Dr Foster

Gloucester has a claim to fame in one of the most popular nursery rhymes that is well loved by adults and children alike. Like most nursery rhymes, there is a moral to the story, the text is a little grim, and is guaranteed to make small people laugh.

Dr Foster (who went to Gloucester!)
Dr Foster (who went to Gloucester!). Photo by sleepymyf, licensed under CC BY 2.0
The famous rhyme “Doctor Foster went to Gloucester” has an interesting legacy so we thought we would reveal a little about the history of the rhyme and how it entered popular folklore.

The nursery rhyme is as follows:

“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!”

The origins and history of the nursery rhyme “Doctor Foster” are obviously in England. The clear reference to Gloucester is likely to be the town but may have been derived from the full county name of Gloucestershire. The moral of the rhyme is to warn children that care should be taken when puddle jumping as in bygone days without the benefit of modern tarmac roads, a puddle could be an enormous pothole and be very deep indeed. We can think of another little English proverb here “look before you leap” quite apt for this tale!

The origins of “Doctor Foster” reputedly lie in English history dating back to the Plantagenet monarchy of the 13th century when King Edward I (“Doctor Foster”) was thought to have visited Gloucester and took a fall from his horse into a large muddy puddle! He was apparently so humiliated by this experience and damage to his reputation that he refused to visit Gloucester ever again.

King Edward I (June 17, 1239 – July 7, 1307) was a powerful man, over six foot tall – hence his nickname of Longshanks. Edward built many castles including fortresses in Wales as part of his strategy to conquer the Welsh who were lead by Prince Llewellyn Gruffydd. Edward succeeded in conquering the principality and Llewellyn became the last Prince of an independent Wales (c.1223 – 11 December 1282).

Other commentators believe that the word “puddle” may have been in lieu of the medieval word “piddle” which would put a slightly different slant on things and date the rhyme to medieval times accurately. A further rhyme was published along similar lines in 1810, which we have included below referring to Doctor Foster and his trip to Gloucester. This leaves us to enjoy the snippets of history but also to speculate on the true origins of this rhyme.

“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.”

All we know is to avoid puddles (and piddle) and for that sage piece of wisdom, we thank Doctor Foster!

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