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.