TCS: London Bridge is Falling Down

Good Morning!

Charlene Mullen ‘London Calling’ Mug
London Bridge view — Royal Doulton


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

 “When I was small I dreamed of demons. I thought they were under my bed, but you said, it can’t be so, you don’t get demons our side of the river, the guards won’t let them over London Bridge.”
– Hilary Mantel


London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.

Some of the song’s lyrics have been updated in this version:

Note: The bridge in this cartoon is Tower Bridge, not London Bridge

The traditional English nursery rhyme and singing game was inspired by some very real problems with the London Bridge. There are similar singing games from the Middle Ages, but earliest record of the lyrics about London Bridge dates from the 17th century.

Olaf II of Norway is said to have destroyed an ancient version of London Bridge in 1014, or possibly 1009, but some historians have cast doubt on the entire story. It is a fact that until the 1750s, the Old London Bridge was the only one crossing the Thames directly into London. It had been damaged in a big fire in 1633, but ironically that damage became a fire break on the bridge during the Great Fire of London in 1666, preventing the flames from crossing the river.

London Bridge before the Great Fire of London

There were continual problems with this bridge – the 19 narrow arches supporting it restricted river traffic on the Thames, and caught debris, which had to be cleared. It was too narrow for the traffic flow on its top as well, and was in constant need of expensive repairs. So New London Bridge was built, which opened in 1831. It in turn was replaced in 1972. But New London Bridge wasn’t demolished like its predecessor; it was transported in pieces to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and reconstructed there.

New London Bridge postcard, circa 1895

The nursery rhyme which was inspired by the bridge’s problems is one of the most popular and well-known songs in the world, but there have been endless debates about its possible hidden meanings. Like the ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets, there are multiple candidates for ‘my fair lady’ – including:

Henry I’s consort, Matilda of Scotland, who was responsible for the building of a series of bridges for the London-Colchester road

Henry III’s consort, Eleanor of Provence, who had custody of bridge revenues from 1269 until about 1281

Several different female members of the Leigh family of Stoneleigh Park have also been proposed, because of a family story of human sacrifices buried under their building – one of the stories about Old London Bridge is that children were buried as sacrifices in its foundations. This idea was first put in print by Alice Bertha Gomme in The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (1894–1898). However, no archaeological evidence of human remains were found in the foundations.

The London Bridge song shows up in The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot:

    I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina
Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
                 Shantih     shantih     shantih

It was probably the source of the title of the Lerner and Loew musical My Fair Lady. English football fans have used the tune for chants.

By coincidence, there’s a Korean nursery rhyme and singing game called Dong Dong Dongdaemin about the Grand Gates of Seoul, where two children are gatekeepers who try to catch the last child passing under their raised arms as the song ends, and a caught child has to replace one of the gatekeepers.

What’s your favorite nursery rhyme?

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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2 Responses to TCS: London Bridge is Falling Down

  1. Malisha says:

    There was a man of double deed,
    Who sowed his garden full of seed;
    When the seed began to grow,
    ‘Twas like a garden full of snow;
    When the snow began to melt,
    ‘Twas like a ship without a belt;
    When the ship began to sail,
    ‘Twas like a bird without a tail;
    When the bird began to fly,
    ‘Twas like an eagle in the sky;
    When the sky began to roar,
    ‘Twas like a lion at my door;
    When my door began to crack,
    ‘Twas like a stick across my back;
    When my back began to smart,
    ‘Twas like a penknife in my heart;
    And when my heart began to bleed,
    ‘Twas death, and death, and death indeed.
    ———- by “Anonymous” —————–

    I never recite this poem for children, though.
    For children, my favorite is “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.”

    • wordcloud9 says:

      Not exactly a nursery rhyme, although

      There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
      She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
      She gave them some broth without any bread;
      And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

      isn’t exactly cheery either.

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