Children’s singing games-Debra Chaweresa

Below is the link of the recording of the children’s singing game. Click on the link and select the recording.

When thinking about the lives of children within slums, leisure time is not likely to be the first thing we think of. Children often had to work from a young age to contribute towards the family’s wages. However, even children in the slums started to be progressively exposed to the ideals of modern day childhood, and child employment reforms meant they had more time to play with other children. The games that the children within the slums were exposed to were often seen as impractical by the upper and middle class as these were not necessarily educational singing games, but they were based on traditional rhymes and were a familiar sound in working-class areas.

This source was recorded in Wandsworth in 1938 at a school called Heathcoat School. Wandsworth was a primarily a working-class area in 1938, and this is reflected in the contrast between the sound of the children’s accents with the woman  recording them. The sound of the woman’s accent within the recording suggests that she has been well-educated.  The interviewer seems to be particularly fascinated by the whooping noise that the children are making when they play this game. This contrasts with the kind of games that the upper and middle class children played, which tended to be more educational[1].

Fig 1. Children playing Sally around.

In the recording the children are singing a game called Sally go around the moon. The fact that the game is simple meant that a lot of children would have played this singing game within the streets as it was easy to learn and teach. Hearing these singing games from within and outside the slum shows that although the children and adults in the slums were often not educated they still transmitted traditions, including singing games. The children singing within the slums often passed on the rhymes from generation to generation[2]. With the children being taught different singing games by their parents it filled the streets within the slums with different children singing different games, even sometimes teaching each other what they had been taught.

The majority of the games that children played took place in the streets, this would have made the them extremely noisy with some families having five or more children[3]. Children’s singing games were not the only games that were played that contributed towards the noise in the street, other popular games included hide and seek, football and conkers[4]. All the games that the children played contributed to the already noisy slum environment, singing games had a particular impact as children tended to play them in large groups.

A 1930 survey Borough revealed that 758 houses were unfit for human habitation in Wandsworth, where the recording was produced in 1938[5].  Although conditions were bad, the children belonged to their own little community that the outside world was oblivious to. This is shown through the recording with all the children knowing the words to the singing game that they were playing and trying to teach the ‘outsider’ interviewer their traditional games.

Fig 2- children playing within the street of the slum.

The singing games were part of a wider soundscape in Wandsworth, which had caused concern in the past. In 1897 a bill had been passed in Wandsworth to try and reduce noise from itinerant musicians and singers[6]. Even though this bill didn’t have any impact on children playing on the street or making any noise, it shows that the noise of the streets was considered intolerable and something had to be in done in order to reduce it.

Debra Chaweresa


[1] Schwartzman, H. (1979). Transformations (Boston: Springer, 1979), p. 14.

[2] Flux, P., Victorian Britain (Oxford: Heinemann, 2005), p. 20.

[3] Trainor, T. From London Slums to South Oxhey (n.d.),  p .25.

[4]  ‘Games children used to play in the streets’ [online]. Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2017].

[5] Municipal Dreams, ‘A Brief History of Council Housing in Wandsworth, Part I: 1900-1939 [online]. Available at: [Accessed 2 Jan. 2017].

[6] ‘Unhealthy Noise: Medical Officer of Health reports from the Wellcome Library’, The London Sound Survey. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Jan. 2017].

Figure 1 -Kentish Town C of E Primary School. Victorian schools – Kentish Town C of E Primary School. [online] Available at:

Figure 2 –