Oranges and lemons kid’s party song and game



There are many vintage party games that involve singing whilst performing some action. “Ring a Ring O Roses ” is probably the most well known one.

The song and game of “Oranges and Lemons ” is more involved than some of the simple singing games and it contains what all kids seem to enjoy and that is being ‘chased down’ or ‘captured’.

The game is easily played and can be played by very young children.  The song itself, needs to only be sung by two older children (or adults) who form an ‘archway’ with their arms extended and hands clasped, for the rest of the guests to walk under. The idea of the game is that the party guests  ‘file’ under the human archway in pairs. At a certain point in the song, described later, the archway ‘drops’ and a pair of children are captured. The children who have been caught join the two players by making an ‘extended’ arch by standing beside them, so as the game progresses more children are caught in the ever expanding arche. The game ends when all the children have been caught.

The following is sung during this game, the referenced churches are all old London churches :-


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

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. 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.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!


The part in the song were the arches come down and capture a pair of party guests are on the final words “chop off your head!”.

When I played this game some 50 years ago, all the children knew the song and ‘anticipated’ the arches coming down. Today, if the song is not that well known in your party then, have someone (an adult or older child) sing the song from a sheet and have the guests forming the arches follow along and capture a pair of children at the appropriate time. If the game is played a few times the children will pick up on the song.

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