Did you know some of the nursery rhymes have interesting origins? Here we dig into the origin of the popular nursery rhyme ‘The London Bridge is falling down‘ which is based on one of the most famous landmarks in London. Though it’s a simple children’s rhyme that everyone learn in their pre-school, it has a very interesting history that can be traced from the Roman occupation of England in the first century.
How we know the Rhyme today:
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.
We suppose it’s pretty messed up to write an ode to shoddy civil engineering, but really, how bad could this be?
It’s a song about starving children to death
There have been a lot of theories over the years as to what the collapse of the London Bridge in the song means. Some believe that it refers to Viking attacks back in the 11th century which led to massive destruction and as a result lot of children starved to death. As no documented records of such an attack on the bridge exist, however, we’ll instead focus on different interpretations.
Viking attack theory
The nineteenth-century translation of the Norse saga the Heimskringla, published by Samuel Laing in 1844, included a verse by Óttarr svarti that looks very similar to the nursery rhyme:
London Bridge is broken down –
Gold is won, and bright renown.
Hild is shouting in the din!
Mail-coats ringing —
Odin makes our Olaf win!
However, modern translations make it clear that Laing was using the nursery rhyme as a model for his very free translation, and the reference to London Bridge does not appear at the start of the verse. There is no record of such an attack ever taking place.
Child Sacrifice Theory
The theory that the song refers to the burying, perhaps alive, of children in the foundations of the bridge was first advanced by Alice Bertha Gomme (later Lady Gomme) in The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (1894–1898) and perpetuated by the usually sceptical Iona and Peter Opie. This was based around the idea that a bridge would collapse unless the body of a human sacrifice were buried in its foundations and that the watchman is actually a human sacrifice, who will then watch over the bridge. However, there is no archaeological evidence for any human remains in the foundations of London Bridge
Age and Damage Theory
According to Walt Disney’s The Truth About Mother Goose (1957) the rhyme refers to the deterioration of the original London Bridge due to age and the Great Fire of London of 1666. Until the mid-eighteenth century, the Old London Bridge was the only crossing on the Thames in London.
In the early nineteenth century, it was decided to replace the bridge with a new construction. New London Bridge was opened in 1831 and survived until it was replaced in 1972. It was then transported and reconstructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. This theory, so far, proved to be the most accepted theory of all.
Now that we have some clue about the origin of the rhyme, you must be wondering who the ‘Fair Lady’ identified as. Well, several attempts have been made to identify the ‘Fair Lady‘. They include –
- Mathilda of Scotland who was responsible for building a series of bridges in London
- Eleanor of Provence who had the custody of bridge revenues
- Stoneleigh park of Warwickshire with a family story of a human sacrifice under the building
- The River Lea, a tributary of the Thames
Time travel with this rhyme to know the origin of London Bridge. The colourful animation tells how the workers keep on trying with different materials till the time the perfect bridge is erected. The rhyme ends with a perfect metaphor with the usage of ‘gold and silver’ which implies that immense wealth and hard work was contributed in constructing the London Bridge.
Watch the video on YouTube: London Bridge | Popular Nursery Rhyme | Shemaroo Kids