RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Iona and Peter Opie

Origins: Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

Bonfire_11Remember, remember the fifth of November!
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
There is no reason that gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot. 

This short rhyme, often recited at this time of year, is part of a longer verse appearing in Notes and Queries in 1857. A similarversion, differing by a few lines, can be found in English Folk-rhymes: A Collection of Traditional Verses Relating to Places and Persons, Customs, Superstitions, Etc. (1892):

Remember, remember,
The Fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot:
For I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, Guy, ’tis our intent.
To blow up the king and his parliament.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
By God’s providence he got catched
With a dark lantern and burning match.
A stick and a stake
For King George’s sake!
And a rope and a cart
To hang Bonyparte!
Pope, Pope, Spanish Pope!
Nobody’s  coming to town.
A halfpenny loaf to feed old Pope,
And a penn ‘orth of cheese to choke him;
A pint of beer to drink his health,
And a twopenny faggot to burn (qu. smoke) him;
Burn his body from his head,
And then we’ll say, “Old Pope is dead.”
Holla, boys, holla, make your voices ring!
Holla, boys, holla, God save the King!
Hip, hip, hoorr-r-r-ray!

‘Remember, Remember’ is one of the few rhymes around whose legend matches its origin; the events described in the additional stanzas really did happen. Read the rest of this entry

Origins: Rub-a-dub-dub

Vintage Fisher Price ‘Three Men in a Tub’ toy. I had one of these!

Three men in a tub
And how do you think they got there?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick-maker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato,
‘Twas enough to make a man stare.

This charming bit of nonsense, well known in the UK, differs significantly from the earliest recorded version, recorded in Christmas Box vol. II (1798):

Hey! Rub-a-dub, ho! rub-a-dub, three maids in a tub,
And who do you think was there,
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker,
And all of them gone to the fair.

The Opie’s posit, and I have to agree with them, that the three tradesmen have been found ‘in a place where no respectable townsfolk should be found, watching a dubious side-show at the local fair’ (p. 447).

As to the provenance of the rhyme it is difficult to guess, though the rhyme scheme (A, A, B, C, C, C, B) implies a regional origin – for ‘maker’ to rhyme with ‘potato’ requires a deviation from standard English and RP. Unfortunately, this does not narrow it down much, as the pronunciation of the word ‘potato’ ending with an ‘er’ sound rather than an ‘o’ is common in UK regional accents (Cornish and some Yorkshire accents in particular).

From the initial publication, it was not long before reference to the trio of bathing maids was replaced. In Nurse Lovechild’s Ditties for the Nursery, 1831, the tradesmen are assigned ‘The Brewer, The Baker, The Candle-stick maker’ and the reference to the women is gone, and by Halliwell’s Nursery Rhymes of England in 1842 the rhyme is rendered thus:

Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker.
Turn them out, knaves all three.

It’s worth noting that despite any reference to the men getting up to no good, they are still considered knaves (rogues or villains).

The refrain ‘rub a dub’ appears to be common in comic songs and balladry throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here is is in A Collection of Loyal Songs Written Against the Rump Parliament Between the years 1639 and 1661, published in 1731:

O rare Cavaliers,
Rub a dub, dub a dub,
Have at Old Beelzebub
Oliver stinks for fear:
Fifth Monarchy hall down,
Bullies and ev’ry Sect in Town
We’ll rally and to’t again,
Give ’em the Rout again,
When they come again,
Charge ’em Home again,
Seize your own again,
Face to the right about,
Tant-tarra rarra,
And this is the Life of
An honest bold Cavalier.

While this does certainly not offer conclusive proof that ‘Rub-a-dub-dub’ is older than it may appear, it does suggest that the rhyme may be part of a longer forgotten song.