“Oranges and Lemons”


"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


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. 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 Orangers? 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." - RBW


  1. Opie-Oxford2 392, "Oranges and lemons" (1 text)
  2. 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)
  4. Roud #13190
  5. BI, BGMG640


Author: unknown
Earliest date: c.1744(Tom Thumb's Pretty Song Book, according to Opie-Oxford2)
Keywords: money playparty
Found in: Britain(England(All)