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