Nursery Rhymes . . . continued.

I have covered Nursery Rhymes in an earlier post but it’s a fascinating area and full of historical facts so I’m revisiting the subject and covering different rhymes.

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

One theory claims that the rhyme originates in the grimy streets and packed sweatshops of Shoreditch and Spitalfields that provided Londoners with their clothing. A spinner’s weasel is a device that is used for measuring out a length of yarn; the mechanism makes a popping sound when the correct length has been reached. One imagines the spinner’s mind would wander to the more mundane, only to be brought back to harsh reality when the weasel went pop.

The third verse suggests an alternative origin, which is based upon the Londoners use of cockney rhyming slang;

Up and down the city road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

Pop

To “pop” is a London slang word for pawn. Weasel can be traced to the cockney rhyming slang of “weasel and stoat”, or coat. Even a very poor Victorian Londoner would have had a Sunday best coat or suit that could be pawned when times got hard (Pop goes the weasel), perhaps on cold and damp Monday morning, only to be retrieved on pay day. The Eagle above refers to the Eagle Tavern, a pub located on the corner of City Road and Shepherdess Walk, in the north London district of Hackney. Although the usage of the building has changed over the years, the current Eagle pub dating from the early 1900’s, displays a plaque proclaiming the building’s connection with the nursery rhyme.

Georgie Porgie,
Pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry;
When the boys came out to play,

Georgie Porgie ran away.

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It is thought that the ‘Georgie Porgie’ in question was actually the Prince Regent, later George IV. A very large gentleman, George weighed in at more than 17½ stone with a waist of 50 inches (from eating so many puddings and pies?), and he became a constant source of ridicule in the press of the time.

Despite his large size, George had also established for himself a rather poor reputation for his lusty romps with the ladies that involved several mistresses and a string of illegitimate children.

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said “What a good boy am I”

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Little Jack Horner lived in the 1530’s, the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. Jack Horner was steward to Richard Whiting, the last of the Abbots of Glastonbury. It is said that the Abbot, hoping to placate King Henry, sent His Majesty an enormous Christmas pie containing the deeds of 12 manors. Horner was given the task of taking the ‘pie’ to London. During the journey he managed to open the pie and extract the deeds of the Manor of Mells in Somerset, presumably the ‘plum’ referred to in the rhyme. A Thomas Horner did assume ownership of Mells, but his descendants and the present owner of the house claim the rhyme is a slander.

Hush a-bye baby in the tree-top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
Down will come cradle, baby and all

Hush a-bye Baby, or Rock a Bye Baby as I knew it, was reputably written by a boy who sailed with the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620 and was the first English poem written on American soil. It is said to have been inspired by the Native American custom of popping babies’ cradles in the branches of trees.

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Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.

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The rhyme I knew as a child contained the lines

He went to bed

to mend his head

with vinegar and brown paper

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. . . . but I recently found one which says . .

To old Dame Dob

Who patched his nob

with vinegar and brown paper   

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The small village of Kilmersdon in north Somerset claims to be the home of the Jack and Jill rhyme. Local legend recalls how in the late 15th century, a young unmarried couple regularly climbed a nearby hill in order to conduct their liaison in private, away from the prying eyes of the village. Obviously a very close liaison, Jill fell pregnant, but just before the baby was born Jack was killed by a rock that had fallen from their ‘special’ hill. A few days later, Jill died whilst giving birth to their love child. Their tragic tale unfolds today on a series of inscribed stones that leads along a path to that ‘special’ hill.
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