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Bishy Barnabee at Wood Norton

At a recent work party it came to light that some of our group had no idea what a bishy barnabee is. Apparently, they were concerned what hideous creature it might be when I said a bishy barnabee was crawling on them. As a Norfolk conservation group, it’s important to get these things right :) .

A bishy is, of course, the local name for a ladybird. My wife and I and our parents and our kids have always called ladybirds bishy barnabees, or simply bishys, until a quizzical look requires us to use the more common name. To be fair though I don’t think nowadays it’s a commonly used name even by Norfolk folk, although most would, I hope, know what one was.

But why is a ladybird is called a bishy barnabee? One theory is that it comes from a tudor Bishop Bonner, who was infamous for his persecution of protestants during the reign of Queen Mary. He may have worn a red cloak or perhaps the red ladybird acquired its local name for all the innocent blood he was responsible for spilling.

We also have a children’s rhyme about the bishy barnabee.

Bishy bishy barnabee tell me when my wedding be.

If it be tomorrow day take your wings and fly away.

Fly to the east, fly to the west.

Fly to the one I love the best.

During the course of the work party we actually spotted two species of ladybird, 7-Spot and Harlequin.

Stu Buck

October 5th 2023


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