Most of us know and love Mother Goose rhymes because we grew up with them. In fact, even as we get older, most of us can still recite various nursery rhymes from memory, including “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Jack and Jill” and “Little Jack Horner”, to name just a few. However, Mother Goose’s history and the stories behind her rhymes, are relatively unknown. We'[ve discovered some interesting information about Mother Goose and the rhymes bearing her name, which have been an important part of millions of people’s childhoods worldwide for more than 300 hundred years.
Perhaps the most interesting detail about Mother Goose is the controversy over whether she is an actual woman or a blend of various people and myths collectively known as Mother Goose. The first known mention of Mother Goose was in a weekly French circular, published by Jean Loret, that was written in verse, called La Muse Historique . He made a remark “…comme un conte de la Mere Oye,” which translates into “like a Mother Goose story.” His use of the phrase, “un conte de la Mere Oye,” indicates long-established familiarity with the term and the connection between Mother Goose and fantasy stories.
As far as the actual existence of a woman known as Mother Goose, some people believe that she was a real woman who lived in Boston during the 17th and 18th centuries. The story goes that Elizabeth Goose was the second wife of Bostonian Isaac Goose. When she married Isaac Goose, Elizabeth brought her six children from her previous marriage and added them to the ten children he had from his previous marriage. Upon Isaac Goose’s death, Elizabeth moved in with her oldest daughter and her husband, Thomas Fleet, a publisher. Eventually, Thomas Fleet gathered all of the rhymes and folk tales Elizabeth Goose told to her grandchildren and published them as a collection of Mother Goose stories.
One of the most popular, if oft-recited, nursery rhymes from Mother Goose is “London Bridge is Falling Down”. It goes like this:
London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.
This particular Mother Goose rhyme refers to London Bridge, one of the most famous structures in London, which dates back to the Roman occupation of England around 0 B.C. The first London Bridge was actually made of wood and clay; it was destroyed, the first of many times, around 1014 by invading Vikings who destroyed everything in their path. The River Thames was roughly 6 times wider back then than it is today so, in an attempt to fortify it against attacks by Vikings, London Bridge was rebuilt with new fortifications and a drawbridge. However, as the bridge was constructed primarily of wood, many fires broke out. Each time the bridge required re-building, the bridge builders repeatedly changed materials to try and retard fires.
London Bridge was built with stone during the 12th century. The original stone bridge design was done by Peter de Colechurch and building began in 1176; it took 33 years to finish building it. This stone bridge had twenty 60′ foot high by 30’foot wide arches and included wooden water wheels to grind grain. By the 1300s, there were some 140 shops lining the bridge. In the 1820s, a new London Bridge was built north of the original London Bridge and the old London Bridge was torn down. However, another replacement London Bridge was built in the 1960s because the one built in the 1830s was over 100 years old and had noticeable, dangerous stress cracks in it, among other structural defects which rendered it unsafe. An American bought the 1831 version of the London Bridge and had it dismantled and numbered for re-assembly in the United States. It was subsequently sent to Lake Havasu in Arizona, where it currently resides.
Like the history behind “London Bridge Is Falling Down”, there is interesting history behind each Mother Goose rhyme. For example, Ring Around-a-Rosie supposedly refers to the Black Plague while Jack and Jill is about the beheading of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution!
Regardless of how they came about, Mother Goose nursery rhymes have been, and will continue to be, a fixture in the lives of millions of childhoods worldwide.