Twinkle, twinkle little star and other important rhymes

Did the The Duke of York's men stop off halfway up the hill here? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Did the The Duke of York's men stop off halfway up the hill here? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Do children no longer sing nursery rhymes? If so, it’s a sad day for poems and a sad day for children.

Did that star actually twinkle over Colchester? Picture: JAMES FLETCHER

Did that star actually twinkle over Colchester? Picture: JAMES FLETCHER

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East Anglia has more reason than most regions to revere nursery rhymes

The Grand Old Duke of York ? allegedly Ipswich, Humpty Dumpty ? apocryphally Colchester, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star ? composed in Lavenham... probably. And so, I am pleased to read that the country’s chief schools inspector has stated that children are not best prepared for school because they no longer have nursery rhymes sung them. Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman says it is a “great shame” that rhymes such as Humpty Dumpty and Hickory Dickory Dock are not being sung to new generations.

It is reported that the inspector, who is due to make the comments at a childcare conference today, will say: “I imagine most of you could recite The Grand Old Duke of York... But we can’t say that is the case for children today.”

Norfolk's ladybird rhyme is altogether kinder than the one with the burning house. Picture: MICHAEL

Norfolk's ladybird rhyme is altogether kinder than the one with the burning house. Picture: MICHAEL COOPER - Credit: citizenside.com


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“Humpty Dumpty may seem old-fashioned, but children who can sing a song and know a story off by heart aged four are better prepared for school.”

She said the repetition of the rhymes provided “a collective experience” and taught “a little bit of social history to boot.”

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She said children would rather play Peppa Pig iPad games than find out what happened to Doctor Foster when he went to Gloucester*.

In August, Mrs Spielman, who has been in post since January., warned children were being denied the chance to develop ‘resilience and grit’ because of ‘barmy’ health and safety policies. She has also said schools should stop putting league tables above providing children with a rounded education.

Frederick, Duke of York, son of George III - was he the grand old duke of the nursery rhyme? Picture

Frederick, Duke of York, son of George III - was he the grand old duke of the nursery rhyme? Picture: WIKICOMMONS - Credit: Archant

I have to say all of this has greatly warmed me to Mrs Spielman but none so much as her view of nursery rhymes.

It is mooted that the very hill, up which the Grand Old Duke of York marched his men, is in Ipswich where there was a large barracks and, halfway up the hill, a pub (named The Duke of York) where his 10,000 men may have stopped for refreshment ? a fair wait at the bar, I imagine.

There are three candidates for the Duke in question, namely Richard, Duke of York (1411-1460); James II, formerly the Duke of York (1633-1701); and the most likely candidate, Frederick Duke of York and Albany, second son of George III.

Famously, Humpty Dumpty was the name of a cannon that was mounted on a church roof by the town wall of Colchester at the time of the English Civil War in 1648. The story goes that during a siege of the town a gunner fired the cannon which took out some of Lord Fairfax’s Roundheads. The parliamentary forces subsequently fired at the church roof and, on either July 14 or 15, the gun suffered a “great fall” and could not be raised again. I should add that neither of the above accounts comes with solid proof but I have found no better explanations.

Was the nursery rhyme star twinkling over Shilling Street Lavenham? Picture: LIBRARY

Was the nursery rhyme star twinkling over Shilling Street Lavenham? Picture: LIBRARY - Credit: cont

In the late 18th century, the picturesque village of Lavenham was home to poet Jane Taylor, and it was (possibly) while living in Shilling Street that she wrote the poem The Star, the first verse of which furnishes the lyrics for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Colchester too lays claim to the verse as Taylor also lived there but as the Essex town already has Humpty Dumpty...

More local, according to website mamalisa.com is Bishy Bishy Barney Bee ? a bishy barny bee being a Norfolk term for a ladybird. The rhyme, intended for use when a ladybird lands on you, goes: Bishy bishy barney bee

Tell me when your wedding be

If it be tomorrow day

Tenniel's image of Humpty Dumpty from Alice Through the Looking Glass. More egg than cannon. Picture

Tenniel's image of Humpty Dumpty from Alice Through the Looking Glass. More egg than cannon. Picture: WIKICOMMONS - Credit: Archant

Take your wings and fly away.

Fly to the east, fly to the west,

Fly to the one I love the best.

It is substantially less upsetting than the one that entreats the ladybird to fly home because her house is on fire.

Benjamin Britten set the words of a Suffolk rhyme (Oliver Cromwell is buried and dead) to music.

In the 1570s, Thomas Nashe recalled stories told to children in Suffolk and among them was one which told of “what luck eurie one should have by the day of the weeke he was borne on”. This one imagines, might have been “Monday’s child is fair of face,” etc

I would, however, contest the view that children no longer know nursery rhymes... having spent a good 10 minutes pushing my grandson up and down on a see-saw and joined in singing See-saw, Margery Daw at least 15 times.

*He stepped in a puddle, right up to his (half-rhyme) middle, and never went there again.

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