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

Announcement: Andrew Yarranton England’s Improvement 1677

In England’s Improvement by Sea and Land to outdo the Dutch without fighting Andrew Yarranton wrote “We are almost as Beggars-bush, and we cannot tell how to help our selves”. The work was one of the first promoting inland navigation on rivers & canals, amongst other modern economic ideas (including the establishment of a national land registry). It was influential because it gave the economic arguments for such projects rather than the technical aspects of their construction.
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Posted: March 30th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Sticky: Erasmus as a source for ‘Cast our Caps’

In the play ‘The Beggars Bush’ the election of Clause as the King of the Beggars in Act II Scene 1 is celebrated with a song sung by “orator” Higgen. The song was reproduced as a seperate text in many collections of songs. It is generally ascribed to John Fletcher. Much of the beggars material in ‘The Beggars Bush’ was taken from the rogue literature of the late sixteenth and early seventeeth century. However, the source for the song is a much earlier and more respectable text – The Colloquies’ of Desiderius Erasmus, the “Prince of Christian Humanists”

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Posted: December 28th, 2014 | Filed under: Writers, The Play | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Sara M Hardwich Plutus Adonis A Mythical Hero 1884

“Beggar’s Bush is no place for a woman, much less a lady.”

“Old Badmin is a decently dressed rogue, and does the devil’s work in our village so cleverly, it takes two honest men to lay hold of him in the act and deed of villainy. Card sharper, poacher, retailer of rum and gin without a licence, and many a sober man’s sober son has he ruined and sent across seas, having picked his bones and used him for a cat’s paw. All last winter his small farm, Beggar’s Bush, was a rendezvous for the scum of the parish, to-night is this, year’s inauguration ; a first and last carousel.”

“Amongst those turf bogs no man of your father’s weight could find a footing. They skirt Beggar’s Bush ; there, yonder, is the farm, more than one path leads from it to St. Cuthbert’s. None but fools or madmen would try the moors to-night, even with an experienced guide. A slip into these treacherous dykes, and the strongest traveller fares the worst; his frantic, efforts do but engulf him the more surely.”

“Beggar’s Bush deserted, got a tenant after some time, a quiet, sober man, seemingly intent upon digging and drying, and re-claiming the land by a system of drainage. The farm was his own, he said, and had been let to a very bad tenant by his agents, determining him to see after the property himself.”

I hesitate to include this tedious execrable novel in the list of literary references – I do so for completeness, not as an encouragement to read it.

The usage of Beggars Bush is characteristic of the imagination expended by the author. As well as a bad man called Badmin, the book includes Constable Duffer and a villain called Marmaduke Chatterson. He, inexplicably, is also the husband of the heroine’s nursemaid Prudence, before his supposed death on the Lusitania, reappearance, further disappearance mysteriously connected with the heroine’s father drowning in a bog and deathbed repentance in a workhouse. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: June 26th, 2012 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: | No Comments »

John Clavell A Lost Prologue to The Beggars Bush ?1637

A Begger haunts, where he good Dole receives

The Nigard stoppes, for he, his prayers, deceaves,

Your Liberall Charrity from open Palmes

Makes us this confident to Aske your Almes

The Beggers have their Motives: Soe have wee

They crye their loss of Limbes, Age, Insanitiee

Theise our Infant days w’yee, yet: our Playes

(Though wee act none but such as got the Bayes)

Are Old: our habites too are meane: the same

Our action maimed, decrepit, feeble, Lame,

All movers of compassion: Let that fall

(as usuill) & your Charity mends all

For as A generall Rule wee ever make it

Not what? Or how we Act? But how you take it.

This prologue to Fletcher & Massinger’s play The Beggars Bush (1622) survives in one manuscript copy in the notebook of John Clavell, with notes, copy letters, epigrams and remedies.  They were probably written by Clavell in 1637 when he was in Ireland. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: May 24th, 2012 | Filed under: Writers, Speculations, The Play | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

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 »

Thomas Randolph ? Hey For Honesty, Down With Knavery 1651

“Like the grave Senators of Beggars-Bush; with Poverty, sole Empresse . . . [and] . . . thou, whose potent Oratory. Makes Beggars-Bush admire thy eloquent story . . . “

A Pleasant Comedie, Entitled Hey For Honesty, Down With Knavery, translated out of Aristophanes his Plautus, was first published in 1651. The text is from Act 3 Scene 1 of this very loose translation. This is the standard literary usage. Beggars Bush is a metaphorical location, the Senators are ironic. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Georgette Heyer False Colours 1963

“If ever a grig was spent out of the way he always behaved as if we should all of us go home by beggar’s bush!”

False Colours is set in 1817. The remark is made by the spendthrift dowager mother of the central character, explaining why she did not admit all her borrowing to the family lawyer during her husband’s lifetime. The usage is in the correct historical literary sense. A grig is a farthing.


Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) supported her family by writing on average one crime novel and one historical romance every year from about 1931 until the early 1970s. She is best known for a series of romances set in the Regency period. Although not appreciated, or even reviewed, by critics, for many years she sold more than 100,000 hardbacks annually and her paperbacks were issued in print runs of 500,000.

Her historical novels are sometimes criticised for the amount of incidental detail and colour she included, but not accuracy of it. She had her own reference library and collected period material.


Heyer, G., False Colours, The Bodley Head, London, 1963 (p.21)

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , | No Comments »

Sheila Kaye-Smith Susan Spray 1931

The story is set around Copthorne on the Surrey/Sussex border. The main character is the daughter of a farm labourer born in 1834. Her father works at a farm called Pickdick. She is sent as a child to scare birds in an oat-field on nearby Beggars Bush farm where she sees a vision and becomes a preacher for the Colgate Brethren. It appears the Colgate Brethren meet at another farm called Horn Reed. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , | No Comments »

John Cleveland ? Midsummer Moon 1688

“if a man be a tree invers’d, he’s beggar’s bush”

The usage is clearly literary, and consistent with standard literary usage. However, the form is unusual. The concept goes back to Aristotle History of Animals, “Man is an inverted tree, and a tree is an inverted man”. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: April 24th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Victor Canning Beggar’s Bush 1940

A play in three acts produced by the White Rose Company in Harrogate during the week beginning Monday 22 April 1940. A proposed London run never took place. The play was never published. A copy of the script was located in November 2007 in the Lord Chamberlain’s Archive at the British Library where it had been submitted for censorship. A revival is scheduled for October 2011. As with the play The Beggars Bush by Fletcher and Massinger the eponymous place is just that, and no more. It appears to have been an attractive name, but no more. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: April 10th, 2011 | Filed under: Writers | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »