December 5, 2005

"'London Bridge Is Falling Down' ... contains coded references to the medieval custom of burying people alive in the foundations of bridges."

That's a line in a NYT review of the new "Norton Anthology of Children's Literature." But there's no further information. Intriguing!

15 comments:

brylin said...

From Wikipedia:

"The meaning of the rhyme is obscure. Most obviously, it relates to the many difficulties experienced in bridging the River Thames: London's earlier bridges did indeed "wash away" before a bridge built of "stone so strong" was constructed. It has been suggested that the "fair lady" who is "locked up" is a reference to an old practice of burying a dead virgin in the foundations of the bridge to ensure its strength through magical means, although the better view is that this refers to Queen Eleanor. Intriguingly, the rhyme is not confined to England and variants exist in many other western and central European countries."

Tom T. said...

It's not surprising that there's no further information. I have to suspect that this folk history is as spurious as the legend of "Ring Around The Rosy" supposedly relating to the Black Death.

vbspurs said...

I have a new one for you. How about,

"Google/Blogger.com is falling down?"

Sheesh.

Cheers,
Victoria

Dave said...

If you buried people in the foundations of bridges I would think the bridges would start to collapse because of the gases that bacteria create as a byproduct of consuming dead flesh.

Those gases have to go somewhere, and the pressure they would create on the surrounding stone/concrete would, I think, weaken the foundations.

Perhaps these people, if the story is true, were buried in such a way that the gases could vent out, like a kettle vents steam. But then people who use the bridges would smell rotting flesh. Nasty.

Truly said...

Dave-

You're right about the smell, but consider: life was far more malodorous when the bridge was built. Do you think people would have noticed? And nowadays, any body would be long gone, leaving no stench to horrify modern noses.

That said, this theory sounds like hooey to me. I do wonder, though, what's in those huge pillar-tower things (is there a technical term?) sunk into the riverbed to hold up London Bridge.

StrangerInTheseParts said...

Tom T -

What do you think Ring Around the Rosy IS about?

"Ashes, ashes
We all Fall Down."

I think it's pretty settled folk history that that line is about the black death....

Curious to know if you have an alternate explanation....

Henry said...

Folklorists argue that the rhyme simply isn't old enough to be a reference to the black death.

Here's an explanation on History News Network:

"If the Black Death wasn't the basis for "Ring Around The Rosie," then what was?

Folklorist Philip Hiscock of Newfoundland's Memorial University has suggested it had to do with the prohibition of dance among Protestants in the 19th century."

Eli Blake said...

Well, it's just a tourist trap in Lake Havasu City, Arizona now. Not far from a golf course, and not much else. Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth would be apalled, I tell you, apalled.

OddD said...

Stranger,

From Snopes:

Claim: The nursery rhyme 'Ring Around the Rosie' is a coded reference to the Black Plague.

Status: False.

Example: [Varasdi, 1989]

http://www.snopes.com/language/literary/rosie.htm

I think the best slapdown is "For the "plague" explanation of "Ring Around the Rosie" to be true, we have to believe that children were reciting this nursery rhyme continuously for over five centuries, yet not one person in that five hundred year span found it popular enough to merit writing it down."

A propos of Althouse, the article ends with a Lennon reference:

Like "A Tisket, A Tasket" or "Hey Diddle Diddle" or even "I Am the Walrus," the rhyme we call "Ring Around the Rosie" has no particular meaning, regardless of our latter day efforts to create one for it. They're all simply collections of words and sounds that someone thought sounded good together. As John Lennon once explained:

We've learned over the years that if we wanted we could write anything that just felt good or sounded good and it didn't necessarily have to have any particular meaning to us. As odd as it seemed to us, reviewers would take it upon themselves to interject their own meanings on our lyrics. Sometimes we sit and read other people's interpretations of our lyrics and think, 'Hey, that's pretty good.' If we liked it, we would keep our mouths shut and just accept the credit as if it was what we meant all along.

yuri said...

ok so I've only read a few of the comments left on this subject but I must say that the few I read were completely mind blowingly idiotic! I mean seiously how stupid can you get? to Tom T.: what do you mean "supposedly relating to the Black Death"?! Of course it was related to the black plauge...there is so much historical evidence, that I can't even quote or site it all...but basically "ring around the rosey" refers to the rosey cheeks that people got when they were infected and "picking up the daisies refers to the daisies that people put in their pockets to protect themselves from contracting the disease.
To Dave:
of course the foundations weakend, that's why the "london bridge is falling down"...duh
and to the rest of you, next time you decide to debate/comment on the history of something, please go to your local high school and take an hour refresher course in the nearest World history class.
I mean I'm not claiming to be a genius or anything, all I'm saying is I'm still in High School and I figured all this out...so you think a couple of mature adults could do it as well.

yuri said...

ok so I've only read a few of the comments left on this subject but I must say that the few that I read were completely mind blowingly idiotic! I mean seiously how stupid can you get? to Tom T.: what do you mean "supposedly relating to the Black Death"?! Of course it was related to the black plauge...there is so much historical evidence, that I can't even quote or site it all...but basically "ring around the rosey" refers to the rosey cheeks that people got when they were infected and "picking up the daisies refers to the daisies that people put in their pockets to protect themselves from contracting the disease.
To Dave:
of course the foundations weakend, that's why the "london bridge is falling down"...duh
and to the rest of you, next time you decide to comment/debate on the history of something, please go to your local high school and take an hour refresher course in the nearest World history class.
I mean I'm not claiming to be a genius or anything, all I'm saying is I'm still in High School and I figured all this out...so you think a couple of mature adults could do it as well.

yuri said...

ok so I've only read a few of the comments left on this subject but I must say that the few that I read were completely mind blowingly idiotic! I mean seiously how stupid can you get? to Tom T.: what do you mean "supposedly relating to the Black Death"?! Of course it was related to the black plauge...there is so much historical evidence, that I can't even quote or site it all...but basically "ring around the rosey" refers to the rosey cheeks that people got when they were infected and "picking up the daisies refers to the daisies that people put in their pockets to protect themselves from contracting the disease.
To Dave:
of course the foundations weakend, that's why the "london bridge is falling down"...duh
and to the rest of you, next time you decide to comment/debate on the history of something, please go to your local high school and take an hour refresher course in the nearest World history class.
I mean I'm not claiming to be a genius or anything, all I'm saying is I'm still in High School and I figured all this out...so you think a couple of mature adults could do it as well.

dbc_mouse said...

I am also a high school student, who as a mtter of a fact is in a history calssed called 'The West and The World' and my final essay for the class is on The Black Death, and Ring Around The Rosie, may losely have things in common with Black Death but there is more edvience about it having nothign to do with it at all like www.hnn.us/comments/15455.html which is The Histry Network News, there are many things according to my history teacher such as the fact all bodies were burried not burned, and the spots you gaind were black not red or rosie in colour. It is not about Black Death, its an innocent nursery rhymn, that has a few far fetched common factors with Black Death

BantamPixieStix said...

I found a couple of sites with info about London Bridge is falling down..

http://www.rhymes.org.uk/london-bridge-is-broken-down.htm

and

http://www.southwark.gov.uk/DiscoverSouthwark/historicsouthwark/londonbridge.html

Kio said...

This makes me laugh. Really? Do we have to have a conversation over such a thing? Just leave it as it is. A song. A lovely beautiful song. I enjoy it. :)