Oranges and Lemons say the Bells of St. Clement’s

st clement danesSt. Clement Danes Church on London’s The Strand in the City of Westminster, was largely untouched by the Great Fire of London in 1666.  The first church on this site was reputedly founded in the 9th century by the Danes, hence its name. Unfortunately, it met its misfortune on the night of 10th May, 1941, with a hail of fire bombs during one of the last fire raids on London and St. Clement’s was reduced to a charred and smoking ruin. Since WW2, the Diocese of London has allowed the Royal Air Force to restore the bells as laid out by its original 1682 concept from Christopher Wren. It was fully restored in 1958.

The restored carillon not only plays the famous St. Clement Danes’ cry of the “Oranges and Lemons” tune; but also the “Old Hundredth” and the “Air Force March”.  As an old nursery rhyme, “Oranges and Lemons” was recited and sung by millions of children the world over; and one theory of its origin derives from the many cargo ships that once plied the banks of the Thames river in London. It appears that many of the cargo ships were wharfed or moored along the Thames just below the position of St. Clement Danes. The offloaded cargo from these vessels were then carried through its churchyard to Clare Market and beyond; for which a toll of oranges and lemons was paid to the church wardens each year.

“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 bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed.
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head”.

  • By the way, if you are an avid tea drinker, you may be interested to know that the Twinings of London tea family lived and did business in the parish and consequently, many members of the Twinings family were baptized at St. Clement Danes, including the social reformer Louisa Twining in 1820.

Now, I’ll drink to that!

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