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Alphabe Thursday O is for oranges and lemons

August 28, 2014


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’m sure I don’t know,

Say the great bell at Bow.


Here comes a candle to light you to bed,

Here come a chopper to chop off your head.


This old song is known to young children even when they never played the game that accompanies it.  

The game is played in the manner of ‘London Bridge’ two bigger players determine in secret which one will be an ‘orange’ and the other a ‘lemon’  ; they form an arch by joining hands, and sing the song as the other players troop underneath in a single file.  When the two players who form the arch approach, with quickening tempo, the climax of their recitation,


Here comes the candle to light you to bed,

Here comes the chopper to chop of your head,


They repeat ominously ‘chop, chop, chop, chop, chop!’ and with the last ‘chop’ they bring down their arms down around whichever child is at that moment passing under the arch.  The captured player is asked privately whether he will be an ‘orange’ or ‘lemon’ he goes behind his chosen fruit.  The games and the singing continues until all the players are behind one or other of the arch; whereupon there is a tug-of-war to test which is the stronger the ‘oranges’ or ‘lemons.’   

The execution formula has been seen by some folklorists as a relic of the gory past, the days of public executions have been cited, when the condemned were led along the street to the sound of tolling bells.  

What ever its background it was a favourite in the playground when I was at school.  

14 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2014 4:15 pm

    I remember playing something similar as a child the chop chop chop was the fun part!

  2. August 28, 2014 9:15 pm

    London Bridge is what we played. All was fun.

  3. August 28, 2014 11:20 pm

    Delightful and very creative post for O!

    artmusedog and carol ( A Creative Harbor)

  4. August 29, 2014 1:26 am

    Now this one is one I hadn’t heard before, or at least, I don’t recall it.

    • August 29, 2014 7:28 am

      A pretty game that often ended up in a real fight at the end in my day.

  5. August 29, 2014 3:02 am

    wow! Sounds like a complicated game! I remember London Bridges, but never hear of this! {:-D

  6. August 29, 2014 6:12 am

    I remember this. Now I shudder mentally at the thought, that this is a game for kids. Beheading! Thankfully as a child I didn’t know and it was just a game. I don’t want to pass this one on to kids.

  7. August 30, 2014 4:39 am

    I suppose that would be like the horror movies of our day. I remember playing London Bridges as a small kid. The meaning of the rhyme didn’t sink in until I was an adult. Since I have no fear of going over or under bridges, the rhyme did me no harm. haha.
    The View from the Top of the Ladder

  8. August 30, 2014 3:07 pm

    I remember London Bridges as a child! we played many games that today are seen as politically incorrect and as children we just enjoyed having fun! I hope you have a great weekend.

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