One of my American cousins doesn’t remember the ‘Oranges and Lemons’ rhyme  and game but she can remember ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, the chant of a game like it. We played ‘London Bridge’ too.

The rhyme goes:

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

Aside from the much-photographed late-Victorian Tower Bridge, the most famous structure to span the Thames is London Bridge, a kilometre upstream.


View of London Bridge by Claude de Jongh (c 1600 – 1663) painted about 1632 from the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

In fact there have been several London Bridges, the earliest built by the Romans.

In 1209 King Henry II, in part penance for the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, commissioned a new stone bridge with a chapel at its centre dedicated to Becket as martyr. The Archbishop was a native of London.

This bridge had nineteen arches, as many as two hundred buildings – some of them seven storeys high – and a drawbridge to let ships through. Over the centuries fires destroyed some of the buildings and several arches collapsed.

In 1831 a new bridge of five arches was opened, designed by the Scottish civil engineer John Rennie. This was replaced in 1973. The 1831 bridge was not destroyed, however. It was sold in 1968 by the City of London for US$2,460,000 to a Missourian oil magnate named Robert P. McCulloch, who had it transported piece by piece to Arizona and re-erected. I remember hearing about this at the time. It seemed very strange.

I suspect the bridge of our children’s rhyme is the one built in 1209. It certainly had a rich history of collapses and repairs.

AtoZ map L

London Bridge is marked with an x. It is upstream of Tower Bridge.