Mells, Somerset, England

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The story of "Little Jack Horner"

Whether this story is fact or fiction is lost in the depths of time but it is still amusing and just might be true.

Illustration from a book of nursery rhymes dated 1944

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner,
Eating of Christmas Pie,
He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plumb
and said "What a good boy am I!

It is said that, at the time of the dissolution, Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury, hoping to appease Henry VIII, sent his steward Jack Horner to London with a Christmas gift. The gift, a pie, had hidden under it's pastry crust, the deeds of twelve manors. On the journey, Jack opened the pie and removed the deeds of Mells Manor, in the village of Mells.

True or not, Thomas Horner took up residence at the manor shortly after dissolution, and one of his descendants was still living there in 1975.

The Horner family claims that Mells Manor was bought, along with various other Manors and nearby farms, for the sum of £1831-9s-3¾d. It was further claimed that the rhyme has nothing to do with their ancestor, as their ancestors name was Thomas, not Jack. It is true, that Horner's name was Thomas, but even nowadays anyone may be called Jack if he is a knave, or known as "a bit of a lad" (term - "Jack the lad!").

This story of Jack Horner was printed in book form in 1764, and sold in Aldermary Churchyard, Bow Lane, London, where it was described as 'being pleasant for winter evenings'. Now kept in the British Museum, the book describes the witty pranks that Jack played throughout his life.

The story that deeds were hidden under a pie crust is not so preposterous as it may first seem. Highwaymen were common and travellers would hide their gold, jewels and other valuables sewn in the folds of ladies underwear, in cakes and under pie crusts!