Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes

Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes

Albert Jack

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 0399535551

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

From the international bestselling author of Red Herrings and White Elephants—a curious guide to the hidden histories of classic nursery rhymes.

Who was Mary Quite Contrary, or Georgie Porgie? How could Hey Diddle Diddle offer an essential astronomy lesson? Do Jack and Jill actually represent the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette? And if Ring Around the Rosie isn’t about the plague, then what is it really about?

This book is a quirky, curious, and sometimes sordid look at the truth behind popular nursery rhymes that uncovers the strange tales that inspired them—from Viking raids to political insurrection to smuggling slaves to freedom.

Read Albert Jack's posts on the Penguin Blog.














gift. In those days, during property transactions, it was not uncommon for the deeds to be hidden or concealed in transit to ensure they would not fall into the wrong hands, as the actual holder of the deeds was deemed the rightful owner. On the way, legend has it, Thomas Horner delved into the pie and pulled out the deed for a plum piece of real estate, Mells Manor House in the village of Mells, Somerset. And that, apparently, is all he needed to do to become the new lord of that manor. But

Dunstan and All Saints Church in Stepney was originally built in ad 952 by Dunstan (909-88), London’s favourite saint from the Middle Ages. He was a local boy who became Bishop of London, then Archbishop of Canterbury and then (posthumously, of course) a saint. The bells of Stepney were famous for their clear sound and, here, drive the point further home: When will that be? It’s a question the condemned man can no longer answer. Church of St Mary-le-Bow Known locally as Bow Church, the

to predict bad weather as their livelihood depended on it – grew to recognize that when there was a particularly red sunset then the following day would be bright, clear and sunny. However, a red sky at sunrise usually indicated stormy, inclement weather for the day ahead. And it appears that meteorology can back up the folklore. The reason the sky glows red is due to the sun shining on the underside of clouds from a low angle, either at sunrise or sunset. As weather systems generally move from

find a good wife, You will know happiness all through your life. Turn again, Whittington, thou worthy citizen, Turn again, Whittington, thrice Mayor of London. Thanks to this rhyme – sung as a round (see London’s Burning) – and his representation in pantomime in the manner of a fairy-tale character such as Cinderella or Aladdin, one might be forgiven for thinking that Dick Whittington is fictional, but he was a real person. Born in the village of Pauntley in Gloucestershire around 1354,

of hunting the wren was carried out on St Stephen’s Day (26 December). The antiquary and writer John Aubrey (1626-97) tells of ‘a whole Parish running like madmen from Hedge to Hedge a Wren-hunting’. Parties of men and boys killed one or more wrens (or pretended to do so), which they then placed in a garland-like ‘bush’ or special box and perambulated the village, singing, dancing, playing instruments and collecting money. The rhyme was chanted in the ceremonial procession after the kill had been

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