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Moll King's Houses on Haverstock Hill
Moll King 1696-1747

Moll King later in life
Moll King

A legend in her day in the early 18th century, Mary 'Moll' King was quite a character, originating from the slum district of St Giles. Said to be more than an extraordinary pickpocket, she was an entrepreneur, a thief, a prostitute and probably a brothel keeper as well.  

Offending frequently, and having gone into service at the age of fourteen, by 1713 Mary King was indicted on eleven separate charges, adopting at least twelve aliases during her life of crime.

A notorious 18th century establishment
Moll King apparently disappeared from criminal life for a while. However, someone going by the name of Elizabeth Adkins was a prominent figure in London's underworld during the early 18th century as a prostitute, pickpocket and thief whose aliases included "Mary"' or "Maria Godson," although she is best known as Moll King.


These tall buildings in this 1829 engraving are still standing on Haverstock Hill, London

In 1718, she was apprehended stealing a gold watch from a gentlewoman and sentenced to seven years' transportation. She was caught while attempting to sneak back into the country from the American colonies and sentenced to death.

But while she later won a reprieve, she remained imprisoned in Newgate Prison throughout the autumn of 1721 where she may have met Daniel Defoe who had been visiting his friend and journalist Nathaniel Mist. (Wikipedia

Haverstock Hill 82-84 today
The houses on Haverstock Hill today

Then, after 1723, Moll King re-emerged and opened a coffee house in 1732 with her husband Tom King – she had apparently reformed. The couple had previously shared a successful nut stall in Covent Garden and raised enough funds for their next venture, but Moll’s dealings were never wholly legitimate.

Tom King's Coffee House was a notorious establishment in Covent Garden, ostensibly a coffee house, but in reality it served as a meeting place for prostitutes and their customers.

By refusing to provide beds, the Kings ensured that they never risked charges of brothel-keeping. But the venue was nevertheless a rowdy drinking den and a favourite target for the moral reformers of the day. (Wikipedia)

Moll’s coffee house business was a great success, and its reputation grew. Frequented by many locals, and open from the time the taverns shut until dawn, the establishment served both late night revellers and Covent Garden market workers. 

The premises probably served more than just coffee, as Moll was charged in 1739 with keeping a disorderly house.

Moll King's Houses on Haverstock Hill

Numbers 82 and 84 Haverstock Hill are reputedly properties once owned by Moll King. She continued to run her coffee house until around 1745, after which she retired to live her life out here in Belsize. Moll died on 17 September 1747 after a long illness, leaving a large fortune.

The main character in Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, first published in 1722, may well be based on Moll King.

Clearly, if these buildings were once owned by Moll King as long ago as at least 1747, in all probability they are the oldest remaining properties in Belsize Park.

Acknowledgement
Grateful thanks to Aileen Hammond for her observations.

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This article is licensed under
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