A former journalist from Hastings has published a book which debunks the myths surrounding many famous nursery rhymes and investigates their potential origins, including that ‘Little Bo-Peep’ originated in St Leonards-on-Sea.
The little Bo-Peeps were customs officers, according to Tim Devlin’s book, “Cracking Humpty Dumpty: A Survey of Favorite Nursery Rhymes.”
He claims the well-known nursery rhyme originated in St Leonards, home to the Bo-Peep pub in Grosvenor Crescent – mentioned in a Hastings guidebook in 1794.
Tim said he thinks the rhyme dates from that time when there was an army barracks just off the coast (known as Bo-Peep Cove), not far from the pub.
Around 1800 Captain John Durrant, an accomplished watercolourist, painted a picture titled ‘Bo-Peep – near Hastings, a barracks for a company of soldiers’.
The barracks were built as part of the British defenses against Napoleon, and around 200 soldiers were stationed there to watch out for smugglers as well as French warships.
The book supports the theory, which was put forward by The Hastings and St Leonard’s Observer five years ago, that the rhyme got its name from ‘the hide-and-seek procedure of the smugglers who were very active in the neighborhood then very sparsely populated ” known as Bo-Peep. Tim said it was not about a shepherdess, the misfortunes of Mary Queen of Scots or Charles I’s taxes on whiskey as others have claimed.
The book investigates the origins of 11 other rhymes including: Humpty Dumpty, Baa Baa Black Sheep and Hey Diddle Diddle.
The idea for ‘Cracking Humpty Dumpty’ came to Tim during the Covid 19 lockdown and took around two years to come together.
It debunks many myths surrounding nursery rhymes, including the idea that Ring-a-Ring o’ Roses is about the plague or that Jack and Jill are about a heterosexual couple in love.
Speaking about what led him to write it, he said: “I wondered what I was going to do being at home, not being able to go out. I heard about people singing “Ring-a-Ring o’ Roses” while they were washing their hands, so I thought “I’ll check that out”.
“A very simple check on the nursery rhyme showed me the idea that the idea of ’Ring-a-Ring o’ Roses’ was first put forward in 1951, when the Great Plague was in 1665 Further research showed me the rhyme probably originated in America or Germany, and only came to Britain around 1881, and when it came to Britain there was nothing about sneezing and falling.
“So I thought, if this is wrong, then what about the others?”
Once the restrictions were lifted, Tim was able to expand his search from finding information online to finding the original texts in a number of libraries.
‘Cracking Humpty Dumpty’ is available from two Hastings bookshops: Hare and Hawthorn in George Street and Bookbuster Bookshop in Queens Road.
It can also be purchased from the official website for £15.