The Worst Woman In London

There were plenty of “characters” who made appearances in the London courts, usually charged with drunkenness. The likes of William Onions and Shiner Bob were frequent courtroom celebreties.

One such “character” was Tottie Fay, whose court appearances were chronicled in numerous newspaper articles throughout the 1880s and the 1890s.

As with many such women at the time, she was actually using aliases, and one of her earliest appearances was in March, 1887, when she appeared in court under her real name, Lily Cohen.

A sketch showing Tottie Fay Dancing.
Tottie Fay as depicted by The Illustrated Police News, 11th June 1892. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The Dundee Evening Telegraph published the story of her court appearance in its edition of Wednesday, 9th March 1887:-

“Mr Mansfield, the Magistrate of Marlborough Street, whose experience of fallen womanhood in his judicial capacity is almost as extensive as that of any man in London, always excepting Mr Merrick, chaplain of Millbank, has discovered the London Rosiere of Vice.

He sent her to gaol on Saturday for a month, declaring that to his knowledge, she was the worst and wickedest woman in London.

Her names, for she has many, are Lily Cohen, Tottie Fay, Lilian Rothschild, Violet John, Mabelel Gray, Maud Legrand, Lily Levant.

She is just thirty years of age.

It would be interesting to have accurate biographical and scientific diagnosis of this superlative specimen of human depravity.


The Pall Mall Gazette had opined on her plight on Tuesday 08 March 1887:-

“One who Knows her,” writes to us as follows, in answer to an inquiry about Lily Cohen, whom Mr. Mansfield styled on Saturday “the worst and wickedest woman in London.”

It would seem from his account that Mr. Mansfield exaggerated Lily’s wickedness. There are many worse than she. But her story is very interesting, if only as illustrating some observations made elsewhere by Mr. Horsley as to the need for special care in treating first offenders.


He writes:- Lily Cohen is “a lady” – that is to say, she was brought up and is educated as a lady. Less than ten years ago Lily Colen was a highly respectable girl.

How comes it, then, that she has been so often in gaol?


The fact is that Lily Cohen is pursuing a “Plan of Campaign” against society.

Each time she gets drunk, each time she is charged with brawling, each time she is immured in gaol, she fancies she is getting one step nearer to the goal that she has set herself to win her reinstatement into the circle of society from which she has fallen.


Her history is somewhat remarkable.

When a mere girl, while on a visit to the house of some friends – connected, by-the-by, with one of the best-known entertainments in London – she was found to have stolen some articles of bijouterie.

She was charged with the offence, and upon its being proved she was punished with a short term of imprisonment.


On her release from gaol her friends, she says, turned their backs upon her, and forthwith she determined to so bemean herself as to extract from them the consideration and care that she was too proud either to deserve or to crave at their hands.

She turned out upon the streets. She thought her friends for their own sakes would treat her as she had been treated before her imprisonment, which was what she required. They, however, shunned her only the more, and she in her turn retaliated by being “had up” and getting her name into the papers. This she has been doing ever since.


Her friends, naturally, have a different tale to tell.

They assert that, on her release from gaol the first time, they did all in their power for her, but to no avail. They may say what is true; all I am anxious to point out is that Lily Cohen is not the depraved and dissolute wretch Mr. Mansfield’s words would imply, but rather a poor deluded creature, perhaps hardly sane, whom men should pity rather than altogether condemn.


Lily Cohen is this woman’s registered name – the rest of her aliases are assumed for obvious purposes, and I can account for her fixing upon none except the one of Rothschild. This is the name of the maternal branch of her family – no connection I may say with the financial princes.

She is a Jewess, and one cannot help wondering that a community so boastful of domestic morality and chastity among its women should have provided the women who in these latter days have by common consent been placed highest in the hierarchy of vice.

The notorious “procurer” in Liverpool, who, I believe, is now undergoing a term of imprisonment, Louisa Hart, who is also a convict, and Rebecca Hart, who should be, are all Jewesses.


She has brought shame on the community, and that is an unpardonable offence.

Hence, Jewish women who once fall, and whose fall becomes generally public, are left to run their downward course to whatever depth it may carry them.


Lily Cohen protests against being ostracized, and thinks the most effectual way to regain her lost position is by continually being sent to gaol.

Of course, she is deluded but that is a reason for pitying this young woman, and any way I am sure she is far from being a “superlative specimen of human depravity,” and is by no means” the worst and wickedest woman in London.”