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Oranges and Lemons

"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" says the great Bell of Bow.


The genesis of Oranges and Lemons are not well recognized, but are thought to date to at least the 17th or 18th century. A square dance named "Oranges and Lemons" dates to 1665. A few think that it might be a reference to when King Charles I was beheaded and all the cathedral bells rang to mark his execution. The last lines in the children's gathering game might refer to capital punishment. The tenor bell of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate was rung to mark executions at Newgate jail.

In Heavy Words Lightly Thrown, published in 2003, Chris Roberts claimed that Oranges and Lemons is a marriage song: for instance, "a candle to light you to bed" describes a fresh bride enticing her new spouse. The song is used in a children's festivity entertainment by means of the same name, in which the players file, in pairs, through an arch prepared by two of the players (made by having the players face each other, lift their arms above their head, and hold onto their partners' hands). Two (or three) lines are added at the end: On the previous word, the kids forming the arch drop their arms to catch the couple of children at present passing through, who are after that "out" and have to shape one more arc next to the existing one. In this way, the sequence of arches becomes a progressively lengthening tunnel through which every set of two players have to sprint faster and faster to flee in time. The amusement works best by means of a pianist to play the melody, so that random changes of rhythm can be introduced.

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