The rhyme was first published in its modern form in 1844, although the rhyming of 'puddle' with 'middle' suggests that it may have originally been the archaic 'piddle' for a stream and that the verse may therefore be much older. The first recorded text was:
Tune for Doctor Foster
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- Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,
- In a shower of rain;
- He stepped in a puddle,
- Right up to his middle,
- And never went there again.
Origins and meaning
It was suggested by Boyd Smith (1920) that the rhyme may be based on a story of Edward I of England travelling to Gloucester, falling off his horse into a puddle, and refusing to return to the city thereafter. There is a rhyme published in Gamer Gurton's Garland (1810) with a similar form:
- Old Dr. Foster went to Gloster,
- To preach the work of God.
- When he came there, he sat in his chair,
- And gave all the people a nod.
This variant and the late date of recording suggest that the medieval meaning is unlikely.
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), p. 173.