Mary Nichols was born in Deptford in about 1685.
In her twenties she married a butcher and she had children, but for whatever reason by 1713 her marriage had failed and she then took to stealing to provide for the children. She was caught and convicted several times. She was branded for the third time in December 1714.
On 22 July 1715 she committed her final crime. She was living in Whitechapel and went to the house of Christopher Hunt and stole two sheets worth 10 shillings and other unspecified goods. Not being a very competent thief she made too much noise and woke Mr Hunt. He chased her down the road and caught her.
She gave her name to the magistrates as Trolly Lolly, and was subsequently tried and sentenced in that name. Trolly Lolly is an old English song that dates back to at least the early 16th century and would still have been well known in 1715.
She was tried at the Old bailey on 7th September. The report of the trial briefly records: The Prisoner in her Defence said she was going a Hay-making, and saw the Door wide open; which being a very poor one, she was found Guilty of Felony and Burglary . Death was the all but inevitable sentence.
After the trial Mary was held at Newgate Prison where she was attended by Paul Lorrain the chaplain, or ordinary. The position of the Ordinary of Newgate was finacially lucrative as it carried the right to publish the last confessions of those executed. Mary told Lorrain her real name and place of birth and recounted that she had sold meat, but also occaisonally fish, eggs, butter or fruit on the streets around Southwark and elsewhere in London before turning her hand to crime.
Mary's execution did not take place until Wednesday 21st September when she and four other prisoners were taken in carts to Tyburn. Without being taken from the carts Lorrain first prayed and sang psalms with the prisoners and they were then given a few moments to compose themselves, before the nooses were placed round their necks. The prisoners delivered the expected warning to others not to sin and then the carts the carts drew away. No doubt the crowd roared and catcalled but Paul Lorrain was off to the printers.
That night in taverns and ale houses across London those who could read told the Ordinary's Account to those who could not. No doubt many drunken oafs danced a Tyburn Jig in crass imitaion of the prisoner's death throws. Perhaps more quitely, others pondered the fate of Mary's children.
“Most Awful Place in Britain”: Hackney 1982
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