Doug Harris
2 min readJan 10, 2020

What’s the story behind ‘London Bridge is falling down’?

The London Bridge of nursery rhyme fame was several versions earlier than this 17th Century iteration.

Children often learn the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, and we never give a second thought to… well, to much of anything about it. It’s a nursery rhyme!

Actually, it’s more than that: It’s a record, such as it is, of a historic event that occurred in 1014.

London was being attacked by a force led by Olaf, a Dane who later became king of Norway then, somehow, St. Olaf. (Don’t ask. Title changes on those days apparently were frequent and hard to account for.)

Romans First Bridged The Thames in 5th Century

Olaf, bent on overtaking and taking control of London, anticipated resistance and, according to the author of ‘A History of London’ (Dorset Press, ISBN 0–88029–048-X, published 1979) sheathed his ships “with wicker-work to protect them from weapons hurled from above” — from London Bridge, a crossing of the river Thames originally created by the Romans in the 5th Century and repeatedly rebuilt in the intervening centuries. Still, it was only a wooden structure, and apparently lack something in sturdiness.

Robert Gray, the ‘History of London’ author continued: “(He) sailed boldly up to the bridge, attached ropes to the piles, and rowed off downstream. The bridge, which must have been an exceedingly fragile structure, collapsed, leaving its defenders floundering in the river.” As well as becoming the meat of a Norse saga of the 12th Century, the event “became the basis of the nursery rhyme,” Gray declared.

Wikipedia mentions that source for the rhyme but suggests there may be others as well. But adding fuel to the information fire, Wikipedia also declares that the nursery rhyme’s last line, “My fair lady,” found its way onto Broadway as the title of the 1956 eponymous “My Fair Lady” musical.

Wiki also noted that, “The chorus of the 1963 Brenda Lee song My Whole World is Falling Down is loosely based on “London Bridge is Falling Down”.

London’s Millennial Bridge

London Bridge, by the way, has long since been supplemented by numerous other Thames crossings, the most recent of which is the pedestrian Millennium Bridge, initially opened in 2000 then closed for two years to correct construction faults which initially caused it to be called “the wobbly bridge”.

The present London Bridge was introduced in 1973. Unlike most of its predecessors, its concrete construction is sturdy enough to withstand the tests of times… and boats that might attempt to pull it down with ropes.

Doug Harris

50+ years a writer, 80+ unique bylines. Two blogs have reached 60+ countries.