Oranges and Lemons
DESCRIPTION: "Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clement's. You owe me five farthings.... When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey...." "I'm sure I don't know, Says the great bell of Bow." A threat (to chop off a head) may follow
EARLIEST DATE: c.1744(Tom Thumb's Pretty Song Book, according to Opie-Oxford2)
KEYWORDS: money playparty
FOUND IN: Britain(England(All))
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Opie-Oxford2 392, "Oranges and lemons" (1 text)
Opie-Game 7, "Oranges and Lemons" (3 texts, 1 tune)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #640, pp. 253-254, "(Gay go up and gay go down)" (a conflate version probably containing material not relevant to the song)
Jack, p. 146, "Oranges and Lemons" (1 text)
Dolby, p. 140, "Oranges and Lemons" (1 text)
NOTES [210 words]: Opie-Oxford2: "Whether or not the terminating lines ['... Here comes a chopper to chop off your head'] have special significance, they do not appear in the song's earliest recording (c.1744)" - BS
Whatever the significance of the song, it appears to have inspired a lot of descendants (several of which are quoted by the Opies). Many folkies will know Idris Davies's "Bells of Rhymney," set to music by Pete Seeger. Eleanor Farjeon (of "Morning Has Broken") fame also used it as a starting point for a song about a memorial for World War I soldiers called "The Children's Bells": "Where are your Oranges? Where are your Lemons? What, are you silent now, Bells of St. Clement's?" For the full text, with background, see Walter de la Mare, Come Hither, revised edition, 1928; #184, "The Children's Bells."
According to Marc Alexander, A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain, Sutton Publishing, 2002, p. 208, the students at St. Clement Danes Primary School to this day go to what was the church of St. Clement Danes and are given an orange and a lemon following afternoon services.
Jack has information about six different churches that may be mentioned in the song. Dolby says the game is very similar to "London Bridge Is Fallng Down." - RBW
Last updated in version 3.3
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.