Friday, 27 January 2012

Oranges and Lemons

I spent a very pleasant day in London last weekend at this:

I'll tell you more about it in another post. I learnt an awful lot about backs, the cause of back problems, and how to avoid them (the problems, that is, not the backs). For now, just try brushing your teeth while standing on one leg.

Anyway, I had a bit of time on my hands before heading for home and as I wandered along the Strand I happened on St Clement Danes Church. This is one of two London churches claiming to be the inspiration for the nursery rhyme (the other is St Clement's, Eastcheap) and the story goes that the association with citrus fruit comes from both from the docks that were once nearby and the fact that porters used Clement Danes as a short-cut to a nearby fruit market. In fact, no lesser source than Charles Dickens claims that the church charged them a small toll for the privilege, and Clement Danes still holds an annual 'Oranges and Lemons' service as well as playing - as you'll soon see - the rhyme on its carillon daily.

Unfortunately, the truth behind the famous nursery rhyme (first recorded by Playford in 1665 though almost certainly older) is rather less wholesome. For the bells of the various London churches mark in music the journey of a condemned man from the river to his execution at Newgate gaol. Hence the rather macabre (and little performed) ending to the nursery rhyme:

Here is the candle to light you to bed,
And here is the chopper to chop of your head.

Of course, Newgate gaol never did have a chopper. It had the gallows. But that doesn't rhyme.

Anyway, enjoy the tune. And if you want to find out more about the murky origins of those nursery rhymes we love to teach our children I've a copy of Albert Jack's excellent Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes to give away. Just leave me a 'pick me' comment below. And don't forget to brush your teeth on one leg.

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