London Bridge Is Falling Down facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
London Bridge (1616) by Claes Van Visscher
London Bridge (1616) by Claes Van Visscher

"London Bridge Is Falling Down" (also known as "My Fair Lady" or simply "London Bridge") is a traditional nursery rhyme and singing game, which is found in different versions all over the world. It deals with the depredations of London Bridge and attempts, realistic or fanciful, to repair it. It may date back to bridge rhymes and games of the late Middle Ages, but the earliest records of the rhyme in English are from the seventeenth century. The lyrics were first printed in close to its modern form in the mid-eighteenth century and became popular, particularly in Britain and the United States in the nineteenth century. The modern melody was first recorded in the late nineteenth century and the game resembles arch games of the Middle Ages, but seems to have taken its modern form in the late nineteenth century. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 502. Several theories have been advanced to explain the meaning of the rhyme and the identity of the "fair lady" of the refrain. The rhyme is one of the most well known in the world and has been referenced in a variety of work of literature and popular culture.

Lyrics

LondonBridgeWalterCrane
Illustration from Walter Crane's A Baby's Bouquet (c. 1877)
London Prospect 1710
A prospect of Old London Bridge in 1710
London Bridge (Cornell University Library)
New London Bridge in the late nineteenth century
London Bridge1
The reconstructed New London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona
London Bridge, November 2005
The modern concrete London Bridge

There is considerable variation in the lyrics of the rhyme. The most frequently used first verse is:

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

In the version quoted by Iona and Peter Opie in 1951 the full lyrics were:

London Bridge is broken down,
Broken down, broken down.
London Bridge is broken down,
My fair lady.

Build it up with wood and clay,
Wood and clay, wood and clay,
Build it up with wood and clay,
My fair lady.

Wood and clay will wash away,
Wash away, wash away,
Wood and clay will wash away,
My fair lady.

Build it up with bricks and mortar,
Bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar,
Build it up with bricks and mortar,
My fair lady.

Bricks and mortar will not stay,
Will not stay, will not stay,
Bricks and mortar will not stay,
My fair lady.

Build it up with iron and steel,
Iron and steel, iron and steel,
Build it up with iron and steel,
My fair lady.

Iron and steel will bend and bow,
Bend and bow, bend and bow,
Iron and steel will bend and bow,
My fair lady.

Build it up with silver and gold,
Silver and gold, silver and gold,
Build it up with silver and gold,
My fair lady.

Silver and gold will be stolen away,
Stolen away, stolen away,
Silver and gold will be stolen away,
My fair lady.

Set a man to watch all night,
Watch all night, watch all night,
Set a man to watch all night,
My fair lady.

Suppose the man should fall asleep,
Fall asleep, fall asleep,
Suppose the man should fall asleep?
My fair lady.

Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
Smoke all night, smoke all night,
Give him a pipe to smoke all night,
My fair lady.

The rhyme is constructed of quatrains in trochaic tetrameter catalectic, (each line made up of four metrical feet of two syllables, with the stress falling on the first syllable in a pair; the last foot in the line missing the unstressed syllable), which is common in nursery rhymes. In its most common form it relies on a double repetition, rather than a rhyming scheme, which is a frequently employed device in children's rhymes and stories. The Roud Folk Song Index, which catalogues folk songs and their variations by number, classifies the song as 502.

The game

Girls playing London Bridge 1898
Girls playing "London Bridge" in 1898

The rhyme is often used in a children's singing game, which exists in a wide variety of forms, with additional verses. Most versions are similar to the actions used in the rhyme "Oranges and Lemons". The most common is that two players make an arch while the others pass through in single file. The arch is then lowered at the song's end to "catch" a player. In the United States it is common for two teams of those that have been caught to engage in a tug of war. In England until the nineteenth century the song may have been accompanied by a circle dance, but arch games are known to have been common across late medieval Europe. Five of nine versions published by Alice Gomme in 1894 included references to a prisoner who has stolen a watch and chain. This may be a late nineteenth century addition from another game called "Hark the Robbers", or "Watch and Chain". This rhyme is sung to the same tune and may be an offshoot of "London Bridge" or the remnant of a distinct game. In one version the first two verses have the lyrics:

Who has stole my watch and chain,

Watch and chain, watch and chain;
Who has stole my watch and chain,
My fair lady?

Off to prison you must go,
You must go, you must go;
Off to prison you must go,
My fair lady.


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