A special “Oranges and Lemons” service will take place in the church of St Clement Danes today, as it has on the third Thursday in March every year since 1919, to commemorate the reference to the church – or possibly that of St Clement Eastcheap – in the well-known nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons (say the bells of St Clements)” (*).
Participating children from the local Primary School will each be presented with an orange and a lemon to take home at the end.
(*) The nursery rhyme is of uncertain antiquity, although versions of it date back as least as far as the early eighteenth century. Besides St Clements, other churches referred to include St Martin’s [?St Martin within Ludgate or St Martin in the Fields], Old Bailey [St Sepulchre without Newgate], Shoreditch [St Leonard], Stepney [St Dunstan and All Saints] and Bow [St Mary-le-Bow].
Oranges and lemons probably began to be imported into London at least as long ago as the fifteenth century.