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Nursery Rhymes Lyrics and Origins

Oranges and Lemons Rhyme

Nursery Rhyme & History

 

The origin of the words to "Oranges and lemons" - strange & sinister!
The exact date of origin is unknown but there was a Square Dance called 'Oranges and Lemons' dating back to 1665, unfortunately there are no known record of the lyrics which accompanied the dance but is likely that the words were similar to that of the nursery rhyme. The words to "Oranges and lemons" have been much loved by numerous generations of children. The neighbourhood names relate to some of the many churches of London and the tune that accompanies the lyrics emulates the sound of the ringing of the individual church bells.

The Tyburn Gallows
The words of the nursery rhyme are chanted by children as they play the game of 'Oranges and lemons' the end of which culminates in a child being caught between the joined arms of two others, emulating the act of chopping off their head! The reason for the sinister last three lines of the lyrics of "Oranges and lemons" are easily explained, they were added to the original rhyme, probably by children! This addition dates to some time before 1783 when the infamous public execution gallows (the Tyburn-tree) was moved from Tyburn-gate (Marble Arch) to Newgate, a notorious prison for both criminals and debtors hence "When will you pay me?".

 
 

This move was necessary to reduce problems caused by the crowds, often exceeding 100,000, gathered along the execution procession route. This stretched along a three mile route from Newgate Prison to Tyburn and around the Tyburn tree itself.

Newgate Prison

The 'Bells of Old Bailey', or more accurately the tenor bell of St Sepulchre, had been utilised prior to 1783 to time the executions but after the gallows had been moved, Newgate prison (now the site of the Old Bailey) obtained its own bell.

 
 
 

As the words to the poem "Oranges and lemons" indicate the unfortunate victim would await execution on 'Death Row' and would be informed by the Bellman of St. Sepulchre by candle light 'here comes the candle to light you to bed', at midnight outside their cell, the Sunday night prior to their imminent fate, by the ringing of the 'Execution Bell' (a large hand bell) and the recitation of the following :

All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you for tomorrow you shall die;
Watch all and pray: the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty must appear;
Examine well yourselves in time repent,
That you may not to eternal flames be sent.
And when St. Sepulchre's Bell in the morning tolls
The Lord above have mercy on your soul.

The executions commenced at nine o'clock Monday morning following the first toll of the tenor bell. Who would have thought that "Oranges and lemons" a childrens rhyme could have such a sinister historical connotation?

 

 
 

A Picture of Execution Procession at Tyburn, London

 

 

A Picture of Execution Procession at Tyburn, London 
 
 

Origin of the saying "On the Wagon" - meaning a person has stopped drinking alcohol! Prisoners were transported to Tyburn Gallows on a wagon and were allowed one last drink in a pub on the way to their execution. If offered a second drink by a sympathiser the guard would reply,
"No, they're going on the Wagon!"

Oranges and Lemons Poem

"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."


Origins and History of the Oranges and Lemons Nursery Rhyme!
Each of the fifteen 'Bells of London' referred to in the rhyme have been fully researched and can be accessed via the links in the text of the Nursery Rhyme

**Read more about the where the Bells and Churches are in London and discover some additional information about the strange and sinister meanings behind the Oranges and Lemons Nursery Rhyme!**

Alternative Lyrics to Oranges and Lemons - London Bells Rhyme

Oranges and Lemons Poem

 

Note: A Rhymes lyrics and the perceived origins of some Nursery Rhymes vary according to location

 

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Written By Linda Alchin