The Dark Meaning of the ‘London Bridge Falls’ Account

Isn’t it strange that so many of our favorite nursery rhymes are about death and decay?

Endings are as much a part of life as beginnings, so, it seems, they are some of the best and most enduring songs we learn from childhood through adulthood. For other examples, see “Humpty Dumpty” and “Ring Around the Rosie”.

Here, however, we will be talking about a bridge. London Bridge, pour être exact, et son échec sans fin à rester intact dans la chanson “London Bridge Is Falling Down”.

Let’s dive into it.


The traditional English nursery rhyme is also a singing game (more details below). It is also known as “London Bridge” or even “My Fair Lady” (more information on this lady below).

In terms of content, the rhyme deals with the deterioration of the famous and great London Bridge, as well as attempts to repair the ailing construction with things like mortar and metals.

Some say that the song can go back to the end of the Middle Ages, but the first recordings of the song date from the 17th century. The lyrics of the rhyme were first printed as they are generally known today in the mid-eighteenth century. They became popular in the United Kingdom and the United States in the 19th century, when the rhyme melody was also recorded.

London Bridge itself

Until the middle of the 18th century, the London bridge was the only passage for people on the Thames in London. The structure was damaged in a large fire in 1633 and narrowly escaped other damage during the fire of 1666.

With its 19 slender arches, the structure hampered river traffic and flow, experts said. L’élargissement du pont eut lieu en 1763, mais même alors, il resta étroit et nécessitait des réparations constantes. The bridge was replaced at the beginning of the 19th century.

The New London Bridge was opened in 1831 and survived until it was also replaced later in 1972. Around this time, the 1831 bridge was dismantled and rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, United States -United.


Although there are many verses attributed to the song throughout history, mostly with which the substance was used to potentially repair the bridge, the most frequent first verse often goes:

London Bridge is collapsing,
Fall, fall.
London Bridge is collapsing,
My beautiful lady.

The rhyme for the song is made of “Quatrains” in “Tochaic Tetrameter Catalectic”, which means that each line is four metric feet of two syllables, with the stress coming on the first syllable of a pair. This is common for nursery rhymes.

The singing game

One of the enduring aspects of the nursery rhyme is the physical play that can be played while singing it. In this production, two children often line up face to face, arms in the air and attached hands, like arches. Other children run under their arms while the two sing the count. At some point, they lower their arms, “grabbing” whoever is within reach at that moment.

Similar to the recitals of “Ring Around the Rosie” and “Humpty Dumpty,” there is a “Falling Down” component to the rhyme and physical implementation, which puts smiles on children’s faces.

“London Bridge Falls”

The precise real meaning of the rhyme isn’t entirely certain, though it could be an elaborate metaphor for death or simply the eventual decay of aspects (or the whole of society at some point in time. If anything as the real London Bridge can collapse, so can anything.

Not to mention that the actual construction of the Great London Bridge must have been arduous, with failures along the way to its eventual finality, and many of its elements occasionally breaking and floating in the waters, from metal girders to bolts and more. . .

One thought, however, is that the rhyme dates back to the destruction of London Bridge by the Viking Olaf II in 1014. The 19th century translation of the Norse epic, the Heimskringlapublished in 1844, includes a verse that sounds like the rhyme:

London Bridge is down. —
Gold is won, and fame shining.
resounding shields,
The war horns sound,
Hild screams in the din!
Singing arrows,
The coats of mail ring —
Odin makes our Olaf win!

In more recent history, however, scholars have reasoned that the above verse and the now common rhyme are probably unrelated. Some historians have even wondered if Viking’s attack had even taken place.

human sacrifice

Some have advanced the claim that the rhyme refers to the burial – possibly even alive (!) – of children at the base of the bridge. This is based on the myth that a bridge would collapse unless a body of a human sacrifice was buried in its foundation as a “guard”.

Cependant, il n’y a aucune preuve archéologique de restes humains dans les fondations de l’actuel pont de Londres. However, the bodies were Found under the current bridge in 2007 during excavation work, although this is probably not linked to its original construction.

Identity of the “beautiful lady”

There have been many assumptions as to who is the “beautiful lady” at the end of the numerous rhyme choruses.

Some say it is the Virgin Mary. When the Vikings attacked, it apparently happened on the birthday of the Virgin Mary. Les Vikings ont attaqué le pont mais n’ont pas pu prendre la ville – elle était protégée par Mary, disent certains.

Others have argued that the “Fair Lady” is Matilda of Scotland. who lived from 1080 to 1118. She was responsible for building a series of bridges. Some said that the “Belle Lady” was Aliénor de Provence (1223-1291), who had custody of the income of the bridge from 1269 to 1291.

The Leigh family of Stoneleigh Park claim in a traditional family history that they have a relative buried under the bridge as part of a human sacrifice. Again, that’s probably not true, though.


The complicity remains one of the most famous in the world. It was referenced by TS Eliot’s famous poem, land of waste And some say that the “Fair Lady” inspired the 1956 musical, my lovely lady.

Rhyme is always changed by children often, who sing:

London Bridge is collapsing
fall, fall
London Bridge is collapsing
my lovely lady

Build it with iron bars
Iron bars, iron bars
Build it with iron bars
my lovely lady

Photo of: SEPIA Times / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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