In the January of 1608, the Thames froze over in London, as described in a letter written on this day, by John Chamberlain to Sir Dudley Carleton, as follows:
“Above Westminster the Thames is quite frozen over and the Archbishop came from Lambeth on Twelfthday over the ice to the court. Many fantastical experiments are daily put in practice, as certain youths burnt a gallon of wine upon the ice and made all the passengers partakers. But the best is of an honest woman (they say) that had a great longing to have her husband get her with child upon the Thames”.
Further records indicate that the Thames froze over in London nearly forty times between 1142 and 1895.
John Chamberlain, who lived from 1553/4-1628, and was baptised and buried in the church of St Olave Jewry in the City of London, is best known now as the author of a large number of letters written between 1597-1626, that “constitute the first considerable body … in English history and literature that the modern reader can easily follow”.
Most of the nearly 500 that still survive were written to Sir Dudley Carleton while he was serving as an ambassador in Venice and The Hague, and were evidently intended to keep the ambitious diplomat abroad informed of events – especially those befalling “the better sort of people” – at home (incidentally, Carleton went on to become Secretary of State). The letters contain descriptions of such important events in Elizabethan and Jacobean history as the trial of the Earls of Essex and Southampton in 1601, the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, the trial of the Earl and Countess of Somerset in 1615, and the execution of Sir Walter Ralegh in 1618. They also contain much court, City and country tittle-tattle (“who’s in, who’s out”), picked up, no doubt, in St Paul’s Cathedral, which at the time had a reputation as the fount of all such – it appears that Chamberlain was an inveterate “Paul’s walker”!