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Origins: Doctor Foster

No, not that doctor

Doctor Foster
Went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain.
He fell in a puddle
Right up to his middle
And never went there again.

In 1843 a very similar rhyme was published in the second edition of Halliwell’s The Nursery Rhymes of England, Collected chiefly from the Oral Tradition:

Old Dr. Foster went to Gloster,
To preach the work of God.
When he came there, he sat in his chair,
And gave all the people a nod.

This may have appeared in the previous edition too, but I don’t have access to it. You can read the fourth edition of The Nursery Rhymes of England online.

The modern version first appears in 1844. A version published in The Real Mother Goose in Chicago in 1916 spelled the place name “Glos’ter”, probably to aid American tongues in pronunciation of another oddly spelled English word.

The tale that has attached itself to Doctor Foster concerns Edward I (1239-1307), nicknamed ‘Doctor’ for reasons unknown. It is almost certainly apocryphal, but let’s tell it anyway.

The King was on his horse, heading through Gloucester during a particularly heavy rainstorm. Approaching a shallow puddle, the King saw no problem in cantering straight through. The king’s steed took its first step into the water only to find himself quickly sinking in a deep, muddy ditch. Both King and horse had to be hauled from the mud by the citizens of Gloucester. The chagrined King swore never to return to the city.

A pretty tale, but an unlikely one.


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