London Bridge is Broken Down
The mysterious symbolism of this song probably originates from several stories about the destruction of London Bridge. At the same time, it also refers to the symbolic implication of bridging and thus taming a river. The current London Bridge, built in 1973, is located near the site of the first known crossing over the Thames – a Roman bridge which dates back around 2,000 years. However, in 60AD the bridge and trading settlement were destroyed by Queen Boadicea. King Olaf of Norway repeated this destruction in 1014, when he tied his boats to the timber piles in order to dislodge them and collapse the whole structure into the river. In less precarious times, 138 houses were famously built on the bridge in 1757, including a public latrine (‘vertically plumbed’ direct into the river). When this structure was finally demolished it was for the unromantically utilitarian purpose of road widening.
This song was part of Singing Histories, a national project led by Sing London to create booklets and resources containing traditional folk songs and history from eight areas across England.
The Singing Histories - London illustrated song book (which includes this song) can be downloaded from the document tab at the top of this panel. Audio recording(s) of this song are also available from the audio tab.
Note that these links take you to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website which holds the full archival details of the material. Material on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website is not censored or expurgated and may contain material considered offensive by modern standards.