Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pearls of Wisdom from an Edwardian Nursery

I am reading An Edwardian Childhood by Jane Pettigrew. In this charmingly illustrated book, Pettigrew recounts what it was like to be a child growing up in an Edwardian Era home where there was sufficient income to hire a nanny. One of my favorite passages was "Nursery Philosophy," that included favorite sayings of Nanny, some of which have been around for hundreds of years: "Save your breath to cool your porridge," which appears in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, or "Eating toast crusts makes your hair curl, so eat them up," a wisdom shared when I was growing up. (It'd didn't work.) Here are a few others:

On taking medicine: "Upsie daisy, hold your nose, swallow hard and down she goes!"
Eating habits: "Wicked waste brings woeful want" and "Scrape the pattern off the plate."
Table manners: "Sit up straight at the table so there's room for a mouse at the front and a cat at the back."
Bedtime: "The sandman's on the way" and "The longer you sleep, the longer you'll grow." (Turns out that one is true.)

I don't know if children still believe in a sandman, but I did, and I was told to "clean my plate" as their were starving children in China. My mother was always telling her six daughters to stand up straight, shoulders back. But the one Mom mentioned most often, and which I frequently say, is "Many hands make light work." Do you have any family sayings that you have passed along to your children? I would be interested in reading them.


  1. I lived in The Netherlands until I was nine, so that English sayings were not part of my childhood. Cleanliness was important, as was finishing every morsel on our plates. The spectre of being a bad child and receiving a lump of coal in our wooden shoe from Swarte Piet on December 5th, when St. Nicholas made his rounds, always hung over me.

  2. On going to bed upstairs you were going,"up the wooden hill."

    "Sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite." (That one came from the middle ages)

    "Eat up your carrots. They'll help you see in the dark."

  3. Hi Vic, My parents grew up in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania, and they would receive a lump of coal in their stocking if they didn't behave. Small world.

    Hi Tony, The book also included "Up the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire" and " Up the wooden hill and down sheet lane," neither of which meant anything to me. Can you explain?

    "Sleep tight" was also in Colonial America where they would tighten the ropes that held the mattress. Rather disgusting, but that's the way it was. We were also told to eat carrots as it helped our eyesight. I know they fed RAF pilots carrots in WWII.

    Thanks guys!

  4. This book seems to be VERY interesting. It's great someone tackled the typical childhood of an Edwardian child.

  5. "Up the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire" and " Up the wooden hill and down sheet lane,"

    They are versions of my phrase.

    "up the wooden hill" refers to the wooden staircase that leads to what we call the first floor at home.

    I should imagine the refernece to Befordshire is a play on words for people living in bedfordshire. Just refers to going to bed again.

    "Sheet lane," is getting inside your bedsheets.