The Final Frost Fair: What Do You Do When the Thames Freezes Over?

Kristi here. Has your winter been insane? Mine certainly has. In a single week in February, we had an ice/snow storm, a sunny 70 degree afternoon, and even felt the minor tremors of an earthquake. The ice and snow has definitely been the biggest surprise of this winter. Multiple crippling freezes have crossed this country, two reaching deep into the south.

Sail Tents on the ice during the frost fairThe ramifications of cold weather were l to the people of Regency England. 1816 is even famously known as the year without a summer. However, it was 200 years ago in February 1814 that the last of the great Frost Fairs occurred on the great Thames River.

It wasn’t the first time the Thames River froze over. Indeed it happened more than twenty times since 1309. This was, however, the last time. The replacement of London Bridge in 1831 and Victorian addition of the Embankment improved the water flow to the extent that a solid freeze hasn’t happened again and is highly unlikely to do so.

With the city pulled to a halt by the bitter cold and drifting snow, people were drawn to the novelty of solid ice, allowing them to walk and play where boats usually reigned. A thoroughfare of sailing vessels, to the tune of 1500 a day, brought to a halt by Mother Nature.

Among the frivolities included in the 1814 Frost Fair were:

–          An elephant crossing the river, demonstrating the thickness and security of the ice near Blackfriars Bridge.

–          A printing press set up on the ice, churning out commemorative books about the fair

–          Food and drink vendors galore and impromptu bars created with ship sails

–          Fires built right on the ice, with large oxen roasting over them

–          Ice skating, bowling, and every other game or sport imaginable

Everything was not all light and smiles, though.

Frost Fair on the Thames with London Bridge in the background.
Frost Fair on the Thames with London Bridge in the background.

With no way to earn their keep on the river, dock workers and ferrymen took to guarding the stairs and ladders that led to the icy surface, charging people a toll to attend the fair and then collecting a penny again when they wanted to leave. Pickpockets took advantage of all the slipping and sliding and drunken frivolity.

The party lasted four days. When the ice began to crack, it proved fatal for some of the final revelers. It also sent huge chunks of ice floating down the river, crashing into barges and doing thousands of pounds in damage.

Four short days, but they were legendary ones. There’s even a reference in Doctor Who, when The Doctor and River visit it for an ice skating outing (A Good Man Goes to War).  In some ways the fair marked the coming end of an era. As the Regency ended and the Victorian age began, life in England would alter considerably. Transportation, engineering, social habits, and opportunities would all change.

Never again would everything align perfectly to create such a unique experience as the Thames Frost Fair.

Have you had unique experiences with snow and ice this year? Tell us about it in the comments below.

How Do You Handle the Winter Blues?

Depending on what part of the country you live in (if you live in the United States) your winter is either much colder than normal or nearly non-existent – looking much more like spring than winter. We have a long way to go before the weather officially turns the corner and anything could happen in the coming months – including lots of snow and dropping temperatures.

So how do your Regency Reflections authors handle the winter blues?

Ruth Axtell:

Embrace them.

With temps dipping into the single digits these last couple of weeks in Maine, and getting lots of snow, I just tell myself it’s good writing weather, since there is little temptation to go outside. I feel like I’m hibernating, getting a manuscript done and now editing.

Naomi Rawlings:

ice fishing
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I agree with Ruth. Embrace winter rather than dread it. First, snowy days make for excellent writing and putz-around-the-house days. There’s something wonderfully nostalgic to curling up in front of the fire with a book and a mug of hot chocolate while snow falls outside. And then there’s all the outside things you can do. Rent a snowmobile for a day trip, go skating, sledding, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, show shoeing, or ice fishing. (Fish caught through ice is way better than fish caught when the weather is warm. I have no idea why, but I swear it’s true.)

I really think there are two ways to beat the Winter Blues. 1.) Take a break and be thankful for the slower pace that snowy days offer, or 2.) Get courageous. Bundle up, go outside, and try a new winter sport. I live on the southern shore of Lake Superior, where we get 150-200 inches of snow per year, our winters run six months long, and our trees don’t get leaves until June. People who live in this area well understand that winter doesn’t have to be boring. It can be just as fun as summer, sometimes even more so.

Laurie Alice Eakes

Um, I live in Texas–we don’t have winter blues. They consider this 40s-50s weather we’ve been having excessively cold for January, but I think it’s heavenly.

Snowman on frozen lake
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Kristy Cambron

I live in an area of the country where we have pretty defined weather for each season, so I actually enjoy winter! It just means that before we know it, the sunnier days of spring will be on the way. Winter is also a fantastic season for writers. I haven’t met one yet that wouldn’t love the extra time to snuggle in a warm house as the snow falls and plot that next novel – with a cup of steaming hot chocolate, of course!

Kristi Ann Hunter

I tend to ignore them, I suppose. With children in school and a regular calendar full of church activities, there would have to be a fairly significant amount of fresh snow/ice to make me adjust my schedule.

When that does happen, we of course go play in it. Then we thaw out in front of a movie, huddled together under blankets. There’s something about the forced weather break that makes us want to be together as a family. It feels like a stolen moment.

Hot Chocolate
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Susan Karsten

During the winter, I drink more hot liquids, such as tea, coffee, and hot chocolate than I do in the summer. I still jog/run, but often veer out into the street when people haven’t shoveled their sidewalks. This is the time of year my family attends more concerts, plays, conferences and the like, as opposed to summer, when everything’s about “The Lake”.

 

What about you? How do you handle winter?