The real Mother Goose

Mother goose (© Ted Van Pelt)

Do you remember the songs you heard as a child? The nursery rhymes you learned from your mother? If you’d thought about them, you may have noticed that some of them could be quite nasty at the end – the farmer’s wife cutting off the tails of the three blind mice, the blackbirds pecking off the maid’s nose in “Sing a Song a Sixpence”. But did you know that some of these seemingly harmless songs carry with them quite sinister pasts? And that “London Bridge is Falling Down” has a bloody history of sacrifice and superstition behind it?

Maggie Ayre investigates the origins of some of our best loved nursery rhymes and has made some surprising discoveries, not least that many of them stem directly from the pagan beliefs of the Middle Ages. What they all have in common across Europe is the figure of Mother Goose. Who is she? And why does she sometimes appear as a hag-like woman riding a broomstick?

Producer: Maggie Ayre

Broadcast: October 2, 1998