During his investigation of the missing children, inspector Marlot frequently sees the vision of the missing girl Alice (or "Alyc" - anagram of the "Lyca" - "The little girl lost" from the William Blake poem) singing the first few verses from the popular nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons"

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.

You can hear it even in the first seconds of the trailer:

Then again, when Marolt interrogates Billy, a street thug who was providing children to anyone willing to pay, who laughs in the inspector's face and... starts singing "Oranges and Lemons".

I know that the unsung last part of the rhyme Here comes a candle to light you to bed, And here comes a chopper to chop off your head! is supposed to symbolising executions done at dawn, but that doesn't seem to match the theme of the movie (while there is an execution shown, it is done by hanging during broad daylight)... Of course I can be wrong here.

EDIT: It seems that this rhyme can also symbolise a child sacrifice (how - is another question) which would greatly match the theme of the movie.


1 Answer 1


“Oranges and Lemons” is a nursery rhyme/singing game, that dates back before the 18th century.

The saints listed in the rhyme sang today refer to some churches in the City of London (which forms today’s financial district, and has a semi-independent local government to the rest of London).

The final two lines form part of the game: a pair of kids raise the arms to form an arch. Pairs of kids walk through arches and when the sing “chop off your head”, their arms drop to catch a pair of kids in them. They in turn from another arch the remaining kids have to run through. The winners are the final two kids to be running free.

I doubt they refer to “child sacrifice”, but I believe it’s more likely that “chopper” refers to an executioner, who are portrayed in old British stories as masked and using axes, or the French Revolution-era guillotine, and were added to scare kids during the game, making “the chopper” a kind of boogeyman.

Sources: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oranges_and_Lemons

  • Thanks for your reply. Sadly it doesn't really explain why it rwas used in the movie - unless you are trying to say that there was no hidden meaning and it was just supposed to be a bit creepy song played in the background. Which is of course possible.
    – Yasskier
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 18:32
  • I think it’s likely that it was just a creepy song, which happened to be about London, to be honest. I suspect it isn’t even historically accurate either, as the verses may be different in the time when that TV show was set. Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 18:46

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