“I’m sure I don’t know” says the great bell of Bow: Oranges and Lemons

To be a real, knees-up Cockney London Geezer, you have to be born within the sound of Bow Bells. Surprisingly, when the tradition was decided, the small (soon to be encapsulated in the sprawling mess of London) village of Bow was not the site of Bow Bells, but a church in London’s Cheapside called St Mary-le-Bow.

In the 14th Century, the St Mary-le-Bow Bells rang out at 9pm to warn the locals of their imminent bed-time. Surprising facts: They were silenced for two years in 1856 by an eccentric local woman who believed that the noise of their clanging might otherwise kill her, and used at the Start of BBC broadcasts in WWII.

Considered the second most important church in the City of London after St Paul’s Cathedral, St-Mary-le-Bow was one of the first churches to be rebuilt by Christopher Wren and his office for this reason. The current building was built to the designs of Wren 1671—1673

“Oranges and Lemons” say the bells of St Clement’s

“Bull’s eyes and targets” say the bells of St Margaret’s.

“Pokers and tongs” say the bells of St John’s.

“Pancakes and fritters” say the bells of St Peter’s.

“Two sticks and an apple” say the bells of Whitechapel.

“Old Father Baldpate” say the slow bells of Aldgate.

“Maids in white aprons ” say the bells of St Katharine’s.

“Brickbats and tiles” say the bells of St Giles’.

“Kettles and pans” say the bells of St Anne’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.

“Pray when will that be?” say the bells of Stepney.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed, chip chop, chip chop, the last man’s dead.

The Bell Tower Roof/Entrance foyer

The Bells themselves have been destroyed a couple of times – in the Great Fire of London and by Hitler during the Blitz of 1941. A new peal of 12 bells was installed in 1956, each inscribed with a verse from a psalm, and the initial letters of those 12 psalms spell out the name ‘D WHITTINGTON’.

Does that name sound familiar? It has to do with a cat… stay tuned tomorrow.

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