Nursery Rhymes

The Great Bells of Bow

St Mary-le-Bow is a historic church in the City of London, off Cheapside. There has been a church on this site dating back to before the arrival of the Normans in 1066. In 1469 the first reference to Bow bells were made in relation to the building of the steeple. In 1631 the poet and Minister John Donne (1572-1631) died and left a bequest for the upkeep of Bow bell. John Donne wrote the famous poem 'For whom the bell tolls' (No man is an island)! The current building was built by Sir Christopher Wren between 1670 and 1680, after the Great Fire of Londondestroyed the previous church.

Dick Whittington - Lord Mayor of London!
Dick Whittington, who the famous children's story and pantomime is based on, was a real person (1350 - 1423). He was a Mercer (a dealer in cloth) and was elected Lord Mayor of London four times. In the children's story Dick Whittington leaves London with his cat but is called back by the sound of the ringing of Bow bells.

The Bow bells are important to the traditions of London and it is said that to be a true cockney you must be born within hearing distance of the sound Bow bells.

Based on this fact there were no Cockneys born between 11th May 1941 (when the bells were destroyed in a World War II German air raid) and 21st December 1961 (when the Bells rung for the first time after 20 years of restoration work). The BBC used the peal of the bells of Bow at the start of each broadcast to occupied Europe during World War II.

The Great Bells of Bow

"Gay go up and gay 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

"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

"Maids in white aprons" say the Bells at 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 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" say the Great Bell of Bow
Gay go up and gay go down
To Ring the Bells of London Town

The Great Bells of Bow

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Note: A Rhymes lyrics and the perceived origins of some Nursery Rhymes vary according to location

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