On this day in 1434 a severe frost set in in London that was to last until the February of the following year, and the Thames froze over.
Further records indicate that in all the river froze over nearly forty times between 1142 and 1895, and that it became the site of impromptu “Frost Fairs” in 1564-65, 1683-84, 1715-16, 1739-40, 1788-89 and 1813-14.
In 1683-84 an entire street of stalls was set up on the frozen river, together with a press printing souvenir papers, one of which, entitled “A Winter Wonder of the Thames Frozen Over with Remarks on the Resort thereon” asked “ … [W]ho’d believe to see revived there in January, Bartholomew Fair?”. The ice was evidently so thick that it was even possible to roast an ox on it! In 1788-89, there was, according to the all-knowing Encyclopaedia of London, “one continual scene of merriment and jollity” on the frozen river from Redriff to as far up as Putney.
And in 1813-14, thousands attended the greatest fair of the nineteenth century, although only after navigating a gap in the ice created by temporarily unemployed watermen, who demanded a fee of twopence for their assistance! Then, in 1831, the demolition of the Old London Bridge, which had nineteen arches, and the construction of the new one, which only had five, allowed the rate of flow of the river to increase to the extent that it became much less susceptible to freezing over.
Readers interested in further details are referred to The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys (Union Books, 2007), and Frost Fairs on the Frozen Thames by Nicholas Reed (Lilburne Press, 2002).