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London Severe Winter Weather: Frost Fair 1740 – Part 2

Posted by on January 27, 2013

Frost Fair 1740

Engraving: View of a frost fair on the River Thames in 1740. Figures can be seen visiting a printing stall and a coffee stall amongst others erected on the ice. Engraver unknown.[i]

While John Evelyn noted in the winter of 1683/84 that, “The fowls, fish and birds, and all our exotic plants and greens universally perishing. Many parks of deer were destroyed, and all sorts of fuel so dear that there were great contributions to keep the poor alive…London, by reason for the excessive coldness of the air hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steam of the sea-coal …that one could hardly breath….  he also noted what he called the bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water.”[ii]

Streets of booths selling all sort of goods sprang up on the iced river.  Carcasses of meat were roasted and drink was sold just like a town centre.   People no longer needed to pay a waterman to cross the river as they could walk or ride in their coaches, carts or on their horses over the ice.    A favorite Frost Fair memento that ladies particularly treasured were souvenir cards sold for sixpence[iii] written with their name, the date, and the fact that the card was printed on the Thames.   Evelyn writes that a printer called Croom was making five pounds a day selling these cards. That was ten times a labourer’s weekly wage.[iv]

In 1740 printing of cards at Frost Fairs was still a popular keepsake as was the atmosphere of competitive selling of goods mixed with fun on the ice with friends and family sharing hot food and drink.   Sadly I have yet to find a drawing, painting or engraving by the van Aken brothers of this colourful scene as they recorded many views of London during their lives.

(C) Nicola Stevens 2013

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