Sunday, June 12, 2005

Origin: Ring a Ring of Roses

The seemingly innocent nursery rhyme, Ring a Ring of Roses portrays groups of children laughing and dancing as they hold hands and swirl around in circles. However, the nursery rhyme has a more sinister beginning.

In 1665, the Bubonic Plague so prevalent in Europe reached the shores of England, hitting the coastal areas first and then migrating into the English countryside. The transmission method was unknown but later was attributed to the fleas that used rats as their hosts. The rats arrived in the cargo ships from Europe and once the ships were docked, the rats were free to roam the City of London spreading the disease through the densely populated area.

It seemed that nobody escaped the disease noblemen fell victim to the plague along with the average man in the street. It was not until September of 1665 when the Great Fire of London destroyed the city. As the wooden houses burned to the ground, so did the rats and, for a while at least the plague was kept under control.

It was not until centuries later that the rhyme came into being. There are slight differences in the English and American versions – the American version is slightly softer in tone. Following is the English version.

Ring a Ring of Roses
The rash consisted of tiny blisters, which formed a ring similar to that of a rose
A pocket full of posies
People believed that if they held a bouquet of flowers or herbs to their nose or kept a nosegay in their pockets, it would help ward off the disease
Atishoo, atishoo
Final stages of the disease, sneezing, running eyes and nose and congestion in the lungs of victims.
All fall down
Victim has died.

In some villages, only one in four people survived the Great Plague of 1665-6. Some good came from this awful experience. London was rebuilt using brick and stone instead of wood; enterprising men came up with the idea of insurance companies and introduced a new phenomenon, their own firefighter teams. And of course we are left with our very special nursery rhyme that hopefully will continue to be sung by children for centuries to come.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

More on Moel-Ty-Uchaf

Thanks to Stuart at DHADM for this link to where you can look all around Moel-Ty-Uchaf using a QuickTime VR scene.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Old Mother Hubbard

With most nursery rhymes, the origin is often lost in obscurity but we know for sure the origin of Old Mother Hubbard. Sarah Catherine Martin wrote and illustrated the rhyme in 1805 after being told to by her brother-in-law, John Pollexfen Bastard to, “Go away and write one of your silly verses.”

Evidently, Sarah was a frequent visitor to Kitley Manor, the stately home of her brother-in-law Bastard who was a busy Member of Parliament. To keep her nieces and nephews occupied and out of their father’s way as he busied himself with matters of state, she amused them by writing verse. Perhaps the children were noisy or boisterous the particular day that evoked the terse response from her brother-in-law, but one thing is for sure, Old Mother Hubbard would become one of the better-known nursery rhymes in history.

The rhyme was inspired by the housekeeper at Kitley Manor who, when she retired went to live in the cottage on the estate. The cottage is now a restaurant close to Yealmpton in Devon.

Old Mother HubbardWent to the cupboard To fetch her old dog a boneBut when she got thereThe cupboard was bareAnd so the poor dog had none.

After Sarah wrote the rhyme, she took it to a friend, John Harris who typeset and printed the piece. Sarah presented it to her brother-in-law for his birthday on June 1, 1805.

Being an astute businessman and recognizing the value of the nursery rhyme, John Harris printed 10,000 first edition copies, all of which were sold.

Kitley House Hotel >>
Old Mother Hubbard Restaurant >>

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Mystical Circles

High above the idyllic village of Llandrillo, set in the fertile countryside of Clwyd, North-East Wales sits the exquisite stone circle of Moel-Ty-Uchaf - the ‘high, bare hill’. Archaeologists classify moel-Ty-Uchaf as a cairn-circle; its 41 low stones surrounding a cist (or simple grave, perhaps of some prehistoric chieftain) originally covered by a mound of stones.

Unlike the enigmatic stone circles of Stonehenge or Callanish, few people come here save the occasional passing hiker en route to the heather-clad Berwyn Mountains. This is a place to sit and feel the mists of time disperse around you, revealing an age where myth and legend was part of everyday life. Yet this is no isolated monument, since the countryside of the British Isles is graced by many more examples. In fact so widespread are they that one may ask who built them, and to what purpose?

Man is believed to have first reached what is now known as the British Isles some 500,000 years ago, a time when much of the northern landscape was glacial. These first humans were ‘hunter-gatherers’, following a nomadic way of life governed by the seasonal migrations of the animals they hunted and the periodic advance and retreat of the ice. By 6,000 BC climate change had caused the glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, isolating Britain from mainland Europe. Gradually the island inhabitants began to adopt the concept of farming originated in the Middle East, constructing permanent settlements and adopting embryonic socio-political structures to adapt to the new stability inherent in such agrarian societies. Massive communal tombs were erected and later, the first stone circles. It is believed these fulfilled a religious function, possibly linked to lunar and solar cults and may have been so shaped in mimicry of natural crop circles formed by spiral vortexes – events sure to have a profound effect on a prehistoric farmer tilling his soil.

This then was the dawn of civilization. The rest, as they say, is history and Moel-Ty-Uchaf still stands overlooking its valley – a monument to Nature itself.

CONTRIBUTED BY Robert Gladstone