Hackney churchbells ring out Oranges and Lemons


It is a nursery rhyme that has formed the soundtrack to many a childhood.

But Oranges and Lemons is being brought clang up to date by a Hackney-based composer who is recording the various London church bells of the popular rhyme, with local schoolchildren singing along.

St Leonard’s, the ancient parish church of Shoreditch, features in the famous lyrics, with the line: “When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch.”


The project is the brainchild of Benjamin Till, 34, a composer and director currently working at Rich Mix, an arts and media centre in Shoreditch.

He has been awarded a grant by the Arts Council to create Oranges and Lemons, recording the sound of every bell in every church mentioned in the rhyme – a total of 300.

The result will be a new piece of music with all 300 bells ringing in unison, and the lyrics sung by locals, including pupils from Virginia Primary School, off Shoreditch High Street.

Mr Till said that he was surprised that the children were so familiar with the age-old rhyme, yet did not know that one of the churches in the rhyme was on their doorstep.

Mr Till said: “Most of the children weren’t even aware that there were church bells in St. Leonard’s. It is something that they have never considered before and yet the bells are literally only a stone’s throw away from the school.”

He added: “Shoreditch is very unique because of its position in an ever-changing demographic. The church is slap bang in the middle of one of the most vibrant Bengali communities in London.”

From the 20th April, Mr Till will be going in to the school once a week, teaching the children how to sing the song.

“They got quite freaked out by the song,” he said, referring to the song’s final line, ‘here comes a chopper to chop off your head’.

“One came up to me and said, ‘I had a nightmare last night that my head was chopped off.’ I hope I’m not giving the kids too many nightmares.”

Benjmain Till

Pictures courtesy of Benjamin Till