Saturday, 8 December 2012


When I was Secretary to the Local History Group, many moons ago, I wrote an article every month  compressing what the speaker had said and illustrating it with pictures from my books. No computer in those days, just a word processor. I always ended with a Did You Know? piece. This blog is about a nursery rhyme - as you know these are so often based on Real Life.

 Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.
The icy man in the photo above is Sir Ranulph Fiennes (you say 'Fines' for his surname) who has just announced he's taking an expedition to Antarctica to walk across the continent in the winter. And we worry about a few inches of snow...
And this is the Fine Lady of the nursery rhyme - or is she, as was suggested in a BBC programme, 'Heirs and Graces' in October 1990, really a Fiennes lady?
Celia Fiennes was born in 1662, just as Charles the Second was settling into his kingdom again after the Civil War and the beheading of his father. Celia's father had been an officer in Cromwell's army, so a Parliamentarian. She was not a sit-at-home gentry lady - she rode through all the counties of England accompanied by two servants (which must have caused a stir!). This last piece of information has come from a site - which details some of her journeys. I must read the chapter on Bucks!

The first line of the nursery rhyme has her riding a 'cock-horse', This was a horse which was used specifically for attaching to a coach or cart to provide extra power to drag the heavy transport to the top of a steep hill - there is one leading down into Banbury.
Here's Banbury Cross being used as a roundabout, naturally, since it's in the middle of the road!

Celia's home was Broughton Castle, a few miles from Banbury and, in the Civil War, was a Parliamentarian house, unlike Compton Wynyates a few miles along the road, which was a Royalist house. The photo is taken from a site advertising it as a film location - Shakespeare in Love being one such. I brought my mum here on one of our Sunday afternoon drive abouts (before 1978), long before it was used as a film location. It's still the Fiennes family home.
None of the photos are 'mine', they're all taken from Google Images.


Kath said...

Very interesting, I was always fascinated by the fable about the lady on a cock horse. I presume the cock horse is an entire, or un-neutered male. That in itself was unusual, as it was usually mares and geldings which were used as saddle horses, particularly for the ladies.

marigold jam said...

You learn something new every day don't you? Fascinating stuff and certainly hadn't known that the lady in the rhyme was related to the explorer!

Bernard said...

Well this is all news to me.
I read that the cross at Banbury was erected in 1859 to mark the wedding of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. So this is not the same cross referred to in the rhyme. However, digging further it appears that there were no less than three crosses at Banbury prior to the Civil War, during which they were all demolished. Being hopeless at history, I have to admit that I don’t know the dates of that war.
If it’s around the same time (?), perhaps Celia was on her way to Banbury to watch her father knock them down?
As children we always referred to ‘hobby-horses’ as ‘cock horses’, I had no idea about this extra horse on the front for getting up hills. The rhyme was also used by our parents to give ‘rides’ to us youngsters, on their knee. It was similar to “This is the way the ladies ride - clipperty clop, clipperty clop.”
Somewhere in my archives, somewhere in a book, I have seen suggested explanations to many Nursery Rhymes. Probably take me a Month of Sundays to dig it out!
Thanks for email.

Sylve said...

Hallo to The Three Musketeers!
Thanks, as always, for your comments. I remember about the 'rides' for children, didn't know there were several crosses at Banbury,and please take a month of Sundays, Bernard, and find that book - sounds very interesting!
Jane, I wouldn't have known about the link between Celia and Ranulph except for that decades ago TV programme. I made notes in the
margin of the Opie nursery rhyme book I bought for 20p(!) in Bucks C.C. book sale.
Kath, I don't know about the horse, Kath, I bet there's someone, somewhere, who does.