Does Anyone Know the Origins of “A Chicken, a Chicken, a Crane, a Crow”?

I received this question recently:

I am wondering if anyone knows the origin of this little ditty. My English mother used to sing it;

A Chicken, a Chicken, a Crane, a Crow

A chicken, a chicken, a crane, a crow,
Went down to the brook to wash his big toe,
And when he got there the chicken was dead,
With a pile of coal laid over his head.
What time is it old buzzard?
Time to go to bed!

If anyone can help out, please comment below. Thanks!


This article was posted on Saturday, March 17th, 2007 at 9:07 pm and is filed under British Children's Songs, Children's Songs, Countries & Cultures, England, English, Languages, Questions, Readers Questions, United Kingdom. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Responses to “Does Anyone Know the Origins of “A Chicken, a Chicken, a Crane, a Crow”?”

  1. Uly Says:

    Sounds like a game song, a prelude to a tagging game. I’ve heard similar ones where after the Old Buzzard gives the correct time he chases the other players.

  2. Michael Says:

    I played this game as a child,my grandmother taught us.The words were slightly different , well instead of brook and witch instead of buzzard.”When she got back one of her chickens were gone, what time is it old witch?”

    Children were in a circle each numbered, when the child with the number the witch calls out must run the circle back to the original place without the witch catching them. If caught the player is now the witch.

    Upon visiting the Portland area in 1981 a 1st grade teacher recognized the game song from a text book of hers. The origin was given as being Scottish in origin. This is more than likely correct, my grandmother was a MacDermott, born in 1876.

  3. Cathy Grant Says:

    My mother used to say this rhyme as we marched up the stairs to bed. Our version went : Chickeny, chickeny craney crow went to the well to wash his toe; when they got there the buzzard was dead. Time said the rooster. Time to go to bed! Always thought it a bit bizarre. Side note: I grew up in Central N.Y. State. My mother however was a missionary’s kid and went to a British boarding school in India. So I guess I just always thought it was an English ditty like ” Pinch and a punch, first of the month, no returns of the day. White Rabbit!!”

  4. Lisa Says:

    Cathy, Did you say… “Pinch and a punch, first of the month, no returns of the day. White Rabbit!!!” …as part of a game or in a specific situation?

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