“London Bridge is Falling Down”: Kids Nursery Rhyme Possibly Has a Sinister Meaning

By | January 9, 2019

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Old London Bridge, 1795. View of old London Bridge, St Magnus the Martyr and the Monument from the south west with boats on the River Thames. Source: (Photo by Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Do you remember the popular children’s nursery rhyme, “London Bridge is Falling Down”? Kids would chant the ditty…well, usually just the first verse or two…while two kids held hands to form an arch. The other kids would pass under the arch until the end of the rhyme. Then, the arch would fall, trapping a kid between the arms of the other two. Once you were captured, you were eliminated, and the game went on until only one player was left. It was a fun and innocent schoolyard game. Or was it? Scholars have been trying since the rhyme came out in the Middle Ages to decipher its meaning. The three most common theories are all somewhat sinister and morbid…not typical fodder for a nursery rhyme. Let’s explore the meaning behind “London Bridge is Falling Down.” 

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Young children playing "London Bridge is Falling Down" Source: (thepointisiforgot.blogspot.com)

First of All, The Nursery Rhyme

Like a nursery rhyme, “London Bridge is Falling Down” became popular around the 1850s when the ditty was first published, but it seems to be a much older tune. In fact, many experts believe that it may date back to the medieval era, although the words have most likely changed slightly over time. So if the nursery rhyme tells of an actual event, it may have occurred in England’s Middle Ages. Historians are not in agreement as to the impetus of the rhyme. They have several theories that are up for debate.