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How Many Miles to London Town?

London Music Hall scene

 

How Many Miles to London Town?

This school ground rhyme and game is more often named How many miles to Babylon (or Bethlehem). Its transfer to London suggests the timeless association of the city with other historically significant imperial centres. In the late 1980’s graffiti around the Hackney Marshes proclaimed the insightful word ‘Babylondon’, echoing back to the twelfth century when a section of London Wall was named ‘Babylone’.

As Peter Ackroyd writes of the song: “Although the derivation and meaning of this verse is unclear, the image of the city seems to assert itself as a potent beckoning force; in a variant of this song ‘Bethlehem’ takes the place of Babylon, and may point to the madhouse in Moorfields rather than any more remote destination.”

 

This song was part of Singing Histories, a national project led by Sing London to create booklets and resources containing traditional folk songs and history from eight areas across England.

The Singing Histories - London illustrated song book (which includes this song) can be downloaded from the document tab at the top of this panel.  Audio recording(s) of this song are also available from the audio tab.

 

More videos

  • How Many Miles to London? sung by Sarah-Jane Miller with ukulele accompaniment

    Download: mp3(3.00MB) ogg(2.83MB)

Digital Archive records related to this item

Note that these links take you to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website which holds the full archival details of the material. Material on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website is not censored or expurgated and may contain material considered offensive by modern standards.

Maps on the Full English site related to this item

Note that these links take you to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website which holds the full archival details of the material. Material on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website is not censored or expurgated and may contain material considered offensive by modern standards.