Tuesday 21 December 2010

Oranges and Lemons

Said “the bells of St Clements”.

We’re at the nursery rhyme stage with Joe, many of the old rhymes have their basis in London history, and since I work in the City (the financial district of London – what is Old London Town) I thought it might be interesting to track down the churches behind the old children’s song.

The first one was easy to find in St Clements Lane near Monument, or rather it would have been if I hadn’t walked right past it. The church at the end of the lane is St Edmund’s. I’d past St Clements which is on the corner of King William Street.

Above St Clements, below the mistaken St Edmund's

“You owe me five farthings” said the bells of St Martins.

Had a bit of trouble with this one, St Martins Within (above) is the church which stood inside the law courts at the Old bailey, despite wandering around and asking a policeman for directions, I couldn’t find it. But I did see what looked to be a chapel window in “Armen Court”a gated private court. Finally I found it situated on Ludgate Hill just down from St Paul’s – I’d managed to walk right past it twice!!

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

Actually the Old Bailey didn’t have a bell, this line apparently refers to St Sepulchure – Without Newgate (above) which was used as the bell of Newgate prison to sound during executions.

“When I grow rich” said the bells of Shoreditch.

Easier to find, St Leonard's Shoreditch is a delightful church with park grounds on the old A10.

“When will that be?” said the Bells of Stephney.

With my business suit and laptop bag, I though I might be at risk of getting mugged by a gang of “hoodies” who had gathered on the park benches outside St Dunstan’s All Saints of Stephney. In the end I faced them down, got out my camera and took my photos, keeping an eye out and enough distance between us.

“I do not know” said the great bell of Bow.

Back on safer, familiar ground just off Cheapside, St Mary le Bow. The “church yard” is now an alleyway of trendy and expensive shops, and a very popular sandwich bar, which always has queues summer and winter.

To be a cockney, tradition dictates that you need to be born within the sound of these bells; my mum was, so that’s my only tenuous connection between this post and Bursledon!

Apparently the reference to the candle is that one was brought to condemned prisoners on the night before their execution. Executions were both frequent and numerous in Newgate, the bell of St. Sepulchre marked the time (death knell) of imminent executions before Newgate prison acquired its own bell.

"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 do not know" say the great bells of Bow
"Here comes a candle to light you to bed
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head
Chip chop chip chop - the last man's dead."


  1. Thanks for ringing some old bells.

  2. And there was me was hoping to light a fire - most of these churches were built in the style of Sir Christopher Wren when London was being rebuilt after the great fire


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