During a mini ice age two hundred years ago, the winters were so cold that the river Thames would freeze in solid sheets of ice. The old London Bridge was bulkier than the new London Bridge built in 1823, and it acted like a dam. After the new bridge was built and the old one was demolished, and after embankments were erected (which narrowed the channel), the river flowed too swiftly for the waters to freeze.
But in the days of yore, a Frost Fair was held whenever the river iced over. People ventured out on the ice, vendors set up stalls, and a variety of entertainments were offered. The last time such an event occurred in 1814, Jane Austen was still alive. She must also have felt the chill of that cold February in which London experienced the hardest frost it had known in centuries.
And this is what they did with the Great Frost. By February, as Lord William Pitt Lennox tells us in his Recollections, the Thames between London Bridge and Blackfriars became a thoroughly solid surface of ice. There were notices at the ends of all the local streets announcing that it was safe to cross the ice, and, as in times of Elizabeth 1, full advantage was taken of this new area and the public interest in it. As before, there now sprang up a Frost Fair. The people moved across the river by way of what was called Freezeland Street. On either side, crowded together, were booths for bakers, butchers, barbers and cooks. There were swings, bookstalls, skittle alleys, toyshops, almost everything that might be found in an ordinary fair. There were even gambling establishments and the ‘wheel of fortune, and pricking the garter; pedlars, hawkers of ballads, fruit, oysters, perambulating pie-men; and purveyers of the usual luxuries, gin beer, brandy-balls and gingerbread.’ – The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency, J.B. Priestley, p 113.
- 1814 Frost Fair
- The History of British Winters
- Frost Fair on the River Thames
- Frost Fairs, London UK