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The Jarvis Link To The Rhyme Oranges & Lemons

The nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons was first published in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book in 1744. In it, the bells of several churches, all within or close to the City of London, are celebrated.

There are numerous versions of the rhyme but the one that has endured goes like this:

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!

Chip chop chip chop the last man is dead

As a child I remember singing it and I recently discovered that the churches referred to in the rhyme play a significant role in the history of the Jarvis family.

It all starts with the bells of Old Bailey, which are actually those of the church of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, opposite the Old Bailey.

St Sepulchre--without-Newgate

St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate is so-called because it stood outside (“without”) the now-demolished old city wall of London, near Newgate. The bell of the church was purchased with 50 pounds donated by a London merchant named Robert Dowe. He gave the money on the condition that the bell be rung to mark an execution of a prisoner at the nearby gallows of Newgate and to this day the bell is known as the Execution Bell.

Originally a Saxon church given to the Priory of St Bartholomew, it was renamed St Edmund and the Holy Sepulchre in the 12th century. It was a reference to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. As time passed, people started referring to the church as St Sepulchre. The church was rebuilt from scratch in the 15th century but then was gutted in the Great Fire Of London in 1666. It then underwent rebuilding and then further restoration in 1878. Today it is the largest parish church in London.

The Execution Bell at St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate

It was at St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate on April 10th 1757, during the final years of the reign of King George II, that Thomas Jarvis and his wife Elizabeth brought their newborn son to be christened William. Born the week earlier on April 3rd 1757, William is the first Jarvis related to my family for whom records truly exist. Prior to the 1750s, the entire history of England’s population is recorded at church through christenings and marriages in large books, many of which have been lost to the tests of time. The William Jarvis born on April 3rd 1757 would turn out to be my great great great grandfather.

William Jarvis grew up in the City Of London and ultimately married a lady called Sarah. On 24th July 1781 she gave birth to a son at Hen and Chicken Court off Fleet Street. On Christmas Day 1781, they christened their son William at St Dunstan in the West which was two fifty feet further west on Fleet Street.

St Dunstan In The West, Fleet Street

The baptism entry for William Jarvis, born 1781

St. Dunstan In The West does not feature in the rhyme Oranges and Lemons, but it is a very old church. It was founded between AD 988 and 1070 when it predated any of the walls of the City of London. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 without damage, the fire burning to within three doors of the church. Ultimately it was removed in the early 19th century to widen Fleet Street and a new church was built on the site of its burial ground.

St Dunstan In The West happens to have a sister church called St. Dunstan In The East, in Stepney. In the rhyme, they are the bells of Stepney.

When will that be?

Say the bells of Stepney.

St. Dunstan In The East, Stepney

William Jarvis married his wife, Elizabeth, at St Dunstan In The East on August 9th 1819.

The final church in our story is St Anne's Church, Limehouse, one of fifty churches what were erected in the reign of Queen Anne (1665-1714) and paid for by imposing a tax on coal brought up the River Thames. It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil of Christopher Wren, and consecrated on September 12th 1730. The church appears in an earlier extended version of the rhyme Oranges and Lemons:

Kettles and pans,

Say the bells at St. Anne's.

St. Anne's Church, Limehouse

St Anne’s Church has the second highest gothic-style tower in Britain topped only by the clock tower on the Houses of Parliament. Until recently it had a golden ball on the flagpole above the tower - a trinity house sea mark used for navigating the river. In the 1800’s, it’s clock chimed every fifteen minutes but nowadays only chimes on the hour.

The grounds of the church are famous for having a four-sided stone carved as a pyramid topped with the words “The Wisdom Of Solomon”. There has been much speculation as to the true meaning of the pyramid - is it a tombstone? But in actual fact, it was intended to be a stone cap for the east end of the church roof.

Today the church is the main rehearsal venue for the Docklands Sinfonia Orchestra and is home to the battle ensign of the recently retired aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal.

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