Tuesday, 20 February 2007

London Bridge and the Virgin

"Songs!" demands my toddler as I get into the car.

Since his second birthday earlier this month, I can't get away with putting the radio on or playing 'Enjoy the Silence' over and over with nostalgic pleasure whilst driving any more.

Now he has his own CD. His music collection has been started with a CD of nursery rhymes sung by some really quite annoying American children. To be fair, they are probably perfectly pleasant children, but their singing is as grating as the Ronan Keating cover of 'Fairytale of New York'. And to me, that is very grating indeed.

Perhaps it is the repetitiveness. I don't object to that as a concept - just ask Depeche Mode - but only for Good things in life. This CD is not a Good thing. Perhaps though, it is the incongruity of very American children singing very British nursery songs. 'Oranges and Lemons' and 'London Bridge is Falling Down' just sound wrong when sung with strong American accents.

However, because I am a geek, those thoughts made me wonder about the origins of some of the nursery rhymes to which I am currently so frequently and tragically exposed. I remember bits of trivia about them when I was growing up, which have been half forgotten in the intervening years between listening and reciting these songs myself and learning them all over again for my own child. There are quite a lot of those years, so quite a lot of forgetting has taken place. For this reason, I love Wikipedia.

From this source, I have learned that the first reference to the rhyme of London Bridge is thought to have been in a play 1659, but that it may be much more ancient. In the eleventh century, London Bridge was burned down by King Ethelred and his Norwegian ally Olaf Haraldsson in a bid to divide the invading forces of the Danish king Svein Haraldsson, apparently. Extracts of a lay by a Norse poet, Ottar Svarte, include the following:

London Bridge is broken down. --
Gold is won, and bright renown.
Shields resounding,
War-horns sounding,
Hild is shouting in the din!
Arrows singing,
Mail-coats ringing --
Odin makes our Olaf win!

You can see the resemblance obviously, except I like this one more. It's got a bit more oomph, hasn't it?

Wikipedia goes on to tell me that the popular version of the children's song probably originates from 1269 however, when Henry III granted the tolling right to Queen Eleanor of Provence. She is the "fair lady" who notably failed to spend the resulting funds on actually maintaining the structure of the bridge.

The most interesting thing Wikipedia taught me today though is that although the most likely reference to the 'fair lady' is Queen Eleanor, it has also been suggested that it 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".

Well...you really do learn a new thing every day.

1 comment: