School Dinners

When I was a child there were two choices. If you lived near school you could go home for your midday meal. Otherwise you had school dinners. There was not an option to bring your own packed lunch. If you had school dinners there was one choice. You ate what you were given. One main course (dinner), one dessert (pudding). No alternatives and you absolutely had to eat what was put on your plate. I think this is why so many people of my age in Britain have bad memories of school dinners. It wasn’t that they were all terrible. I remember some nice things. Baked sponge puddings, for example. It was the complete lack of choice and the obligation to clear your plate which was the downside. We all received a bottle of milk a day (third of a pint) and this could be delightful in winter when really cold and pretty disgusting when it had been sitting outside in the crates all morning in summer sun!

Image result for 1950s school dinner menu"    CLASSROOM CALORIES All children were given a daily bottle of milk

To put this in context, World War II had only finished in 1945 and I believe rationing was still in place in the early fifties. Whether at home or in school – you ate what you were given and didn’t complain. The adults at home and in school had lived through the war and had no time for children being fussy. So we weren’t!

One of my main memories of our school dinners was lumpiness. There were lumps in the custard, the gravy, the mashed potato. One meal I remember is Spam served with mashed potato and beetroot. Then they poured the beetroot juice over your meal as if it was a sauce or a gravy. Not my favourite! I remember stews and mince of little flavour, pale in colour and with small quantities of indeterminate vegetables floating around – probably swede and turnip. These runny meat dishes were also served with the ubiquitous mashed potato and a veg, often boiled cabbage.

Also, and any post war British readers will identify with this, there were endless milk puddings. There was semolina, sago, tapioca, ground rice, rice and macaroni. All made into hot milky puddings. If you were lucky you got a spoonful of jam to stir into your pudding which turned it pink and made it a bit more palatable. Sometimes they were served with a spoonful of stewed prunes. I didn’t touch prunes for many years after I left school, they’re still not top of my list!

Today’s school dinners here in the UK are free to all children up to the age of seven and are tasty and well-balanced, Even more importantly – there are choices. We have come a long way.

 

An example of a week’s menu in a primary school. these menus are rotated on a four week cycle so the choices are not the same every week.

Thanks to Helena for giving me the idea for this post.

Happy New Year!

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On New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d take a brief trip back to the New Year’s Eves of my childhood. As regular readers know, I grew up in a tiny village in a very quiet part of rural mid-Wales. There were around 28 children in our village school aged 4 to 11. Some, like me, lived within walking distance of the school, others had a walk of half to three-quarters of a mile and many of them lived on outlying hill farms and were brought in by cars on regular hire through the education authority from the garage in out nearest town.

Our school was also used as a village hall and on New Year’s Eve there was always a big village party held there. It started in the afternoon with a tea party and games for the children. The women of the village made and served sandwiches and cakes, jugs of squash and enormous pots of tea. Whole families attended. After the tea, seats were placed in a circle at one end of the main room and the games began. The main ones I remember are spin the plate and musical chairs. There were songs and recitations from the children brave enough to stand up and perform – not me! There would be older children there as well who were now at the ‘big school’ in the town and who always seemed frightfully grown up and sophisticated to me.

As afternoon turned into evening, the party morphed (even though there was no such word then!) into an adults evening and younger children would be taken home and put to bed. Slightly older children would stay longer. The evening took the form of a concert. It was informally arranged, with people just stepping forward to sing, recite, play the piano etc. I remember first being old enough to stay for some of it then, eventually to stay to the end. One local farmer had a beautiful tenor voice and always sang ‘Jerusalem’. I think he sang other songs too but the one he was known for was that one – and he sang it beautifully. Tea was served all evening and the night would finish with everyone in a circle linking arms and singing Auld Lang Syne. It was so exciting when you were twelve or thirteen and considered old enough to stay to the end and see the new year in!

 

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers and thank you for continuing to read my blog and to comment.

Travel and Phones.

Last week, I arranged to meet my youngest daughter in Huddersfield for a Christmas shopping trip. I was driving about 40 mins from where I live and she was getting the train from her town. She called me the evening before from her landline phone to say that her mobile phone had died and she wouldn’t be contactable on it when we were travelling the next day. How this throws us all now! I told her we would just have to make a foolproof 1950s style plan for the next morning.

This started me thinking about how easy it is now to make arrangements and to adjust them, even at short notice. Back in the 1980s when my three children were small I often travelled to different locations, some quite near, others further away, to meet up with people. My sister and I lived about 90 minutes apart at that time and we had a couple of nice meeting up places mid-way between us. We’d make the plan by phone from our houses beforehand then we would set off to meet up with our excited children in our cars. Nothing ever went wrong for us but now we would all panic at the thought of travelling somewhere to meet someone without the backup of a mobile phone.

Going back even further, to the 1950s, we used to get packed up to go and see our grandparents who lived in north Wales. We had a telephone at home then but my grandparents didn’t and never did, even several decades later. They had a public telephone box in their village so maybe they called us sometimes. I was too young to be taking notice of things like adults planning visits.The plans were presumably made mostly by letter! Yes, the humble hand-written letter and the good old postman – no female posties in those days!

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Phone boxes (telephone kiosks as they were called) in the 1950s.

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!950s memories of the postal service.

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Two models of 1950s cars like ones which we had in the 1950s.

 

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A 1950s phone –  not every household had one.

 

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The modern mobile phone – most wouldn’t leave home without it!

In the ‘old days’, we had maps and guide-books to help us navigate and to locate places of interest and their opening hours. If we needed to contact someone or needed help, we waited until we spotted a phone box and pulled over to make a call. I still have a book of road maps in my car but the modern phone is not just a phone it is also a road atlas, bus, plane and train timetable, guide book to anywhere and everywhere, live weather and travel advice, newspaper, in-car entertainment etc etc.

Space, Weddings and Funerals – on TV.

Here in Britain, we have just had a royal wedding. I’m sure you all heard about it so I won’t say any more on the subject. I was away on holiday in another country when it was on but even so, my friends and I were able to watch it together.

50s tv set    60s tv set

The following memories are of my very early TV experiences and are more about the excitement of viewing a live occasion than about the events themselves.

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I have very clear memories of some big state occasions (weddings and funerals) in the early 60s. In 1960, Princess Margaret the Queen’s sister, married Anthony Armstrong Jones. We knew it was being televised. My mum and her friends and their children really wanted to watch it – but none of us had TVs. Then my mum’s friend Miriam, who lived on a farm in our village, said that her Aunty Gladys had a TV. Gladys lived in the tiny town (which seemed big to us!) five miles away. TV had reached there before it stretched out to the remote surrounding villages. Anyway, this dear old lady said we could all watch it at her house. We children were enthralled with being able to watch TV – the content was less important to us. The mums really enjoyed watching their first televised state occasion. There was, of course, tea, cakes and biscuits.

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In April 1961 the world saw the first human being, Yuri Gagarin, launched into space. There were still no homes in my village with a TV but – amidst huge excitement – my primary school headteacher decided to buy a TV for school use and to buy it in time for the whole school (all 28 of us!) to watch the launch live. Space travel and live TV at the same time – we were SO amazed and I’ve never forgotten it.

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Also in 1961 was the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. I remember it very clearly. We also watched this at Aunty Gladys’ house and I remember thinking Katherine, the Duchess of Kent, was absolutely beautiful.

alexandra's wedding

In 1963, Princess Alexandra married Angus Ogilvy and, once again, the mums and children of the village wanted to watch it. By this time we had a TV of our own. Some friends in the village didn’t have a TV yet and came to us to watch it.

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Similarly, in 1965, the country mourned the death of Winston Churchill. Friends came to watch it at our house. These occasions were daytime events and at that time there was hardly any daytime TV. When you watched anything during daylight hours the curtains were always closed. The image transmitted was so weak that in the light of day it was very hard to see.

New Diaries, New Year’s Resolutions and Thank-You Letters.

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers!

As Christmas Day becomes a memory and we start thinking about a new year, I have been remembering what this time of year felt like when I was a child. I usually got a new diary for Christmas. These were not for noting appointments and forthcoming events as my diaries are now but for recording my life day by day. My mum always encouraged us to keep diaries and she kept a daily journal for many, many years. Some years I kept it up for a couple of months, other years I carried on for a whole year. Surprisingly, I still have a few of my diaries. In the photo, from left to right are my diaries from 1959, 1963, 1964, 19l66 and 1967. I remember loving the diaries for all the snippets of information in them. The Enid Blyton one, for example, has 64 pages of general information before the diary pages even start! These include articles on pets, hobbies, party games, how to start a club, the story of the Union Jack, how to look after a bike, two pages on how to tie different knots and – this is hilarious – NINE pages on road-building, with diagrams and photographs. In addition to the first 64 pages there was a snippet of information at the bottom of each week’s page.

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In the front of each diary I have written a list of Christmas presents received from various family members which brings me to the next part of this post – the thank-you letters. There would always be one afternoon allocated for this just before we returned to school. I would be sitting with my brother and sister with writing paper and envelopes and my mum hovering nearby encouraging us while we tried to convey our thanks to aunts and uncles we rarely saw. It was hard work, particularly when we were really young, but I’m sure the relatives appreciated receiving them.

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In the back of some of my diaries I have written a list of my New Year’s Resolutions. As with the diary keeping and the letter-writing, the one encouraging us to come up with a list of resolutions was always my mum. It was very important to her that we had started our diaries, written our thank-you letters and listed our resolutions before the new school term started. My 1966 resolutions included saving more of my pocket money, writing more frequently to my pen-friends, working hard for school exams and being kind and friendly in school and at home – exciting stuff! I think I probably wrote those knowing my mum would see them!

 

Advent Calendars

I was shopping the other day and I noticed a bewildering array of Advent calendars each one containing twenty-four treats. I thought I’d do a short post on how I’ve seen Advent calendars changing.

When I was a young child, back in the 1950s, we had an Advent calendar. We had the same one for years. It had windows with what we thought were delightful little pictures behind the little card doors. The biggest one, right in the centre, had a picture of baby Jesus in the manger and I remember the picture being coloured in a lovely yellowy glow. We knew what was coming on Christmas Eve when we opened that double door (the other days had single door flaps) but we never, ever peeped during the preceding days. Our calendar was about A4 size and was a picture of a church window. I remember a grey stone colour and other colours for the stained glass window. I have found some photos of the sort of calendar we had – which was the only kind around at that time. We loved it and getting it out on the first day of December was SO exciting!

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An assortment of 1950s Advent calendars which resemble our well-loved one at home.  

When my children were young, in the 1980s, I also had an Advent calendar for them which we got out each year. At some point in the 70s or 80s somebody had the idea of selling calendars with chocolates in which seemed all wrong to me at the time. It meant the anticipation felt by children in December became focused on the next day’s chocolate. Anyway, that’s just my personal feeling, many of you will disagree!

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The now standard chocolate Advent calendar.

 

What I wanted to cover in this post was the evolution of Advent calendars from simple card ones with pictures, to the chocolate ones, the ones with toys,  hand-made ones where parents put their own surprises in the pockets, through to calendars made for adults and containing beer, wine, toiletries, spirits, expensive food items etc etc. There are even Advent calendars for pets.

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Quality chocolates                    Tea

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images (2)      Toiletries     MAIN-MAIN-advent

An assortment of what’s on sale this year

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Whisky

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Advent calendars for dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils and rabbits

 

School Uniform in the 1960s.

There have always been school uniforms and certain features never change – dark colours, ties, blazers, badges etc. One of the main things I remember about wearing a school uniform is that it was a rite of passage. Back in those times, in Britain, state primary schools didn’t normally have uniforms. My first school uniform was my high school one. How exciting it was, during that summer, to buy all the items on the list in readiness for moving into my new school in September! Learning to tie a tie was one of my tasks over the summer holiday before moving up to ‘big school’.

At that time, in my school and probably most others, the first and second year pupils wore gymslips (girls) and short trousers (boys). A gymslip, for those unfamiliar with the term, is not an item of gym wear but a pinafore dress, much like a skirt with a bib top.  In your third year, as you were coming up to 13 years old, girls moved on to skirts and boys to long trousers. With the skirts, gymslips and short trousers we wore long socks. Girls wore short white ankle socks in summer. Under the skirt or gymslip we wore big, thick navy knickers. They were worn over normal white cotton pants so I can only think they were for warmth and maybe decency – in case your skirt blew up? They were perhaps the least favoured item of uniform.

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The hat was an intrinsic part of the uniform. In our school the girls wore berets, the boys caps. Our berets were called tams. The hat had to be worn whenever you were outside the school premises in your uniform, even if it was well outside school hours. If a member of staff or a prefect spotted you in the town without your hat on you were punished. Most girls pushed the limit by clipping the hat so far on to the back of the head that they looked as though they had no hat on – which was also punishable! We had uniform scarves too, and navy belted gaberdine macs.

There was no choice of school bag style – it was a leather satchel. I had the same one all the way through high school – seven years! On PE day the regulation sports bag was a navy duffel bag.

 

satchel        cce09794c501ace451f962a2eaae95b8--duffel-my-childhood

This is a photograph of a group of girls from my school with two teachers showing the shirts, ties, skirts (regulation length – although we used to roll the waistband over when there were no teachers looking to make them more like mini-skirts) and the white ankle socks.

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As an afterthought, here is a photograph of all the staff at my high school in the mid 60s – no uniform except for the fact that those who had degrees taught in black gowns. . . .

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. . .  and one of a class (we called them forms) with their form teacher for that year, who was our Geography master.

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Law and Order

This post has been prompted by the fact that I have just completed a three week stint of jury service. The post is not going to be about the experience (which was interesting, intense and at times harrowing) but instead is going to have a brief look at law and order and how things have changed.  As always with this blog, I remind readers that these are my recollections and do not necessarily reflect the rest of the UK, Europe or the world at that time because I lived in a remote country area.

In the 50s and 60s there were still ‘village bobbies’ in many rural areas. The familiar image is of a kindly copper cycling around keeping an eye on everything and living in the local police house.

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In our village we didn’t have our own policeman. Our local town (2,000 people so a very small town!) was five miles away and had a little police station with a police house and a lovely guy called Sergeant Walters in residence. Although he was a familiar name in our village, one of the few times I came across him in person was when I was in my last year of primary school. A group of us who could ride bikes were able to take our cycling proficiency test. Sergeant Walters came to school to test us. I was SO proud of my badge and certificate!!

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When cycling around the lanes and hills near home we were all aware that should Sergeant Walters drive past and see us cycling without hands or riding two to a bike we would be ‘done’.  It never happened.

When we drove through larger towns and cities, visiting relatives or going on holiday, we used to see busy town centre junctions with a policeman on ‘point duty’. There were fewer traffic lights and roundabouts back then. Also, there were hardly any by-passes or ring roads so traffic went right through the centre of towns. The traffic jams, especially in the summer time on popular holiday routes were horrendous! To avoid them we sometimes set off on holiday late in the evening and travelled through the night. This was very exciting to us as children!

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Throughout my whole childhood and teenage years, I have absolutely no memory of anyone in our locality being burgled or of anything being vandalised. We once had a plum tree which was laden with plums ripe and ready for picking completely stripped of its fruit while we were out for the day. I knew about burglars from story books and comics where they were always portrayed in stripey jumpers, eye masks and carrying a torch and a sack full of stolen goods. The image is still around as seen in these illustrations from the ever popular children’s book Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

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Those are my memories of real life law and order in the 50s and 60s where I grew up. The fiction was very different. I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books. Some people criticise them now but as children we absolutely adored them. They were always solving mysteries, foiling smuggling attempts and handing hapless burglars over to the police. Kidnapping, escaped convicts, treasure and stolen documents turn up in some of the stories and the gang of children (and a dog!) are always the ones who sort everything out. There was usually a reward, heaps of praise and a sumptuous tea at the end for the gang. Wonderful stuff!

FF1     derek

Next, the world of TV law and order. We first had a TV in our home in 1961 when I was ten years old. Dixon of Dock Green was a huge family favourite. PC George Dixon was a kindly London copper. The stories were mostly about small time crimes and the programme always ended with Dixon offering some gentle words of advice in front of his police station before wishing everyone goodnight. The series ran for 100s of episodes and Jack Warner who played PC Dixon was still in the role at the age of 80.

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Things We Never Even Dreamed Of In The 50s and 60s.

Phones you can carry around with you, that take pictures and can make video calls.

When we had our first telephone connected in our home I was about six years old. It was SO exciting! Our number was 9 as we were the ninth telephone in the village. It was heavy, black and was connected to the wall in one corner of our lounge. Not everyone had a camera and now we walk around with phones in our pockets which can take pictures too – as well as a multitude of other amazing things! I remember fantasising with my brother and sister about phones of the future. ‘What if you could see the person you were talking to as well! Just imagine!” Now children are growing up with Skype and Face Time and think nothing of it.

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Instant access to information of any sort at your fingertips.

When I was young, and indeed right into adulthood, if you needed to find something out you looked it up in a reference book. If you didn’t have one at home – in an encyclopedia, atlas, dictionary etc – you went to your local library. Now we can turn on a laptop or whip a phone out of our pocket and find out what we need to know instantly.

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Posting parcels in pharmacies, newsagents etc.

This is in here because I had to post a large parcel last week. Here in the UK, Royal Mail were the one and only postal service in the 50s and 60s. My parcel would have cost a fortune via The Post Office (who I normally use) so I researched couriers. I used a well known courier firm and located a convenient drop off point which happened to be a small pharmacy a few miles from where I live. It felt strange to be at a pharmacy counter, next to people picking up prescriptions and buying aspirin, to hand over my parcel.

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Cars with radios which can also tell you which way to go.

Radios years ago were too big and cumbersome to be carried around and most also needed to be connected to mains electricity. Being able to listen to the radio in the car wasn’t something which ever occurred to us as a possibility. My first car radio was bought as a separate item and had to be fitted in to the car. As for Sat Navs! We had maps, road atlases and, in our family, an AA Handbook which came with membership of the AA breakdown service and contained a wealth of information about anywhere you wanted to visit. The idea of a voice reading out directions as you drove along would have been completely unbelievable in my childhood – or even twenty years ago!

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People saying that red meat, bread, wheat, dairy, tea, coffee,sugar etc etc is bad for you. 

First of all, I do know that we are now far better informed about allergies and about food which is better taken in moderation. What makes me smile is that back in the 1950s, these things were the staples of life and were all considered to be ‘good food’. My grandmother on my dad’s side loved feeding people up and really did think that sugar was ‘good for you’. She would be more than a little puzzled to see the complicated labels on food now.

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Clothes made overseas which can be bought for less than it would cost you to make them.

In my childhood nobody we knew could afford to buy all their clothes in shops. My mum made most of our clothes and evenings were spent knitting or using her sewing machine. By the time my children were in school it was cheaper to buy ready made clothes than to knit or sew your own. Mass-produced knitwear and cheaper synthetic fibres meant that it cost me far more to go into a wool shop and buy the yarn to knit a sweater. I still enjoy knitting but as an enjoyable pastime rather than an essential.

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Flying being commonplace and affordable.

Nobody I knew flew in my childhood. I used to see planes in the sky but I never considered that ‘normal’ people might one day be using aircraft as a means of travelling to visit family or go on holiday.

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Buying things with a piece of plastic.

Back in the 50s and 60s, we had cash and we had cheques. I remember my mum and dad using cheque books in shops when we occasionally did a ‘big shopping trip’ such as to buy new winter coats and shoes. The rest of the time it was notes and coins. Cheque books looked like the above for many years (courtesy of Wikipedia) with the diagonal lines across and the account holder’s address always written on the back in the presence of the shopkeeper. I would now struggle to find my cheque book although I do have one somewhere!

I remember the first TV ad I saw for a credit card. It was a Barclaycard advert and it featured a girl in a bikini heading out to the beach and shops with just a rectangular piece of plastic tucked into her waistband.

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Buying things without even plastic.

My 2017 self can now purchase a huge range of goods – including rail and plane tickets from my Smart Phone or laptop.

 

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.

Nursery rhymes are an important part of our history and cultural tradition here in the UK and it would be a shame if they died out. Each one has its own tune which comes to mind as soon as you see the words.

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.

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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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