London Bridge

London Bridge
   'London Bridge is falling down' or 'broken down' is one of the widest-known children's songs in the English-speaking world and has existed both as a 'nursery rhyme and as a 'singing game for a very long time. As a singing game, it exists in a wider range of forms than is usual in the genre - the most common is that two players make an arch while the others file through in single file; the arch is lowered at a certain point to 'catch' a player. As is usual for such rhymes, the earliest known text dates from the 18th-century (Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book c. 744) although there are some indications that it may have existed in Britain in the 17th century. Nevertheless, there are many close continental parallels which are much older, with the game or rhyme being reported from France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Hungary, Holland, and many more countries. Some English versions agree with the European ones that the only way to ensure the success of the bridge is to set a 'watchman' to look after it, and it has been argued that this refers to well-attested long-standing traditions about new bridges needing to have a human being immured in their foundations to counter evil influences. The wide geographical and temporal spread for the rhyme was sufficient to convince even the usually-sceptic Iona and Peter Opie that this is one of the few nursery rhymes which may have a genuine antique ritual basis.
   ■ Opie and Opie, 1997: 318-25; Opie, and Opie, 1985: 61-8; Gomme, 1894: i. 333-50.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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