The frost fair of 1608

The Thames froze for six weeks in February 1608 – and the people of London held a fair on the icy expanse. The rive was wider, more shallow and flowed more slowly. The water froze. Not only did people come onto the ice to skate and to hold a fair but they burned fires. It was the culmination of the so-called Great Frost which began in December the previous year.

Much to my delight there is a primary source, with a typically seventeenth century snappy title, available The great frost. cold doings in London, except it be at the lotterie. With newes out of the country. A familiar talke betwene a country-man and a citizen touching this terrible frost and the great lotterie, and the effects of them. the description of the Thames frozen over. It was written by Thomas Dekker. It wasn’t only the merchants of London seeking to make a profit from the cold snap which was actually a symptom of the so-called Little Ice Age.

Dekker wasn’t the only one to put quill to paper, the poet John Taylor also described the scene.

Clearly boatmen weren’t happy but it wasn’t long before carts were using the river as an impromptu road.

Let us hope the current cold spell isn’t quite so long lasting – having been snowed in today with intermittent power and even telephone lines coming down I can only admire the pragmatism of seventeenth century Londoners.

2 thoughts on “The frost fair of 1608

  1. I enjoy reading your Great Frost. Any cold comes as a shock now doesn’t it. I think you may have told me before where you live. We had small snow on east side of Forest of Dean but Cotswolds were white across the Severn vale. No electric all day though, thankfully we have one fireplace to use – it was a pretty good day really. Lights came back as we were eating our fish and chips which spoilt the firelight and candlelight a bit. Your blogs are a continuing interest. Best wishes

  2. here in rural forest and lake land in Latvia northern snow fell in the night making in winter wonderland but all drive in it nothing comes to dead stop like in England. Here so used to snow in winter life goes on as normal. I had to learn to drive in snow and ice as its not a thing one needs to know back home in Cumbria or Westmorland as in my day Pypes gives a good account of Thames chestnut sellers and stalls with roasting meats of frozen ice too. They talk of climate change but it is just the worlds way of coping with chance as Thames river never froze so hard ever since from 1600 to now

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