Old Mother Hubbard

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"Old Mother Hubbard"
OldMotherHubbard 01.jpg
The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog; London : J. Harris; 1805. 1st state of 1st edition
Nursery rhyme
Songwriter(s)Sarah Catherine Martin

"Old Mother Hubbard" is an English-language nursery rhyme, first printed in 1805 and among the most popular publications of the nineteenth century. The exact origin and meaning of the rhyme is disputed. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19334. The first published version by Sarah Catherine Martin is associated with a historic cottage in Yealmpton, Devon close by where Martin was staying.[1]


The lyrics originally published in 1805 have remained largely unchanged.

1819 United Kingdom depiction
Illustration from Felix Summerly Traditional Nursery Songs of England with Pictures (1843)
An undated depiction of the rhyme from the late nineteenth century
1889 United States depiction
An 1897 Judge cartoon shows President William McKinley as Old Mother Hubbard, and her dog as Uncle Sam
1860 depiction from the Netherlands, Moeder Hubbard en haar hond / met 14 gekleurde plaatjes

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
But when she came there
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

She went to the baker's
To buy him some bread;
When she came back
The dog was dead!

She went to the undertaker's
To buy him a coffin;
When she came back
The dog was laughing.

She took a clean dish
to get him some tripe;
When she came back
He was smoking his pipe.

She went to the fishmonger's
to buy him some fish;
When she came back
He was licking the dish.

She went to the alehouse
To get him some beer;
When she came back
The dog sat in a chair.

She went to the tavern
For white wine and red;
When she came back
The dog stood on his head.

She went to the fruiterer's
To buy him some fruit;
When she came back
He was playing the flute.

She went to the tailor's
To buy him a coat;
When she came back
He was riding a goat.

She went to the hatter's
To buy him a hat;
When she came back
He was feeding her cat.

She went to the barber's
To buy him a wig
When she came back
He was dancing a jig.

She went to the cobbler's
To buy him some shoes;
When she came back
He was reading the news.

She went to the sempstress
To buy him some linen;
When she came back
The dog was spinning.

She went to the hosier's
To buy him some hose;
When she came back
He was dressed in his clothes.

The Dame made a curtsy,
The dog made a bow;
The Dame said, Your servant;
The dog said, Bow-wow.

This wonderful dog
Was Dame Hubbard's delight,
He could read, he could dance,
He could sing, he could write;
She gave him rich dainties
Whenever he fed,
And erected this monument
When he was dead.[2]


Old Mother Hubbard's Cottage in Yealmpton, said to be where Sarah Martin penned the rhyme in 1804 but more likely where the housekeeper nicknamed "Mother Hubbard" lived in retirement

A version by Sarah Catherine Martin (1768–1826) first recited while staying with her sister Judith Ann Martin, Mrs. John Pollexfen Bastard at Kitley House Yealmpton in Devon was published as The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog by J. Harris of London, June 1, 1805.[3] She claimed that she only drew the accompanying illustrations and the version may have been based on earlier material.[2] The name Mother Hubbard was used as a character from 1591, although the surviving works that include her do not bear any relationship to the rhyme.[2] A very similar rhyme 'Old Dame Trot' was published in 1803, but since the language in 'Old Mother Hubbard' appears more archaic it is not clear that it was derived from this verse.[2] It has been argued that the first stanza is older than the others, because it uses a different meter, so it is possible that Martin expanded on an existing first verse, using 'Old Dame Trot' as a model. The book was immediately popular, possibly in part because it was believed to be a political commentary.[2]

The "Dame Trot" version (cited by Panati as titled "Old Dame Trot, and Her Comical Cat"), is as follows:

Old Dame trot,
Some cold fish had got,
Which for pussy,
She kept in Store,
When she looked there was none
The cold fish had gone,
For puss had been there before.

"Dame Trot" was published by one T. Evans one year before that of Sarah Catherine Martin.[4]


The book was immediately popular, possibly in part because it was believed to be a political commentary, but it is not clear exactly what readers thought was being satirised.[2] It has been suggested that the character of Mother Hubbard may have its origins in St. Hubert, the patron saint of dogs.[2] It has also been suggested that the rhyme refers to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey refusing Henry VIII's divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon, but the connection is based on speculation.[5]

In 1837, John Hannah, then an undergraduate at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, published a spoof textual criticism of "Old Mother Hubbord" [sic], supposedly written in A.D. 3211 by a New Zealand academic who tries to relate the poem to the nearly forgotten 19th-century civilisation which produced it.[6]

See also[edit]

  • Margaret Brown – late-19th century criminal widely known under the name Old Mother Hubbard


  1. ^ British Pathe, 1960 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo_Z5bMr6eA
  2. ^ a b c d e f g I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 317–22.
  3. ^ "Devon collection of children's books: catalogue. 7. Nursery rhymes No.129". Devon.gov.uk. 2006-12-15. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2013-11-28.
  4. ^ Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things (Harper & Row, 1987), pp. 194–5.
  5. ^ I. Opie, 'Playground rhymes and the oral tradition', in P. Hunt, S. G. Bannister Ray, International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 175.
  6. ^ Halkett, Samuel (1971). Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature. Ardent Media. p. 455.; Hannah, John (1837). Critica Novazealandica futura, a notable edition of the melodrame of Old mother Hubbord, foreseen by Alfraganus Trismegistus. Oxford.

External links[edit]