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London Bridge is Falling Down
Tales Behind Nursery Rhymes


Ring a ring o' roses

London Bridge is Falling Down

Little Miss Muffet

Mary Had a Little Lamb




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1.
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair Lady.

2.
Build it up with wood and clay,
Wood and clay, wood and clay,
Build it up with wood and clay,
My fair Lady.

4.
Build it up with bricks and mortar,
Bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar,
Build it up with bricks and mortar,
My fair Lady.

6.
Build it up with iron and steel,
Iron and steel, iron and steel,
Build it up with iron and steel,
My fair Lady.

8.
Build it up with silver and gold,
Silver and gold, silver and gold,
Build it up with silver and gold,
My fair Lady.

10.
Set a man to watch all night,
Watch all night, watch all night,
Set a man to watch all night,
My fair Lady.

3.
Wood and clay will wash away,
Wash away, wash away,
Wood and clay will wash away,
My fair Lady.

5.
Bricks and mortar will not stay,
Will not stay, will not stay,
Bricks and mortar will not stay,
My fair Lady.

7.
Iron and steel will bend and bow,
Bend and bow, bend and bow,
Iron and steel will bend and bow,
My fair Lady.

9.
Silver and gold will be stolen away,
Stolen away, stolen away,
Silver and gold will be stolen away,
My fair Lady.

11.
Suppose the man should fall asleep,
Fall asleep, fall asleep,
Suppose the man should fall asleep?
My fair Lady.

12.
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.

This rhyme is a very ancient one, and versions of it can be found all over Europe. It reflects the belief that bridges cannot remain standing unless a person is set to watch over them to ward off the ghosts and evil spirits that want to pull it down. In the rhyme, all sorts of materials are used in an attempt to keep the bridge standing, but not until a man is set to watch all night does the bridge have any chance of remaining standing.

The belief that someone was required to watch the bridge reflects an even more ancient superstition - that if a bridge was difficult to build, it would remain standing only if a live person were walled up inside the foundations to act as 'watchman'!! This grim superstition was still current in Germany as late as the 19th century. Very often it would be young boys, some as little as four years old, who would be walled up inside the bridges. Sometimes the children would be provided with a candle and a piece of bread, so that they may live a little longer and keep watch - the equivalent of the pipe that is given to the watchman to smoke all night.


tales behind nursery rhymes

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Last updated: April 2010. Copyright © Rohini Chowdhury 2002. All rights reserved.

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