Nursery Rhyme tins were a container for biscuits or confectionery with pictures painted on the sides of the tins depicting various popular Nursery Rhymes. The pictures on these tins depict the nursery rhymes: There was a Crooked Man, Polly put the kettle on, Little Jack Horner and The Queen of Hearts (with reference to the Knave of Hearts).

The Queen of Hearts is taken from the book ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and the rhyme is as follows:

The Queen of Hearts

She made some tarts,
All on a summer’s day;
The Knave of hearts,
He stole those tarts,
And took them clean away.

The King of Hearts
Called for the tarts,
And beat the knave full sore;
The Knave of hearts
Brought back the tarts,
And vowed he’d steal no more.

A nursery rhyme is a traditional poem or song for children but usage of the term only dates from the late 18th/early 19th century. However, from the mid-16th century the rhymes began to be recorded in English plays. The rhyme “Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake Baker’s Man” is one of the oldest surviving English nursery rhymes.

We now accept the rhymes as innocent children’s stories and pass them on to our children and grandchildren as a bit of fun. However, many of the seemingly childish playground chants appear to have their roots based in historic fact. Some people claim the nursery rhyme ‘Ring-a-ring-o’-roses’ is about the plague: The ‘roses’ are the red blotches on the skin. The ‘posies’ are the sweet-smelling flowers people carried to try to ward off the plague. ‘Attishoo’ refers to the sneezing fits of people with pneumonic plague.

The Nursery Rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep not surprisingly all about sheep, and the importance of sheep to the English economy. In medieval England, the wool trade was big business. There was enormous demand for it, mainly to produce cloth, and everyone who had land, from peasants to major landowners, raised sheep. The great English landowners including lords, abbots and bishops began to count their wealth in terms of sheep, with some flocks totalling over 8,000 animals, all tended by dozens of full-time shepherds.

After returning from the crusades in 1272, Edward I imposed new taxes on the wool trade in order to pay for his military ventures. It is believed that this wool tax forms the background to the rhyme. One-third of the price of each bag, or sack sold, was for the king (the master); one-third to the monasteries, or church (the dame); and none to the poor shepherd (the little boy who cries down the lane) who had tirelessly tended and protected the flock.

More information:

Material(s) Tin
Item number MBPO119

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • What was your favourite Nursery Rhyme?
  • Do you think it related to an historic event?
  • Did you own any toys that played Nursery Rhyme melodies?

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