Woman on a horse
The statue of the “fine lady” at Banbury Cross, in Banbury, Oxfordshire
Source: Wikimedia Commons

There are several English nursery rhymes beginning with the line “Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross”. Probably the best known today is:

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.[1]

The earliest surviving version of the rhyme, published in Gammer Gurton’s Garland or The Nursery Parnassus, (1784), replaces the “fine lady” with an “old lady”; a 1790 version has her with “a ring on her finger, A bonnet of straw”. The “fine lady” has been popularly identified with Queen Elizabeth I and Lady Godiva.[1]

The folklorists Iona and Peter Opie have pointed to the difficulty of determining the age of the nursery rhyme, but the “bells on her toes” may suggest a 15th-century origin, when bells were worn on the long tapering end of each shoe. Certainly, the cross at Banbury was reported as having been destroyed by Puritans in a “furious zeal” some time around 1600.[1] The present-day cross in the centre of Banbury, designed by the architect John Gibbs, was erected in 1859.[2][3]

Citations



Bibliography


Opie, I., & Opie, P. (1997). Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.
Pevsner, N., & Sherwood, J. (1974). Oxfordshire. Penguin Books.
Tyack, G. (1998). Oxford: An Architectural Guide. Oxford University Press.