“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” say the Great Bells of Bow
This is the shorter version of the children’s nursery rhyme. Originally there were fifteen churches in total and is believed to have originated in the middle of the 17th century. The words generally related to an aspect of the vicinity, and the tune that accompanies the lyrics appears to sound like the ringing of the individual church bells.
The Bells of St Clement’s – refers to the church situated in St Clements Eastcheap, where citrus fruits were unloaded at the nearby wharves. However, St Clement Danes also has some call on this as the church bells do play the same tune.
The Bells of St. Martin’s – St Martin Ongar off of Cannon Street was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The rhyme relates to the moneylenders who traded nearby.
The Bells of Old Bailey – The Old Bailey did not originally have its own bell, the rhyme refers to the bells of St Sepulchre without Newgate, opposite London’s main courthouse and the Newgate prison which housed both criminals and debtors.
The Bells of Shoreditch – Refers to St Leonard Shoreditch, an area of great poverty.
The Bells of Stepney – St Dunstan Stepney had nautical connections and the rhyme may refer to waiting for the sailors to return.
The Great Bells of Bow – This is the church of St Mary-le-Bow Cheapside, the sound of the bells signifying the birth of ‘true cockneys’. Allegedly heard by Dick Whittington miles away on Highgate Hill, the bells nightly sounded the City curfew from 1469 to 1876.