Dates for assembly

26th March 2004 at 00:00
March 31: Oranges and Lemons

On this day, London children are given gifts of citrus fruit.

Outline script for assembly leader

Four hundred years ago there were orange sellers on the streets of London.

People didn't buy the fruit just to eat but also to sniff as they walked along. The strong scent kept away the smells of the city where sewage lay in the streets and where few people ever had a bath.

The oranges and lemons came from Spain by ship and were unloaded at a quay or wharf in the city. Whenever a ship arrived with its cargo, the bells of the tiny nearby church of St Clement's in Eastcheap were rung, and the nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons" (known to be sung in 1744 and possibly dating from the previous century) is said to echo the tune of the original bells of that church.

A much bigger church, St Clement Danes (now "the RAF church" in the Strand) used to be near a fruit market and also claims to be the church in the song. For 350 years, on the last day of March, children of St Clement Danes' Primary School have attended a service and received presents of fruit. The song is now played on this church's bells.

As all the other churches in the song are in the City of London or the East End, St Clement's Eastcheap has the better claim: it was the next-door parish of St Martin Orgar ("You owe me five farthings") in St Martin's Lane, a street infamous for its grasping moneylenders.


The full song and background information is on a BBCi website:

Introduce children to the difficulties of pound;sd addition and subtraction where four farthings = 1 penny (1d) ; 12 pence = 1 shilling (1-) and 20 shillings = pound;1. If your school's culture allows it, play Oranges and Lemons. Two children, standing, hold hands and form an arch with their arms. One is Oranges, the other Lemons. The remaining children skip round in a circle, passing under the arch as the song is sung. On the last line, the arch "chops" the child then passing through. The captive chooses Oranges or Lemons, and stands behind his or her chosen leader. The game is repeated until everyone is captured. The two teams then hold a tug of war.

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