Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill to Fetch a Pail of Water

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Bob Teevan

Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill
to Fetch a Pail of Water

There is a genuine belief that collecting postcards helps you learn something new every day. At different times when the search is on for a card from your collection that will become the theme illustration for an article like this, there really is nothing to learn – you know it all and you’ve known it all – like the lyrics of a nursery rhyme – since you were a child.

Such was the case when this card reminded me of the rhyme Jack and Jill. But there had to be something, so I examined the sources and history of Jack and his water gathering partner.

Depending on which source you choose to believe, it is: (1) a 13th century Icelandic tale about a brother and sister who were stolen by the moon while fetching water from a well, (2) a satirical rhyme about King Charles I, raising a tax by reducing the measure of a ‘jack’ (1/8th of a pint) and keeping the tax at the same level. The ‘gill’ (quarter-pint measure) was later reduced as well and therefore the gill came tumbling after, or (3) a folkloric couple of lovers from Somerset who would frequently “meet” at the well. One of these meetings resulted in the girl (Gill) becoming pregnant. As punishment must follow such activities in folklore, the young boy (Jack) fell from the rocks and broke his neck.

Whilst that saw to the errant lad, the misbehaving young girl died in childbirth.

It is easy to opt for the Icelandic moon story. I understand that the modern version of the rhyme ends happily as Jack responded positively to an unsolicited telephone call asking, “Have you recently suffered an accident at work?”

The card was published by Raphael Tuck & Sons of London in their ‘Oilette’ brand and is a card from the Life in Our Village series. It is titled, The Housewives and features a colorized version of a drawing by Gunning King.

Originally posted in Felixstowe on Christmas Eve 1904, it carries festive wishes from Etta. It is addressed to Miss Ruffles at The Gables, Station Lane, Trimley. Sorry, with only this knowledge, it is not possible to identify her with the census returns. There are a small number of candidates but naming one would be only a guess.

The image shows two women at what may be the village well. This would have been in the days before household plumbing and the women needed to collect water for their family. This will be their drinking water; used for both cooking and washing and will also be given to any livestock. One would imagine that trips to the well would have taken place several times each day.

The learning suggested above relates to the hoop which is at knee height on the woman in red. Social historians are familiar with the use of a neck yoke to carry buckets of water, but a hoop contraption is different. It is – perhaps understandably – known as a waterhoop and sits on top of the buckets. It prevents the already heavy buckets from swinging – making carrying easier – and because it keeps the buckets a fixed distance apart it also aids weight distribution. I had to investigate the waterhoop on Google and found numerous pictures of (mostly) women using the devices as recently as the 1930s. It may be that the waterhoop was mainly used in France and Canada.

Suspicion may suggest that the waterhoop was invented by a man. For years women would have complained about the difficulty of carrying water from a well and the physically stronger man would have contemplated this problem – probably with his mates over some ale – and rather than fetch the water himself, he designed an appliance to assist the women.

This theory may be giving the man a bit too much credit for his problem-solving skills, and yet there may have been groups of men, watching their women use a waterhoop and thinking just how considerate they had been in solving that dilemma.

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My understanding is the tale refers to a couple in the south west of England, that the two people concerned are identifiable and their descendents àre still alive.

One of the schoolteachers in my hometown was named Jill Jack, which was a source of amusement to her students.

god witty article!

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