Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clements

January 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clements,
You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St Martins,
When will you pay me, say the bells of Old Bailey,
When I get rich, say the bells of Shoreditch,
When will that be, say the bells of Stepney,
How should I know, says the big old bell at Bow,
And here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes chopper to chop off your head.

I’d love to take the kids on a walk around London (though it might be too far for their little legs!) to show them some of the churches of this song. The sound of church bells is still a feature of my little corner of London as occasionally they have bell ringers at my local church, but more often than not, the noise of the church bells is rather drowned out by the sirens! From a historical point of view perhaps this helps to commuicate how significant the sounds of bells were in the soundscape of London pre-automobiles. In fact, the following song in ‘The Baby’s Opera’, the Walter Crane book from which the illustration below is taken, is called ‘St Pauls Steeple’ and has a very bell like melody as well.

It is of course a very old song, and there are all sorts of variations to the lyrics around. There is a game to go with it, where the child passing under the arch (as beautifully illustrated by Walter Crane above) at the moment of the ‘chop’ finds themself caught, and placed behind one side of the original arch.. culminating in a tug of war with the original arch holders in the middle. I’ve never tried it with any of my groups but will when the right occasion arises!

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