The House That Jack Built


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!

Full title:
The History of the House that Jack built ... With cuts.
estimated 1820, Wellington, Salop now known as Shropshire
Book / Children's book / Illustration / Image
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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Article by:
Ruth Richardson
Popular culture, Reading and print culture

Chapbooks were small, affordable forms of literature for children and adults that were sold on the streets, and covered a range of subjects from fairy tales and ghost stories to news of politics, crime or disaster. Dr Ruth Richardson explains what this literature looked like, its subject matter and the ways in which it was produced.

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