diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 18, 2004

Oranges and Lemons

The nursery rhyme "Oranges and lemons" has been sung by children in London for hundreds of years, probably since the 17th century. Several London churches are mentioned in the rhyme, and the original tune mimicked the peals of their bells. There have been many different versions of the rhyme over the years, including different words and a number of different churches, but the most common version features just six. I've been out and about in the City and the East End tracking down these six churches and some of the background to the rhyme, and now I'm ready to report back over the course of the next week. Here goes - chop chop.

In medieval times, before the advent of industry and traffic noise, the sound of London's church bells would have carried long distances, calling the population to prayer or warning them of curfew. Many of the famous bells mentioned in the rhyme Oranges and Lemons were struck at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Britain's oldest surviving manufacturing company dating back to 1420. The foundry is a small brick-built workshop on the busy Whitechapel Road, responsible for the production of both Big Ben and the Liberty Bell. The foundry was fortunate not to be bombed during the Second World War, although St Mary's Church nextdoor (the 'white chapel' after which the area was named) took a direct hit and was destroyed. You can still visit the foundry and tour the workshops, and they have a quaint little shop too.

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