Lucy Locket is a traditional folksong from the 19th century, sung in the same melody as Yankee Doodle and Jack & Jill. The rhyme was first published in English Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales in 1842. However, its history dates back to 1728 or even 1554. Incidentally, both backstories talk about two women, Lucy and Kitty, mentioned in the rhyme.
A couple of versions of the rhyme exist, and both have just four lines. The first two lines are the same in both versions. Are you curious about the story? What do you think may have inspired the rhyme? Read on to find out.
Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a penny was there in it,
Only ribbon round it.
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Origins and History
Lucy Locket originated in Britain. According to one theory, the rhyme is about Lucy and Kitty (Catherine Marie Fischer) to courtesans from Charles II's kingdom. The name Lucy Locket was used by John Gay in Beggar's Opera (a ballad opera) in 1728. Kitty Fisher has numerous songs written about her and was a subject for three unfinished portraits by Joshua Reynolds, an English painter.
The rhyme has a simple meaning. Lucy loses her pocket (a kind of pouch worn by women), and Kitty finds it. However, there’s nothing in the pouch, except the ribbon around its neck (to prevent the contents from falling out).
While this is a seemingly innocent version, the other one is more dramatic. The second theory says that Lucy and Kitty were barmaids in a tavern somewhere on Fleet Avenue in London.
The story goes that Lucy found a young suitor (probably someone who visited the tavern). She got him to spend his money on her and left him when he had no more to give. Kitty, who worked in the same tavern and was famous for her charms, took the young man for herself despite his lack of money. It’s said that Kitty would tie a ribbon around the young man’s neck to taunt Lucy for using him. The word pocket implies the young man (who spent his money on Lucy).
Women in those days wore pleated skirts. The skirts have a small opening which allowed women to access their money pouches tied at the waist. The ends of the pockets were held together using a ribbon to prevent valuables from slipping out as women walked or moved. It was a way to hide their money without carrying it in their hand.
The tavern was called Cock Public House and was built in 1554. It was remodeled and reopened in 1888.