The rhyming lines, like "oranges and lemons," and "I'm sure I don't know," are mnemonics for the tunes that each church's bells ring. Some of them are quite clever; for example, the titular line not only approximates the song of St. Clement's bells, but refers to the fact that citrus fruit was unloaded at the wharves near St. Clement's in Eastcheap.

The Education Network Commonwealth of Australia, or EdNA, has a page on nursery rhymes which explains that "St. Martin's is St. Martin's Lane church in the city, where the moneylenders used to live and work. The line in the nursery rhyme 'When will you pay me?' was deliberately put with the bells of Old Bailey, as this is the site of the Central Criminal Court of England, and close to Fleet prison (which no longer stands)." (Our own arieh, however, points out that "...the Old Bailey was near to - in fact, attached to - Newgate Gaol, rather than Fleet prison.")

All these church bells were rung not only at the usual religious times appropriate to each, but also when a condemned criminal was led through the streets of London.

Apparently there is quite some debate over which St. Clement's Church the song is about. There are at least two in England: St. Clements Dane in the Strand, and St. Clements in Eastcheap. There are several strong arguments towards the latter, however, including the above fact about citrus commerce as well as the fact that all the other churches mentioned, plus Eastcheap, are within "cockney" London, unlike St. Clements Dane.

The longer version goes like this:

Gay go up and gay go down,
To ring the bells of London town.
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clements.
Bull's eyes and targets,
Say the bells of St. Marg'ret's.
Brickbats and tiles,
Say the bells of St. Giles'.
Halfpence and 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.
Pokers and tongs,
Say the bells of St. John's.
Kettles and pans,
Say the bells of St. Ann's.
Old Father Baldpate,
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.
Pray when will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.

This difference in length is common of the variations found in folk songs. For example, there are at least three variations on the Bow line - "I'm sure I don't know," "I do not know," and "Oh I do not know," the latter being found in Tim Hart's version. The line about Whitechapel is given in some cases as "Sago sticks and an apple," and another version includes the line "Chop, chop, chop, chop!" at the song's conclusion. For that matter, one children's game version involves shouting "Chip chop chip chop the last man's HEAD!" when the song ends.

The song has survived so long at least partly because of its inclusion in "Demaundes Joyous," a children's book written in 1510 and attributed in many sources to "Wynkyn de Worde," who Gritchka points out "was a printer, not a writer himself: he was Caxton's successor." It has spread all over the world in the more than five hundred years since its composition. features a children's game played to the song, which involves the children dancing through an arch they form, and chopping off each others' heads, and then playing tug of war. EdNA's site describes how in Australia, when that game is played the song is changed to:

Oranges and Lemons,
The bells of St. Clement's.
When shall I pay you?
Today or tomorrow?
Chip-a-choppa! Chip-a-choppa!
Last man's head, head, head,...CHOP!

There is also a nonalcoholic drink named the St. Clements, which is half orange juice and half lemonade mixed over ice in a highball glass.



  • Chop, Chop, Chop, Chop:
  • Connie Hirsch has a charming description of learning about these tunes at
  • EdNA:
  • KIDiddles:
  • Long version of the song:
  • Tim Hart's version:
  • Whitechapel variation:

    This writeup is CST Approved!