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Chris Kelly & Dan Jones in the Playground

February 23, 2012
by the gentle author

Hopscotch at Columbia School, Bethnal Green, 1997

When photographer Chris Kelly sent me these exuberant pictures taken in East End primary schools, I realised it was the ideal opportunity to invite Dan Jones to select children’s rhymes to complement her playful images, drawing from the thousands he has collected in playgrounds here and elsewhere since 1948.

Asked to produce photographs for an education brochure, Chris Kelly turned up at six schools between 2000 and 2002 with camera, lights and optimism. There was never any shortage of ideas or young art directors, and the pictures you see here are the result of a collaboration between photographer, teachers and pupils, with the children aways having the biggest say.

Meanwhile, the heartening news from the playground that Dan Jones has to report is that the culture of rhymes is alive and kicking, in spite of the multimedia distractions of the modern age. The endless process of repetition and reinvention goes on with ceaseless vigour.

(Click here to go to an interactive painting by Dan Jones commissioned by The Museum of Childhood entitled “The Singing Playground” where you can to listen to recordings he made of all the different rhymes in the picture.)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

School dinners, school dinners,

Squashed baked beans, squashed baked beans,

Squiggly semolina, squiggly semolina.

I feel sick! Get a bowl quick!

It’s too late, I done it on the plate!

(Manya Eversley, Bow)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Everywhere we go

Everywhere we go

People always ask us

People always ask us

Who we are

Who we are

And where we come from

Where we come from

So we tell them

So we tell them

We’re from Stepney


Mighty, mighty Stepney!


And if they can’t hear us,


We sing a little louder


(Call and response chat from Rushmore Junior School)

Bonner Primary School

Inky Pinky Ponky,

Daddy had a donkey.

Donkey died,

Daddy cried,

Inky pinky ponky!

(Dip from St Paul’s Church of England School, Wellclose Sq)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Zum gali gali gali,

Clap clap clap

Zum gali gali

Clap clap clap

Zum gali gali

Clap clap clap


clap clap clap

We can work with joy as we sing

Clap clap clap

We can sing with joy as we work

Clap clap clap

(Israeli round from the children of Kobi Nazrul School)

Olga Primary School

Pepsi Pepsi came to town,

Coca Cola shot him down,

Dr Pepper picked him up,

Now they order Seven Up!

(Clapping game  from Honor, Sadia, April and Jahira of Bangabundu  Junior School)

Bangabandhu Primary School

Im Pim Safety pin

Im pim


Change your nappies inside out

Not because they’re dirty

Not because they’re clean

Not because your mother says

You’re the Fairy Queen!

(Counting out rhyme from the children of Bangabandhu Primary School)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down, My Fair Lady.

Build it up with sticks and stones, sticks and stones, sticks and stones.

Build it up with sticks and stones, My Fair Lady.

Sticks and stones will wear away…

Build it up with iron and steel…Iron and Steel will rust away…

Build it up with bricks and clay…Bricks and Clay will wash away…

(Arch game from children of Bluegate Fields School, Stepney)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Down in the valley where nobody goes,

There’s an ooky spooky woman who washes her clothes.

With a rub-a-dub here and a rub-a-dub there,

That’s the way she washes her clothes.

(Clapping game from children of St Paul’s Church of England School, Wellclose Sq)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Please Mr Porter, may we cross your water

To see your lovely daughter, swimming in the water?

(Chasing game for running across the playground at St Paul’s Church of England School, Wellclose Sq)

Marion Richardson School

Once I had a snail

And I 1 it

I 2 it

I 3 it

I 4 it

I 5 it

I 6 it

I 7 it

I ATE (8) it

(Riddle from Colin and his mother at Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Racing car number 9

Losing petrol all the time

How many gallons did you lose?


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

You’re OUT!

(Counting out rhyme from Shamima, Natalie Abida and Shazna of Hermitage School, Wapping)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Twinkle, twinkle, chocolate bar, 
Daddy (or Mummy) drives a rusty car

Push the button, pull the choke,

Off we go in a puff of smoke,

Twinkle, twinkle, chocolate bar, 
Daddy drives a rusty car.

(Miming game from infants at Christchurch School, Brick Lane)

Olga Primary School

I like coffee

I like tea

I like climbing up the tree

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

(Dip from the children of Year 4 Christchurch Primary School, Brick Lane)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay!

My knickers flew away

They came back yesterday

From a little holiday

I said “Where have you been?”

They said ‘To see the Queen

At  Windsor Castle!”

You little rascal

(Comic song from Katie, Lizzy Alison (Ashford) at Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Olicker Bolicker

Suzie Solicker

Ollicker boliker


(Dip from Sonny and Marina of Wapping)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Ecker decker,

Johnny Cracker,

Ecker decker do,

Ease, cheese,

Butter, bread,

Out goes you

(Counting out rhyme from Columbia School, Bethnal Green)

Bonner Primary School

Jee Jai Jao (Brother-in-law)

Kabhi upor Kabhi nicheh   (You’re going up, you’re going down)

Kabhi ageh Kabhi pitcheh   (You’re going in front, you’re going behind)

Kabhi eke Kabhi ekh dui teen  (Going 1. Going 2. Going 1, 2, 3)

Pushu!   (Punch!)

(Hindi dip from Christchurch Primary School, Brick Lane)

Susan Lawrence Junior School

Boom Boom


Out goes you

Out goes another one

And that is YOU

(Dip from children of Bangabundhu School)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

In a golden treasure, with an East and a West,

I took my boyfriend to the Chinese shop.

He bought me ice-cream, he bought me a cake,

He sent me home with a bellyache.

I said: “Mama, Mama, I feel sick.

Call me a doctor quick, quick, quick!

Doctor, Doctor, am I gonna die?”

“Count to five if you’re alive

With a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

You’re dead again!”

(Skipping song from children of year 5 at Arnhem Wharf School)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Miss Polly had a dolly that was sick sick sick

(Rock baby in arms)

She called for the Doctor to come quick quick quick

(Hold telephone to ear)

The doctor came with his bag and his hat

(Touch imaginary bag and hat)

And he knocked on the door with a Rat Tat Tat Tat!

(Knock on door)

He looked at the dolly and he shook his head

(Shake head)

He said “Miss Polly, put her straight to bed”

(Wag finger to indicate telling her off)

He wrote out a paper for a pill pill pill

(Write on imaginary paper)

“I’ll be back in the morning with my bill bill bill”

(Clapping and miming game from Rukhaya and Siobhan at Christchurch Primary School, Brick Lane)

Holy Family Roman Catholic Primary School

Sally go round the sun,

Sally go round the moon,

Sally go round the chimney pots

on a Sunday afternoon.


(Dancing game from Redriff Primary School, Rotherhithe)

Photographs copyright © Chris Kelly

A playground painting by Dan Jones is being hung in Bethnal Green Children’s Library on 8th March.

You may also like to take a look at

Chris Kelly’s Columbia School Portraits 1996

Chris Kelly’s Cable St Gardeners

and read about

Dan Jones, Rhyme Collector

Dan Jones’ Paintings

Here are some earlier collections of photography of children in the East End

Colin O’Brien’s Travellers’ Children in London Fields

Horace Warner’s Spitalfields Nippers

15 Responses leave one →
  1. TokyoDon permalink
    February 23, 2012

    Hehehe. Class!

  2. jeannette permalink
    February 23, 2012

    the lego cameras just about killed me. SNAP!!!

    wendy ewald has made a career of giving children cameras, with the most extraordinary results.

  3. February 23, 2012

    Spitalfields Life covers the entire community – it is so good. Annette

  4. joan permalink
    February 23, 2012

    I remember variants of some of these from my own Stepney childhood 40 odd years ago.

    My own ten year old daughter is at a typical Stratford school – children from fifty countries and 45 different home languages. And she tells me that they sing songs like ‘Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch your nose’ and various skipping songs. Of course they are also word (and action) perfect in the songs of Adele and Jessie J. And in a perfect illustration of how these things cross over they play a tag game in which the victor shouts ‘I’ve given you the Justin Bieber lurgy’. I first witnessed them playing this one back in December when ‘the Bieber’ was in town to turn on the Westfield Stratford lights. I wonder if there will be an outbreak of Olympic related rhymes?

    Best wishes,


  5. February 23, 2012

    Great pictures, fun rhymes. I love the one about the donkey. Love Linda

  6. Teresa Stokes permalink
    February 23, 2012

    Anyone familiar with Iona and Peter Opie’s seminal 1959 work “The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren” will love this. It’s amazing how children’s playground songs and rhymes are always evolving and new ones invented and nobody ever knows quite where from; I only recognise one of these from my time at school in the sixties. I have to share a really silly one we used to say which springs to mind, played by two girls swinging a long skipping rope, with a third girl skipping in it, and doubling the speed of the rope at the end of the rhyming part:
    “Cinderella, dressed in yeller, went downstairs to meet her feller.
    Halfway down her girdle busted. How many people were disgusted?
    One … two … three” etc, until the skipper trips in the rope, giving up her place to someone else.

  7. February 23, 2012

    Great, great photos!!! Every one is a winner.

  8. February 23, 2012

    I´ve just mailed Dan about that Olicker Bolicker rhyme as I was so surprised to see it. It´s actually something I´ve heard from my Dutch partner. The Dutch version is:

    Olleke bolleke
    Olleke bolleke

    The Wikipedia entry speculates on a 16th century inspiration for the rhyme. So I wonder if it travelled over to England at some point.

    Also, I´m so glad to hear he´s done a painting for Bethnal Green Library. The new children´s section is great, but the walls are rather bare.

  9. CornishCockney permalink
    February 23, 2012

    Those rhymes brought back memories, and the Cinderella one above! I used to skip to that all the time, along with the Birthday Rhyme…”When it’s your birthday please jump in..January, February… etc
    If the skippers successfully made it all the way to December, it continued on with … “When it’s your birthday please jump out…January, February, and so on!

  10. Gary permalink
    February 23, 2012

    The innocence and happiness of young children !
    What beautiful pictures

  11. February 23, 2012

    I loved the Dan Jones books. My children loved the Dan Jones books. My grandchildren love the Dan Jones books. And I’m enjoying exploring that interactive painting and listening to all those rhymes. As well as reading the rhymes old and new included in the post. Thank you!

  12. TokyoDon permalink
    February 24, 2012

    I went to the Chinese takeaway
    To buy a loaf of bread bread bread
    He wrapped it up in a five pound note
    And this is what he said said said:
    “My name is Elvis Presley
    “Girls are sexy
    “Sitting in the backseat of a taxi”

    Can’t remember the rest but what a strange song for six-year-old me to have sung in the playground!

  13. Cherub permalink
    March 2, 2012

    Eetle, ottle
    Black bottle,
    Eetle, ottle

    Ah, the joys of being a 7 year old again; I particularly liked the rhymes we skipped to :-

    Cowboy Joe from Mexico,
    Hands up!
    Stick’em up!
    Cowboy Joe.

    Wonderful that children still recite things like this during play.

  14. Barbara Hague permalink
    February 5, 2014

    Thank you for all the lovely articles you send. I love the playground scenes.

  15. cashlang permalink
    September 20, 2020

    Dressed in Yellah,
    Went downstairs to kiss her fella.
    Made a mistake and
    Kissed a snake.
    How may Doctors did it take?

    rope skipping rhyme Lynchburg,Virginia 1965

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