Wednesday, November 23

St. Clement's Day Rhyme

Like all nursery rhymes, the famous St. Clement’s Day Rhyme or the Oranges and Lemons Rhyme is rich in Medieval history:

Gay go up and gay go down,
To ring the bells of London Town.
"Oranges and lemons," say the Bells of St. Clements;
"Bullseyes and targets," say the Bells of St. Margaret'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;
"Maids in white aprons," say the Bells at St. Katherine's;
"Pokers and tongs," say the Bells of St. John's;
"Kettles and pans," say the Bells of St. Anne'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," say the Great Bells of Bow;
Gay go up and gay go down,
To ring the bells of London Town.

In a sense this wonderful nursery rhyme is an imaginary tour of the old city of London--before the Great Fire of 1666--recounting the predominant trade, guild, and lore of the neighborhoods surrounding each of the churches (with their bell towers). So for instance, St. Clement’s church was in Eastcheap where citrus fruit was unloaded at the nearby warves while St. Margaret’s on Lothbury Street was near an archery range, St. Giles at the Cripplegate Barbican was the center of the building trade, and St. Katherine Cree’s on Leadenhill Street was the site of the Leadenhill marketplace, etc. Who’d have ever thought that the sing-song chants of children through the ages would be so redolent in meaning?

1 comment:

Amber Benton said...


We have this poem as the text of one of our most treasured picture books - The Bells of London with a story in pictures by Ashley Wolff. The inside cover says that the poem was printed in a book called Grammer Gurton's Garland. The illustrations Wolff's version are wonderful - linoleum prints tinted with watercolor.