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Chris Kelly & Dan Jones In The Playground

September 21, 2020
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.

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

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

12 Responses leave one →
  1. September 21, 2020

    Whoops! indeed. What a wonderful smiling start to the day – thank you.

  2. September 21, 2020

    “When I was One,
    I had just begun.
    When I was Two,
    I was nearly new.
    When I was Three
    I was hardly me.
    When I was Four,
    I was not much more.
    When I was Five,
    I was just alive.
    But now I am Six,
    I’m as clever as clever,
    So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.”

    Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956)

    Love & Peace

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    September 21, 2020

    Girls and Boys

    Full of joys

    Cheering up our Monday

    Best of times

    Making rhymes

    Happy clappy Funday!

  4. Donna Reeves permalink
    September 21, 2020

    Wonderful photo’s and rhymes! At the age of 66 I recognised several of the rhymes and dibs – from my school days in different parts of the country, including London. Some of the words are different, some not as ‘rude’ as I remembered, but lovely to know the traditions are carried forward. Thanks for a bright start to today.

  5. September 21, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a delightful combination of children’s photos by Chris Kelly with accompanying rhymes by Dan Jones from a few decades ago.

    And not a sign of Plexiglas separators, hand sanitizers, masks, plastic gloves, or social distancing. When will we ever go back???

  6. September 21, 2020

    Pure joy! Goodness, I can’t imagine of the last time I thought of “Ta-ra-ra-BOOM-de-yay!”.
    That gave me a chuckle, recalling the Western-Pennsylvania school yard version of a Parisian can-can! Too funny.

    What a delightful group of kiddos you’ve shown us, and adding the rhymes was genius.

    In high school we had an insufferably-long-and-complicated “call and response” song, that
    started out with “Flea!”……then “flea! fly!”……then “flea! fly! flow!”; back and forth. But
    then it got horrifically complicated with long passages that sounded like “faux” Latin. All
    sung with gusto at top volume, on buses going to football games. Lord, how I pitied the teachers who were forced to accompany us. They must have wanted to “flee” for sure.

    Thanks for this happy carefree post!

  7. Geri Caruso permalink
    September 21, 2020

    This is wonderful. To think that these rhymes have survived in today’s electronic world makes me feel full of hope for this generation of children.

  8. Pamela Bough permalink
    September 21, 2020

    Who was/is Susan Lawrence of the Susan Lawrence School?

    If she, like many that schools have been named after should be remembered well.

    Pam from Canada

  9. September 21, 2020

    Miss Polly had a dolly took me right back.
    Enjoyed the dips too. I liked the rude one, where ‘it’ is the one who ends up with knob.

    Two dips I remember. A longer one that lengthen the process:
    ‘Ip dip
    sky blue.
    It is not you!’

    ‘One potato
    two potato
    three potato
    five potato
    six potato
    seven potato

  10. Eric Forward permalink
    September 22, 2020

    She was a local politician Pam. The actress Angela Lansbury’s father was also another local MP with an estate named after him.

  11. September 22, 2020

    Such Gorgeous Pictures of these Darling Children!! Thank You So Much!!?????????

  12. Bill Cahill permalink
    September 23, 2020

    What Woolf called it:

    “That great Cathedral space which was childhood.”

    Can you remember?

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