The lyrics of the nursery rhyme have history and origins set in London

"A Nursery Rhyme,
the first step to
your children's education"

Oranges and lemons: lyrics

"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
"Here comes a candle to light you to bed
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head
Chip chop chip chop - the last man's dead."


The history and origins of the lyrics - sinister!
The words and lyrics have been much loved by generations of British children. The place names relate to some of the many churches of London and the tune that accompanies the lyrics emulates the sound of the  ringing of the specific church bells. The words of the nursery rhyme are chanted by children as they play the game of 'Oranges and lemons' the end of which culminates in a child being caught between the joined arms of two others, emulating the act of chopping off their head! The reason for the last three lines of lyrics are easily explained. The 'Great Bells of Bow' were used to time the executions at Newgate prison, which for many years were done by means of beheading. The unfortunate victim would await execution on 'Death Row' and was informed by the warder, the night before the execution ' here comes the candle to light you to bed' of their imminent fate and to make their peace with God! The executions commenced when the bells started chiming at nine o'clock in the morning. When the bells stopped chiming  then the executions would be finished until the following day!

Oranges and lemons rhyme: origins and history