Most people on both sides of the Atlantic are usually familiar with the nursery rhyme, children's song and one time music hall ditty 'Pop! Goes The Weasel', but does anyone actually know what on earth it is about? I shall start by answering this question, by saying ... I have no idea. The good news for me though, is that it seems that no one else does really either.
Whilst I was waiting for the group to turn up for Sunday mornings walk around the east end, I nipped across the road to a pub called The Eagle. It's right on the corner of City Road and Shepherdess Walk. It looks very much like this.
The majority of people will also know the first verse:
'Half a pound of tuppenny rice, half a pound of treacle,
Mix it up and make it nice. Pop! Goes the weasel'
And undoubtedly a flicker of recognition will occur at the point when you hear that another verse is:
'Up and down the City Road, in and out the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes. Pop! Goes the weasel.'
That's right. I did just tell you that the pub is called The Eagle and that it's on City Road and no, it isn't a complete coincidence ... they've even got the words emblazoned on a huge board on the side of the pub.
To cut a reasonably long story short, back in the 18th century, the site was what was known as a Pleasure Garden, a rural day out to enjoy gardens, concerts, balloon ascents and various other activities. In the 19th century, it had become a music hall known as the Grecian Theatre (or Eagle Tavern) where a local lass, later known by her stage name of Marie Lloyd made her stage debut at the age of fifteen. In 1882, the building was acquired by General William Booth for the Salvation Army, and from that point on there would cease being such an abundance of wrestling matches, bawdiness and general revelry. However, after being demolished in the early 20th century, The Eagle once again returned as a public house, which is the building you see today.
There are various schools of thought relating to the meaning of the words now inscribed on the pub and immortalised in a nursery rhyme, but as, in the Victorian period, the area was clogged with textile and hat making industries, a 'weasel' is sometimes considered to be a piece of machinery or tool that was used and prone to breaking, or a type of iron used by tailors. Another, and perhaps my favourite is that the weasel in question relates to 'weasel & stoat', Cockney rhyming slang for coat, and 'pop' is another word to pawn something, so in essence, guys working in the area would drink away their earnings in The Eagle and then have to pawn their coat in order to get a bit of money.
As I mentioned though, there are numerous differing thoughts on this, and in fact just a couple of weeks ago, Richey who came on a Sunday walk, had heard a completely different story about it which I never had, so if you have any other suggestions on the meaning of 'Pop! Goes the weasel', please feel free to let me know. I'd be delighted to hear them.
For a lovely little post, displaying some of the old play bills and pictures of the Grecian Theatre, I would like to direct you to Spitalfields Life.
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