Roaring Girl – The Life and Wild Times of Moll Cutpurse

Moll Cutpurse was the queen of 17th Century London underworld. Dressed as a man, carrying a sword and puffing on a long clay pipe with her swagger, style and bi-sexuality she was one of the most colourful characters of the age and deserves to be as celebrated in the folklore of London as Dick Turpin and Danny Dyer.


Moll  was so notorious in her time that famous playwrights Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton wrote a play about her, The Roaring Girl in which she is described as ‘a very Tomrig and Rumple scuttle’. She was happy to challenge men to a fight or even a duel if they happen to cross her. She was as likely to commit adultery with a husband or his wife and was a master thief who constantly evaded the law.

The 17th Century was a time where criminals were flogged, had their ears cropped, disemboweled and  hung in public as a form of sport. This didn’t deter such a brazen gangster as Moll, not even being jailed and having her hands branded.

She started her career stealing purses in St.Paul’s Cathedral on rainy days when it was packed and moved up through the ranks of villainy to become a highwaywoman during the Civil War, her most notable victim being the Roundhead General Fairfax who she held up on Hounslow Heath, shot him through the arm and rode off with his gold. She also shot his horses to make sure he couldn’t follow her. The military caught her eventually, sentenced her to be hanged, but she managed to escape Newgate jail by paying a massive bribe to the prison warden.

When she wasn’t stealing from people she worked as a pimp, providing male lovers for respectable middle class City ladies. She ended her life as a fence and ran a school for thieves to ensure her criminal craft was passed on.
She eventually died of dropsy in Fleet Street.

City Drift

The City of London at the weekend is one of the most peaceful places in the metropolis. Taking the back door out of Liverpool Street and follow the breeze – over the rising ground of Primrose Street, past empty white tablecloth restaurants where a waitress chews her fingernails, the lonely humming substation in Snowden Street, skirting the London Borough of Hackney and street signs recalling when Shoreditch was a Borough rather than a punchline or a boast.

The Flying Horse - Wilson Street

The alleyways, College Lane, nowhere open to get tea and it’s only 6pm. Laurence Pountney Hill, Botolph Alley, St. Dunstan’s Hill, Lovatt Lane and Petticoat Lane, then down the Minories for the DLR from Tower Gateway.


Beside the Lea


Yesterday took a stroll along the new path that runs up the side of East Marsh, the firm gravel surface seems far too appealing to cyclists, some of whom looked to be taking to a bike for the first time. I waited a while to see if one would wobble off into the cow parsley – but it wasn’t to be.


The Red Campions were out in force (unless the 30 minutes consulting 3 different wildflower books was a waste of time and these aren’t red campions – I’m not yet confident with my wildflower identification). Apparently the latin name comes from the Greek god Silene (their latin name is Silene Dioica) because like the female red campion he was covered in a sticky goo. Folklore tells us that they guard the place where fairies stash their honey. I didn’t find any.


Somebody had a BBQ with flames so high it licked the overhanging boughs of a tree, there was an air of May Bank Holiday madness evident all around.


The other side of the White House Bridge the birds belted out their tunes as though they too had been on the sauce all weekend. Somebody had set up camp in a secluded spot on the river bank hidden by a low-hanging tree. I pushed on for the filter beds then lapped back to Leyton via Marsh Lane Fields.