Tuppenny Rice & Treacle

Cottage Housekeeping 1900 – 1920


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I tried the recipe!

The Lyrics

Tuppenny Rice and Treacle

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

Every night when I go out,
The monkey’s on the table,
Take a stick and knock it off,
Pop! goes the weasel.

Up and down the city road
In and out the Eagle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

There have been many attempts to explain these lyrics over the years, but the most frequent is that they refer to the pawning (popping) of smart clothes (or sometimes tools of trade) at the end of the week to buy cheap food. ‘Weasel’ could be cockney rhyming slang for a coat (weasel and stoat) or a corruption of ‘whistle’ (whistle and flute – suit).

Half a pound of tuppenny rice would cost one penny, while treacle was a standard ingredient of most cakes and puddings, as shown in this book. This would be just about adequate for survival, but not a nutritious diet.

The monkey and the stick probably refer to a drinking vessel (a monkey) and a shot of alcohol (a stick), while the Eagle is believed to be a public house on City Road in Shoreditch, east London. This expenditure on drink hardly helped frugal budgeting, and the song is a commentary on the poverty in which many people lived – some of it self-inflicted. This resonates with the message of the Band of Hope and Temperance movements which developed later in the century.

The tune appears to have begun as dance music in the 1840s or 1850s. A music sheet acquired by the British Library in 1853 describes a dance, Pop! Goes the Weasel, as “An Old English Dance, as performed at Her Majesty’s & The Nobilities Balls, with the Original Music”. The words developed later and various versions exist in the UK, USA and Australia, and the song would have become widely known across the whole country.


The Story

Feeding a family on a limited budget is always a challenge. Yet even with a budget as low as ten shillings (50p) a week in the early part of the twentieth century, it is remarkable how interesting and varied the menu could be.

This delightful book draws on recipes compiled by Doris’s mother in Derbyshire and mother-in-law in Cumberland, and contains detailed records of weekly expenditure.

It includes numerous recipes for nutritious and filling meals for working men and growing families, taking full advantage of what was available – hearty meat dishes, with lots of root vegetables, puddings and dumplings to fill them out, cakes and buns, sweets and jams, and beverages to go with them (some highly alcoholic!). The recipes work just as well now as then.

It is also full of household and cleaning hints and products, illustrating immense pride in the home, as well as medicines, lotions and potions that would ‘kill or cure’.

Tuppenny Rice and Treacle, which still has resonance today, is illustrated with many contemporary photographs, and line drawings by George Coates, the author’s husband. It is one of a series of social and local histories written by the author and published by The Harpsden Press.

Doris E. Coates was born in Eyam in 1908. Remarkably, from a very basic education at the village school, she achieved entry to Goldsmith’s College, University of London, and achieved a First Class qualification. After a lifetime of teaching in Derbyshire and Norfolk, Doris turned to writing and this was her first book. Tunes on a Penny Whistle also recalled her Derbyshire roots, while other books explore the history of Stoke Ferry and its neighbouring villages in west Norfolk. Doris died in 1998.