Oranges and Lemons; Last lines

What started as a simple challenge to create a round-up of a few churches became a year long exploration of the East End that made my travelling heart happy. I’ve tried proper Pie Mash ‘n Liquor, heard the Bow bells call to new Cockneys, learned a little of the lingo and discovered an incredibly unique museum.

(I guess) hearkening to our colonial past, the hallways of my New Zealand Primary school would to ring with the chanting of the London East End lines of Oranges & Lemons. Now, I can lay the history to rest, having discovered the roots.

The origins to the nursery rhyme sung with unknowing irony by young children much like the origins of Ring-a ring-a rosie, removed from the jungle gym are rather sinister and strange.

The culminating lines go;

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,

Chip chop, chip chop, the last man’s dead.

Physically the rhyme ends (at least in my old playground) with 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 as a reference to the Tyburn Gallows, 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?”. The executions commenced at nine o’clock Monday morning following the first toll of the tenor bell of St Sepulchre.

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 ultimate list?

 “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.

Another 101 in 1001 goal ticked off the list, woohoo!

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