This England - - Cornucopia - DENE BEBBINGTON

“Jack and Jill went up the hill To fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, And Jill came tum­bling af­ter.” So be­gins the pop­u­lar 18th-cen­tury nurs­ery rhyme that gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren will have re­cited with­out know­ing its ori­gin or real mean­ing.

The hill re­puted to be where Jack and Jill tum­bled can be found in the vil­lage of Kilmers­don near Frome in Som­er­set. It’s not as steep as the rhyme sug­gests, but there is a well at the top of the hill by a pri­mary school.

Other verses were added later to the rhyme, and some changed over time – a 19th-cen­tury chap­book has 15 stan­zas. The sec­ond verse orig­i­nally re­ferred to Jack go­ing to “old Dame Dob” to get his head bound with vine­gar and brown pa­per, while a later ver­sion has him go­ing to bed and treat­ing him­self.

His­tor­i­cally, many nurs­ery rhymes acted as a way of spread­ing news – they were cer­tainly easy to re­mem­ber, though the real ori­gin of Jack and Jill may never have been known.

One story is that an un­mar­ried cou­ple courted at the hill in 1697, love took its typ­i­cal course leav­ing Jill preg­nant, but Jack was killed by a fall­ing rock.

An al­ter­na­tive is that the rhyme may re­fer to King Louis XVI of France who lost his crown – and his head – by the guil­lo­tine, as did Marie An­toinette who “came tum­bling af­ter”.

We do know that Jack and Jill were of­ten used as generic names for a boy and girl in sto­ries. One ex­am­ple be­ing “Jack And The Beanstalk”.

Some­what more hap­pily, Kilmers­don has marked its as­so­ci­a­tion with Jack and Jill. Chil­dren walk up the hill to a pri­mary school on the side of which a slate tells the story of the un­lucky cou­ple.

Neil Owen.

Not as steep as the rhyme sug­gests, this is said to be the very hill where “Jill came tum­bling af­ter”.

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