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Oranges and Lemons

Two sticks and an apple,
Say the bells at Whitechapel.

Old Father Bald Pate,
Say the bells of Aldgate.

Maids in white aprons,
Say the bells at Saint Catherine’s.

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of Saint Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of Saint 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,
Says the great bell of Bow.

A Tribute to London

I first learned this poem as an Aussie kid growing up in suburban Sydney during the 1980s. Tolling bells and the London East End meant nothing to me but the simple rhyming scheme, repetition, and inherent melody made this poem irresistible. No wonder historians believe the poem was contrived to help the illiterate masses remember the landmarks of London.

In my late twenties, I moved to London and had plenty of adventures living in Bethnal Green. I passed most of the churches in Oranges and Lemons at least a dozen times. Now, as I enjoy reading this poem out loud to my son in Singapore, I recollect both my early childhood and young adulthood experiences.

For more about the origins of Oranges and Lemons, visit the Inspiring City blog.