The Crooked Stile



Every single stile is crooked to me, even this one on the Coastal Walk in Dunmore East, because of the nursery rhyme we all grew up with here:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
It never dawned on me until today that nursery rhymes have origins other than those big coloured books that are part of baby and toddlerhood.
When I went looking for the exact words of the rhyme, I discovered that there are layers and layers of ‘adult’ history and stories behind it.
I mean who would have thought that the ‘crooked stile’ in the nursery rhyme may relate back to political affairs between England and Scotland in the 17th Century and be a metaphor for the border between these two parts of the United Kingdom?
 So now I’m wondering if nursery rhymes vary greatly across the globe and, of course, I’m also intrigued to know which nursery rhymes play over and over in your mind and down your generations.

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

35 thoughts on “The Crooked Stile”

  1. Fun post Jean. Wow I can barely remember most of the nursery rhymes from my young days. I don’t have kids of my own so i am not familiar with the current rhymes either. My ancestors on both sides were from England and Ireland, so I imagine many of what I heard are similar to yours. I remember a version of your stiles rhyme. Many of the rhymes I did not know many of the words – such as Little miss muffet – who sat on a tuffet (????) eating her curds and whey (?????) etc,etc.

  2. I always loved oranges and lemons, very dark connotations, and ring a ring a roses with it’s plague references. I also love twinkle twinkle little star I hope there is no hidden darkness in that one.!

    1. There’s s a few more Willow – ring around the rosie pocket full of posies, all fall down. And Twinkle twinkle little star high above the earth so far.

      1. Neither did I , only discovering the dark facts as I grew older. I am rather discombobulated ( always wanted to use that word) that what in my innocence formed a large part of my childhood is sinister at best and political at worse!

        1. That is so strange isn’t it? I too have wondered as as adult about the terrible terrible violence of nursery rhymes and stories like Little red riding hood. Hansel and Gretel, etc.,and yet as a child I just accepted them as cheerful. But you know there were other things like that too. For instance as a kid I loved Neil Diamond. Especially Cracklin Rosie. I couldn’t understand why my Mum made faces when i played it and asked me to stop. When I was about 40 years old someone pointed out to me that it was about a prostitute. ha!

  3. A bit of the same here, Jean. My favorite is:
    Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
    Jack be careful, or you’ll burn yourself.”

  4. What fun! I had not thought of that rhyme in years and as a child I did not know what a stile was. Now I will be looking for hidden meanings as I remember old rhymes. Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet always comes to my mind first. Cheers!

  5. Some are to teach life lessons, while others talk about illnesses that plague the country, others were political parodies..I like the one “Pussycat, Pussycat where have you been…I’ve been to London etc”…alot of them are punishment or about getting hurt . But most children that have been brought with nursery rhymes seem to have a favorite..” I saw three ships a sailing”…”Jack be nimble..Jack be quick …Jack jumped over the candlestick otherwise he would have been smarting because of getting burned..and he shouldn’t have been playing with fire (candle)….It’s funny how an object can conjure up memories…

      1. Yes they were…There were others like “Little Miss Muffet ..sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey..Along came a spider and sat down beside her ..scaring Miss Muffet away…Also Simple Simon met a pieman going to the fair..etc… also Old King Kole was a merry old soul etc….so many of them..some were whimsical..

  6. I think most of the ones we learned here in the US came from Ireland & the UK. I googled ‘american nursery rhymes’ and found a site that listed ‘A tisket, a tasket’ — but I thought that was an Ella Fitzgerald song!
    I wonder if kids still learn the same rhymes that we did.

    1. I don’t know if it’s done as much anymore…I will have to check with a friend who is a child care teacher. I remember my daughter in kindergarten didn’t know all her nursery rhymes and the teacher addressed her concerns to me about it..Now that was atleast 47 years ago..ha

      1. I just got her reply and they were discussing the same thing the other day…they choose to keep the ones that are not threatening such as “Twinkle..twinkle little star..and any others that mention harm to come to children…Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and don’t know where to find them..Leave them alone and they’ll come home…wagging their tails behind them….

  7. It’s lovely to be reminded of those old rhymes, Jean. I remember reading very old ones to my children in the ’80’s and even to my youngest in the late ’90’s but since the 2000’s has kicked in, those old verses don’t seem very popular anymore. At least there are a handful (mentioned in the comments) that are still thriving.

  8. Loved all the old nursery rhymes and my gang got to know all of them, but boy were they sinister sounding. Didn’t put me off though. Great photo, that’s a very fit looking stile.
    When we were in Scotland there were special doors in the fence next to the stile, to bring in dogs, or as it turned out people too exhausted to climb the stile!

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