ANTIQUITIES AND CURIOSITIES OF THE CHURCH.
People and Steeple Rhymes.
BY WILLIAM ANDREWS, F.R.H.S.
AT different times and in various places we have collected many examples of People and Steeple rhymes, which, though not very poetical, are, at all events in most cases, extremely curious. Amongst them are the following. Some, it will be noticed, are far from being complimentary to places or to people. Thus it is unkindly said of Ugley in Essex: —
“Ugley church, Ugley steeple,
Ugley parson, Ugley people.”
And of a place near Carlisle: —
“Low church, high steeple,
Drunken priest, and wicked people.”
A rhyme respecting the parish of Kinkell, Stathearn, runs as follows: —
“Was there e’er sic a parish, a parish, a parish,
Was there e’er sic a parish as that o’ Kinkell?
They’ve hangit the minister, drowned the precentor,
Dang down the steeple, and drucken the bell.”
We are told the circumstances which gave rise 184 to the lines were that the minister had been hanged, the porecentor drowned in attempting to cross the Earn from the adjoining parish of Trinity Gask, the steeple had been taken down, and the bell had been sold to the parish of Cockpen, near Edinburgh.
The following are evidently varieties of the same rhyme altered to suit different localities: —
“Lockerbie’s a dirty place,
A kirk without a steeple:
A midden-hole in ilka door,
But a canty set o’ people.”
A Whithorn version tells us: —
“Whithorn is a filthy place,
Like a church without a steeple;
A wee dunghill at every door,
And full of Irish people.”
Of Dromore it is said: —
“High church, low steeple,
Dirty town and proud people.”
While of Newry and Carlow the rhymes are: —
“High church and low steeple,
Dirty streets, and proud people.”
“Low town and high people,
Proud folk, beggarly people,
Carlow spurs and Tullow garters.”
In the last line the reference is made to two branches of local trade that have long disappeared.185
Respecting Boston, in Lincolnshire, the question is put and answered: —
What has thou to boast on?
High steeple, proud people,
And shoals that souls are lost on.”
Another Lincolnshire couplet tells us: —
“Gainsbro’ proud people,
Built a new church to an old steeple.”
In the same shire we are told: —
“Luddington poor people,
Built a brick church to a stone steeple.”
A rhyme on four churches in the same county states: —
“Gosberton church is very high,
Surfleet church is all awry,
Pinchbeck church is in a hole,
And Spalding church is big with foal.”
The good folk of Preston, Lancashire, have the reputation of being proud, we are told: —
“Proud Preston, poor people,
High Church and low steeple.”
The next refers to Bowness-on-Windermere: —
“New church and old steeple,
Poor town and proud people.”
And that on Rockingham, in Rutlandshire: —186
“Rockingham! Poor people!
Nasty town, castle down!
One bell, wooden steeple.”
The castle is said to have been built by William the Conqueror, to protect the ironworks in the neighbourhood of it. Only the keep remains. The wooden steeple, it is stated by Dugdale, replaced a fine one battered down by Cromwell.
The Yorkshire village of Raskelfe is usually called Rascall, and an old rhyme says: —
“A wooden church, a wooden steeple,
Rascally church, rascally people.”
Two other Yorkshire examples come next. The low square tower of Hornsea church once bore a tall spire, which fell in a gale in the year 1773. There is an absurd superstition which is very popular in the town and neighbourhoood, that a stone was found when the spire fell with an inscription to this effect: —
“Hornsea broch when I built the,
Thou wast ten miles from Beverley,
Ten miles from Bridlington,
And ten miles from the sea.”
In the same district is the village of Paull, with a church situated on a commanding eminence, 187 and standing by itself nearly a quarter-of-a-mile from the village, which gave rise to the following distich: —
“High Paull, and Low Paull, and Paull Holme,
There was never a fair maid married at Paull Town.”
The next rhyme relates to Newington, London: —
“Pious Parson, pious people,
Sold the bells to buy a steeple,
A very fine trick for the Newington people,
To sell the bells to buy a steeple,
Surely the devil will have the Newington people.
The rector and church without any steeple.”
This scurrilous jeu d’esprit was scribbled on the wall of the church in the year 1793, after the re-erection of the sacred edifice without the steeple. It is only fair to state the Rev. Samuel Horsley, the rector, had no more to do with the sale of the bells than he had with the authorship of the doggrel verse in which the event is recorded.
As a fitting conclusion to these rhymes we give the following odd lines which refer to the statue of King George the First, which overlooks Bloomsbury from the apex of the pyramid piled 188 on the top of the tower of St. George’s Church, Hart Street, London: —
“When Henry the eighth left the Pope in the lurch,
Parliament made him the head of the Church;
And when George the first reigned over the people,
The architect made him the head of the steeple.”