Lines on the Landscape: children's writers

From : Valerie Belsey

What we think of as the children's rhyme ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ has very local connections. Sarah Martin (1768-1826) was the housekeeper at Kitley House in Yealmpton. Her sister married into the Pollexfen Bastard family. The 28 verse poem was written in 1805. The bare cupboard is thought to refer to the shortages of goods during the Napoleonic Wars. There was a sequel, Dame Trot and her Cat, which is an important forerunner of illustrated nursery rhyme books. A first edition of Old Mother Hubbard is kept at Kitley House today.

John Masefield (1878-1967) wrote Jim Davies, 1911, a thrilling tale for children of smugglers set in the Gara Valley mentioning many local places and characters after only a two week stay in the area.

Michael Morpurgo, a former children’s laureate set one of his novels at Slapton and follows the fate of a cat, Adolphous Tips during the Second World War evacuation of the area.

Henry Williamson (1895-1977) is a writer more associated with North Devon than the South and above all remembered for another children’s classic, Tarka the Otter.  (See Lines on the Landscape: novels and drama)

Jack Yeats (1871-1957) lived in the Gara Valley for thirteen years. His first theatrical works were premiered here in Strete National School and other venues along the coast for ‘the valley children’. The plays featured pirates, sailors and smugglers, circus characters and local heroes and heroines. He wrote and made all the scenery for these toy theatre productions. In 1990 one of these plays was revised by the children of Stoke Fleming Primary School. (See also Novels and drama)

Other children’s authors who include references to our area are Peter Bently, Tim Bowler, Penny Little and many more.

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Lines on the Landscape: children's writers

An American illustration of Old Mother Hubbard (Copyright free image from the Library of Congress collection)


The poem also has another interpretation.

Old Mother Hubbard (Cardinal Wolsey)

Went to the cupboard ( the Catholic Church)

To get her poor doggie (King Henry VIII) a bone (divorce)

When she got there

The cupboard was bare

So the poor little doggie had none.

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