On Twelfth night we had a delightful evening, though not so grand as last year…we played at Oranges and Lemons, Hunt the Slipper, Wind the Jack…we had a very pleasant ball till 10, sometimes Mama, sometimes myself acting as the musicians. Fanny Austen to Miss Dorothy Clapman February, 1812 This is a game based around an old English children’s song, called ‘Oranges and Lemons’, about the sounds of church bells in various parts of London. Various theories have been advanced to account for the rhyme, including theories that it describes public executions and/or that it describes Henry VIII’s marital difficulties. Problematically for these theories the last two lines, with their different metre, do not appear in the earlier recorded versions of the rhyme, including the first printed in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book (c. 1744), where the lyrics are: Two Sticks and Apple, Ring ye Bells at Whitechapple, Old Father Bald Pate, Ring ye Bells Aldgate, Maids in White Aprons, Ring ye Bells a St. Catherines, Oranges and Lemmons, Ring ye bells at St. Clemens, When will you pay me, Ring ye Bells at ye Old Bailey, When I am Rich, Ring ye Bells at Fleetditch, When will that be, Ring ye Bells at Stepney, When I am Old, Ring ye Bells at Pauls. There is considerable variation in the churches and lines attached to them in versions printed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which makes any overall meaning difficult to establish. The final two lines of
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