Dark Origins – Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

Do you know the nursery rhyme Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush?

I remember it from when I was a girl. The girls used to hold hands and dance in a circle singing the lyrics and doing the actions.

These are the first two stanzas of the most modern version:

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.

This is the way we wash our face,
Wash our face,
Wash our face.
This is the way we wash our face
On a cold and frosty morning.

The rhyme was first recorded by James Orchard Halliwell, an English Shakespearean scholar, antiquarian, and a collection of English nursery rhymes and fairy tales, as an English children’s game in the mid-nineteenth century.

The song and associated game are traditional in England and different versions are found in Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

R.S. Duncan, a prison governor at HM Prison Wakefield in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England suggested that the nursery rhyme was about female Victorian prisoners exercising in the yard at Wakefield. A mulberry tree grew in the yard and women inmates would dance around the tree with their children and sing the song. The tree died in May 2019.

About the Victorian prison system

The Victorian prison system was created by men for men. Accommodation for women was usually an after thought and the penal system designed for them as generally a modified version of the men’s prison.

Women convicts were considered to need saving twice, firstly from their criminality and secondly from their deviance from expected female behaviour.

To this end, instead of being subjected to hard labour, women progressed through several disciplinary stages intended to put them on the path to reform. The stages were separate confinement for four months (men had to endure nine months of separate confinement), associated labour and, finally, a transfer to a female-only institution.

Prison authorities had to deal with pregnant and postpartum women. Lying-in wards and nurseries had to be created and the regulations relating to exercise, communication, and dietary provision had to be modified for such women.

 The rhyme refers to Victorian female prisoners at HMP Wakefield who would exercise around a mulberry tree
Picture credit: https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/8356830/historic-stories-behind-nursery-rhymes/

Another possible interpretation of the rhyme is that it references Britain’s struggle to produce silk. Silkworms eat mulberry leaves and during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Britain tried to emulate the success of the Chinese silk production industry. Britain’s cold winters with frost proved to be to harsh for the mulberry trees to thrive and this hampered the development of a successful silk production industry.

The lyrics: “Here we go round the mulberry bush / On a cold and frosty morning” are thought to be a joke about the difficulties experienced by the industry.

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

I am a South African writer specialising in historical, paranormal and horror novels and short stories. I am an avid reader in these genres and my writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, the Bronte sisters, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough. 

I was educated at the University of South Africa where I achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. I was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000. 

I have worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and have written seven publications relating to investing in Africa. I have won several awards over my twenty year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

I have been published a number of anthologies and have two published YA books, While the Bombs Fell and Through the Nethergate. I have recently published my first adult novel called A Ghost and His Gold which is partly set in South Africa during the Second Anglo Boer War.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

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72 Comments on “Dark Origins – Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”

  1. marianbeaman says:

    I have known some of the dark origins of this nursery rhyme but not the one about English failed attempt to produce silk. You are a fount of knowledge, Robbie. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Staci Troilo says:

    I didn’t know the history behind this one. Fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting. I had never heard any of these backstories. Thank you, Robbie!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. CarolCooks2 says:

    I didn’t know the back story to this rhyme very interesting, Robbie an enjoyable post 🙂 x

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on and commented:

    I am over at Writing to be Read with a post about the dark origins of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. Thank you for hosting me, Kaye Lynne Booth.

    My dad was diagnosed yesterday with a cluster of blood clots in the pulmonary artery near the lungs. He can’t be admitted into ICU in a hospital because we are in the midst of the third wave of Covid and it is to dangerous for him, so we are treating him at home with injections of a strong blood thinner. Fortunately, it is not difficult to learn how to give injections and we are monitoring him for side effects. He had a better today. Thank you to all of you for all your kind comments and support.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. henhouselady says:

    Thank you for sharing the history behind the Mulberrybush song. I hope your father gets better.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The mulberries are ripening here (in Virginia), so this is a timely post. Next time I walk by a mulberry bush, I’ll be thinking about women’s prisons and silk worms!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mae Clair says:

    I had no clue about the history behind this nursery rhyme, Robbie. It’s amazing to think such a sing-songy rhyme had such a dark beginning.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Darlene says:

    Interesting information. I often wondered where the origins of this song came from.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Clive says:

    Like others, I had no idea of a song the girls used to sing while skipping. It’s dark, isn’t it! It was also the title of a song by the band Traffic, the theme song to a 1968 movie also of the same title. Not as dark as the nursery rhyme’s origins, thankfully!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thanks for another fascinating history lesson, Robbie! Sharing…

    Liked by 2 people

  12. edwardky2 says:

    Reblogged this on Ed;s Site..

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Wonderful post.. it is amazing how we remember these nursery rhymes from childhood when we recited them without any inclination of their origins… excellent Robbie and thanks Kaye Lynne..xx

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Norah says:

    I enjoyed that song and game as a child too, Robbie. Thank you for explaining its origins.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Fascinating! I had no idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Hi, Robbie. I meant to add that I hope your dad is doing better.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. memadtwo says:

    We used to sing that rhyme too. Strange that it may have started in a prison. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

  18. BERNADETTE says:

    It’s funny how I have known this little song forever but never thought about its meaning. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Jim Borden says:

    interesting origin story; it seems like the idea behind the purpose of a women’s prison was a good idea, and the goals should have been the same for the men’s prisons…

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Two interesting interpretations, Robbie. I remember the song from childhood too, and never thought about what it meant. A fascinating share. Thanks for hosting, Kaye Lynne.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I wasn’t familiar with the origin of this song, Robbie. Your post is fascinating. Wow, all the stories it conjures… I hope you find a way to get some rest this weekend. Please take care of *you* too. Hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • HI Teagan, Dad has really perked up today so things are looking much better. Only 5 lots of injections left until we see the cardiologist next week. I must admit administering those jabs is giving me nightmares. I am so scared I’ll do something wrong. I am glad you enjoyed this dark origin. I thought is was very interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Reblogged this on My Corner and commented:
    Have you ever wondered what inspired this nursery rhyme? Well, fellow blogger Robbie Cheadle​ offers some ideas. I can’t think of a better way to start the week, even if you’re not literally dancing around a mulberry bush on a frosty morning.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    Most of us remember the nursery rhymes we sang as young children and have taught the next generations those same songs. But do you know the origins of the songs and the meaning of the words… some origins are dark and Robbie Cheadle as a guest of Kaye Lynne Booth reveals the secrets behind Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush… do you dare head over to find out what you have been singing all this time? o

    Liked by 3 people

  24. noelleg44 says:

    Fascinating stuff, Robbie, especially since we are singing nursery rhymes to my grandson.
    I think we will sing this one as an homage to all the imprisoned women!

    Liked by 2 people

  25. joylennick says:

    Hi Robbie, I was so sorry to hear about your poor Dad. Do hope he is progressing now. Fascinating to learn about the nursery rhyme. So many of the old rhymes and short stories had dark souls…(rather their authors did!) Hugs xx

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Interesting historical info about the origins of a nursery rhyme. Yes, I definitely remember singing it as a child. Those poor Victorian women. And aren’t we afraid to ask what their “crime” may have been? An adulterous affair, in which the men got away ‘scott-free’ as the saying goes? You do know how to find the dark corners of truth, Robbie. Well done. xo

    Liked by 2 people

  27. I sang this song with my preschool class 40+ years ago. Who would have thought of its origin? This post is very informative, Robbie. I also remember going to the preschool neighborhood to pick mulberry leaves to feed the silkworms. Thank you, Kaye, for the featuring.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. dgkaye says:

    I love your fascinating research shares Robbie. Very eerie that turned into a children’s song, We danced in a circle to it also when kids. Who knew? 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thank you for this very interesting information, Robbie! Cant remember similar rhymes for her, but i remember their use in movies. Mostly to increase the tension and create a mysterious mood. xx Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  30. alexcraigie says:

    Whatever the true origins, I found the information about women’s prisons, and the struggle to produce silk in the UK, fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person


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