“Happy go up and happy go down, to ring the bells of London Town,
Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements,
Bullseyes and targets, say the bells of St. Margaret’s,
Brickbats and tiles, say the bells of St. Giles,
You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s,
Pancakes and fritters, say the bells of St. Peter’s,
Two sticks and an apple, say the bells of Whitechapel,
Maids in white aprons, say the bells of St. Katherine’s,
Pokers and tongs, say the bells of St. John’s,
Kettles and pans, say the bells of St. Anne’s,
Old father baldplate, say the slow bells of Aldgate,
You owe me ten shillings, say the bells of St. Helen’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, says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes the candle to light you to bed,
And here comes the chopper to chop off your head,
Chip Chop Chip Chop the last man’s dead”.
London was characterized by its churches. This nursery rhyme was first recorded in 1744 but it was known as a dance as early as 1655. The full rhyme is written on a board and attached to the outside wall of the Bow Bells Pub.
Each line relates to the area where the church is situated:-
St. Clement’s – cargoes of oranges and lemons used to come ashore on the River Thames nearby.
St. Margaret’s – archery was practiced in nearby fields, this church was burnt down by The Great Fire of London, but was rebuilt by Christopher Wren in 1690.
St. Giles – building sites using bricks and stones were established here, in the heart of the Barbican. Oliver Cromwell was married in this church.
St. Martin’s – Money lenders frequented this area. This church was also destroyed in The Great Fire. Only the bell tower was left standing. The church itself was rebuilt by Christopher Wren.
St. Peter’s – located in Cornhill which was the site of a food market going as far back as Roman times, no doubt sold pancakes and fritters.
Whitechapel – only building in the song which is not a church. However, the foundry there still operates. Some bells may have looked like toffee apples. Today the Whitechapel foundry takes care of the Liberty Bell, and Big Ben.
St. Katherine’s – line probably refers to the clothes the women wore while working in nearby Leadenhall Market which sold meat, fish and poultry. The market was destroyed in The Great Fire but the church escaped. It dates back to 1108. St. Katherine’s is an abbreviation to Christ Church.
St. John’s – This is the oldest chapel in the rhyme and it is located inside the Tower of London. Pokers and tongs refer to the tortures carried out in the tower.
St. Anne’s – local copper smiths worked all around here. This church was destroyed in The Great Fire, rebuilt by Christopher Wren then destroyed again when it was bombed in the Second World War. It has since been rebuilt.
Aldgate – the church of St. Botolph without Aldgate lies on the edge of the city and was the area where prostitutes sold their wares. St. Botolph did have a ‘bald head’ but the name is thought to have further connotations, known to the ladies of the night.
St. Helen’s – St. Helen’s of Bishopgate was known to be the hang out for John Spence whose claim to fame was notoriously a money lender.
Old Bailey – These bells are actually the bells of St. Sepulchre without Newgate. It is across the road from the Old Bailey formerly Newgate Prison. These bells rang out during executions.
Shoreditch – St. Leonard’s Shoreditch houses these bells. It is a very poor area known as the Old Theatre District. The actors who lived here were forever dreaming of the day they made their fortunes.
Stepney – St. Dunstan’s of Stepney is one of the oldest churches in London and became the church for mariners. Many prayed here for the safe return of their loved one’s from over the sea.
Bow Church – This could have been Mary le Bow Church or Bow Church on the edge of city limits. But it was said if you were born within the sound of the Bow Bells you were truly a ‘cockney’.
The last three lines of the rhyme were added before 1783 when the gallows were moved from Tyburn-gate (now Marble Arch) to Newgate prison, three miles away, because 100,000 people would line this route on execution day.
On the Sunday night before your execution you would be informed of your fate by the Bellman who, carrying a candle, would stand outside your cell at midnight, ‘here comes the candle to light you to bed’. Executions were performed at 9.a.m. on the Monday morning following the first toll of the tenor bell ‘and here comes the chopper to chop off your head.’
The children’s game is much like London Bridge. Two children stand facing each other and make an arch with their arms. The other children form a circle and walk under the arch. They start to waver their arms up and down to ‘chip chop chip chop’, and bring them down to enclose a child as ‘ the last man’s dead’. This child forms a line behind one of the arches and the game continues until all the children have been snared.