The History of the House that Jack Built (1820) has been popular since at least the mid-18th century and is still well known today. It is an accumulative rhyme in which each verse repeats all the previous verses, before adding a further one. It was probably first published in Nurse Truelove’s New-Year’s-Gift, printed by John Newbery (c. 1750) but it is likely that it was known before then. The rhyme was frequently re-printed in cheap, short formats (often called ‘chapbooks’), such as the one shown here. Each verse is on a new page, decorated with a woodcut.
The House that Jack Built has often been parodied, and its form has proved popular with political satirists. At around the time that this particular version appeared, for instance, William Hone produced his clever and successful Political House that Jack Built (1819), an attack on state repression. The Royal House that Jack Built followed in 1820: a satire on the Prince Regent’s controversial attempt to divorce his wife, Queen Caroline.
The publisher of this version of The House that Jack Built was F Houlston & Son, of Wellington in Shropshire. Houston also published many of Mary Martha Sherwood’s heavily didactic and religious books , most of which were in complete contrast to the bouncing rhythms of The House that Jack Built. In the list of other titles published by Houston printed at the back of the book, none of Sherwood’sworks is included. Perhaps they were seen as appealing to a different audience!