Nursery rhymes

From lullabies to drinking songs and proverbs to plague, rhyming ditties for children take many forms.

But how do they link to churches?

There is no human culture that has not invented songs for children. First came lullabies, but hot on their heels are nursery rhymes.

Short children’s rhyming songs start to be recorded from the later Middle Ages. One of the oldest is ‘pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man’ which appears in a play from 1698. Most were not written down until the 18th century, but their roots go back much further.

The first English collection was published before 1744. The rhymes came from a variety of sources, including traditional riddles, proverbs, ballads, lines of Mummers plays, drinking songs and historical events. If you dig a little deeper they might also reference plague, medieval taxes, religious persecution, prostitution!


Mother Goose

Old Mother Goose, when she wanted to wander; Would ride through the air, on a very fine gander; Mother Goose had a house, twas built in a wood; Where an owl at the door, for sentinel stood;
She had a son Jack, a plain looking lad; He was not very good, nor yet very bad; She sent him to market, a live goose he bought; Here! mother says he, it will not go for nought;
Jack's goose and her gander, grew very fond; They'd both eat together, or swim in one pond; Jack found one morning, as I have been told; His goose had laid him an egg, of pure gold;
Jack rode to his mother, the news for to tell; She called him a good boy, and said it was well.

St Olave, City of London

Tom Thumb

Tommy Thumb, Tommy Thumb, where are you?
Here I am, here I am, how do you do?

Collegiate Church of Holy Trinity, Tattershall

Jack Spratt

Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean;
And so betwixt them both, they lick'd the platter clean.

St Laurence, Hawkhurst

Oranges & lemons

Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clements; I owe you five farthings, say the bells of St Martins; When will you pay me, say the bells at Old Bailey;
When I grow rich, say the bells at Shoreditch; When will that be, say the bells of Stepney; I'm sure I don't know, says the great bell of Bow;
Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

St Clement Danes, Strand

Ring a ring o' roses

Ring a ring o' roses;
A pocket full of posies;
A tishoo! A tishoo!
We all fall down.

St Lawrence, Eyam

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the King's horses, and all the King's men;
Couldn't put Humpty together again!

St Mary at the Wall, Colchester

Hickory dickory dock

Hickory Dickory dock;
The mouse ran up the clock;
The clock struck one;
The mouse ran down;
Hickory Dickory dock.

Exeter Cathedral

Little Jack Horner

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

St Andrew, Mells

The lion & the unicorn

The lion and the unicorn, were fighting for the crown;
The lion beat the unicorn, all about the town;
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake, and sent them out of town.

St George, Bloomsbury

Bonnie Bobby Shafto

Bobby Shafto's looking out;
All his ribbons flew about;
All the ladies gave a shout;
Hey for Bobby Shafto!

Whitworth Parish Church

Ding dong bell

Ding dong bell, pussy’s in the well;
Who put her in? Little Johnny Green;
Who pulled her out? Little Tommy Stout;
What a naughty boy was that, to try to drown poor pussy cat;
Who ne’er did him any harm, but killed all the mice in the farmer’s barn.

Winchester Cathedral

Old King Cole

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!

All Hallows, Woolfardisworthy