A. & C. Black’s English Nursery Rhymes

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Kaya B Fellcheck

A. & C. Black’s English Nursery Rhymes

Charles and Adam Black, co-founders of A & C Black, Limited, opened for business in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1807. The firm developed a global reputation early on for the high-quality products they manufactured. A list of which included several multi-national reference volumes. Titles that are still recognized today are, “Who’s Who?” and the “Encyclopedia Britannica.” Other fields in which Black excelled were travel guides (Black was the first British firm to publish a detailed map of Africa), novels, and books on more than a dozen sciences. Early in 1851, the Blacks purchased the copyrights on Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels. In the end it was a fortunate investment, but it put extremely high demands on the firm, forcing them to relocate to the Soho district in London. It is of little or no consequence that a history of Soho Square Gardens does not mention the residence of the Black publishing company, but the building in which they operated for decades still remains and is the current home of the Dolby screening room. The Black’s years of residence at Soho Square are when the majority of the “Black’s Beautiful Post Cards” series were published and sold in colored-paper wrappers in sets. Some sources suggest that as many as sixty-eight sets were published and each set had six designs.
Sadly, much of the artworks has gone uncredited but in the case of Series No. 44, which are examined here, we know, at least the source of the art. The cards replicate the illustrations in the book English Nursery Rhymes, which was published by Black under the editorship of the renowned L. E. Walter. Because Series No. 44 was designed to include a musical component, the rhymes were harmonized by Lucy E. Broadwood, and an eight-bar musical score appears at the bottom of each card. The rhymes included in this series are: Jack and Jill, Little Jack Horner, Little Bo Peep, Hush-a-bye, Baby, Ride a-cock Horse, and Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play. Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water, Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after. The origin of this English nursery rhyme is uncertain. It was once thought to have first been sung from John Newbery’s Mother Goose’s Melody Book in London about 1765. However linguistic research into the rhyming of “water” and “after” would suggest that it came from a time perhaps a hundred years earlier. Little Jack Horner sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie, He put in his thumb and he pulled out a plum, and said, “What a good boy am I.” As you may have guessed, Jack Horner was a real person. “Jack” was really Thomas Horner, a steward to the abbot at Glastonbury. The abbot sent Jack to London with a pie for King Henry VIII to gain good favor during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The pie left Glastonbury with the deeds of twelve stately manors baked inside. However, Jack left home that day without a crumb for breakfast. On his trip to London, hunger overtook him, and he put his finger in the pie and pulled out the deed to Mells Manor. Shortly thereafter, Horner moved into the manor. His descendants have lived in the manor house for generations. Little Bo Peep, has lost her sheep and can’t tell where to find them, Leave them alone and they’ll come home and bring their tails behind them. James William Elliott was an English nursery rhyme and song collector. We have him to thank for finding the rhyme in a publication dated 1805 that spoke of an adult shepherdess named Bo Peep who was called “little” because she was short and not because she was young. Additional research has discovered that in the mid-1700s a popular children’s game call “bopeep” was played throughout all of Britain. Hush a bye baby on the tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock, When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall and down will come baby, bough, cradle and all. Hush a-bye was thought to be much older, but the first written evidence of its creation has been found in the histories of the Mayflower community of the early seventeenth century. The unknown pilgrim who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620 wrote the rhyme as a description of her observation of how Native American women rocked their babies in cradles made of birch-bark suspended from trees, so that the wind would rock the baby to sleep. I ride a-cock horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady ride a white horse, With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, She shall have music wherever she goes. The young lad is riding a cock horse (his stick pony) to Banbury Cross. Banbury is a village with an active market in the hill-country of Oxfordshire. A version of this rhyme that included the rings and bells first appeared in 1784. Girls and boys come out to play, the moon doth shine as bright as day, Leave your supper and lose your sleep, And come with your playfellows into the street. Come with a whoop, come with a call, Come with a good will, or not at all. This verse could be as old as 1708 when it first appeared in a dance book meant to keep children occupied in the late hours of the evening. In times when children were expected to work during the daylight hours, play was kept to evenings. Play was often directed by adults but they sought advice from religious leaders, grand-parents, and even politicians. The lines of this rhyme also appeared in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book that was available in the markets, shops, and churches in London around 1744.   Of the six designs only one is signed by someone whose signature is mostly indecipherable but may be Dorothy B W______? The artwork is consistent throughout; it may be safe to assume that the six cards were the work of the same artist.
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Who among us of many different ages has not heard some if not all these nursery rhymes. However I did not know where they had originated from. Fun article.

Beautiful cards!

Excellant article,brought back happy childhood memories,thank you

Very interesting. Loved the deed found in the pie for the king!

The Wikipedia article on “Jack and Jill” features the card depicted, and identifies the artist as Dorothy M. Wheeler.

Another gem of an article!

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Kaya Fellcheck

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A collector arrives a day early for the Old Dominion Postcard Show. So she browses the local used bookstore and comes across a coverless and battered copy of Alfred Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, for which she pays $2 plus tax. She reads it through and, next day at the show, finds the perfect postcard to illustrate it. All true.

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