(Enlarged from Old Song)
… “Old Mother Laidinwool” is only truly graphic to those who know and understand local traditions. The title of the poem revives the memory of the Downland sheep and the woollen manufacture. In Sussex Folk and Sussex Ways … we read:Hopkins suggests that Kipling was inspired by a note in Egerton’s book quoting an old song that began:
About this time I find several instances of entries stating that such-and-such a person was buried in linen, or without a certificate, and that the fine was inflicted according to law.
Old Mother Nincompoop had nigh twelve month been dead –('Nincompoop' is an unpleasant word signifying a booby or simpleton. Ed.)
She heard the hops were pretty good, and just popped out her head.
(The rest is lost)
Just at dusk, a soft September rain began to fall on the hop-pickers. The mothers wheeled the bouncing perambulators out of the gardens; bins were put away, and tally-books made up. The young couples strolled home, two to each umbrella, and the single men walked behind them laughing. Dan and Una, who had been picking after their lessons, marched off to roast potatoes at the oast-house, where old Hobden, with Blue-eyed Bess, his lurcher dog, lived all the month through, drying the hops.Puck, in the guise of Tom Shoesmith, begins to sing the “Old Song” until interrupted by Hobden, who says :
They settled themselves, as usual, on the sack-strewn cot in front of the fires, and, when Hobden drew up the shutter, stared, as usual, at the flameless bed of coals spouting its heat up the dark well of the old-fashioned roundel...
“Well, well ! They do say hoppin’ll draw the very deadest, and now I belieft ’em. You, Tom? Tom Shoesmith !”See also Something of Myself, Chapter 7, 'The Very-Own House.' Hobden appears in several of the Puck stories and "The Land" representing the unchanging nature of the Sussex countryside, and perhaps the source of this poem.