Find out the scary meaning behind children’s nursery rhymes.
Oranges and Lemons
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head
Chip, chop, chip, chop,
The last man’s dead.
(This nursery rhyme is about execution. In London, the various church bells would ring when prisoners were going to be executed. In Newgate prison, a man would walk past the cells carrying a candle and ringing a bell to indicate that the prisoners would be killed the next day. When children recited this rhyme, they would join hands to form an arch and the other children would pass beneath. When they came to the last line, they would drop their arms and trap the child to mimic chopping off his head.)
Ring Around the Rosie
Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down!
(Nobody knows the true origin of this nursery rhyme, but some people believe this is about the Black Death or the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in 1655. Those who caught the disease had a red, ringed rash and people carried posies with them to ward off the stench of the dead bodies lining the streets. We all fall down means we all died.)
Three Blind Mice
Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run,
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice?
(This rhyme is about Queen Mary who wanted England to become Catholic and set about torturing and killing anyone who was Protestant. The three blind mice are three bishops who plotted against her. She had them burned at the stake.)
Mary Mary Quite Contrary
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
(The Mary in this rhyme is Queen Mary again, the garden is a graveyard, the silver bells and cockleshells are torture devices and the pretty maids are her victims.)
Old Father Long Legs
Old father long legs couldn’t say his prayers;
Take him by the left leg and throw him down the stairs;
Before he is forgotten; Before he long has lain;
Take him by the right leg and throw him up again.
(Again, this is about Catholics killing Protestants for saying their prayers in English instead of Latin.)
It’s Raining It’s Pouring
It’s raining, it’s pouring.
The old man is snoring.
He went to bed and bumped his head,
And he couldn’t get up in the morning.
(The old man couldn’t get up because he died of a head injury.)
Cock a Doodle Doo
Cock a doodle doo!
My dame lost her shoe,
My master’s lost his fiddlestick,
And knows not what to do.
(Children sang these lines to mock the cry of the rooster. The nursery rhyme first appeared in a pamphlet that described a sixteenth-century murder in England in lurid detail. A wealthy farmer and his wife were murdered by robbers in their home and their children, a boy and a girl, were kidnapped. The robbers gave the children to an innkeeper’s wife and told her to kill them to keep them quiet. The little girl watched as the woman murdered her brother in cold blood. The woman decided to keep the little girl as a slave and cut out her tongue to stop her telling anyone what she had seen. Somehow, the little girl escaped. She was later adopted by a kindly local woman. Because the girl was mute, her playmates mocked her and teased her by chanting, “Cock a doodle doo, Peggy has lost her shoe.” Tired of being ridiculed, the girl miraculously repeated the words of the rhyme. After regaining her speech, the little girl was able to tell people about brother’s murder, and identify the innkeeper’s wife who was arrested and executed.)
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again!
(I’m just putting this one here to break your brain. Everybody knows Humpty Dumpty is an egg, right? Wrong! It never says anything about him being an egg. Humpty Dumpty was some poor guy who fell of a wall and died. Consider yourself shocked…)
Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children all gone;
All except one and that’s little Ann
And she has crept under the frying pan.
There was a man so wise,
He jumped into a bramble bush,
And scratched out both his eyes.
And when he saw his eyes were out,
And reason to complain,
He jumpt into a quickset hedge,
And scratched them in again.
There was an old woman, her name it was Peg;
Her head was of wood and she wore a cork leg.
The neighbours all pitched her into the water,
Her leg was drowned first and her head followed after.
There was an old woman called Nothing-at-all
Who lived in a dwelling exceedingly small
A man stretched his mouth to its utmost extent
And down at one gulp, house and old woman went.
There was an old woman had three sons,
Jerry, and James, and John.
Jerry was hung, James was drowned.
John was lost and never was found;
And there was an end of the three sons,
Jerry, and James, and John!
Die, Pussy! Die!
Shut your little eye.
When you wake, find a cake.
Die, Pussy! Die!
There was a man, he went mad,
He jumped into a paper bag;
The paper bag was too narrow,
He jumped into a wheelbarrow;
The wheelbarrow took on fire,
He jumped into a cow byre;
The cow byre was too nasty;
He jumped into an apple pasty;
The apple pasty was too sweet,
He jumped into Chester-le-Street;
Chester-le-Street was full of stones,
He fell down and broke his bones.
I charge my daughters, every one;
To keep good house while I am gone;
And you and you and especially you;
Or else I’ll beat you black and blue!
You pluck a dandelion, chant
Mama had a baby and her head popped off
and briskly pop the flower top of its stem.
Baby, baby, Naughty baby,
Hush you squalling thing I say!
Peace this moment, peace or maybe,
Bonaparte will pass this way!
Baby, baby, He’s a giant,
Tall and black as Rouen Steeple,
And he breakfasts, dines, rely on’t;
Everyday on naughty people;
Baby baby; If he hears you;
As he gallops past the house;
Limb from limb at once he’ll tear you;
Just as pussy tears a mouse;
And he’ll beat you, beat you, beat you;
And he’ll beat you into pap;
And he’ll eat you, eat you, eat you;
Every morsel. Snap! Snap! Snap!
Little General Monk
Sat upon a trunk
Eating a crust of bread;
There fell a hot coal
And burnt into his clothes a hole,
Now little General Monk is dead.
Keep always from the fire,
If it catch your attire
You too, like General Monk, will be dead.
I married a wife on Sunday,
She began to scold on Monday,
Bad was she on Tuesday,
Middling was she on Wednesday,
Worse she was on Thursday,
Dead was she on Friday,
Glad was I on Saturday night,
To bury my wife on Sunday.
Born on Monday
Christened on Tuesday
Married on Wednesday
Sick on Thursday
Worse on Friday
Died on Saturday
Buried on Sunday.
That is the end of Solomon Grundy.
From The Juniper Tree
My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister she buried me
Beneath the Juniper tree.