The disturbing stories behind nursery rhymes including three naked girls in a tub, dead babies hung from trees and priests thrown down the stairs

CHILDREN buried alive, dead babies hanging from trees, torture and prostitutes are not topics you’d expect kids to be singing about.

But surprisingly, the traditional nursery rhymes we grew up with – including Rock-a-bye Baby and London Bridge is Falling down  feature all these gruesome topics and more.

Gruesome events inspired many of your favourite nursery rhymes

Here, Sun Online reveals the most horrifying true stories behind your favourite nursery rhymes…

London Bridge Is Falling Down is about burying children alive

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.

This nineteenth-century rhyme is thought to be about starving children who were ‘buried alive’ as the Old London Bridge was built in the 1200s.

Dying kids were trapped alive in the foundation walls to die – as part of a horrific process known as “immurement” – due to the bizarre belief their bodies would help the structure remain stable and stop it from “falling down”.

Bodies have been found inside the structures of various old buildings around Europe due to this terrifying custom.

It is thought children were ‘buried alive’ in the foundations of the Old London Bridge
Hulton Archive – Getty

Rock-a-bye Baby was inspired by dead babies hung from trees

Rock-a-bye baby
On the tree tops,
When the wind blows,
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall,
and down will come Baby,
Cradle and all.

This lullaby, first written down in 1765, is thought by some to be about a 17th-century ritual where a dead newborn baby would try to be brought back to life.

It was hoped that hanging the dead baby from a tree branch would achieve this – but more often than not the branch would snap and “down will come Baby, Cradle and all”.

This rhyme is thought to refer to a custom where dead babies were attempted to be brought back to life
Getty – Contributor

Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush is about female prisoners at HMP Wakefield

Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.

This mid-19th century rhyme is thought to be about female Victorian prisoners exercising at HMP Wakefield in West Yorkshire.

The women would dance with their children around a mulberry tree – which still stands today – and they are believed to have taught their kids this rhyme to keep them entertained.

The rhyme refers to Victorian female prisoners at HMP Wakefield who would exercise around a mulberry tree
Getty – Contributor
Back then they’d dance with their children
Corbis – Getty
The tree still stands in the grounds of the West Yorkshire prison today
HMP Wakefield/The Woodland Trust

Three Blind Mice tells the story of three executed bishops

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
The rhyme, from 1609, is not actually about three mischievous mice who are taught a lesson by the farmer’s wife – but three “blind” bishops.

Experts believe that it tells the story of Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer, three Protestant bishops, who were burned at the stake by Queen Mary 1 of England, a Catholic.

While they weren’t actually blinded, it is thought the pro-Catholic writers of the rhyme meant “blindness” as a reference to their Protestantism.

Three Blind Mice is believed to be about the execution of three Protestant bishops

Getty – Contributor

Their “blindness”, in the rhyme penned by Catholics, refers to their Protestantism[/caption]

Queen Mary 1, a Catholic, ordered three Protestant bishops Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer, to be burned at the stake during her reign
Time Life Pictures

Rub-A-Dub-Dub is about three naked prostitutes


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

The original version of this 14-century rhyme actually read…

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

It is thought to be about three naked women – or “maids” – sharing a tub with three ‘respectable gentlemen, the “The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker”, at a fair.

Swapping out  “three maids in a tub” for “three men in a tub”, sometime in the 1840s, made the rhyme less scandalous.

The original 14th-century rhyme mentioned three “maids” in a tub with the “butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker”
Corbis – Getty
By the mid-1800s the lyrics had been tweaked to “three men in a tub”

Goosey Goosey Gander tells the story of murdered priests

Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn’t say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs.

This 16th-century rhyme is not about geese, but Catholic priests put to death during the Protestant reign of King Henry VIII.

They were put to death for refusing to say prayers in the Anglican form – and one of the methods of execution was to throw them “down the stairs”.

The term “goose” was a slang term for ‘prostitute’ during this time, and is thought in this rhyme to indicate that the Church was being “whorish”.

“Goose” used to be a slang word for ‘prostitute’
Catholic priests were regularly put to death during Henry VIII’s Protestant reign
Getty – Contributor

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary is about torture and beheadings

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

This sweet-sounding rhyme, written in the 1500s, is about Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots’ love of executions.

The “how does your garden grow?” line refers to the expanding graveyard of people killed on her orders.

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary sounds like a very sweet nursery rhyme
Getty – Contributor
But is actually about Mary, Queen of Scots’ love of executions
Splash News
“Cockle shells” are torture instruments, and “garden” referred to a graveyard
Getty – Contributor

Ring a Ring o’ Roses was inspired by the Black Death

Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

The innocent-sounding rhyme, first published in 1881, is widely thought to be about the Black Death, which killed millions across Europe in the 1340s, or the Great Plague of London in 1665.

It is believed “ring” refers to the ring of sores around the mouth of sufferers, who would sneeze – “A-tishoo, A -tishoo” – and “fall down” dead.

The rhyme has been passed between generations of children for centuries
Corbis – Getty
But actually refers to the Black Death in Europe or the Great Plague of London
Handout – Getty

Jack and Jill is about pints of beer

Jack and Jill 
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

One of the most famous children’s rhymes is probably about lovers or beer.

In the 16th century, when it originates from, ‘Jack’ often meant ‘hero’ and ‘Jill’ a ‘sweetheart’.

However, others have made the suggestion it refers to King Charles 1’s reform on liquid measures – “crown” used to mean a 1/2 pint and “jill” a 1/4 pint.

Jack and Jill is thought to be inspired by reforms on liquid measures
Hulton Archive – Getty

In the case of this rhyme “shoe” refers to fertility
Corbis – Getty

There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe tells the story of a very fertile woman

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth and a big slice of bread.
Then kissed them all soundly and send them to bed.

In 1797, when this rhyme was written, “shoe” meant fertility – meaning this poem is about a very fertile woman.

A local Lancashire custom saw females during this period attempting to conceive by trying on the shoes of a woman who had just given birth.

Perhaps consider the hidden meaning of all these rhymes next time you’re singing them to a child…

We previously told you the horrifying real endings to your favourite fairy tales – including how Sleeping Beauty was raped and how Pinocchio gets hanged.

And earlier this week we told you the true story behind Abducted In Plan Sight.

Source: thesun
The disturbing stories behind nursery rhymes including three naked girls in a tub, dead babies hung from trees and priests thrown down the stairs