Do you know about the dark origins of these popular English Nursery Rhymes

Some of the most popular English nursery rhymes may have a dark and disturbing origin ranging from Pandemics, Forced Taxes, War, Invasion, and Death.

Some example below,

Ring-a-round the Rosie

Everyone has heard this rhyme in school right?

Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down.

Some people claim that the origin of this rhyme is related to the 1665 Great Plague of London: “Ring around the Rosie” actually refers to the bubo, or swelling of the lymph nodes, which was a symptom of the illness. The swelling was circular (the ring), and it was dotted by a red rash at the center (the Rosie). Those who fell ill gave off a very pungent smell, which was covered up with flowers. Hence the line, “a pocket full of posies.” And then finally, death took the victims, as depicted in the last line, “we all fall down.”

(Illustration of the rhyme by L. Leslie Brooke)

The bubonic plague killed 15% of Britain’s population.

There are several theories both supporting, and debunking this origin theory. I hope this argument is false. Turning a horrible pandemic into a children’s rhyme is not a good idea.

Baa Baa Black sheep

Baa, baa, black sheep, Have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir, Three bags full;
One for the master, And one for the dame,
And one for the little boy Who lives down the lane.

This is about the medieval wool tax, imposed in the 13th Century by King Edward I. Under the new rules, a third of the cost of a sack of wool went to him; another went to the church and the last to the farmer.

(The rhyme as illustrated by Dorothy M. Wheeler)

Black sheep were also considered bad luck because of their fleeces, unable to be dyed, were less lucrative for the farmer.

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Some theories suggest that it’s a cannon owned by the supporters of England’s King Charles I. Said cannon was used for violent means, specifically to invade the city of Colchester during the English Civil War.
















(illustration by Walter Crane)

Humpty, or the cannon, sat on a church tower, but plummeted to the ground when it was hit by cannon balls from opposing forces and was destroyed for good. As the rhyme goes, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

London Bridge is falling down

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

Out of the many theories of this nursery rhyme’s origins, the most accepted one is that it’s about the 1014 Viking attack on London. London Bridge was destroyed at the hands of Olaf II of Norway when he and his troops invaded England.


(Illustration of London bridge, under attack by Olaf II of Norway)

Another popular, though the dubious theory is that the bridge’s builders believed that for it to remain sturdy, the structure had to be built on a foundation of child sacrifice. In other words, the children’s souls would allegedly ensure the bridge’s sturdiness.

Oh my darling Clementine

The lyrics are very long to post (full lyrics here Lullaby lyrics: Clementine | BabyCenter),

but here are the objectionable lines:

Oh, my darling, oh, my darling, Oh, my darling Clementine
You are lost and gone forever, Dreadful sorry, Clementine

Drove she ducklings to the water, Every morning just at nine
Hit her foot against a splinter, Fell into the foaming brine

Ruby lips above the water, Blowing bubbles soft and fine
But alas, I was no swimmer, So I lost my Clementine.

In my dreams she still doth haunt me, Robed in garlands soaked in brine
Though in life I used to hug her, Now she’s dead, I draw the line.

How I missed her, how I missed her, How I missed my Clementine
Till I kissed her little sister, And forgot my Clementine.

The amount of creepiness in this “Children’s song” is just phenomenal. From gruesome drowning of a girl child to forget about her after having a new child. Why would anybody with a sane mind ever want to sing that to their child?

Not only this is a very popular children’s lullaby, but this song is often sung by Huckleberry Hound, a popular Emmy award winning cartoon show which used to air on Cartoon Network in the 80s and 90s.

These are only a few popular children’s rhymes with dark origin/disturbing themes, but there are much more. If you are interested, please refer to the reference links below.

Also Read: Dear Parents, Bookmark these Educational Websites for Young Children

Does Sports Education Deserve A Brighter Spot In Our Curriculum?


BBC: The dark side of nursery rhymes

WordPress: Putting the “dump” in Humpty Dumpty;

The Richest: The Dark Origins Of 13 Classic Nursery Rhymes

Wikipedia: London Bridge Is Falling Down

This article was first published in Quora.



Manas Saha

Manas is a software engineer who is also a Travel addict, Technology and News enthusiast, and has deep interest in Science, Photography and Movies.

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