London Bridge is Falling Down

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The history and the hidden meanings behind a classic childhood game that can serve not only as a cheap form of entertainment for the little ones but also as: a quick history lesson of the Thames River, a “How to Build a Bridge For Dummies” guide, a very subliminal way to scare the kiddos into behaving, or a way to express our sexual desires through innuendos and maneuvers.  Yes; that’s right!  “London Bridges”, is not just for kids.

Song Reference

How to play the game

Two children face each other and form an arch by raising their arms forward and interlocking each other’s hands together.  The rest of the children take turns walking under the arch while singing the song and on the last word of the verse “lady” is said, the arch comes down and captures one of the children.  The game continues until all of the kids are captured or the little tikes get bored and restless.

london_bridge_1616_by_claes_van_visscher

Short History Lesson

Bridging the Thames River was a long and tedious task that began during the late Roman empire era.  In 43 AD, the Romans established Londinium (London) as the capital of England.  During this time period the Romans made several attempts of building bridges over the river and finally succeeded around 50 AD.  Then, the shortly lived wooden bridge, was burned down during the Viking and Saxon invasions.  Bridges were rebuilt many times also due to natural disasters such as the 1091 tornado and the 1136 fire.

In 1176, the construction of the first stone arch bridge in Britain, “Old London Bridge”, started in efforts to replace the wooden bridges that survived from the Roman occupancy.  Peter, a priest and chaplain of St. Mary’s of Colechurch, was the architect and project leader until his death in 1205.  The construction of the bridge was completed in 1209.  The new stone bridge had 19 arches including a gatehouse with a drawbridge.  To create a source of income from the bridge, shops and homes were constructed and lined on both sides of the roadway of the bridge.  For thrills locals would shoot the bridge from their small boats.

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Three years after being completed a fire destroyed all the buildings on the bridge and killed thousands of people.  The houses and shops were quickly rebuilt narrowing the pathway to four meters (approx. 13 feet).  Do to the pressure of winter ice, five arches collapsed in the winter of 1282.  The arches were rebuilt as well.  The constant additions to the buildings eventually created a tunnel like passageway across the Thames River.  Queen Elizabeth I, ordered to have water mills added onto the structure of the bridge in the 1580s.  Despite the bridge having a bad reputation of constantly being under repairs and more and more additions being added to the shops and houses, the Old London bridge was the only crossing of the Thames River in London until 1750 when the Westminster Bridge was completed and opened.

london-bridge-watercolour1799

Shortly after the city decided to repair the London bridge the project was taken upon Charles Labelye.  All of the houses were removed and the roadway over the bridge was expanded to 14 meters ( approx. 45 feet) and the two center arches were replaced with one great arch at the middle of the bridge.  After completion in 1762, the remodeling of the arches led to erosion of the riverbed.  Eventually the city decided to give up spending resources to fix the bridge and gave the New London Bridge project to John Rennie.  The new bridge was built several yards upstream from the old bridge.  Rennie died in 1821 before construction of the new bridge could start and was picked up by his two sons.  The project was completed in 1831.  After serving the Londoners for 622 years the Old London bridge was demolished.  Rennie’s  bridge lasted almost 140 years until it was dismantled and shipped across the Atlantic ocean to the United States, where it now resides at Lake Havasu, Arizona.  The modern London bridge was built between 1968 and 1972.

The origins and meaning

Similar rhymes have been found all over Europe that pre-dates the earliest London Bridge version.  “Knippelsbro Går Op og Ned” from Denmark, “Die Magdeburger Brück” from Germany, “Pont Chus” from France, and “Le Porte” from Italy, are all suspected to be the influence of the “London Bridge” version.  The earliest reference to the English version was in the comedy “The London Chanticleers” printed in 1657.  No words of the rhyme or mention of the melody were stated, however the popularity of the rhyme and melody was greatly influenced by Henry Carey and his satire play, “Namby Pamby” in 1725.

Namby Pamby is no clown,

London Bridge is broken down,

Now he courts the gay Ladee,

Dancing o’er the Lady-Lee.

In 1823, a more popular version was printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

London Bridge is broken down,

Dance over the Lady Lea,

London Bridge is broken down,

With a gay lady.

Then we must build it up again

What shall we build it up withal?

Build it up with wood and stone,

Wood and stone will fall away.

etc…etc…ete…

The meaning behind the rhyme is not really clear and numerous theories have developed.  The modern version was first recorded in the late 19th century.  The game that is associated with the song resembles arch games that date back to the middle ages.  The theory of the meaning about the constant struggle of repair and rebuilding the many bridges that allowed Londoners for centuries to cross the Thames River may have some small truths, but the original rhymes regarding the London Bridge were very different compared to the earliest forms of the modern version.

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The Fair Lady

The identity of the “fair lady” reference within the rhyme is uncertain, nothing has been proven, but suspicions of the identity to the reference are:

  • The River Lea – another river that feeds into the Thames River.
  • The Leigh family of Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire– a family linked to a story about a human sacrifice that lies under the bridge.
  • Matilda of Scotland– The Queen of England, Henry I consort, who was responsible for building the series of bridges between 1110 -1118.
  • Eleanor of  Provence– Henry III consort, who had custody of the revenues of the Old London bridge from 1269 -1281.

The Human Sacrifice theory

Alice Bertha Gomme, a folklorist, who wrote The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (1894-1898);  presented the idea that the Old London Bridge could be involved in a human sacrifice during the constructions and/or reconstructions of the bridges.  Gomme pointed out that in certain variations of the “London Bridges” rhymes there is a watchman or a prisoner mentioned in the later stanzas of the songs.  Human sacrifice was believed to be necessary to protect the structures, to serve the purposes as guardians or “watchman” and protect the building from supernatural forces.  In 1880 Calcutta India locals were afraid to be out at night due to people disappearing.  Sacrificial offering towards the construction of the Hooghly Bridge was a popular suspicion to the explanations of the missing people of the area.  The prisoner reference is suspected to be metaphor for a live or dead human sacrifice to be entombed in the structure for eternity.  However, there were never any reports found stating that human remains were ever found when the Old or New London Bridges were torn down or, shall I say… falling down.

Meanwhile…

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London Bridge Today

According to the Urban Dictionary, London Brides is also a modern slang word for panties. When a lady says “you make her london bridges fall down”, she is saying you make her hot… sexually.  It is also a sexual position involving four consenting adults, two males and two females, or four females with attachments.  For further explanation look that up for yourself.

References

Gomme, A. B. (1894, January 01). The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Retrieved February 08, 2017, from https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/literature/fable/traditional-games-of-england-scotland-and-ireland/index.html

Grenby, M. O. (2014, February 13). The origins of children’s literature. Retrieved February 08, 2017, from http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-origins-of-childrens-literature

Billington, D. P. (2002, October 25). London Bridge. Retrieved February 08, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Old-London-Bridge

Library, W. P. (n.d.). London Bridge Is Falling Down. Retrieved February 08, 2017, from http://www.worldlibrary.org/Articles/London%20Bridge%20Is%20Falling%20Down?&Words=the origins of london bridges falling down

 

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The Origins of Christmas

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Family and friends gathering together on a day of exchanging gifts, eating themselves to food stupers, laughing and singing, and getting blitzed on grandma’s eggnog, are just some of the traditions that have been around long before the concept of commercialism.

Winter Solstice

Various cultures have been celebrating the shortest day of the year on the northern hemisphere for thousands of centuries.  Pagans in the Scandinavian regions a.k.a Vikings, would have fire festivals to encourage the sun to return and to pay tribute to Thor.  Yule; depending on the year of the Gregorian calendar, was and currently celebrated sometime between December 21 to 23.  A Yule or Juul log would be brought into the home and burned in the fireplace.  Pouring wine on the log to add a sweet smell when burning or adding other chemicals onto the log to give the flame a certain color became part of the traditions of Yule.  The log would be burned until there were nothing but ashes and then collected. Some people would throw the ashes out onto their fields for good luck.  Others would keep the yule log ashes as a charm or use them for medicine.  Sometimes a piece of the log that remained from the fire would be kept for goodluck and used for next years celebration as kindling.  The Yule tradition lives on even today in Europe and North America.

yule-log-tree-budnik-serbian-church-local-tradition

Saturnalia

The Romans celebrated the Winter Solstice by honoring Saturnus the god of agriculture, liberation, and time.  Saturnus was the inspiration behind the naming of the planet Saturn and also Saturday.  During the celebration of Saturnalia laws were ignored and slaves were temporarily freed.  Drinking, singing and gambling became open in the public view with no fear of getting busted by the authorities.  Orgies, feasts, gift giving, and sacrifices were also common traditions during the festivities.  Cookies shaped as humans were baked and given as presents that would be later consumed by the recipients.  The statue of Saturnus would be unbound from its woolen shackles connecting it to its base and carried through the streets of Rome and placed in a public courtyard while the public wines and feasts to celebrate the liberated god that is amongst them.  

saturnalia

The festival started off with a tradition known as the “Lord of Misrule”.  The leaders of the Roman communities would select a criminal or slave and free them.  They would allow them to sit at their table as an honored guest and wine and dine them.  At the end of the festival the honored guest would be sacrificed as a representation of vanquishing evil from society.  How much of this practice is true or was even commonly practiced is uncertain.  However, one of my sources stated that Gaius Petronius Arbiter; a Roman courtier during the reign of Nero, wrote about an incident that involved a slave who was allowed to sit at the table of his masters.  After heavy consumption of alcohol the slave started to mock emperor Nero and the slave’s master joined in and encouraged his impudence.  Towards the end of the dinner party, the master and his guests circled the slave and brutally murdered the foolish man for acting like the emperor.

Saint Nicholas

Also known as “Nikolaos of Myra”, was a fourth century Greek Orthodox saint who was born in Asia Minor, now known as Turkey.  Nicholas was born into a well-to-do christian family.  His parents died from an epidemic and Nicholas inherited a great fortune.  Nicholas was then raised by his uncle and the Greek Orthodox church and became highly educated.  Later becoming an ordained priest himself,  St. Nicholas developed a strong reputation for being a generous and kind man.  

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Legend has it, a very poor man had three daughters who were going to be forced into prostitution due to their father not having any money to pay dowries towards potential husbands.  Once Nicholas got wind of this, Nicholas visited the man’s home and threw in a bag of gold coins through an open window to pay for the eldest daughter’s dowry.  Later Nicholas came back to do the same thing for the other two daughters.  The poor man caught Nicholas in the act the third time and was so grateful, even under Nicholas’s advisement not to,  the poor man announced to the public about Nicholas’s kindness and generosity.  St.  Nicholas’s acts of kindness spread greater than the own man’s deeds themselves and later ended up making him the Patron Saint of Children and Sailors.

The Nativity of Jesus

The discussion of Jesus’s birth didn’t appear until after 200 years of his persecution. The telling of Jesus’s birth originated from  the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Neither gospels mentioned a date or the year of Jesus’s birth.  The first date that was documented was from Clement of Alexandria and he stated that Jesus’s birthdate was on Pachon 25 (May 20th).  Other religious scholars have placed the date on March 21, April 15, April 20, and April 21.  It wasn’t until around the fourth century when Pope Julius I set the date on December 25th.  The first staged nativity scene occurred on Christmas Eve night in a town of Greccio, Italy in 1223.  St. Francis of Assisi was inspired to create the live nativity scene due to his disgust with the greed and materialism that plagued Italy.  It was to serve as a reminder that Jesus didn’t come to us a rich king but as a poor child.

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The First Christmas Tree

Germany has been credited of starting the Christmas tree tradition sometime during the 16th century.  It is believed that Martin Luther, a renegade catholic priest who became a Protestant reformer, was the first to add lighted candles to a tree.  Supposedly Martin Luther was walking home one night and was bewildered by the stars in the sky twinkling behind the backdrop of the evergreen trees in the forest.  According to the story, Martin Luther chopped a tree down and brought it to his house.  He set the tree up inside his home decorated the tree with the first homemade wired set of candle holders.  Martin Luther wanted to share his previous experience in the woods with his family by lighting the candles that were draped around the tree that represented the twinkling stars in the heavens.

christmas-tree-with-candles

References

Understanding the Nativity Scene. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://archstl.org/stewardship/page/understanding-nativity-scene

Nuwer, R. (2012, December 14). The First Nativity Scene Was Created in 1223. Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-first-nativity-scene-was-created-in-1223-161485505/

Saturn – God of Agriculture – Crystalinks. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://www.crystalinks.com/saturnrome.html

Haskell, C. (n.d.). How to Celebrate Yule With a Pagan Family. Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://thestir.cafemom.com/baby/113242/how_to_celebrate_yule_with

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from https://bible.org/article/should-christians-celebrate-christmas

History.com Staff. (2009). History of Christmas Trees. Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees

St. Nicholas to Santa: The Surprising Origins of Mr. Claus. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131219-santa-claus-origin-history-christmas-facts-st-nicholas/

St. Nicholas – Saints & Angels. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=371

(n.d.). St. Nicholas, Santa Claus & Father Christmas on whychristmas?com. Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/fatherchristmas.shtml

The Winter Solstice – Yule Lore. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from https://wicca.com/celtic/akasha/yule.htm

December Solstice Customs. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice-customs.html

Saturnalia. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/calendar/saturnalia.html

The Origins of Christmas. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/history/2009/Origins-of-Christmas.html

Origin of Christmas | The history of Christmas and how it began. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm

Auletta, K. (n.d.). The Most Unique Christmas Traditions Around The World. Retrieved December 29, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/24/world-christmas-tradition_n_4479333.html

The Silver Arrow

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Urban legends involving ghost trains have been reported from around the world since the early days of locomotives.  The Silver Arrow, later to be known as Silver Pin, is a story that dates back to the the mid 1960s behind the backdrop of Stockholm, Sweden.  

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The legend begins when an experimental aluminum model C5 train was built.  1 out of the 8 prototypes was left unfinished.  The car was left unpainted and had other differences that separated it from its peers.  It was missing an air suspension, it had a whining distinctive motor sound, and it had outlying sliding doors.  It was stated the sliding doors were an idea that would allow more room on the inside of the train for passengers.  Another difference between the cars was that the interior panels were installed on the other cars that supported beautiful advertisements on the walls that brought a little color into a commuter’s mundane life.  The interior atmosphere of the The Silver Pin was described to be an urban ghetto landscape littered with graffiti and a metaphorical imagery of the daily grind mentality from the working class perspective.  The odd “red headed step child” train was only put into commission to be used as a backup car in the Stockholm metro system.

c5

The Folklore

The stories of the ghost train vary from each other.  One claims that the The Silver Arrow or Silver Pin is believed  to be a train that is only for the dead.  Another legend states that If one were to step into the train and sit down they would disappear forever or would finally get off the train weeks, months, or even years later.  Reports from subway tunnel workers and commuters claim to have seen Silver Pin moving down the rails filled with commuters with emotionless stares gravitating to the front of the car.

Another urban legend of a haunted abandoned metro station, Kymlinge station on Line 11 also referred to as The Blue Line, had intertwined with the legend of The Silver Pin.  Another legend  of The Silver Pin ghost train claims that the last stop on the Silver Pin is the Kymlinge station.  “Bara de döda stiger av i Kymlinge”,  (“only the dead get off at Kymlinge”).

kymlinge-station

My Thoughts…

The reputation of the train, while being in use, would probably have something to due with the infamous reputation that it later ended up earning.  Being only used as a backup would explain why common everyday commuters would rarely see the unique car.  The Silver Pin also developed the reputation of not being very reliable.  Due to it being the back up train I’m willing to bet the schedule of arrivals at the various stations would be affected.  Out of frustration, the people relying on the metro system waiting to be picked up could’ve had a part in creating the references of the legend.  I know from personal experience, while having to be dependent on public transportation from my younger days as a teenager, I had made statements such as “I  will probably be dead by the time this damn bus arrives.”  Of course I’m paraphrasing from the original comments that I made that were filled with all kinds of colorful language and euphemisms.

References

Investigations into the unknown and weird. (2013, October 9). Retrieved September 18, 2016, from https://silentthrill.wordpress.com/tag/silverpilen/

Journals, W.L. (n.d.). Silverpilen. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://worldjournals.org/article/WHEBN0002652899/Silverpilen

Grundhauser, E. (2015, October 7). The Silver Arrow, the Real Ghost Train Haunting the Stockholm Metro. Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-silver-arrow-the-real-ghost-train-haunting-the-stockholm-metro

Ghost train (folklore). (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_train_(folklore)

Stockholm haunted by ghost train. (n.d.). Retrieved September 18, 2016, from http://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/destinations/europe/74125955/The-mystery-behind-the-ghost-train-that-haunted-Stockholm