Old Mother Hubbard

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard

to fetch her poor dog a bone

When she got there 

the cupboard was bare

And so the poor dog had none

Old Mother Hubbard is not the only senior citizen maligned as inept in nursery rhyme. As an imperfect pet-sitter myself,  I can only sympathise with her repeated failures at appeasing the mutt.

Amy Amelia Earl (AAE) stitched the scene with the old mother in her kitchen. The cupboard is barely there itself, let alone having any provisions in it. I suspect she’s been spending the housekeeping money on fine lace and red shoes, not to mention the splendid silk portrait of King George. Not even a bone could be bought after that wanton extravagance.

A cloth picture with appliqued dog and woman with a lace apron
Old Mother Hubbard by AAE

And are those mittens, or furry paws that OMH is gesturing with?

There are many more verses to this rhyme and Raymond Briggs has laid them all out in the wonderful Mother Goose Treasury which deservedly won the Greenaway medal in 1966.

Double spread from a children's nursery rhyme book with black and white line drawings
Raymond Briggs brings Old Mother Hubbard’s dog to life and death and back again

The steady progression of disappointed doggy into Restoration dandy is captured as a pen-and-ink comic strip, pre-figuring his later triumphant Father Christmas (who also had a dog, surely a cousin of this one.)

Harold Jones has a more sinister view of the old woman.

An illustrated verse from a children's book showing a coloured picture of a witch
Old Mother Hubbard by Harold Jones

Don’t let the curtains and wallpaper fool you. This witch is hoping to conjure something up for the wolf at the door, who looks as if he won’t be the one playing dead if the cupboard really is bare.

Apologies for the blurriness of this image from the Red Nursery Rhyme quilt, which doesn’t disguise the poor doggy’s ribby hunger. Once again though the old lady has been impecunious : trimming her shawl before stocking the cupboard.

Cloth picture shows a dog on its hind legs and a woman reaching up to a shelf
Old Mother Hubbard in the Red Nursery Rhyme quilt


I was not wearing lace when this picture was taken, but Jasper is perfectly channelling his feeling that if I go to the cupboard, for him it will be bare. No amount of pipe-smoking or licking dishes will transform me into his servant, and he knows it.

A black-and-white dog stands on brick paving
Jasper plays the part of The Dog