Polly of Pickpocket Row [1984]

  • Polly of Pickpocket Row – Judy PSL: #250 [1984]
  • Reprinted –  Bunty PSL: #432 [1997]


In the 19th century, Polly Pickles is left alone after her mother’s death, and gets no respite as the landlord immediately kicks her out of her home and takes all the furniture to pay for rent owed. She escapes the parish Beadle who wants to take her to the workhouse orphanage, but with no where to go she has to stay on the streets. Hungry, she offers to work for a baker for some food but he only shoves her away, dropping a loaf of bread in the process. In desperation she grabs the loaf but the baker chases her.Her first bit of luck is she runs into a lady who pies for the bread, claiming Polly was bringing it to her and then offers Polly a home. The lady Miss Darby, brings her to a nice home with lots of other children, she calls her home a school and tells her she has already made a good start in her lessons. Polly is shocked when she realises that Miss Darby means it is a school for thieves!

Miss Darby tells her they only steal from the rich and it is all for a good cause. She brings her out for her first lesson with two other girls Emily and Matilda. They are all dressed up, so no-one would mistake them for common urchin thieves. Miss Darby tells Polly it is important to look respectable, and the girls certainly use this when the steal from a woman and slip the purse to Miss Darby and are out of sight before the woman realises what has happened. Polly gets her first task when Harry steals a watch from a captain. Miss Darby realising he is a good man that rescued people from a shipwreck, gets Polly to return the watch. She does this by knocking some books and when he bends over to help pick them up she pretends he must have dropped his watch. With this being a success, it’s time for Polly to do the reverse and Miss Darby asks her who is deserving to be robbed. She chooses Mr Grice the sweatshop owner where her mother use to work dressmaking. She is nearly caught but Miss Darby’s intervention helps her escape, but then she runs into the Beadle. Luckily again her new family are looking out for her and Harry helps her escape. Polly hopes to share Mr Grice’s money with his worker’s but Miss Darby tells her it would raise too many suspicions and she has a better use for the money.

Seems someone has been keeping an eye on Miss Darby’s operation, Ned Griffin, a thief himself, he is not fooled by their “respectable” looks. He confronts Polly and Harry, they manage to give him the slip, but he is still hanging around the street where they live as he suspects their base is around there. As he is not familiar with Emily and Matilda, they approach him then frame him for stealing their jewelry, calling to police for help. He runs away and the police take chase, and though he was trying to blackmail them, the children are still upset when he fall in front of a train and is killed.

Miss Darby is still away but Harry takes Polly on a job. Polly is to distract Lord Lester while playing with hoop while Harry takes a case of money. The men figure out she is an accomplice and take her prisoner in hopes to exchange her for the money. Polly isn’t going to passively take this, there seems to be no escape from room, but she hides in chimney making them think she has escaped then runs out. Lester and his men are soon after her, but they are met by Miss Darby and the police! She claims Lester kidnapped her niece, she will let the matter drop if he gives donation to charity. Harry admires her nerve with her convincing everyone she is a respectable lady, though Darby counters that is exactly what she is. The next day she shows them where the money has gone to – building a home for unwanted children, they will no longer have to steal and she wants only happy days for all of them from now on.


It is nice to see this story has a happy ending and Miss Darby’s motives were sincere. Many of these kind of stories would have the protagonist tricked and used by the “kindly” benefactor. At the start Miss Darby does seem genuine, and her return of the captain’s watch seems like she has her own morality code, but the reader might still be cautious, perhaps she is just lulling Polly into false security, especially as some of her actions seem suspicious. Such as not wanting to share the money with workers and going away on secret trips. Luckily it is her charges she has in mind and the people she robbed aren’t ones that would earn our sympathy.

It’s easy to see how Polly is lured into this world, the welcoming Miss Darby, the nice clothes and food and warm house. Her career as thief is slowly built as she progresses from returning an item, to robbing from someone she knows is deserving of it, to stealing from a stranger. The set up of having them all look respectable certainly makes their activities easier. While there is not one villain in the story, there are several antagonists that Polly has to outwit, all at different social levels. Firstly the Beadle, who pops up twice to try and take Polly, he is in authority to do his job, but the orphanage would be worst than a jail sentence for Polly and even when she has a home, he still pursues her not believing her. Then Ned, a ruffian,  who is the most dangerous as he is on to their scheme. The children feel bad about his untimely end but Ned was dangerous and was suspect in a murder himself, so a bit of karma for him to fall in front of train. Lastly there are the people they rob, Mr Lester being the most proactive, actually kidnapping Polly as he wants a chance to get his money back and he believes the police would be of no help, and he is into some shady gambling herself. Polly while she does get help from others, she can be quite proactive, maybe learning more from Darby’s “school” she is quite crafty in how she gets away from Lester. It’s nice to see Polly’s new family look out for her and it is satisfying end that she has found a home and won’t have to continue stealing to earn her keep.


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