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Britain by the Book: The Curious Origins of Mother Hubbard

This week, the paperback edition of our literary travelogue, Britain by the Book, was published by John Murray. In honour, here is a shortened version of one of the entries from the book…

The village of Yealmpton (pronounced ‘Yampton’) is a few miles east of Plymouth. Market Street boasts a house built around 400 years ago with something you don’t see everyday: a thatched dog on the roof. This is ‘Mother Hubbard’s Cottage’, and it was supposedly the home of the woman who inspired the nursery rhyme of Old Mother Hubbard.

I say ‘supposedly’ because it’s nearly always impossible to pin down a nursery rhyme’s origins in any definite way. ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ was one of the most popular publications of the entire nineteenth century, with sales in the tens of thousands within just a few months of publication. Its instant bestseller status may partly have stemmed from the public’s belief that it was some sort of political satire, but nobody seems to know what it was satirising. A sequel to the story was published very shortly after. It inspired rival productions, such as ‘The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Lantry and Her Wonderful Goat’, and gave its name to a style of dress (a loose-fitting smock) and, in Canada, a kind of duffel coat. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of the ‘Old King Cole’ Nursery Rhyme

‘Old King Cole’ is familiar to us from the famous children’s rhyme, but just who was he? Although the song of ‘Old King Cole’ is well-known, the man named Old King Cole, with his fiddlers three, remains shrouded in mystery. Before we examine this issue a little more closely, here’s a reminder of the words to the song.

Old King Cole
Was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe,
And he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.

Every fiddler, he had a fiddle,
And a very find fiddle had he;
Twee tweedle dee, tweedle dee, went the fiddlers. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of the ‘Little Bo-Peep’ Nursery Rhyme

‘Little Bo-Peep’ is a classic nursery rhyme, probably one of the most famous in the English language. But what are the origins of ‘Little Bo-Peep, and what does it mean? Before we attempt an analysis of this children’s rhyme, here’s a reminder of the words:

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And can’t tell where to find them;
Leave them alone, and they’ll come home,
Bringing their tails behind them.

Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep,
And dreamt she heard them bleating;
But when she awoke, she found it a joke,
For they were still all fleeting. Read the rest of this entry