A History of Nursery Rhymes

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The book A History of Nursery Rhymes, by Percy B Green contains a number of untitled ringing related rhymes.[1]

         "Gay go up and gay go down
         To ring the bells of London town.

   "Bull's-eyes and targets, say the bells of St. Marg'-ret's;
   Brick-bats and tiles, chime the bells of St. Giles';
   Halfpence and farthings, ring the bells of St. Martin's;
   Oranges and lemons, toll the bells of St. Clement's;
   Pancakes and fritters, say the bells of St. Peter's;
   Two sticks and an apple, say the bells of Whitechapel;
   Old Father Baldpate, toll the slow bells of Aldgate;
   You owe me ten shillings, say the bells of St. Helen's;
   When will you pay me? say the bells of Old Bailey;
   When I grow rich, chime the bells of Shoreditch;
   Pray when will that be? ask the bells of Stepney;
   I'm sure I don't know, tolled the big bell at Bow.

         "Gay go up and gay go down
         To ring the bells of London town."

This almost forgotten nursery song and game of "The Bells of London
Town" has a descriptive burden or ending to each line, giving an
imitation of the sounds of the bell-peals of the principal churches in
each locality of the City and the old London suburbs. The game is played
by girls and boys holding hands and racing round sideways, as they do in
"Ring a Ring a Rosies," after each line has been sung as a solo by the
children in turns. The

   "Gay go up and gay go down
   To ring the bells of London town"

is chorussed by all the company, and then the rollicking dance begins;
the feet stamping out a noisy but enjoyable accompaniment to the words,
"Gay go up, gay go down."

The intonation of the little vocal bell-ringers alters with each line,

   "Pancakes and fritters, say the bells of St. Peter's,"

being sung to a quick tune and in a high key;

   "Old Father Baldpate, toll the slow bells of Aldgate,"

suggesting a very slow movement and a deep, low tone.

The round singing of the ancients, of which this game is a fitting
illustration, is probably a relic of Celtic festivity. The burden of a
song, chorussed by the entire company, followed the stanza sung by the
vocalist, and this soloist, having finished, had licence to appoint the
next singer, "canere ad myrtum," by handing him the myrtle branch. At
all events round singing was anciently so performed by the Druids, the
Bardic custom of the men of the wand.
Every locality furnishes examples of bell rhymes. Selling the church
bells of Hutton, in Lincolnshire, gave rise to this satire of the

   "The poor Hutton people
   Sold their bells to mend the steeple.
     Ah! wicked people,
     To sell their bells
     To build the steeple."

In 1793 Newington Church, London, was pulled down, the bells sold, and
the sacred edifice rebuilt without a belfry. The children of the
neighbouring parishes soon afterwards jeered at the Newingtonians.

   "Pious parson" (they sang), "pious people,
   Sold their bells to build a steeple.
   A very fine trick of the Newington people
   To sell their bells and build no steeple."

In Derbyshire a large number of the churches have bells with peculiar

   "Crich has two roller-boulders,
   Wingfield ting-tangs,
   Alfreton kettles,
   And Pentrich pans.
   Kirk-Hallan candlesticks,
   Corsall cow-bells,
   Denby cracked puncheons,
   And Horsley merry bells."

The bells of Bow Church ringing out the invitation to Dick Whittington
to return to his master's house should not be forgotten...

   "Turn again, Whit-ting-ton,
   Lord-Mayor-of London."

In New York, USA, the little school urchins sing a bell rhyme of...

   "Hark, the merry bells from Trinity
     Charm the ear with their musical din,
   Telling all throughout the vicinity
     Holy-day gambols are now to begin."