The Everyday Lore Project

18 August 2020 – St Helena’s Day

18 August 2020 – St Helena’s Day
Old King Cole by William Wallace Denslow

I learnt something new today. Which may not come as a huge surprise, as let’s face it, I’ve generally learnt something new every day since starting this project. But today was different. Today is St Helena’s Day, and St Helena is the Patron Saint of discovery. And while that was a new piece of information to me, it wasn’t what I learnt. 

And it also wasn’t that she started out as a stabularia, which roughly translates as a barmaid, or that her son, Constantine became Emperor of the Roman Empire in 324 ADE. And neither was it that she went all I, Claudius, and may have had a hand in the apparent suicide of her daughter-in-law in a steam bath, nor was it that she supposedly found the cross that Jesus was crucified on.

No, it was something else entirely. 

Today I discovered there’s a second verse to the nursery rhyme, Old King Cole

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve had cause to sing it, but up until today this is the version I knew off by heart:

Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he:
He called for his pipe,
And he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.

And that’s where I always thought it ended. But no, it continues:

Every fiddler he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he;
Oh there’s none so rare, 
As can compare,
With King Cole and his fiddlers three.

And just how did I get from the Holy Roman Empire to the nursery? Well, it’s said that one of the inspirations for Old King Cole, of which there are many, Coel Hen was also the father of St Helena. 

So there you have it, thanks to the Patron Saint of discoveries, I learnt of a second verse to a nursery rhyme I’ve not thought about for 40 odd years. Which is why I love this project. 

Oh, and I also realised, thanks to George Carlin, that Old King Cole may have been a bit partial to the old Mary Jane. Pipe and bowl, anyone?


Header: Old King Cole by William Wallace Denslow, 1902

Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

St. Helena, Discoverer of the True Cross (250-330)

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

2 comments on “18 August 2020 – St Helena’s Day”

  1. Rachel gregson says:

    I knew the second verse! But none of stuff about St Helene! I think I have now subscribed – will Now try and work out how to enter letter writing day thing…

    1. You have, thank you! You’ll find the form here And I’m very impressed you knew the second verse. And a little jealous…

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