a garter, and later, knickers. And a woman’s pocket was reached through slits in her clothing…if Lucy’s pocket was vulnerable, then perhaps she was no better than she should have been – if anyone could rummage in her underwear? and it is no surprise to find this in a nursery rhyme. Children have always found references to ‘what lies beneath’ hilarious.