"London Bridge Is Falling Down"
So most historians think that this refers to the Norwegian King Olaf II (a.k.a. the Frozen snowman king) attacking and knocking down the London bridge in 1014, which gave the throne back to Æthelred the Unready, which is my second favorite king name after his successor, Sweyn Forkbeard. Anyway, that part seems relatively mundane and I’m all about Viking tales, but there is another theory that comes from an old belief that a bridge would collapse without a human sacrifice buried within its foundation. So the “man to watch all night” is actually the spirit of the dead human watching over the bridge. But let’s maybe stick to the Olaf version.
In the American version, the story of three tradesmen (the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker) all hanging out in a tub seems like it might be progressive in some ways. That version is warped from the original, which goes, “Hey, rub-a-dub, ho, rub-a-dub, three maids in a tub. And who do you think were there? The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and all of them going to the fair.”
According to an NPR interview with a London librarian, even back in the 14th century, British tabloids loved hearing tales of the well-to-do caught up in scandalous affairs. And so this song we sing with our children, which has spawned many bath toys, actually tells the story of upper-class tradespeople hanging out at a fair and getting caught checking out a bath filled with naked ladies in it. Relatedly, 14th century fairs seem more edgy than I’d imagined.