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London Bridge as it stands today

Children are often seen running around singing "London Bridge is Falling", and making a face of sadness when they reach the last line. Most people assume that the Fair Lady referred to in the rhyme is the Queen of England, and the current queen at that. But the history behind this rhyme goes farther back in time than we realize.

Speculation associated with this rhyme has to do with a process call immurement. Immurement was when a person was enclosed in a room with no exit points. This was more an act of superstition than punishment. It was believed to bring sturdiness to the structure if people were imprisoned behind the walls. London Bridge falling down was something that people at the time associated with weakness. But there is no evidence to substantiate the idea of immurement.


The Bridge of yesteryear London Image source: wikimedia commons

A more historical account states that the bridge fell as a result of a Viking attack. Vikings of Norway have a similar set of rhymes that associate their role in bringing down the Bridge of London. They sing of conquest and gold, and blessings from Odin, in Norse, which refers to the Bridge. King Olaf II is credited with this feat.

Most historians, unable to properly supply evidence of the above claims, state that perhaps the Thames River is the reason this rhyme came into existence. The original London Bridge had 19 arches that went deep into the river. This caused difficulty in navigation. The Bridge was taken down and reconstructed to accommodate boats and ships. Perhaps, it was this historical reconstruction that is being sung about. The London Bridge is the only one that directly refers to a historical event, and yet has no plausible evidence to support it.

Keywords: Rhymes, London, Bridge, History, Viking, Immurement


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