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London: Severe Winter Weather (1739-40) – Part 1

Posted by on January 18, 2013

The British are well known for their obsession with the weather, but the current severe winter warnings seem over dramatic when compared ‘big freezes’ in the past.   Imagine the winter of 1739-40 that the two surviving van Aken brothers, Joseph and Alexander, lived through.    It started with the easterly winds that brought heavy frosts in October 1739.  By late December ice had formed across the Thames.[i]

 1739-40:  Streets were blocked up with ice and snow, which made travelling hazardous. The Thames remained frozen over for about 8 weeks (?). Some reports said this winter was the most severe on record, with temperatures falling to -24c in early January. The Easterly gale persisted, with snow and frost becoming an increasing hazard to all. Northerlies also started up, very strong in places, with again snow and ice. This winter can be noted as one of the most severe of all time (since records began). 

1740: Coldest October on record, with ice already formed in parts. 1740 was very cold as a whole, the spring was also cold[ii]

Before the complete freezing of the Thames River a terrible gale ripped boats from their anchors and ships had crashed into one another, breaking and sinking all around.   Sheets of floating ice sunk many wherries, lighters and barges laden with corn, coal and other essential supplies that were normally delivered to London by boat as it was usually safer and quicker than relying on the limited road system that regularly became impassable in the normal wet British weather.

The watermen that ferried people up and down the Thames and fisherman with their peterboats lying idle were in mourning for lost work.   The carpenters, bricklayers and labours formed a possession through the city begging.  To the credit of London, great sums were collected and disbursed.   As damaging as the big freeze was, there was one highlight to the weather – the Frost Fair (See Part 2 Dec 27th 2013)

One Response to London: Severe Winter Weather (1739-40) – Part 1

  1. Margaret McAlpine

    This was the era of The Little Ice Age, a term coined in 1939, to cover three cold centuries, within which were some exceptionally cold winters and wet summers. The causes are still debated. But don’t we feel for those who experienced them, without our means of keeping warm.

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