FROST FAIRS on the River Thames

[ Please note that though this page has been quoted as evidence both for and against Global Warming, it has been written as simply a summary of what can be found without any regard to its implications!
It should also be observed that the old London Bridge (1176-1825) acted as a weir and more or less prevented tides and salt water passing that point - so that the river above bridge was much more susceptible to freezing than has been the case since 1825. ]
The earliest chronology is given by Charles Mackay in "The Thames and its Tributaries", 1840. He omits to mention how he knows!

250: the Thames was frozen over for nine weeks
291: for six weeks;
401: for two months;
558: for six weeks;
695: the Thames was frozen for six weeks, when booths were built, and a market held upon the ice;
827: for nine weeks;
908: for two months;
923: for thirteen weeks;
998: for five weeks;
1063: for fourteen weeks;
Subsequent dates have more evidence than presented by Charles Mackay
1076: The river was again frozen over.

1092: (from the Saturday Magazine 1835 -)

[In] 1092, in the reign of William Rufus, is recorded a frost "whereby", in the words of an old chronicler, "the great streams [of England] were congealed in such a manner that they could draw two hundred horsemen and carriages over them; whilst at their thawing, many bridges, both of wood and stone, were borne down, and divers water-mills were broken up, and carried away.

1114: for four weeks;

1150: According to The History and Survey of London and Its Environs from the Earliest Period by B Lambert, 1806 -

We are told that in the year 1150 the summer proved so extremely wet, that a dearth almost equal to famine ensued ; and the winter of this year was remarkable for a severe frost, which commenced on the ninth of December, and continued till the beginning of March, during a great part of which time, the Thames was frozen so hard as to admit of carts and other carriages passing over the ice.

1207: for eleven weeks.

1282: From London on Thames, G H Birch, 1903 -

In 1282 there was a most terrible frost, the like of which had never been known. The pressure of ice heaped up against [London] Bridge, and unable to pass through from the narrowness of the arches of the bridge, carried away five arches of it, and rendered it, of course, impassable for the time until they were rebuilt.

1282: Stow, edited Howes says -

From this Christmas till the Purification of Our Lady, there was such a frost and snow, as no man living could remember the like; wherethrough, five arches of London Bridge, and all Rochester Bridge, were borne downe and carried away by the streame; and the like happened to many bridges in England. And, not long after, men passed over the Thames, between Westminster and Lambeth, dry-shod.

1410: Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London -

Thys yere was the grete frost and ise and the most sharpest wenter that ever man sawe, and it duryd fourteen wekes, so that men might in dyvers places both goo and ryde over the Temse.

1434: The History and Survey of London and Its Environs from the Earliest Period by B Lambert, 1806 -

In the year 1434 a great frost began on the 24th of November, and held till the 10th of February, following ; whereby the river Thames was so strongly frozen, that all sorts of merchandizes and provisions brought into the mouth of the said river were unladen, and brought by land to the city.

1506: Chronicles of the Grey Friars of London -

Such a sore snowe and a frost that men myght goo with carttes over the Temse and horses, and it lastyd tylle Candelmas.

1515: The History and Survey of London and Its Environs from the Earliest Period by B Lambert, 1806 -

Fabian says, that, in 1515, the Thames was frozen so hard that carriages of all sorts passed between Westminster and Lambeth upon the ice.

1564/5: Holinshed -

the 21st of December, began a frost, which continued so extremely that on new year's eve people went over and along the Thames on the ice from London Bridge to Westminster.
Some played at the foot-ball as boldly there as if it had been on the dry land; diverse of the court shot daily at pricks set up on the Thames; and the people, both men and women, went on the Thames in greater numbers than in any street of the city of London.
On the 31st day of January, at night, it began to thaw, and on the fifth day was no ice to be seen between London Bridge and Lambeth, which sudden thaw caused great floods and high waters, that bare down bridges and houses, and drowned many people in England.

1565: the frost lasted six weeks;

1608: (from the Saturday Magazine 1835 -)

The next remarkable frost recorded is that of 1608.
It began on the 8th of December, and continued until the 15th; a thaw then ensued until the 22nd, when it began "againe to freeze violently, so as diverse persons went halfe way over the Thames upon the ice; and the 30th of December, at every ebbe, many people went quite over the Thames in divers places, and so continued until the 3rd of January."
The people passed daily betweene London and the Bankside at every halfe ebbe, for the flood removed the ice and forced the people daily to tread new paths, except onely betweene Lambeth and the ferry at Westminster, the which, by incessant treading, became very firm, and free passage, untill the great thaw;
and from Sunday, the tenth of January, until the fifteenth of the same, the frost grew so extreme, as the ice became firme, and removed not, and then all sorts of men, women, and children, went boldly upon the ice in most parts; some shot at prickes; others bowled and danced, with other variable pastimes, by reason of which concourse of people, there wore many that set up boothes and standings upon the ice, as fruit-sellers, victuallers, that sold beere and wine, shoomakers, and a barber's tent, &c."
In these tents were fires. The ice lasted till the afternoon of the 2nd of February, when " it was quite dissolved and clean gon."

1609 -

Great frost commenced in October, and lasted four months. The Thames frozen, and heavy carriages driven over it.


In 1632, the Thames being frozen, forty houses [on London Bridge] were burnt in about eight hours.

1683: from "The Thames and its tributaries, Charles Mackay", 1840 -

... the cold was so intense that the trunks of oak, ash, walnut, and other trees, were cleft asunder, so that they might be seen through; and the cracks were often attended with noises as loud as the firing of musketry.
A full account of the severe weather of this year is given in a sheet, not, however, of the choicest English, preserved in the British Museum, printed for J. How, at the Coach and Horses, without Bishopsgate Street, 1684; and entitled
"This island and age wherein we live," says the author, (whose orthography we have corrected but whose language, with all its imperfections in other respects we have left unaltered,) "have experienced as many strange and prodigious observations of nature's effects, together with as many and various kinds of afflicting judgments from the correcting hand of an offended God, as any nation in preceding times can demonstrate, and rather seems the total sum of all, than a parallel of any; as, sword, plague, fire, &c. But whether the present unparalleled frost may be attributed to the effects of natural causes, or not rather to the scourging hand of an offended God, I shall not determine, though the consequences following seem to proclaim the latter, and loudly call for humility and amendment of life, lest a worse judgment fall upon us. But leaving this general caution and instruction, I shall present your view with such remarkable passages as certain knowledge, credible report, and spreading fame have brought to light."
From Deal, it has been observed that a vessel belonging to Lubeck (which her colours signify), riding in the Downs for several days, has been in great distress; which by their signs and weffs (the language of seamen in such cases) is understood by them as well as if they discoursed face to face; whereupon several yachts and other vessels have attempted to relieve them, but all industry ineffectual; the vessel being congealed and environed with a massy substance of ice; so that it is altogether inaccessible, and now no further attempts can be made for their relief, because the sea for above a mile from the shore is so hard frozen beyond our apprehensions to imagine or chronologies to parallel.
From Liverpool, in Lancashire, we have advice, that two vessels lying at anchor had their cables one night severed asunder by the sharpness of the ice, notwithstanding the industry of the distressed mariners, who are now drove from hope of succour. Though attempts have been made by some, beyond probability of their own safety, to relieve them, but in vain, whose fear is not so much for their want of provision as the danger of being bilged, (a sea term for breaking holes in the vessel), with the ponderous strokes of such bulky congealed cakes of ice, as the impetuousness of the unruly surges cast against them. "
It has been also observed, that the ice has cut away most of the buoys or sea-marks, as well in the south as north channel, so that such as have weathered the distresses in harbours, and escaped dangers at home, by the frost, are, notwithstanding, incident to those dangerous wrecks of rocks and sands, and shunning Scylla may fall upon Charybdis.
It is also credibly attested that vast solid cakes of ice, of some miles in circuit, breaking away from the eastern countries of Flanders and Holland, &c. have been by the east and north-east winds driven upon the marine borders of Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, to their no small damage.
And it is also reported, that some skait- sliders upon one of those large icy plains, were unawares driven to sea, and arrived living (though almost perished with cold and hunger) upon the sea coast of Essex; but as to the certainty of this report I refer to the credit of succeeding intelligence, as also those wonderful damages upon the coast of Scotland relating of the loss of some shipping, and the lives of many ingenious and industrious navigators ; nor may those prodigious and lamentable damages seem strange, when in our own harbour, the river of Thames, several ships, both inward and outward bound, as well at Redrif as other adjacent places, have been broken to pieces, and sunk by the effects of this so unparalleled a frost.

It is needless to inform London (for whom principally this intelligence is collected), what unheard of rendezvous is daily kept upon the face of her navigable river; what long and spacious streets of booths and tents are builded ; what throngs of passengers, both horse and foot, do travel; what pyramids of provisions, baked, boiled, and roast; what deluges of wine, coffee, beer, ale, and brandy, for sale; what fleets of vessels sailing upon sledges; what troops of coaches, caravans, and waggons; what games and new invented sports and pastimes, bull- baiting, bear-baiting, &c.; together with shops for the vending of most sorts of manufactures and for working artificers, the account of which alone would require a volume to describe; and therefore omitting its description in particular, I must leave it with amazement and admiration in general.
But to speak of the land, where the damage is no less considerable than at sea, there being such an overwhelming snow in Scotland, that man and beast, though not equally, are too sensible of the affliction. Also in England, in several places, through the extraordinary violence of the present frost, no water can be had for cattle in many miles, which general complaints will need no other confirmation than from the tongues of the cattle themselves, who with pity have been observed to lick the ice to abate their thirst, for want of their fill of refreshing water.
From a credible person in France to a gentleman of worth in London by letter, before the sea was blocked up by this extreme frost, mention is made of the severe effects produced by the extremity of cold as well of weather as of charity, attesting by modest computation that no less than sixty persons have lately died upon the road between Paris and Calais; and doubtless many in the city of London, through the same extremes, have perished in the same calamity, of which a weaver in the parish of St. Giles's Cripplegate was one, and though I take no notice of others whose wants call upon the Diveses of this age to consider the condition of the Lazaruses in the streets.
The following, in relation to this frost, was communicated to the Gentleman's Magazine, for February 1814, by a respectable friend from a memorandum left by his great grandfather. " 20th December 1683, a very violent frost began, which lasted till the 6th of February in soe great extremitie that the pooles were frozen eighteen inches thick, at least; and the Thames was so frozen that a great street from the Temple to Southwark was built into shops and all manner of things sold.
Hackney coaches plyed there as in the streets. There were also bull-baiting and a great many shows and tricks to be seen. This day the frost broke. In the morning I saw a coach and six horses driven from Whitehall almost to the bridge, yet by three o'clock this day, next to Southwark, the ice was gone so as boats did row to and fro, and the day after, all the frost was gone. On Candlemass-day (2nd February) I went to Croydon market and led my horse over the ice at the ferry at Lambeth. As I came back I led him from Lambeth upon the middle of the Thames to Whitefriars stairs, and soe led him up them ; and this day an ox was roasted whole over against Whitehall, and King Charles II, with the Queen, did eate a part of it.
There is a curious little duodecimo volume in the British Museum, published for "D. Brown at the Black Swan and Bible without Temple Bar, and J. Waltho at the Black Lyon in Chancery Lane over against Lincoln's Inn, 1684."

It is entitled " An historical account of the late great frost, in which are discovered in several comical relations the various humours, loves, cheats, and intrigues of the town as the same were managed upon the river of Thames during that season,
"This frost," says the author, " began about the 16th of December last, and so sharply set in, that in a fortnight's time, or thereabouts, the river of Thames, who, one might think, by the daily flux and reflux of her twice-returning tides in the space of twenty-four hours, and the native course of her own rapid streams, was secured against the force of the hardest weather ; yet this river, beyond the bridge of London upwards, was all frozen over; and people began to walk thereon ; and booths were built in many places, where the poor watermen, whose boats were locked up, and could not work them for their usual livelihood, made a virtue of necessity, and therein retailed wine, brandy, beer, ale, and other liquors, which, for the novelty of the same, very few but were in a short time their customers ; and their trades increasing, their booths began to be increased and enlarged for the reception of multitudes of people, who daily resorted thereunto, insomuch that in a short time road-ways were made from place to place, and without any fear or apprehension the same was trod by men, women, and children. Nor were the same only footpaths, but soon after, hackney-coaches began to ply upon the river, and found better custom than if they had continued in the streets, which were never, in the midst of business, half so crowded, so that the same became the only scene of pleasure in and about London. The fields were deserted, and the river full; and in Hillary term, which soon after ensued, it was as usual for the lawyers to take coach by water to Westminster as through the Strand ; and so public was the same, that in a short time it obtained the name of Frost Fair.
A whole street of booths, contiguous to each other, was built from the Temple Stairs to the barge-house in Southwark, which were inhabited by traders of all sorts, which usually frequent fairs and markets, as those who deal in earthenwares, brass, copper, tin, and iron, toys and trifles; and besides these, printers, bakers, cooks, butchers, barbers, coffee-men, and others, who were so frequented by the innumerable concourse of all degrees and qualities, that, by their own confession, they never met elsewhere the same advantages, every one being willing to say they did lay out such and such money on the river of Thames.
Nor was the trade only amongst such who were fixt in booths, but also all sorts of cries which usually are heard in London streets, were there; the hawkers with their news, the costermonger with his fruit, the wives with their oysters, pyes, and gingerbread, and such like. Nor was there any recreation in season which could not be found there, with more advantage than on land ; such as foot-ball play, nine-pins, cudgells, bull and bear-baiting, and others which on the occasion was more ordinary, as sliding in skates, chairs, and other devices, such as were made of sailing-boats, chariots, and carrow-whimbles; so that at one view you might behold the thriving trader at his shop, the sportive at their recreations, the laborious with their burthens at their backs, and every one, with as little concern or fear as if they had trod the surface of the more centred element. And in all places smoking fires on the solid waters, roasting, boiling, and preparing food for the hungry and liquors for the thirsty; eating, drinking, and rejoicing, in as great crowds as Smithfield during Bartholomew Fair could ever boast.

1683: The Great Frost from the diary of Evelyn -

23rd Dec: ... a greate frost
1st Jan: The weather continuing intolerably severe, streetes of booths were set upon the Thames; the aire was so very cold and thick, as of many yeares there had not ben the like. The small pox was very mortal.
6th Jan: The river quite frozen.
9th Jan: I went crosse the Thames on the ice, now become so thick as to beare not onely streetes of boothes, in which they roasted meate, and had divers[e] shops of wares, quite acrosse as in a towne, but coaches, carts, and horses passed over.
9th Jan: So I went from Westminster Stayres to Lambeth, and din'd with the Archbishop: after dinner and discourse with his grace till evening prayers, Sir Geo. Wheeler and I walked over the ice from Lambeth Stayres to the horse ferry. to the Horse Ferry.
16th Jan: The Thames was fill'd with people and tents, selling all sorts of wares as in the Citty.
24th Jan: The frost continuing more and more severe, the Thames before London was still planted with boothes in formal streetes, all sorts of trades and shops furnish'd and full of commodities, even to a printing presse, where ye people and ladyes tooke a fancy to have their names printed, and the day and yeare set down, when printed on the Thames: this humour tooke so universally, that 'twas estimated the printer gain'd £5. a day, for printing a line onely, at six-pence a name, beside what he got by ballads, &c.
Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other staires to and fro, as in the streetes, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cookes, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed a bacchanalian triumph or carnival on the water, whilst it was a severe judgement on the land, the trees not onely splitting as if lightning-struck, but men and cattle perishing in divers[e] places, and the very seas so lock'd up with ice, that no vessels could stir out or come in.
The fowles, fish, and birds, and all our exotiq plants and greenes universally perishing. Many parkes of deer were destroied, and all sorts of fuell so deare that there were greate contributions to preserve the poore alive.
Nor was this severe weather much less intense in most parts of Europe, even as far as Spaine and the most southern tracts.
London, by reason of the excessive coldnesse of the aire hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fulginous steame of the sea-coale, that hardly could one see crosse the streets, and this filling the lungs with its grosse particles, exceedingly obstructed the breast, so as one could hardly breathe.
[ Was this the first London Smog? ]
Here was no water to be had from the pipes and engines, nor could the brewers and divers[e] other tradesmen worke, and every moment was full of disastrous accidents.
4th Feb: I went to Says Court to see how the frost had dealt with my garden, where I found many of the greenes and rare plantes utterly destroied. The oranges and mirtills very sick, the rosemary and laurells dead to all appearance, but ye cypress likely to indure it.
5th Feb: It began to thaw, but froze againe. My coach crossed from Lambeth to the Horseferry at Millbank, Westminster. The booths were almost all taken downe, but there was first a Map or Landskip cut in copper representing all the manner of the camp, and the several actions, sports, and pastimes thereon, in memory of so signal a frost.
8th Feb: ... The weather was set in to an absolute thaw and raine, but ye Thames still frozen. ...
4th April: I returned to my house at Says Court, after 5 months residence in London; hardly the least appearance of any spring.

1683: The Frost Fair by Jan Griffier the Elder -

London Bridge Frost Fair 1683 Griffier
Frost Fair 1683, Jan Griffier the Elder

1684: The Frost Fair by Abraham Danielsz Hondius -

London Bridge Frost Fair 1684
Frost Fair above London Bridge, 1684

1684? The Frozen Thames Looking Eastwards towards Old London Bridge, by Abraham Danielsz Hondius -
This appears to show the break up of large icefloes below the bridge?

London Bridge Frozen 1684? Hondius
London Bridge Frozen, 1684? Hondius, Museum of London

1684: The Frost Fair from a drawing by T Wyck, British Museum, reproduced in London on Thames, 1903 -

London Bridge Frost Fair 1684
Frost Fair above London Bridge, 1684

London Bridge Frost Fair 1684
London Bridge Frost Fair 1684
Frost Fair above London Bridge, 1684

AThe Temple Staires with People going upon the ice to Temple Street BThe Duke of Yorke's Coffee House CThe Tory Booth DThe Booth with a Phoenix on it and Insured as long as the foundation stand
EThe Roast Beefe Booth FThe halfe way house GThe Beare garden Shire Booth HThe Musick Booth
IThe Printing Booth KThe Lottery Booth IThe Horne Tavern Booth MTheTemple Garden with Crowds of People looking over the wall
NThe Boat drawne with a Hors OThe Drum Boat PThe Boat drawne upon wheeles QThe Bull Baiting
RThe Chair sliding in the Ring SThe Boyes Sliding TThe Nine Pinn Playing VThe sliding on skates
WThe sledge drawing Coales from the other side of the Thames XThe Boyes climbing upon the tree in The Temple garden to see the Bull Baiting YThe Toye Shoppe ZLondon Bridge

Joseph Moxon: the Frozen Thames


(From the Saturday Magazine 1835 -)

Upon this occasion king Charles the Second, his queen, and several other personages of the Royal Family visited the diversions upon the ice; and even had their names printed on the ice in conformity with the "humour" which Evelyn mentions as so prevalent.
There is still in existence one of the very papers on which the king and his royal companions had their names printed; and we need hardly say that among collectors of the curious, it is regarded as an invaluable rarity.
It contains the names of "Charles, King";
his brother "James, Duke" (of York) afterwards James II;
"Katherine, Queen" the Infanta of Portugal;
"Mary, Dutchess", Mary D'Este, sister of the duke of Modena, and second wife of James;
"Ann, Princesse," second daughter of the Duke of York, afterwards Queen Anne;
and "George, Prince" of Denmark, her husband.
The king's visit is thus noticed in a small poem printed on the river -

Thamasis's Advice to the Painter from her Frigid Zone,
OR, Wonders upon the Water.

Then draw the King, who on his Leads doth stay,
To see the Throng as on a Lord Mayor's day;
And thus unto his Nobles pleased to say;
"With these Men on this Ice, I'd undertake
To cause the Turk all Europe to forsake:
An army of these Men, armed and compleat,
Would soon the Turk in Christendom defeat!"

To the Print-house go,
Where men the art of Printing soon do know,
Where for a Teaster, you may have your name
Printed, hereafter for to show the same:
And sure, in former Ages, ne'er was found
A Press to print where men so oft were droun'd!

[ In the following printed sheet of 1684 it is interesting to note the heading and introduction omit to mention the River. I think the implication would be that this was only intended for sale on the frozen river and not elsewhere. The printers and sellers do however give their addresses at the foot of the sheet. ]

Being a True Representation of a Prodigious FROST, which began about the beginning of Decemb. 1683. and continued till the Fourth Day of February following. And held on with such violence that Men and Beasts, Coaches and Carts, went as frequently thereon, as Boats were wont to pass before. There was also a Street of Booths built from the Temple to Southwark, where were Sold all sorts of Goods imaginable, namely, Cloaths, Plate, Earthen Ware, Meat, Drink, Brandy, Tobacco, and a Hundred sorts of other Commodities not here inserted. It being the wonder of the age, and a great consternation to all the spectators.

London Bridge Frost Fair 1684
Frost Fair, 1684 -

Listen to 'Behold the Wonder ...'

Behold the Wonder of this present Age,
A Famous RIVER now become a Stage.
Question not what I now declare to you,
The Thames is now both Fair and Market too.
And many Thousands daily do resort
There to behold the Pastime and the Sport.
Early and late, used by young and old
And valu'd not the fierceness of the cold
And did not think of that Almighty Hand
Who made the Waters bare, like to the Land:
Thousands and Thousand to the River flocks
Where mighty flakes of Ice do lye like Rocks.
There may you see the Coaches swiftly run,
As if beneath the ice were Waters none.
And sholes of People every where there be
Just like to Herrings in the brackish Sea;
And there the quaking Water-men will stand ye,
Kind Master, drink you beer, or Ale, or Brandy:
Walk in kind Sir, this Booth it is the chief,
We'l entertain you with a slice of Beef,
And what you please to Eat or Drink, 'tis here
No Booth, like mine, affords such dainty cheer.
Another crys, Here Master, they but scoff ye,
Here is a Dish of famous new-made Coffee.
And, some do say, a giddy senseless Ass
May on the THAMES be furnished with a Lass.
But to be short, such Wonders there are seen,
That in this Age before hath never been.
Before the Temple there a Street is made,
And there is one almost of every Trade:
There may you also this hard Frosty Winter,
See on the Rocky Ice a Working - PRINTER,
Who hopes by his own Art to reap some gain,
Which he perchance does think he may obtain.
Here is also a Lottery and Musick too,
Yea, a cheating, drunken, leud and debauch'd crew.
Hot Codlins, Pancakes, Duck, Goose, and Sack,
Rabit, Capon, Hen, Turkey, and a wooden Jack.

In this same street before the Temple made,
There seems to be a brisk and lively Trade:
Where e'ry Booth hath such a cunning Sign,
As seldome hath been seen in former time;
The Flying Fish-pot is one of the same,

I am indebted to a fellow punter for the enlightening information that that last line is a bowdlerised version of "The Flying Piss-pot is one of the same". Where would we be without such erudition?

The Whip and Egg-shell, and the Broom by name:
And there if you have Money for to spend,
Each cunning Snap will seem to be your Friend.
There you may see small Vessels under Sail,
All's one to them, with or against the Gale,
And as they pass they little Guns do fire,
Which seedeth some, and puffs them with desire
To sail therein, and when their money's gone,
'Tis right, they cry, the Thames to come upon.
There on a Sign you may most plainly see't,
Here's the first Tavern built in Freezeland-street:
There is Bull-baiting and Bear-baiting too,
That no man living yet e're found so true;
And Foot-Ball play is there so common grown,
That on the Thames before was never known;
Coals being dear, are carry'd on Mens backs,
And some on Sledges there are drawn in Sacks;
Men do on Horse-back ride from shore to shore,
Which formerly in Boats were wafted o're:
Poor people hard shifts make for livelihoods,
And happy are if they can sell their Goods;
What you can buy for Three-pence on the shore,
Will cost you Four-pence on the Thames, or more.
Now let me come to things more strange, yet true,
And question not what I declare to you;
There Roasted was a great and well-fed Oxe,
And there, with Dogs, Hunted the cunning Fox;
Dancing o'th' Ropes, and Puppit-plays likewise,
The like before ne'r seen beneath the Skies;
All stand admir'd, and very well they may.
To see such pastimes, and such sorts of play.
Besides the things I nam'd to you before,
There other Toys and Baubles are great store;

There may you feast your wandring eyes enough,
There may you buy a Box to hold your Snuff:
No Fair nor Market underneath the Skies
That can afford you more Varieties;
There may you see some hundreds slide in Skeets,
And beaten paths like to the City Streets.
There were Dutch Whimsies turned swiftly round,
Faster than Horses run on level Ground:
The like to this I now to you do tell,
No former Age could ever parallel;
There's all that can supply most curious minds,
With such Varieties of cunning Signs,
That I do think no Man doth understand,
Such merry Fancies ne'r were on the Land;
There is such Whimsies on the Frozen Ice,
Makes some believe the Thames a Paradice.
And though these sights be to our admiration,
Yet our sins, our sins, do call for lamentation.
Though such unusual Frosts to us are strange,
Perhaps it may predict some greater Change.
And some do fear may a fore-runner be
Of an approaching sad Mortality:
But why should we to such belief incline?
There's none that knows but the blest pow'r divine
And whatso'ere is from Jehovah sent,
Poor Sinners ought therewith to be content;
If dreadful, then to fall upon the knee,
And beg remission of the DEITY:
But if beyond our thoughts he sends us store,
With all our hearts let's thankful be therefore.
Now let us all in Great Jehovah trust,
Who doth preserve the Righteous and the Just;
And eke conclude Sin is the cause of all
The heavy Judgements that on us do fall:
And call to mind, fond Man, thy time mispent,
Fall on thy knees, and heartily Repent,
Then will thy Saviour pitty take on thee,
And thou shalt live to all Eternity.       Finis

Printed by M.Haly, and J.Millet, and sold by Robert Waltor, at the Globe on the North-side of St.Pauls-Church, near that end towards Ludgate;
Where you may have all sorts and sizes of Maps, Coppy-Books, and Prints, not only English, but Italian, French, and Dutch.
And by John Seller in the West-side of the Royal Exchange. 1 6 8 4.

True description of
in the time of the great Frost in the year of our Lord 1683.

How am I fill'd with wonder for to see
A flooding river now a road to be ;
Where ships and barges used to frequent,
Now may you see a booth of sutling tent;
And those that used to ask " Where shall I land ye ?"
Now cry, " What lack ye, sir, - beer, ale, or brandy ?
Here, here, walk in and you shall surely find,
Your entertainment good, my usage kind."
Booths they increased dayly more and more,
People by thousands flocking from the shore,
And in such heaps they thither did repair,
As if they had been hasting to a fair,
And such a fair I never yet came near,
Where shop rents were so cheap and goods so dear;
There might you have all kind of earthenware,
You can scarce name a thing but what was there;
There was to sell both French and Spanish wine,
And yet, perhaps, a dishclout for a signe;
In short, the like was never seen before,
Where coaches run as if upon the shore.
And men on horseback to and fro did ride
Not minding either current or the tide.
It was exceeding strange at first to see
Both men and women so advent'rous be;
And yet at last it grew so very common,
Twas not admired, it seemed strange to no man.
Then from the Temple there was built a street,
Made old and young and all admire that see 't,
Which street to Southwark reach'd; there you might see
Wonders, if you did love variety.
There was roast-beef and gammon to be sold,
But at so dear a rate I dare be bold
To say 'twas n'er sold so on the shore,
Nor on the Thames in haste be any more.
There were Dutch whimsies turning swiftly round,
By which the owners cleared many a pound.
And coal and corn was there in sledges draw'd,
As if the Thames would never have been thaw'd.
All kind of trades did to this market come,
Hoping to get more profit than at home.
And some, whose purses were a little swell'd,
Would not have cared how long the frost had held.
In several places there was nine pins play'd,
And pidgeon-holes for to beget a trade.
Dancing and fidling too, there was great store,
As if they had not been from off the shore.
The art of printing there was to be seen,
Which in no former age had ever been.
And goldsmiths' shops well furnished with plate,
But they must dearly pay for't that would have 't.
And coffee-houses in great numbers were
Scattered about in this cold freezing fair :
There might you sit down by a charcoal fire,
And for your money have your heart's desire.
No, no, if you the world should wander through,
No fair like this could pleasant seem to you.
There was the baiting of the ugly bear,
Which sport to witness hundreds did repair.
And I believe, since the world's first creation,
The like was never seen in this our nation.
And foot-ball playing there was day by day ;
Some broke their legs, and some their arms, they say;
All striving to get credit, but some paid
Most dearly for it, I am half afraid.
Bull-baiting, likewise, there was known to be,
Which on the Thames before none ever see.
And never were poor dogs more bravely tost
Than they were in this strange prodigious frost.
Th' enraged bull perceiv'd his enemies,
And how to guard himself could not devise ;
But with his horns did toss them to and fro,
As if their angry meaning he did know.
Besides all this, a thing more strange and rare
Than all the things were seen in Freezland fair:
An ox was roasted whole, which thousands saw ;
For 'twas not many days before the thaw.
The like by no man in this present age,
Was ever seen upon this icy stage.
And this hard frost it did so long endure
It pinch'd, and almost famish'd many poor.
But one thing more I needs to you must tell
The truth of which thousands do know full well,
There was fox-hunting on this frozen river,
Which may a memorandum be for ever.
For I do think, since Adam drew his breath,
No Fox was hunted on the ice to death.
Thus have you heard what wonders there were seen,
How heaven and earth the people walk'd between.
And since the world at first had its creation,
The like was never seen in this our nation.
Yet was it hard and grievous to the poor,
Who many hungry bellies did endure.
Sad spectacles enough you might behold,
Who felt the effect of this prodigious cold.
But God who is most righteous, good, and just,
Will them preserve who in him put their trust;
And when their dangers greatest seem to be,
Blest be his name, he then doth set them free.
Then let us all, while we have time and breath,
Be still prepared to meet with pale-faced Death.
That when he comes we need not be afraid,
Nor at his dart be frighted or dismay'd.
If we on Jesus Christ wholly depend,
He '11 prove to us an everlasting friend.

London: Printed by H. Brugis, in Green Arbor, Little Old Bayly, 1684.

1685: In January the frost was very severe, and the Thames was frozen, but unsafe to venture upon. When eventually the ice melted there was great relief.
The Watermen' Song upon the Thaw -

Come ye merry men all
Of Watermen's Hall
Let's hoist our boats and careen;
The Thames it does melt,
And the coalde is scarce felt,
Not an icicle's now to be seen.

Let's pull down each scull
That hung up in hall,
Like weapon so rusty, and row;
Let's cheerly fall to 't;
If we have not forgot;
For the frost is over now.

Let's set up our masts
That stood like posts,
As props to our tents on the Thames;
Or signe-posts made
With an ancient display'd,
While our oars were the great cross-beams.

Let's hoist up our sail
That was a side wall,
To hide Doll when with brandy she 'd glow ;
Or a roof compos'd
You might else have been froz'd,
Though the frost be over now.

We'll no longer stand
With a tapster's hand,
With the spigot for an oar,
Crying out our trade is cold,
Here 's four gallons in hold,
I have drawn out but half my store:

Prithee, lads, stand to 't,
And help pump it out,
That the vessel once more may flow ;
Then come again
With a thirsty train ;
But the frost is over now.

Let's tune our throats
To our usual notes,
Of Twitnam, Richmond, hey !
Sir, sculler, sir? Oars, sir?
Loudly roar, sir;
Here's Dick, sir, you won't pass him by.

Instead of good ale,
And brandy wine stale,
Let's cry out, Westward, hoe I
Shall we Mortlack make,
Or for Brandford tack ?
For the frost is over now.

The town too 'as gone
That they waited on,
And the people flock'd to see,
It fled in one night
Quite out of our sight,
As the castles enchanted that be;

While country squire,
Whom journey might tire,
With wat'ry eyes cannot view
The street, a long way
That he came to survey ;
For the frost is over now.

Not a horn can he buy,
Nor an earthenware toy,
His wife or his children to cheer;
Since Isis does turn
Her watery urn,
All the pitchers are march'd off here ;

Nay, on the Thames wide,
There remains not a slide
On which he may whisk to and fro ;
He returns as he came,
To his country dame;
For the frost is over now.

Meantime, if ought
Of honour you 've got,
Let the printers have their due,
Who printed your names
On the river Thames,
While their hands with the cold look'd blue ;

There's mine, there's thine,
Will for ages shine,
Now the Thames aloft does flow;
Then let's gang hence,
To our boats commence,
For the frost is over now.

1684: Evelyn's diary comments on weather both hot and cold -

2nd July: I went to the Observatory at Greenwich, where Mr Flamsted tooke his observations of the eclipse of the sun, now almost three parts obscured.
There had been an excessive hot and dry Spring, and such a drought still continu'd as never was in my memorie.
13th July: Some small sprinkling of raine; the leaves dropping from the trees as in Autumn.
10th August: We had now rain after such a drowth as no man in England had known.
24th August: Excessive hot. We had not had above one or 2 considerable showers, and those storms, these 8 or 9 months. Many trees killed.
2nd November: A suddaine change from temperate warme weather to an excessive cold raine, frost, snow, and storm, such as had seldom ben known. This Winter weather begun as early and fierce as the past did late, till about Christmas there then had ben hardly any Winter.
1685: 1st January. It prov'd so sharp weather, and so long and cruel a frost, that the Thames was frozen acrosse, but the frost was often dissolv'd and then froze again.
24th May: We had hitherto not any raine for many moneths, so as ye caterpillars had already devour'd all ye winter fruite thro' the whole land, and even kill'd severall greater old trees. Such 2 winters and summers I had never knowne.
14th June. ... Such a dearth for want of raine was never in my memory.
17th June. ... The exceeding drowth still continues.
28th June. We had now plentiful raine after 2 yeares excessive drowth and severe winters. ...
1687 12th May. This day there was such a storme of wind as had seldome happen'd, being a sort of hurricane. It kept the flood out of the Thames, so that people went on foote over severall places above bridge.
17th May. An earthquake is severall places in England about the time of the storme. ...
1690, 11th January. This night there was a most extraordinary storme of wind, accompanied with snow and sharp weather; it did greate harme in many places, blowing down houses, trees, &c. killing many people. It began about 2 in the morning, and lasted till 5, being a kind of hurricane, which mariners observe have begun of late yeares to come Northward. This winter hath ben hitherto extremely wet, warm, and windy. ...
1695, 13th January. The Thames was frozen over. The deaths by smallpox increas'd to 500 more than in the preceding week ...
3rd February. The long frost intermitted, but not gone.
1696 8th March ... Great frost and cold.
12th April. A very fine spring season.
23rd April. I went to Eton and dined with Dr Godolphin the Provost. The schoolmaster assur'd me there had not been for 20 years a more pregnant youth in that place than my grandson.
[ The above has nothing to do with the weather but I was unable to resist that particular comment!]
1699: 21st October. After an unusual warm and pleasant season, we were surpris'd with a very sharp frost ...
[1]5th November. There happen'd this weeke so thick a mist and fog that people lost their way in the streetes, it being so intense that no light of candles or torches yielded any (or but very little) direction.
I was in it and in danger.
Robberies were committed between the very lights which were fix'd between London and kensington on both sides, and whilst coaches and travellers were passing. It began about 4 in the afternoon, and was quite gon by 8, without any wind to disperse it.
At the Thames they beat drums to direct the watermen to make the shore.
24th November ... A gentle calm dry temperate weather all this season of the yeare, but now came sharp, hard frost, and mist, but calm.

1703: January 1st there was such a dense fog that it caused numerous deaths and fatalities from collisions amongst the shipping.
1703: November 26th there was a great hurricane. All the ships in the river, from London Bridge to Limehouse, with the exception of four only, were broken from their moorings and thrown on shore. Upwards of four hundred wherries were entirely lost, more than sixty barges were driven foul of London Bridge, and as many more were either sunk or staved above bridge. The loss of life was also very considerable.

1709: (from the Saturday Magazine 1835 -)

... the Thames was again frozen over at intervals, and some persons crossed on the ice, but the frost was not sufficiently permanent to allow another Frost Fair.

1715-1716: from Charles Mackay "The Thames and its Tributaries, 1840 -

The next celebrated frost upon the Thames was in the year 1715-16,
thus mentioned by Gay in the second book of his entertaining poem of Trivia.

O roving Muse, recall that wondrous year
When Winter reign'd in bleak Britannia's air,
When hoary Thames, with frosted osiers crown'd,
Was three long moons in icy fetters bound;
The waterman, forlorn along the shore,
Pensive reclines upon his useless oar,
Sees harness'd steeds desert the stony town
And wander roads unstable, not their own;
Wheels o'er the hardened waters smoothly glide
And raise with whiten'd tracks the slipp'ry tide.
Here the fat cook piles high the blazing fire,
And scarce the spit can turn the steer entire.
Booths sudden hide the Thames, long streets appear,
And numerous games proclaim the crowded fair.
So when a general bids the martial train
Spread their encampment o'er the spacious plain,
Thick rising tents a canvass city build
And the loud dice resound through all the field.

1715-16: In the public papers of the 12th of January appeared this advertisement:

This is to give notice to gentlemen and others, that pass upon the Thames during this frost, that over against Whitehall stairs they may have their names printed, fit to paste in any book, to hand down the memory of the season to future ages.

You that walk there and do design to tell
Your children's children what this year befell,
Go print your names, and take a dram within,
For such a year as this has seldom been.

1715-16: Dawkes' News Letter of the 14th of January says,

The Thames seems now a solid rock of ice; and booths for sale of brandy, wine, ale, and other exhilarating liquors, have been for some time fixed thereon; but now it is in a manner like a town; thousands of people cross it, and with wonder view the mountainous heaps of water that now lie congealed into ice. On Thursday a great cook's-shop was erected, and gentlemen went as frequently to dine there as at any ordinary. Over against Westminster, Whitehall, and Whitefriars, printing presses are kept on the ice.

1716: The London Post of January 21st contains the following:-

Tuesday last four men, in a bravado, bound themselves not to leave one another whatever should happen, and to travel on the ice up the middle of the Thames as far as they could for four days together, and to avoid all the tracks that any had gone in before them.
On this adventure they went from the Old Swan near the bridge over all the roughest of the ice, with long poles in their hands, till they came over against Somerset House, where one of them found it for his present occasion to fall in, but by the help of his pole recovered, having only cooled his posteriors; so they went on, and right against Lambeth another also had occasion to slip in up to his arm-pits but he was helped out; but they still boldly went on, and none of them have ever since been heard of.

The Weekly Journal, or British Gazetteer, of January 21st says,

Last Tuesday the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Marlborough, with several other noblemen, went on the Thames on the ice from Old Palace-yard to Lambeth, and back again, through the loud huzzas and acclamations of the people, who showed a general satisfaction at the sight of his Royal Highness.
A set of doggerel verses thus described the fair; and as we cannot get any better prose description of it, we must take one in rhyme.

There miles together, for the common good,
The slippery substance offers dainty food:
Here healing port-wine, and there Rhenish flows;
Here Bohea tea, and there tobacco grows !
In one place you may meet good Cheshire cheese ;
Another proffers whitest Brentford peas !
Here is King George's picture ; there Queen Anne's ;
Now nut-brown ale in cups, and then in cans.
One sells an Oxford dram as good as can be,
Another offers General Pepper's brandy !
See, there 'e the Mall! and in that little hut
The best geneva's sold, and love to boot!
See, there a sleek Venetian envoy walks ;
See, here an alderman more proudly stalks.
Behold the French Ambassador - that's he !
And this the honest sire and Captain Leigh!
Here is St. James's Street, yonder the Strand;
In this place Bowyer plies; that's Lintot's stand.

The News Letter of the 15th of February announced the commencement of the thaw, and in two days the river was entirely free of ice.

Behold the Power of a God! Which locks,
In close Confinement, under pond'rous Rocks
Of dreadful Ice and Snow, our famous Thames;
Whose matchless Glory all the World proclaims

1739-40: From The Thames and its Tributaries by Charles Mackay, 1840 -

The frost of 1739-40 commenced on Christmas- day, and lasted till the 17th of the following February, when it began to break up ; but the river was not clear of ice till the end of the month. The usual sports of a fair were made upon the ice ; booths and drinking-tents erected ; and also printing-presses, which in all these fairs upon the Thames seem to have been considered the greatest wonder of all. The verses beginning " Amid the arts which on the Thames appear," and " You that walk here, and do design to tell," were revived, and indeed appear to have been popular, till 1814, when we meet with them again.
The author of a little work, called "Frostiana," printed in 1814, and which gives a slight account of all the great frosts, with the exception of that of 1683-4, which is not even alluded to, thus describes, from some contemporary account, to which he has forgotten to give the reference, the severity of the season.
The watermen and fishermen, with a peterboat in mourning, and the carpenters, bricklayers, &c., with their tools and utensils, in mourning, walked through the streets in large bodies, imploring relief for the necessity of their families. A few days after the frost had set in, great damage was done among the shipping by a high wind, which broke many vessels from their moorings, and drove them foul of each other, while the large flakes of ice there floated on the stream, overwhelmed various boats and lighters, and sunk several coal and corn vessels.
By these accidents many lives were lost, and many others were also destroyed by the intensity of the cold, both on land and water. Above bridge the Thames was completely frozen over, and tents, and numerous booths were erected on it for selling liquors, &c. to the multitudes that daily flocked thither for curiosity or diversion. The scene here displayed was very irregular, and had more the appearance of a fair on land than a frail exhibition, the only basis of which was water. Various shops were opened for the sale of toys, cutlery, and other light articles.
A printing-press was established, and all the common sports of the populace in a wintry season were carried on with augmented spirit, in spite or forgetfulness of the distress that reigned on shore. Many of the houses on the bridge, as well as the bridge itself, received considerable damage when the thaw commenced, by the driving of the ice.

1739: The Great Frost by Jan Griffier -

The Great Frost, 1739, by Jan Griffier

G H Birch: "London on Thames" 1903 has been reading Charles Mackay -

This winter was one of the most severe ever remembered, and from the long continuance of frost from Christmas Day, 1739, to February 17th, 1740, when it began to thaw, but very gradually, it has been known ever since as the Great Frost.
It was impossible for the colliers from the north to get up the river, and the distress among the poorer classes was terrible, not only from want of fuel, food and water, but also of work. The watermen and fishermen with a peter-boat in mourning, and the carpenters, brick-layers, and labourers, walked in procession through the streets soliciting the alms of the charitable, and to the honour of the city and all, great sums were collected and disbursed.
Another terrible calamity happened a few days after the frost had commenced: this was a terrible gale which did incalculable damage in the river, dragging vessels from their moorings and dashing them against one another, while the large sheets of ice floating in the stream overwhelmed the wherries and lighters and barges, and sunk many, especially those laden with coal and corn.
Above the bridge the Thames was frozen completely over and a Frost Fair was held on it. Various shops were opened for the sale of toys, cutlery, and other light articles. Printing presses were set up and the usual drinking booths and puppet shows abounded. All sorts of sports and diversions were carried on, and the place became a perfect carnival, as if the populace were utterly oblivious of the distress and misery which existed on shore.

Frost fair above London Bridge 1739
1739: Frost fair above London Bridge

Behold the liquid Thames now frozen o'er
That lately SHIPS of mighty burden bore.
Here you PRINT your name tho' cannot write
'Cause numb'd with cold: 'Tis done with great delight.
And lay it by: That AGES yet to come
May see what THINGS upon the ICE were done.

1767-8: from The Thames and its Tributaries, Charles Mackay, 1840 -

The Thames was again frozen in 1767-8, but the cold was not so intense as it had been on previous occasions; and the sports on the river, owing to the comparative insecurity of the ice, were not so well attended, nor did they last so long as on previous occasions.

1767 & 1768: From London on Thames, G H Birch, 1903 -

In the beginning of the winters of 1767 and 1768 there were also severe frosts. The navigation of the river was completely stopped, while below bridge the damage done by the floating ice was enormous. Ships, barges and small craft were driven hither and thither; many were sunk and driven on shore, and a great number of human lives were sacrificed.

1788: from The Thames and its Tributaries, Charles Mackay, 1840 -

In the year 1788, however, the citizens of London had a complete revival of the ancient sports on the river. The frost set in on the 25th of November, 1788, and lasted with great severity for several weeks.
The following notices appear in a diary in the "Gentleman's Magazine,"
Monday, Jan. 12th [1789]
A young bear was baited on the ice opposite Redriff, which drew multitudes together, and fortunately no accident happened to interrupt their sport.
Saturday, [Jan] 17th [1789]
The captain of a vessel lying off Rotherhithe, the better to secure the ship's cables, made an agreement with a publican for fastening a cable to his premises. In consequence, a small anchor was carried on shore, and deposited in the cellar, while another cable was fastened round a beam in another part of the house. In the night the ship veered about, and the cables holding fast, carried away the beam, and levelled the house with the ground, by which accident five persons asleep in their beds were killed.
Another contemporary account in the "Gentleman's Magazine," says,
The river Thames, which at this season usually exhibits a dreary scene of languor and indolence, was this year the stage on which there were all kinds of diversions, bear-baiting, festivals, pigs and sheep roasted, booths, turnabouts, and all the various amusements of Bartholomew Fair multiplied and improved. From Putney Bridge in Middlesex, down to Rotherhithe, was one continued scene of merriment and jollity; not a gloomy face to be seen, but all cheerfulness, arising apparently from business and bustle.
From this description the reader, however, is not to conclude that all was as it seemed. The miserable inhabitants that dwell in houses on both sides of the river during these thoughtless exhibitions, were many of them experiencing the extreme of misery; destitute of employment, though industrious, they were with families of helpless children pining for want of bread; and though in no country in the world are the rich more extensively benevolent than in England, yet their benefactions could bear no proportion to the wants of the numerous poor, who could not all partake of the common bounty. It may, however, be truly said, that in no great city or country on the continent of Europe, the poor suffered less from the rigour of the season than the inhabitants of Great Britain and London ; yet, even in London, the distress was very great, and though liberal subscriptions were raised, many perished through want and cold. On this occasion the City of London subscribed £1500 towards supporting such persons as were not in the habit of receiving alms.
The following account of the same frost, is from "The Annual Register", under date of the 12th of February.
The Thames at Irongate to the opposite shore is frozen over, numbers of persons having walked across yesterday. At Shadwell the Thames is likewise frozen over, several booths are fixed on the ice; and yesterday an ox was roasted whole, and sold to the people who were skaiting and sliding. The scene on the river is very entertaining. From Putney Bridge upwards, the river is completely frozen over, and people walk to and from the different villages on the face of the deep. Opposite to Windsor street, booths have been erected since Friday last, and a fair is kept on the river. Multitudes of people are continually passing and repassing; puppetshows, roundabouts, and all the various amusements of Bartholomew Fair are exhibited. In short, Putney and Fulham, from the morning dawn till the dusk of returning evening, is a scene of festivity and gaiety.

1788-9: From London on Thames, G H Birch, 1903 -

On the 25th November 1788, another great frost occurred which again lasted seven weeks. The river was completely frozen over above and below bridge, and the usual Frost Fair took place, which this time included a wild beast show.
The thaw setting in suddenly threw everything into the greatest confusion, and the immense blocks of ice floating on the surface made it necessary to moor the ships close in, and yet many broke away from the pressure. One vessel at Rotherhithe was partly fastened to the main beams of a house, and such was the pressure of the ice, that the whole building collapsed, and unhappily five persons who were asleep in their beds perished. -

London Bridge Frost Fair 1789
Frost Fair 1789, G H Birch

O roving muse, recall the wondrous year,
When winter reigned in bleak Britannia's air ;
When hoary Thames, with frosted oziers crowned,
Was three long moons in icy fetters bound.

[ The Lady's Almanack 1852 - said to be of 1709 - but though there was some freezing in 1709 it was not very much - and 1789 did have frost for three months - so I reckon 1709 might have been a typo for 1789.]

1814: from The Thames and its Tributaries, Charles Mackay, 1840 -

The next great frost upon the Thames was in 1814. The following contemporary accounts of "The Annual Register", and some others from Hone's "Every Day Book", will be read with interest.
January 21st. [1814]
In London the great accumulation of snow already heaped on the ground, and condensed by three or four weeks of continued frost, was on Wednesday increased by a fresh fall, to a height hardly known in the memory of the oldest inhabitants. The cold has been intensely severe, the snow during the last fall being accompanied with a sharp wind and a little moisture. In many places, where the houses are old, it became necessary to relieve the roofs, by throwing off the load collected upon them, and by these means the carriage-way in the middle of the streets is made of a depth hardly passable for pedestrians, while carriages with difficulty plough their way through the mass.
The water pipes being generally frozen, it has become necessary for several days to afford supplies by opening the plugs in the streets, and the streams thus constantly flowing, add to the general mass of ice.
An enormous increase has taken place in the price of coals, in consequence of the river navigation and other means of conveyance being so greatly impeded. The roads throughout the country were impassable. The mails from London to Oxford did not arrive for three days, and from Dover and Canterbury for the same period; and a circular was issued by Lord Sidmouth on the 29th of January, [1814] to the Lords Lieutenant of the various counties, directing them to take immediate steps for providing all practical means to remove from the highways and principal roads of communication within their respective counties, the obstructions which had been caused by the snow.
'This object', said the circular, 'would afford employment to various classes of individuals, who were temporarily deprived of their usual earnings by the inclemency of the season' ; and their Lordships were accordingly requested to communicate without delay to the magistracy, and through them with the trustees of turnpike roads, the overseers of the poor, the surveyors of the highways, and other subordinate officers of the various districts and parishes, in such manner as to insure the most speedy and effectual means of carrying the intentions of the Government into effect.
January 27th. [1814]
Yesterday the wind having veered round to the south-west, the effects of thaw were speedily discernible.
The fall of the river at London Bridge has for several days past presented a scene both novel and interesting. At the ebbing of the tide huge fragments of ice were precipitated down the stream with great violence, accom- panied by a noise equal to the report of a small piece of artillery. On the return of the tide they were forced back again ; but the obstacles opposed to their passage through the arches were so great as apparently to threaten a total stoppage to the navigation of the river.
February 1st. [1814]
The Thames between Blackfriars and London Bridges continued to present the novel scene of persons moving on the ice in all directions and in greatly increased numbers. The ice, however, from its roughness and inequalities is totally unfit for amusement, although we observed several booths erected upon it for the sale of small wares, but the publicans and spirit-dealers were most in the receipt of custom. The whole of the river opposite Queenhithe was frozen over, and in some parts the ice was several feet thick, while in others it was dangerous to venture upon, notwithstanding which, crowds of foot passengers crossed backwards and forwards throughout the whole of the day. We did not hear of any lives being lost, but many who ventured too far towards Blackfriars Bridge were partially immersed in the water by the ice giving way. Two coopers were with difficulty saved.

February 2nd. [1814]
The Thames this day presented a complete frost fair. The grand mall or walk extended from Blackfriars to London Bridge. This was named the city road, and was lined on each side by persons of all descriptions. Eight or ten printing-presses were erected, and numerous pieces commemorative of the ' great frost' were printed on the ice.
At one of the presses an orange-coloured standard was hoisted with the watch-word 'Orange Boven' in large characters. This was an allusion to the recent restoration of the Stadtholder.
One of the printers issued a circular to the following effect:
Friends, now is your time to support the freedom of the press. Can the press have greater liberty ? Here you find it working in the middle of the Thames, and if you encourage us by buying our impressions, we will keep it going in the true spirit of liberty during the frost.
February 3rd. [1814]
The number of adventurers increased. Swings, book-stalls, dancing in a barge, suttling-booths, playing at skittles, and almost every appendage of a fair on land appeared on the Thames. Thousands flocked to the spectacle. The ice presented a most picturesque appearance. The view of St. Paul's and of the city, with the white foreground, had a very singular effect ; in many parts mountains of ice upheaved, resembled the rude interior of a stone quarry.
February 4th. [1814]
Each day brought a fresh accession of pedlars to sell their wares, and the greatest rubbish of all sorts was raked up and sold at double and treble the original cost. The watermen profited exceedingly, for each person paid a toll of twopence or threepence before he was admitted to the fair; and something also was expected for permission to return. Some of them were said to have taken as much as six pounds in a day. Many persons remained on the ice till late at night, and the effect by moonlight was singularly novel and beautiful. The bosom of the Thames seemed to rival the frozen climes of the north.
February 7th. [1814]
The ice between London Bridge and Blackfriars gave way yesterday, in consequence of the high tides. On Saturday, thousands of people walked on the ice from one bridge to the other notwithstanding there were evident signs of its speedy breaking up, and even early yesterday morning some foolhardy persons passed over from Bankside to Queenhithe. About an hour after this the whole mass gave way, and swept with a tremendous range through the noble arches of Blackfriars Bridge, carrying along with it all within its course, including about forty barges.
The new erections for the Strand bridge [which was then opened as "Waterloo Bridge"] impeded its progress and a vast quantity of the ice was there collected, but the strong current on the Somerset House side carried everything before it, and the passage of the river became at last free. Numbers of boats were then busily employed, saving rafts of timber and towing the drifted barges to the shore.
We have heard that some persons who had the folly to remain on the ice to a very late hour on Saturday night either lost their lives or were in great jeopardy. They had remained carousing in the tents till midnight, and were suddenly alarmed by the parting of the apparently solid mass on which they stood. Being unable to reach the shore they contrived to get into two barges which had been stationary, but which were now borne upward by the tide, and which of course were quite unmanageable. One of these barges safely cleared Blackfriars Bridge; the other struck against a pier where it remained fast: luckily, however, there were some spectators of the dismal situation of the persons on board, who, having procured ropes, contrived to haul them up in safety.

London Bridge Frost Fair 1814
Included with a copy of Picturesque Views on the Thames, Samuel Ireland 1792


The severest and most remarkable frost in England of late years, commenced in December, 1813, and generally called "the Great Frost in 1814", was preceded by a great fog, which came on with the evening of the 27th of December, 1813. It is described as a darkness that might be felt [ Exodus 10:21 ]
At this time the appearance of the river Thames was most remarkable. Vast pieces of floating ice, laden generally with heaps of snow, were slowly carried up and down by the tide, or collected where the projecting banks or the bridges resisted the flow. These accumulations sometimes formed a chain of glaciers, which, uniting at one moment, were at another cracking and bounding against each other in a singular and awful manner with loud noise. Sometimes these ice islands rose one over another, covered with angry foam, and were violently impelled by the winds and waves through the arches of the bridges, with tremendous crashes.
Near the bridges, the floating pieces collected about mid-water, or while the tide was less forcible, and ranged themselves on each other; the stream formed them into order by its force as it passed, till the narrowness of the channel increased the power of the flood, when a sudden disruption taking place, the masses burst away, and floated off.
The river was frozen over for the space of a week, and a complete Frost Fair held upon it, as will be mentioned presently. ...
After the fogs, there were heavier fells of snow than had been within the memory of man. With only short intervals, it snowed incessantly for forty-eight hours, and this after the ground was covered with ice, the result of nearly four weeks continued frost. During this long period, the wind blew almost continually from the north and north-east, and the cold was intense.
A short thaw of about one day, rendered the streets almost impassable. The mass of snow and water was so thick, that hackney-coaches with an additional horse, and other vehicles, could scarcely plough their way through. Trade and calling of all kinds in the streets were nearly stopped, and considerably increased the distresses of the industrious. Few carriages, even stages, could travel the roads, and those in the neighbourhood of London seemed deserted. From many buildings, icicles, a yard and a half long, were seen suspended. The water-pipes to the houses were all frozen, and it became necessary to have plugs in the streets for the supply of all ranks of inhabitants.
The Thames, from London Bridge to Blackfriars, was completely blocked up at ebb-tide for nearly a fortnight. Every pond and river near the metropolis was completely frozen.
On the 26th, [January, 1814] the wind veered to the south-west, and a thaw was speedily discernible.
The great fall of the Thames at London-bridge for some days presented a scene both novel and interesting. At the ebbing of the tide, huge fragments of ice were precipitated down the stream with great violence, accompanied by a noise, equal to the report of a small piece of artillery. On the return of the tide, they were forced back ; but the obstacles opposed to their passage through the arches were so great, as to threaten a total stoppage to the navigation of the river. The thaw continued, and these appearances gradually ceased.
The thermometer during this intense frost was as low as 7° and 8° of Fahrenheit, in the neighbourhood of London. There are instances of its having been lower in many seasons, but so long a continuance of very cold weather was never experienced in this climate within the memory of man.
On Sunday, the 30th of January, [1814] the immense masses of ice that floated from the upper parts of the river, in consequence of the thaw on the two preceding days, blocked up the Thames between Blackfriars and London Bridges; and afforded every probability of its being frozen over in a day or two. Some adventurous persons even now walked on different parts, and on the next day, Monday the 31st, the expectation was realized. During the whole of the afternoon, hundreds of people were assembled on Blackfriars and London Bridges, to see people cross and recross the Thames on the ice. At one time seventy persons were counted walking from Queenhithe to the opposite shore. The frost of Sunday night so united the vast mass as to render it immovable by the tide.
On Tuesday, February 1, the river presented a thoroughly solid surface over that part which extends from Blackfriars Bridge to some distance below Three Crane Stairs, at the bottom of Queen Street, Cheapside. The watermen placed notices at the end of all the streets leading to the city side of the river, announcing a safe footway over, which attracted immense crowds, and in a short time thousands perambulated the rugged plain, where a variety of amusements were provided. Among the more curious of these was the ceremony of roasting a small sheep, or rather toasting or burning it over a coal fire, placed in a large iron pan. For a view of this extraordinary spectacle, sixpence was demanded, and willingly paid. The delicate meat, when done, was sold at a shilling a slice, and termed "Lapland mutton."

London Bridge Frost Fair 1814
London Bridge Frost Fair 1814, Luke Clenell

There were a great number of booths ornamented with streamers, flags, and signs, and within them there was a plentiful store of favourite luxuries with most of the multitude, gin, beer, and gingerbread. The thoroughfare opposite Three Crane Stairs was complete and well frequented. It was strewed with ashes, and afforded a very safe, although a very rough path.
Near Blackfriars Bridge, however, the way was not equally severe ; a plumber, named Davit, having imprudently ventured to cross with some lead in his hands, sank between two masses of ice, and rose no more. Two young women nearly shared a similar fate ; they were rescued from their perilous situation by the prompt efforts of two watermen. Many a fair nymph indeed was embraced in the icy arms of old Father Thames; - three young quakeresses had a sort of semi-bathing, near London Bridge, and when landed on terra-firma, made the best of their way through the Borough, amidst the shouts of an admiring populace.
From the entire obstruction the tide did not appear to ebb for some days more than one half the usual mark.
On Wednesday, Feb. 2, [1814], the sports were repeated, and the Thames presented a complete "FROST FAIR." The grand "mall" or walk now extended from Blackfriars Bridge to London Bridge; this was named the "City-road," and was lined on each side by persons of all descriptions.
Eight or ten printing presses were erected and numerous pieces commemorative of the "great frost" were printed on the ice. Some of these frosty typographers displayed considerable taste in their specimens. At one of the presses, an orange coloured standard was hoisted, with the watch-word " ORANGE BOVEN," in large characters. This was in allusion to the recent restoration of the stadtholder to the government of Holland, which had been for several years under the dominion of the French.

1814: Bellman's Verses for Orange Boven [James Henry Leigh Hunt] The Examiner (January 23, 1814) -

Huzza, my boys! our friends the Dutch have risen,
Our good old friends, and burst the Tyrant's prison!
Aye, and have done it without bloodshed too,
Like men, to sense as well as freedom true.
The moment, I'll be sworn, that Ocean heard it,
With a new dance of waters it bestirr'd it;
And Trade, reviving from her trance of death,
Took a new lease of sunshine and of breath.
Let's aid them, my fine fellows, all we can:-
Where's finer business for an Englishman-
Who knows what 'tis to eat his own good bread,
And see his table-cloth securely spread-
Than helping to set free a neighbour's oven?
Huzza! The Dutch for ever! Orange Boven!

London Bridge Frost Fair 1814
Frost Fair of 1814 - from a drawing in the collection of Mr Gardner.

In February 1814 the allies were about to invade France and patriotic fervour was at its height. France had attacked Moscow two years previously and suffered a disastrous retreat. Note the tent above labelled "City of Moscow".

From this press the following papers were issued.

Amidst the arts which on the THAMES appear
To tell the wonders of this icy year,
PRINTING claims prior place, which at one view
Erects a monument of THAT and You.


You that walk here, and do design to tell
Your children's children what this year befell,
Come, buy this print, and it will then be seen
That such a year as this has seldom been.

Another of these stainers of paper addressed the spectators in the following terms. "Friends, now is your time to support the freedom of the press. Can the press have greater liberty? Here you find it working in the middle of the Thames ; and if you encourage us by buying our impressions, we will keep it going in the true spirit of liberty during the frost."

Which was mild in comparison with a competitor's words -

Tyrant Winter has enchained the noblest torrent that flows to the main; but Summer will return and set the captive free.
So may tyranny for a time "freeze the genial current of the soul"; but a Free Press, like the great source of light and heat, will, ere long, dissolve tyranny of the mightiest.
Greatest of the arts! What do we not owe to thee? The knowledge which directs industry, the liberty which encourages it, the security which protects it, and of industry how precious are the fruits!
Glowing and hardy temperaments, which defy the vicissitudes of seasons, and comfortable homes which make you regret not the gloom that is abroad.
But for Industry, but for Painting, you might now have been content, like the Russ and Laplander, to bury yourselves under that snow over which you now tread with mirth and glee.
Printed on the River Thames, and in commemoration of a great fair held upon it on the 31st of January, 1814, when it was completely frozen over from shore to shore.
The frost commenced the 27th of December, 1813, and was accompanied by a thick fog that lasted eight days; and after the fog, came a heavy fall of snow, that prevented all communication with the northern and western parts of the country for several days.

One of the articles printed and sold contained the following lines:

Behold, the river Thames is frozen o'er,
Which lately ships of mighty burden bore ;
Now different arts and pastimes here you see,
But printing claims the superiority.

The Lord's prayer and several other pieces were issued from these icy printing offices, and bought with the greatest avidity.
On Thursday, Feb. 3, [1814], the number of adventurers increased. Swings, bookstalls, dancing in a barge, suttling-booths, playing at skittles, and almost every appendage of a fair on land, appeared now on the Thames. Thousands flocked to this singular spectacle of sports and pastimes. The ice seemed to be a solid rock, and presented a truly picturesque appearance. The view of St. Paul's and of the city with the white foreground had a very singular effect; - in many parts, mountains of ice upheaved resembled the rude interior of a stone quarry.

London Bridge Frost Fair 1814  MOTCO
Fair on the Thames, Feb. 1814.
Drawn by Luke Clennell. Engraved by George Cooke. March 31, 1814

Friday, Feb. 4. [1814]
Each day brought a fresh accession of "pedlars to sell their wares"; and the greatest rubbish of all sorts was raked up and sold at double and treble the original cost. Books and toys, labelled "bought on the Thames," were in profusion. The watermen profited exceedingly, for each person paid a toll of twopence or threepence before he was admitted to "Frost Fair;" some douceur was expected on the return. Some of them were said to have taken six pounds each in the course of a day. Many persons were on the ice till late at night, and the effect by moonlight was singularly novel and beautiful.
The bosom of the Thames seemed to rival the frozen climes of the north.
This afternoon, about five o'clock, three persons, an old man and two lads, were on a piece of ice above London-bridge, which suddenly detached itself from the main body, and was carried by the tide through one of the arches. They laid themselves down for safety, and the boatmen at Billingsgate, put off to their assistance, and rescued them from their impending danger. One of them was able to walk, but the other two were carried, in a state of insensibility, to a public- house, where they received every attention their situation required.
Saturday, Feb. 5. [1814]
This morning augured unfavourably for the continuance of "FROST FAIR." The wind had veered to the south, and there was a light fall of snow. The visitors, however, were not to be deterred by trifles. Thousands again ventured, and there was still much life and bustle on the frozen element ; the footpath in the centre of the river was hard and 'secure, and among the pedestrians were four donkies ; they trotted a nimble pace, and produced considerable merriment. At every glance, there was a novelty of some kind or other. Gaming was carried on in all its branches. Many of the itinerant admirers of the profits gained by E O Tables, Rouge et Noir, Te-totum, wheel of fortune, the garter, &c. were industrious in their avocations, and some of their customers left the lures without a penny to pay the passage over a plank to the shore. Skittles was played by several parties, and the drinking tents were filled by females and their companions, dancing reels to the sound of fiddles, while others sat round large fires, drinking rum, grog, and other spirits. Tea, coffee, aud eatables, were provided in abundance, and passengers were invited to eat by way of recording their visit. Several tradesmen, who at other times were deemed respectable, attended with their wares, and sold books, toys, and trinkets of almost every description.
Towards the evening, the concourse thinned ; rain began to fall, and the ice to crack, and on a sudden it floated with the printing presses, booths, and merrymakers, to the no small dismay of publicans, typographers, shopkeepers, and sojourners.
A short time previous to the general dissolution, a person near one of the printing presses, handed the following jeu d'esprit to its conductor; requesting that it might be printed on the Thames.
To Madam Tabitha Thaw.
Dear dissolving dame,
FATHER FROST and SISTER SNOW have Boneyed my borders, formed an idol of ice upon my bosom, and all the LADS OF LONDON come to make merry : now as you love mischief, treat the multitude with a few CRACKS by a sudden visit, and obtain the prayers of the poor upon both banks.
Given at my own press,
the 5th Feb. 1814.

The thaw advanced more rapidly than indiscretion and heedlessness retreated. Two genteel-looking young men ventured on the ice above Westminster Bridge, notwithstanding the warnings of the watermen. A large mass on which they stood, and which had been loosened by the flood tide, gave way, and they floated down the stream. As they passed under Westminster Bridge they cried piteously for help. They had not gone far before they sat down, near the edge ; this overbalanced the mass, they were precipitated into the flood, and overwhelmed for ever.

A publican named Lawrence, of the Feathers, in High Timber-street, Queen- hithe, erected a booth on the Thames opposite Brook's-wharf, for the accommodation of the curious. At nine at night he left it in the care of two men, taking away all the liquors, except some gin, which he gave them for their own use.

Sunday, Feb. 6. [1814]
At two o'clock this morning, the tide began to flow with great rapidity at London Bridge ; the thaw assisted the efforts of the tide, and the booth last mentioned was violently hurried towards Blackfriars Bridge. There were nine men in it, but in their alarm they neglected the fire and candles, which communicating with the covering, set it in a flame. They succeeded in getting into a lighter which had broken from its moorings. In this vessel they were wrecked, for it was dashed to pieces against one of the piers of Blackfriars Bridge : seven of them got on the pier and were taken off safely ; the other two got into a barge while passing Puddle-dock.

London Bridge arch frost 1814  MOTCO
An arch of London Bridge as it appeared in the Great Frost 1814. Drawn Feby. 5th. 1814.
Published Septr. 15, 1814, By J. T. Smith, No. 18, Gt. May's Buildings, St. Martin's Lane.

On this day, the Thames towards high tide (about 3p.m.) presented a miniature idea of the Frozen Ocean; the masses of ice floating along, added to the great height of the water, formed a striking scene for contemplation. Thousands of disappointed persons thronged the banks; and many a 'prentice, and servant maid. "sighed unutterable things", at the sudden and unlooked for destruction of "FROST FAIR".
Monday, Feb. 7. [1814]
Immense fragments of ice yet floated, and numerous lighters, broken from their moorings, drifted in different parts of the river ; many of them were complete wrecks.
The frozen element soon attained its wonted fluidity and old Father Thames looked as cheerful and as busy as ever.

1855: The weather was so cold in the spring that a great frost froze the river. There was no boat race. In preventing any training - and probably in its psychological effects - it made any thought of a boat race around Easter impossible.

Thames Frozen, Feb 1855
The Thames Frozen in February 1855

1855: The Thames frozen by Joshua Taylor -

The Thames frozen by Joshua Taylor

Frost in 1860 by James Abott McNeill Whistler

1893: The Thames froze.

1895-6: Thames froze -

Thames ice 1895
Thames Ice 1895

1963: The Thames froze over at Windsor.
[ Various things strike me about these accounts.
The first is that our current concerns about climate change and the effects of global warming are not new phenomena in the history of the last thousand years. There has always been catastrophic weather from time to time. People have always been afraid of it, and remembered it.
The second is that quite a lot of the above accounts can be put down to the old London Bridge acting as a weir, and when frozen as a barrier. There must have been almost no salt water above the old bridge, indeed there were water wheels pumping water out of the river as the domestic water supply so this is almost certain (though there must have been times when that was not quite true). Fresh water would have frozen much more readily and once the bridge was well and truly blocked the tides would have ceased above the bridge. (With presumably the ice at a high tide level). This may go some way to explain why we have seen no comparable phenomenon since the last episode in 1814. The bridge opened in 1830 permitted a much freer flow of tide and presumably there is a mixture of salt water and freshwater right through London.]

Bottom Ice in the Freshwater Thames!

[ I include this here because it is about ice! ]
One of the great scientific facts of my childhood was the understanding that whilst most liquids become denser as they get colder this only applies to water up to a point - and that point is at about 4°c. Water is at its densest at this temperature and then as it cools further it actually gets less dense. This strange quirk of nature is probably responsible for the survival of life on earth and certainly for life on land. Together with the fact that ice is less dense than water and therefore floats - it means that even relatively small bodies of water never freeze through to the bottom - and therefore life could survive. The convection currents caused by water cooling at the surface, becoming denser and falling, cease at 4°c and even reverse (colder water being forced to the surface where it freezes and insulates the rest).
I write this because I have recently discovered the following:
It is in "Oxfordshire of One Hundred Years Ago" by Eleanor Chance. W E Sherwood writes -

There is another thing which I suspect the Conservancy, by their dredging, my have stopped, but I am not certain, as it is so long since we have had a severe winter, and that is the formation of 'ground ice', ice that is that forms on the bottom of the river.
When I spoke to my science master about it he talked about the maximum density of water, and told me that the thing was impossible, but I took him down to the river, and showed him, opposite the barges [ie RIGHT bank below Folly Bridge, Oxford], the bottom all covered in ice.
I think he was annoyed, but at the river for behaving so unaccountably - indecently even, he seemed to think - and not at me. He was so far right that in a lake or in a river of uniform depth the ice cannot so form, but in the Thames in those days there were deep reaches followed by banks of gravel over which the water was shallow.
In times of frost the heavier warmer [ie 4°c] water sank and remained in the deep parts, and what flowed on was the lighter water at or close to freezing point, and when the crystals formed in this they attached themselves, as forming crystals will, to any solid they could find; in this case to the gravel at the bottom.
This ice rose from time to time in spongy masses, bringing with it some of the gravel, and floated on until it reached the lock. Here it packed, and if the frost continued, formed a thick mass of rough ice which, as more came down extended further and further up stream; and it was on this ice, far more than surface ice, that on three occasions I remember a coach and four was driven from Folly Bridge to Iffley.
Owing to the deepening of the river I doubt that this will ever again be possible, though at Binsey, the other point near Oxford where I have seen ground ice form, it may well do so.

[ I suspect there is another physical factor at work here. I guess there comes a point where almost freezing water does not freeze because it is moving. The gravel would offer many tiny 'shelters' between the stones in which the water would be relatively still and perhaps that is where the crystallisation started?
I have always assumed that the relative roughness of the Frost Fair ice was caused by the tide disrupting it as it froze. But is it possible that it was the accumulation of this sort of ice coming downstream from the very shallow areas (at low tide) below Teddington? This would have been frozen from fresh water (and therefore frozen at a higher temperature than the saltier water lower down. )]