Rhymes in Time:
London Bridge is Falling Down

You know the popular nursery rhyme, but what does it mean? Has London Bridge ever fallen down? Sing along with us and then find out more below.

You can click here to find a full transcript of this video.

Lyrics: London Bridge is Falling Down

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling 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.

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
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.

Gold and silver I have none,
I have none, I have none.
Gold and silver I have none,
My fair lady.

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

Build it up with iron bars,
Iron bars, iron bars.
Build it up with iron bars,
My fair lady.


What's it all about?

This song is about one of the capital's most famous features: London Bridge.

There has been a bridge very close to where the current London Bridge stands for nearly two thousand years! Bridges have been destroyed and rebuilt there many times, so it’s very difficult to know which disaster the song is about.

Could it be about one of the many fires that burnt it down? Is it about a Viking attack on London? Or maybe the song is about the many different times the bridge was destroyed, with each verse describing a new bridge being built and then destroyed once again?


Try at home!

An illustration of brightly coloured building blocks in a bridge shape.

Build it up with…

Try using building blocks to create your own London Bridge.

Is it balanced? Will you be able to knock it down? How many bricks did you use?

How tall can you make your bridge without it tumbling down?

An illustration of a box of recycling including cans, bottles and a newspaper against a blue background.

Get designing!

London’s many bridges are made from different materials and have been built in different ways.

Can you design your own bridge? Try drawing it or using recycling materials to build yours.

Experiment with different shapes and materials to make sturdier bridges.

Will your bridge look unique? Or is its strength more important?


What do you think?

Don't suppose you have a minute to tell us what you think of this resource? It's only a minute! Maybe even less. We've got five little questions for you right here. Thanks!

Illustrations of a thumb down, a forward slash and a thumb up sit next to each other.


Take a closer look...

Freezing frost fairs

Frost Fair on the River Thames. Coloured and varnished aquatint. General view of the frost fair on the river Thames in 1814.

Frost fair on the River Thames, 1814

Can you see a bridge in the background?

The design of the old London Bridge allowed the Thames to freeze enough for huge frost fairs to be held on the river. In very cold weather, ice would get stuck in the arches which held the bridge up. This slowed the flow of the river so it could freeze.

A new London Bridge opened in 1831 which had five wider arches, letting the water flow more quickly, so the Thames never froze as thick again. This image shows the last frost fair on the River Thames.

Can you find:

  • A dog
  • St Paul’s Cathedral
  • A giant swing
  • Someone playing games on the ice?


Viking attack!

Original, early 11th century battleaxe blade with modern handle. One of several battleaxes found during building works at the north end of the bridge in the 1920s.

London Bridge was fortified (that means it was well protected) to stop Viking raiders from sailing up the Thames and getting into the city.

In 1016, King Cnut discovered London Bridge was so well defended that he had to dig a channel around its south end. His ships were then able to go around the bridge to attack the city.

This battle axe may have been thrown into the Thames in celebration after a successful Viking attack.

Bustling bridge

Detailed model of old London Bridge. St. Magnus Martyr church is on the north bank and Nonsuch House is in the foreground.

This model shows London Bridge as it would have looked in the Tudor period. There were over 200 buildings on the bridge at that time, including shops, houses and chapels.

Have you ever seen a bridge like this? If so, where?

What do you think?

Something we do know is that similar songs, mentioning different bridges, are sung by children all over the world. People in other countries might use slightly different lyrics or have different actions, but the main idea of these songs is the same: a bridge falls down and is rebuilt!

We don’t know when the rhyme was first sung. Some historians think this song dates all the way back to late medieval times, but the earliest record we have of 'London Bridge’ in English is from the 1600s.

Just like London Bridge itself, the rhyme has changed over the centuries and there are several different versions. Lyrics from the 1700s say ‘London Bridge is broken down’ rather than falling!

Can you imagine singing that instead? Give it a try!


Investigate more

When was London Bridge built?

The first London Bridge was built by the Romans around AD 50 and the town of Londinium grew around it. Although archaeology tells us that people were in London before the Romans, there is no proof that they lived in the city all year round. The Romans were the first people to do so.

How many times has London Bridge fallen down?

The first London Bridge was probably destroyed with the rest of Roman Londinium by Queen Boudica in AD 61.

London was abandoned for hundreds of years after the Romans left Britain around AD 409. The Saxons moved into the ruins of the city and rebuilt London Bridge sometime during the 900s. This settlement was a rich trading port which attracted attacks from Viking raiders. During this time there were a number of battles between Vikings and Londoners along the river and around London Bridge, and in 1014 London Bridge was pulled down!

There were several more wooden bridges built over the years. One was demolished in 1091 by a tornado and another was lost to a fire in 1136. More bridges were lost to ice damage, decay and fire.

King Henry II decided to rebuild London Bridge in stone. With so many bridges destroyed, it’s no wonder he wanted something more permanent! The medieval London Bridge was finished in 1209 and was used for over 600 years until it was demolished in 1831. You can still see a piece of the medieval London Bridge on display outside St Magnus the Martyr’s Church on Lower Thames Street.

When the medieval bridge was pulled down, the scrap wood and iron was recycled into knives and forks by cutlery maker John Weiss. Can you imagine eating your dinner with a piece of London Bridge?

The bridge that opened in 1831 was a simple stone bridge that was used for over 100 years. That bridge was sold and is still in use today – not in London but as a crossing in Lake Havasu in the United States! You might have heard about this. The popular story goes that the American who bought London Bridge thought they were buying Tower Bridge instead. While this is a funny story, it isn’t true. The person who bought it knew exactly which bridge they were buying.

The bridge we use today was opened in 1973 and it is just one of the many bridges crossing the Thames. Over 30 bridges cross this river today. How many of them have you used? Can you name them?


Emily  smiles while singing, with her guitar on her lap.

More Rhymes in Time

Watch more performances of classic nursery rhymes and discover the history behind them.

Video transcript

[VIDEO BEGINS]

[00:00:07]

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Museum of London's 'Rhymes in Time'. My name is Becky, and I'm here to sing today. But, I really don't like to sing alone. So, I was hoping that you would sing along with me if that's alright?

And the song we're going to sing is London Bridge is Falling Down. Do you know that one?

There are lots of different versions of it. In fact, in this old good I've got here the words are 'London Bridge is broken down'. And that goes back – ooh - 300 years or more! But I think, we'll stick with 'London Bridge is falling down', because that's the version I know best.

So, if we're ready

[00:00:55]

[GENTLE PIANO MUSIC]

Here we go…

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

So, what could we build it up with? Maybe um – maybe we could try wood and clay? Yeah.

[GENTLE PIANO MUSIC]

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

[00:01:34]

But then again, wood and clay might not be that strong... it might wash away. Hmm.

[GENTLE PIANO MUSIC]

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

Which would mean…

[GENTLE PIANO MUSIC]

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

[00:02:07]

So, I have to try something else... Um, how about silver and gold? Ooh yes, let's give that a go.

[GENTLE PIANO MUSIC]

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

[00:02:30]

But then I don't have any silver and gold? Do you? Do you have any silver? Enough to build a bridge? Hmm, no, maybe not then.

[GENTLE PIANO MUSIC]

♪ Silver and gold have I none,
Have I none, have I none.
Silver and gold, have I none,
My fair lady. ♪

Which means, once again...

[GENTLE PIANO MUSIC]

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

[00:03:07]

Why don't we try something a bit stronger? Something like iron...iron bars! Yes, let's do that then. Here we go.

[GENTLE PIANO MUSIC]

♪ Build it up with iron bars,
Iron bars, iron bars.
Build it up with iron bars,
My fair lady. ♪

[00:03:28]

And with any luck, after that, it won't fall down any more!

Well, thank you - that was great! And if you'd like to find out some more about why London Bridge kept falling down, you can go over to the Museum of London website. There's lots of information there about the bridge and also there are activities that you can do. Also, you can make up your own verse of London Bridge is Falling Down. Think of something that would be really good and strong to build up the bridge.

So, thank you for singing along with me today. I hope you've had fun, and see you soon! Bye bye!

[VIDEO ENDS]

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