Hedge nursery rhymes

A couple of nursery rhymes today:

There was a man of Newington,
And he was wond’rous wise,
He jump’d into a quickset hedge,
And scratch’d out both his eyes:
But when he saw his eyes were out,
With all his might and main,
He jump’d into another hedge,
And scratch’d ’em in again

(A quickset hedge is one planted from live cuttings, usually hawthorn – “quick” here means “alive” as in “the quick and the dead” rather than “fast” – although such hedges were planted partly because they grow quickly.)

Little lad, little lad, Where wast thou born?
Far off in Lancashire, Under a thorn;
Where they sup sour milk, From a ram’s horn.

It’s always risky to try and guess what nursery rhymes “mean” – however the “thorn” here may well be a hedge – being “born under a hedge” or “hedgeborn” traditionally meant a humble background.

This rhyme might be related to the fact that, in the middle ages, the saying “Horne and Thorne shall make England forlorne” was used to refer to the sheep and hedges that were invading the landscape because of new enclosures (inspired by the thriving wool industry) – the result was a lot of common people losing their homes and livelihoods, and being forced to move “far off” to the new towns and cities.

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Filed under Hedge Politics, Historical Hedges, Literary Hedges

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