Mama Lisa's World
International Music & Culture
Oranges and Lemons
(English Kids Song)
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Oranges and Lemons is a very well-known song. It can be played as a children's game similar to London Bridge.

Oranges and Lemons
Children's Song

Oranges and Lemons - English Children's Songs - England - Mama Lisa's World: Children's Songs and Rhymes from Around the World, Intro Image


Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St. Clement's.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I'm sure I don't know,
Says the great bell at Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

Chop, chop, chop
The last man's dead!
 
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Notes

The churches in this rhyme are all believed to be in the City of London: St. Martin's is close to where the moneylenders used to live; Shoreditch is where a church used to stand in the past; Old Bailey is near the prison where debtors were sent; Bow is probably St. Mary-le-Bow, whose bells told Dick Whittington to "Turn again".

Clive Dowler wrote, "The bells are the bells you mention. But slightly more important is the fact that they are the bells that are heard if you are a prisoner in the tower of London awaiting execution. The last two lines refer to the fact that it was the holding cell for convicts who were scheduled for execution the following morning."

Audrey Schnell wrote, "There's another verse to 'Oranges and Lemons' ... I'm not sure where it fits in. It goes 'Brickbats and tiles, say the bells of St Giles'". Audrey later added, "We always knew the 'Bow' couplet as, 'I do not know, says the great bell of Bow'. The form that you've used seems more Americanized."

John Smout wrote me in December 2004, "These are the full words for 'Oranges and Lemons' in your England section:"

Gay go up and gay go down,
To ring the bells of London town.

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clements.

Bull's eyes and targets,
Say the bells of St. Marg'ret's.

Brickbats and tiles,
Say the bells of St. Giles'.

Halfpence and farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.

Pancakes and fritters,
Say the bells of St. Peter's.

Two sticks and an apple,
Say the bells of Whitechapel.

Pokers and tongs,
Say the bells of St. John's.

Kettles and pans,
Say the bells of St. Ann's.

Old Father Baldpate,
Say the slow bells of Aldgate.

You owe me ten shillings,
Say the bells of St. Helen's.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

Pray when will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

Chop chop chop chop
The last man's dead!

_____

John Smout wrote, "St Clements has two contenders, it is either St Clements Danes or it is St Clements Eastcheap. St Helen's Bishopsgate survived the great fire of London and the WWII Blitz but suffered severe bomb damage from two IRA bomb blasts in 1992 and 1993. Stepney is St Dunstan's and All Saints Stepney. Built in 952 AD by the Bishop of London upon an earlier wooden church. St Mary Matfelon, the 'White Chapel' was built between 1250 and 1286 as a chapel of ease to St Dunstan's church above but destroyed in WWII. A fragment remains at the entrance to what is now a small park.

What is curious is that three of these churches are aligned, together with two important others, Temple Church and St Paul's Cathedral, on a straight line across London, about 3 1/2 miles."

CLICK HERE to See Map.
_____

Peter Elliott wrote me in March 2005, "The bells of Shoreditch still exist; I was in Shoreditch last week and the church is St. Leonard's in Shoreditch High Street. It has a special letter box on the railings especially for 'Oranges and Lemons letters' whoever writes them."

CLICK HERE to See Photos of the church and letter box.

_____

Percy B. Green, author of the book A History of Nursery Rhymes (1899), had a slightly different take on this song:

"This almost forgotten nursery song and game of 'The Bells of London Town' has a descriptive burden or ending to each line, giving an imitation of the sounds of the bell-peals of the principal churches in each locality of the City and the old London suburbs. The game is played by girls and boys holding hands and racing round sideways, as they do in 'Ring a Ring a Rosies,' after each line has been sung as a solo by the children in turns. The

'Gay go up and gay go down
To ring the bells of London town'

is chorused by all the company, and then the rollicking dance begins; the feet stamping out a noisy but enjoyable accompaniment to the words,

'Gay go up, gay go down.'

The intonation of the little vocal bell-ringers alters with each line,

'Pancakes and fritters, say the bells of St. Peter's,'

being sung to a quick tune and in a high key;

'Old Father Baldpate, toll the slow bells of Aldgate,'

suggesting a very slow movement and a deep, low tone.

The round singing of the ancients, of which this game is a fitting illustration, is probably a relic of Celtic festivity. The burden of a song, chorused by the entire company, followed the stanza sung by the vocalist, and this soloist, having finished, had license to appoint the next singer, 'canere ad myrtum,' by handing him the myrtle branch. At all events round singing was anciently so performed by the Druids, the Bardic custom of the men of the wand."
_____

My thanks go out to everyone who provided assistance with "Oranges and Lemons" -Mama Lisa

Here's a version I found in The Real Mother Goose (1916) - though it never mentions Oranges and Lemons - the rest of the lyrics are very similar:

"You owe me five shillings,"
Say the bells of St. Helen's.
"When will you pay me?"
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
"When I grow rich,"
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
"When will that be?"
Say the bells of Stepney.
"I do not know,"
Says the great Bell of Bow.
"Two sticks in an apple,"
Ring the bells of Whitechapel.
"Halfpence and farthings,"
Say the bells of St. Martin's.
"Kettles and pans,"
Say the bells of St. Ann's.
"Brickbats and tiles,"
Say the bells of St. Giles.
"Old shoes and slippers,"
Say the bells of St. Peter's.
"Pokers and tongs,"
Say the bells of St. John's.

Game Instructions

Two children decide who will be the orange and who the lemon; they join hands to form an arch and sing the song, while the other children pass under the arch in a line. At the end of the song, which gets faster and more menacing, the two children forming the arch bring their arms down on the child passing under the arch, who has to decide whether to be an orange or a lemon, and lines up behind one of the two parts of the arch. When all the children have been 'chopped' there is a tug of war to decide whether the oranges or the lemons are the stronger.

Photos & Illustrations

Oranges and Lemons - English Children's Songs - England - Mama Lisa's World: Children's Songs and Rhymes from Around the World, Comment Image

Oranges and Lemons - English Children's Songs - England - Mama Lisa's World: Children's Songs and Rhymes from Around the World 1

Thanks and Acknowledgements

The first illustration at the top of the page comes from The Baby's Opera by Walter Crane (circa 1877) - with a little graphic editing by Mama Lisa. The second illustration is from The Nursery Rhyme Book, edited by Andrew Lang and illustrated by L. Leslie Brooke (1897). The 3rd illustration is by H. Willebeck Le Mair from Our Old Nursery Rhymes (1911), arranged by Alfred Moffat.

Performed by 17 talented university student musicians who were sisters in the Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity for Women at California State University-Stanislaus in 2007. The musical score the recording is based on comes from Our Old Nursery Rhymes (1911) arranged by Alfred Moffat.

The second recording was originally sung by Carol Stripling for Librivox.

Thanks so much!

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