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Dark Meaning Of “London Bridge Is Falling Down” Song Lyrics

You probably remember singing the nursery rhyme London Bridge Is Falling Down as a child, but did you know this track actually has a very dark meaning that we never knew as children? Keep reading as we delve into the dark meaning of London Bridge Is Falling Down song lyrics below! 

Origins 

The beginnings of London Bridge Is Falling Down are a little up in the air, but it was in the 17th century that we know the first recording of the song occurred. In the middle of the 18th century, the lyrics were written, with it first being published around 1850.

March 2, 2020 – London Tower Bridge. Image source: Olivia Walsh, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout history, the track has mostly stayed the same. Even though around 1850 was when it was first published, there are a lot of people who speculate and believe it was maybe in the medieval times when it was actually written. 

The melody for London Bridge Is Falling Down was written in the 19th century, which is when the nursery rhyme took off in the United States and the United Kingdom. The song lyrics, at least on its face, detail the London Bridge and how it’s falling down, with several attempts to try to fix it not really helping, such as using metal. 

Lyrics

You’ll hear the verse talking about how London Bridge is falling down, which is repeated several times before “My fair lady” is sung at the end. The lines in this nursery rhyme use two syllables through the four feet of metrics, which are known as quatrains. When you see a pair of syllables, in this rhyme it’s the first syllable where there is a stress, and most nursery rhymes use this setup. 

June 17, 2018 – A pile of stacked gold bars. Image source: Stevebidmead, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other parts of the rhyme talk about the various methods that were used to try to fix the bridge, such as building it with iron bars, but the next part mentions how they will bend and break. Gold and silver are mentioned, but in the rhyme, they don’t have the gold or silver to try to repair the bridge. Wood and clay are other options, but the next line mentions how the clay is just going to wash away. 

Each part of the rhyme ends with “My fair lady,” and some versions include verses that mention using sticks and stones to fix it, with the ending of each possible way to fix the bridge being that it doesn’t work and it’s still falling down. You can find so many versions of this song with different verses, but the main component of it is the same, which is it’s falling down. 

Music Video

London Bridge is Falling Down | CoComelon Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs

Since London Bridge Is Falling Down is a nursery rhyme, there is no official music video for the song, although you can find several children’s shows and programs that depict the bridge. There are also videos that show dramatizations of what some of the theories looked like, such as the Viking attack

So What Does The Song Mean?

October 2008 – Olaf Haraldsson. Image source: User:Erik Christensen, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, there are many theories about what the song means, but the best and most accepted theory for the meaning is that London Bridge fell down when Olaf Haraldsson, the Viking leader, pulled the bridge down in 1014 when he was invading the Isles of Britain.

Even though questions remain about the attack and whether it really occurred, in 1230, there were poems written that are similar to London Bridge Is Falling Down, which when translated was “broken down” instead of falling down. This lends some credibility to the attack being what caused the bridge to begin deteriorating and in need of repair. As far as all of the theories go, this one is one of the most logical and obvious if you look back at history. 

1675 – The Great Fire of London. Image source: Museum of London, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Another theory is that the bridge was damaged in a fire more than once, including The Great Fire Of London, which happened in 1666, and it took many decades for the bridge to be repaired after this fire. In just 30 years, the bridge was damaged two different times by fire, but it never actually fell down like London Bridge Is Falling Down might have you believe.

 February 10, 2006 –  Tower Bridge in London. Image source: Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Replacing the bridge, which was now about 600 years old, became the most obvious answer for the British Parliament instead of continuing to try to repair the hardcore fire-damaged bridge. The new bridge opened in 1831 and stayed until it was sold, taken down, and then replaced by a steel bridge in 1971. It’s the steel bridge that you see in London today, so unfortunately, if you’re looking to see the original bridge that London Bridge Is Falling Down was inspired by, it no longer exists. 

Finally, there is another theory that this song is about bodies being stored inside of the bridge’s mooring, which is a punishment that was called immurement back then. Immurement is when someone is put into an enclosed room where bricks are stacked and the person is placed there while alive and will die with no way to get food, water, or oxygen since they are enclosed in bricks.

This is probably the darkest theory as to the meaning of London Bridge Is Falling Down and the part “take the keys and lock her up,” which is found in only some versions of it, could be referring to the harsh immurement punishment. 

However, there has never been evidence of any kind to actually link any human remains to the London Bridge, so it makes the immurement punishment theory more unlikely than some of the other possible theories. So, to sum it up, the real meaning behind the song still remains up in the air, with the prevailing theory being it fell during an attack on the British Isle, but it’s anyone’s guess. 

Who Is The Fair Lady?

Late 19th to early 20th century – Painting of the Virgin Mary mourning the death of her Son Jesus Christ. Image source: Daoud Corm, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One part of London Bridge Is Falling Down that people want to know is who the fair lady being sung about is. Well, there are many theories to this too, such as it being the Virgin Mary, which goes with the theory of the bridge falling as the Vikings started to attack since that happened on the Virgin Mary’s birthday. There are those who say she was there to help keep the city itself safe, even though the bridge was unable to be saved. 

Unknown – Eleanor of Provence, Queen of England. Image source: Signed “J.W. Wright” in lower left corner, publication history probably the same as File:EditeMatildeEscócia.jpg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The lady is also said to be either Eleanor or Matilda, with Matilda being alive between 1080 and 1118, and she was from Scotland and the one who had the job of building the bridges. Eleanor, on the other hand, was from Provence, and between 1269 and 1291, she was the one who had taken in all of the revenue coming from the bridge. 

Another possibility is that the lady is part of the Leigh family who lived in Warwickshire during the 17th century. It’s said that the family has claimed someone in their family had been entombed in the bridge as part of an immurement punishment, which is partly why the theory that bodies are buried in the bridge became a popular theory even without true evidence. 

So, who really is the fair lady in this popular rhyme? It’s one of the parts of the nursery rhyme that is still up for debate and it depends on what theory you believe in. There is no 100% correct answer to the question even after all of these years. 

Legacy 

London Bridge Is Falling Down is one of the most popular nursery rhymes and songs of its time, and there are still several versions of the track that exist today, which children have fun with in making up their own lyrics. With so many different versions existing, it’s quite clear that this nursery rhyme isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and you’ll find it in children’s books, television shows, and virtually anywhere where a nursery rhyme might exist. 

In popular culture and media, T. S. Eliot mentioned London Bridge Is Falling Down in the poem The Waste Land, which is one of his most famous poems. There are also people who speculate that My Fair Lady, which was a musical that was released in 1956, had been inspired by the nursery rhyme.

If you listen to the album Walls Of Jericho by Helloween, then you might recognize that it’s also inspired by London Bridge Is Falling Down. We have a feeling that this nursery rhyme will continue to be used in pop culture for decades because it has stood the test of time and still has people wondering about it. 

What Happened To The London Bridge? 

As for the bridge itself, while the original bridge that the rhyme is about no longer stands since it was torn down and replaced in the 1800s with a bridge made out of Victorian stone, that wasn’t the end of it. This bridge would be replaced in 1971 with a steel bridge, which still stands to this day. 

January 25, 2009 – London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Image source: Ken Lund from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Victorian stone bridge was not demolished, but instead, it was taken apart piece by piece with the bricks being sent to America. These bricks from the Victorian stone version of London Bridge were put back together, and the bridge can be seen in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

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