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  • Carole Thomas

Hark hark the dogs do bark

Carole, classroom teacher and music teacher, shares one of her earliest memories of a rhyme and the grandmother, who made it special.

I have a vivid memory of being taken to stay with my elderly maternal grandmother when I was just under three years old because my mother was just about to have her second child. Nanny Florence lived in London and the house was dark and sombre. After my bedtime bath, I was wrapped in a towel and blanket and my nightdress was placed on the fire guard to warm up. My grandmother then sat me on her lap in front of the warming fire and in relative darkness. We watched the flames change colour and the only sound was the crackling fire wood. The atmosphere was set for her bedtime story but it is the rhyme that I remember;

Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,

The beggars are coming to town.

Some in rags and some in jags

And one in a velvet gown.


She bounced me on her knee, whilst reciting in a slow, expressive, almost whispered tone that would increase in volume with each line. On the last line, she would drop me through her knees before catching me up for repetitions of the rhyme.

I can still picture the scene and feel so nostalgic as I retell the tale.

I often wondered why I wasn’t scared by the rhyme with its dark words and the anticipation that something would happen at the end especially as the room was dark and atmospheric but that added to the magic for me.

Sources suggest that the rhyme dates to the thirteenth century although popular in the early 1700s. Others suggest that the rhyme refers to travelling medieval troubadours or that the rhyme is a cautionary tale for children. Ideas about the ‘One in a velvet gown’ could be a king such as William of Orange travelling with Dutch followers or Henry VIII, responsible for dispelling the monks from monasteries and finally James I, travelling with his poor Scottish noblemen. A final proposal is that the rhyme would have been be a signal that strangers or enemies were approaching.

Sadly, my grandmother died when I was five but my parents always sang with me and my siblings. All of us joined choirs and engaged in musical activities as children and have continued to enjoy music as adults. I have enjoyed a rewarding teaching career as a classroom teacher and as a music teacher.


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