Little slices of London's history

Why London Bridge fell down

This day in London’s history: on the 13th of November 1002, the St Brice’s Day massacre took place. Following a number of years of Danish invasion, King Ethelred the Unready ordered the killing of Danes throughout England; the Danes continued to have a strong presence in England and could be the inspiration behind the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’.

By 1014 the Danes had invaded and captured London (causing Ethelred to flee the country) and Denmark and Norway were in conflict. Olaf, King of Norway, sent a fleet up the Thames, which was stopped at the heavily Danish-fortified London Bridge. Not easily thwarted, Olaf had his ships covered with protective wicker work, moved in close to the bridge, attached ropes to the piles and sailed off, bringing the whole thing – complete with armed Danes – down.

It is, unfortunately, possible that this story is not entirely true. However, it sounds good and as such is considered to be the basis for the nursery rhyme.

Olaf also gave his name to Tooley Street in London: the name was recorded as St Olave’s Street at the end of the 16th century; it then became St Tooley’s Street, later Towles Street, and eventually Tooley Street.

4 responses to “Why London Bridge fell down”

  1. […] century, was the body of Edric, who was supposed  to have murdered Edmund Ironside. Edmund, son of Ethelred the Unready, was King of England for a brief period in 1016. His death left King Canute (Cnut), formerly joint […]

  2. […] St Olave gave his name to Tooley Street, is a corruption of St Olave’s Street – which is how it was recorded at the end of the 16th century; it then became St Tooley’s Street and later Towles Street. Olaf (995-1030) was king of Norway and later became a saint. He may be the inspiration for the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is falling down’. […]

  3. […] was not the first time that London Bridge fell down; in 1014 it was a casualty of the conflict between Denmark, which had captured London, […]

  4. […] Fields, near Tooley Street, was once called Potts Field and takes its name from – you guessed it – pottery. Following […]

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, I kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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