Wednesday, 11 January 2012

London Bridge Legends.


I have no sense of direction. Many, many times my total lack of direction has got me into trouble, such as the time I went the wrong way round the M25 and a journey that should have taken quarter of an hour, took 90 minutes. And last summer, I decided to take my son to the Museum of London, only to end up at the London Docklands Museum (a subtle but essential difference, which meant we ended up at completely the wrong place!) However, in this case all ended well since the Dockland museum was fascinating and has inspired today's blog post on: London Bridge.

London Bridge in the 1800's.
 It is not my intention to give a history of this historic landmark, but more a mention of some of the lesser known legends associated with it. It is thought that a bridge first spanned the Thames in the site of the current London Bridge, in Roman times. The first stone bridge was erected around 1136 and on this more permanent structure, people started to build houses.


            The nursery rhyme "London Bridge is falling down," has ensured the bridge is one of the most famous in the English language, but the origin of rhyme is unknown. The first written mention of it is in 1766 and Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book.

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.

Build it up with bricks and mortar,
Bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar,
Build it up with bricks and mortar,
My fair lady.
Et.c
London Bridge 1616
One theory is that it refers to the different attempts to build a bridge over the Thames; how wood rotted over time, and burning during the Great Fire of London. A more grizzly suggestion is that the song is associated with burying things, possible children, in the foundations of the bridge to ensure good luck. Fortunately, there is no archaeological evidence to back up the later.



So who is the  "Fair Lady" mentionned in the rhyme?

There are three main contenders:
 - Matilda of Scotland - (1080 - 1118) - consort of King Henry I, who was responsible for building a series of bridges across streams between Bow and Stratford.
- Eleanor of Provence (1223 -91) , consort of Henry III who was custodian of bridge revenues from 1269 to 1281
 -A member of the aristocratic Leigh family, from Warwickshire, who had a family tradition that a human sacrifice lies under their family home at Stoneleigh Park.

The current London Bridge (often confused with Tower Bridge!)
 On a more cheery note, another legend associated with London Bridge is that of the Swaffham Pedlar. He had a dream in which he was told that someone on the bridge would tell him joyous news. With this in mind he went there and waited for three days and nights. Eventually a shopkeeper went out and asked the pedlar what he was doing. When he explained his errand the shopkeeper laughed and said:

"I myself have had a dream that if I went to a particular oak tree in Swaffham, and dug underneath it, there I would find great treasure, but I am not such a fool as to follow dreams."

Tower Bridge (often mistakenly called, London Bridge.)
The pedlar thanked him and left. He proceeded home to dig under the oak tree, only to unearth a pot of gold! Some versions add that a visitor to the now wealthy man read a Latin inscription on the pot that translates as:

"Under me doth lie,
Another much richer than I."

He went and dug in the same spot, to discover even more treasure!



So there we have it - a blog post inspired by an accidental trip to a museum I had no idea existed. Do you have 'happy accidents' or am I the only one with a talent for getting lost?

6 comments:

  1. Remember the old London Bridge, the best two things - a house built in and for many years head of a traitor in its southern end, pierced turret door close to the city as a warning that the fate of those who conspired against the king.

    man and van London

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  2. Very interesting article... I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

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  3. I can totally appreciate your misdirected adventures. Since a child, I've always loved getting lost. While my parents bickered in the front seat of the car and I could feel my mother's fear heightening when she realized my father had absolutely no idea where we were or where we should go next, I sat in the back totally elated that a simple road trip had turned into an adventure. My fav date as a teen back in the 1950's was to suggest to a young man who was enamored with his first car, that we take a drive into the unknown (often just a neighboring town) on roads and streets we'd never traveled. Even today I find myself often taking the road least traveled and having experiences I would have missed had I taken the shortest route from point A to get to point B. May you continue "getting lost" while finding fascinating discoveries along the way. -Peggy Wolf

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  4. Thank you Gabriel and Jean - history is so fascinating, it often seems stranger than fiction (as they say!)
    Peggy - I'm more resigned to getting lost than embracing it. It has to be balanced against my personal tick of wanting to get places on time!

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  6. That was interesting, thank you!

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