Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Sticky: Anthologies – why the OED and Brewer’s Dictionary were wrong

The Oxford English Dictionary gives under Beggars:

8. Special combinations. . . “beggar’s-bush, a bush under which a beggar finds shelter (name of ‘a tree near Huntingdon, formerly a noted rendezvous for beggars’ – Brewer), fig. beggary, ruin;”.

This is taken from E. Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1868 and all editions until recently when the entry was dropped) which gave;

“Beggars Bush. To go by beggar’s bush, or Go home by beggar’s bush – i.e. to go to ruin. Beggar’s Bush is the name of a tree which once stood on the left hand of the London road from Huntingdon to Caxton; so called because it was a noted rendezvous for beggars. These punning phrases and proverbs are very common.”

This is partly true and partly false – perhaps more correctly this was false when it was first published, but through the influence of these two reference works has become common usage. It has been applied as a post facto explanation for the existence of the place name — see for example Donnybrook, Dublin and the histories of Dublin). Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: October 18th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers, Speculations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Philip Henslowe c.1555-1616

Philip Henslowe provides a link between the area of a cluster of early Beggars Bush place names in Sussex and many of the early authors who used Beggars Bush in their works. He is best known for his “Diary”, which is the main primary source for the day to day workings of Elizabethan theatre. He was an entrepreneur with wide business and family links in London and Sussex. I cannot show that he ever used the phrase, but he must have been aware of it. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: June 27th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers, Speculations, The Play | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Adam Foulweather A wonderfull, strange and miraculous astrologicall prognostication 1591

A Wonderfull … Astrologicall Prognostication (1591) is a pamphlet by “Adam Fouleweather Student in Asse-tronomy” which has been attributed to Thomas Nashe (“unconvincingly” according to DNB). It was one of a trio of mock prognostications, the others by ‘Francis Fairweather’ and ‘Simon Smellknave’ do not survive. It ridicules the popular prognostications that were published with almanacs. It claimed it was “Discovering such wonders to happen this yeere, as neuer chaunced since Noes floud. Wherein if there be found one lye, the author will lose his credit for ever.”
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Posted: March 27th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Anon Londons Ordinarie 1629 ?

This broadside ballad “To a pleasant new tune” survives in a variety of editions.  The English Broadside Ballad Archive has two dated from 1619-1629 and 1630, while the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads lists three further versions dated between 1674 and 1679. All of these include similar text which lists places, mainly hostelries (ordinaries) linked with the characters of the people who used them. Notably it is the spendthrifts who go to Beggars Bush – which is consistent with the literary usage of the phrase. It is sometimes connected to a song by Thomas Heywood, first published in 1608. For the full text see Londons Ordinarie.
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Posted: March 20th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Martin Marprelate The Epistle 1588

“And as the matter is made knowne vnto my Lorde the preacher is sure to go by the worst and the recusant to carrie all the honestie: Yea the preacher shalbe a busie enuious fellow one that doth not obserue the booke and conforme himself according vnto order and perhaps go home by beggars bush for any benefice he hath to liue vpon. For it may be the Bb. will be so good vnto him as to depriue him for not subscribing.  As for the recusant, he is known to be a man that must have liberty of his conscience. Is this good dealing brethren.”

Text & Usage

The Epistle was a pamphlet of 54 pages published in October 1588 in response to A Defense of the Government established in the Church of England for Ecclesiastical Matters (1587) by Dr John Bridges. It was the first of a series of anonymous tracts supporting the presbyterian cause against Archbishop Whitgift’s attempts to impose uniformity of worship and promote the power of bishops over clergy. The Epistle stated it was “Printed overseas, in Europe, within two furlongs of a Bounsing Priest, at the cost and charges of M. Marprelate, Gentlemen”.
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Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Robert Greene A Quip for an Upstart Courtier 1592

“These with Syrenlike allurement so entised these quaint squires, that they bestowed al their flowers vpon them for fauours, they themselues walking home by Beggar’s Bush for a penance.”


This is earliest mention of Beggar’s Bush recorded in the OED. It is characteristic of the literary usages. The phrase is clearly a literary one, involving the fall of the favoured through their own foolishness. Elsewhere in the same work Greene uses the term Weeping Cross in the same context, which was earlier used by William Bullein.
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Posted: March 12th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

William Bullein A Dialogue Against the Fever Pestilence 1564

“Fellowes are so braine sicke now adaies if thei haue but tenne shillynges, yea, though thei doe borowe it, will be twoo or three times a yere at Westminster haule ; let wife or children begge ; & in the ende thei go home many miles, by foolam crosse, by weepyng cross, by beggers Barne, and by knaues Acre, &c. This commeth of their lawing ; then thei crie, might doe ouer come right, would I had knowen as muche before, I am undone, &c. “


The text includes classical references, items from morality plays, and early usages of popular turns of phrase. The phrase”to go home by” is identical with early examples of the Beggars Bush phrase. The alternative places are all proverbial. This shows that the usage with Beggars Bush is only a variation of a proverbial phrase. The context is almost identical to the circumstances of the Plumpton Correspondence using the similar Beggar Staff.
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Posted: March 10th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »