London Frost Fairs

December 29, 2021
London Frost Fairs

When walking along the pedestrian underpass of Southwark bridge you may have noticed five large pieces of slate along the southern wall. The slates have been beautifully engraved by artist Richard Kindersley and shows a fun scene of a long-lost London event; the Frost Fair. 

The large slate engravings show a map of the area surrounding the section of frozen Thames with fun pictures of the impromptu market stalls and Londoners having a gay 'ole time. 

The scenes include a man playing skittles, a printing press and even a cow on a spit over a fire, yes, on the ice. 

Charles Mackay in "The Thames and its Tributaries", 1840 lists the Thames freezing over 12 times between 250 and 1114 but fails to share his sources. 

Toni Mount describes the Great Freeze of 1309 in Chroniques de London (A Year in the Life of Medieval England) "There was such cold and such masses and piles of ice on the Thames and everywhere else that the poor were overcome by excessive cold and bread covered with straw otherwise unprotected could not be eaten unless warmed...The river froze so solidly, bonfires could be lit on it" It's amazing to think of great chunks of ice emerging from the river, it wasn't all smooth ice as if on a frozen lake. 

Why did the river Thames freeze over?

The whole Thames didn't freeze solid, it was just the section between Blackfriars Bridge and the old London Bridge that was susceptible to freezing. The old London Bridge (1176-1825) acted as a weir and more or less prevented tides and salt water passing that point. 

All the Frost Fairs took place upstream of Old London Bridge, because the old London Bridge with its 19 arches slowed the flow of the river, and therefore precipitated freezing.

The year 1816, for example,  is known as "the year without a summer. Low temperatures and heavy rains ruined the harvests and caused widespread famine and assisted a typhoid epidemic. 

1564-65 Both Stow and Holinshead report a very severe winter where at New Years, the river Thames was frozen over from London Bridge to Westminster. It's during the same year that Elizabeth I is reported to have won at targets (archery) on the ice. 

In our London History podcast episode no 35: A Tudor Christmas you might remember me mentioning about the "Little Ice Age". This refers to a period between C14th and C19th where the climate in Europe and North America cooled dramatically. Winters became colder and weather was more extreme; storms, gales, weeks of rain and the aftermath of floods and long droughts became all too common.

If you're interested in learning more about frost fairs listen to our podcast episode on Frost Fairs.


What Was London Like in 1888?

December 15, 2021

In 1888 the population of London was almost five million out of which I would say that over 2 million lived below the poverty line and that of those about 900,000 lived in the East End about 76,000 in Whitechapel.

Why was there so much overcrowding in areas like Whitechapel? From the 1840s farming was becoming mechanised and so farm-hands lost their jobs and came to London looking for work. From 1845 the Irish Potato Famine began from a disease that blighted the potatoes causing them to rot in...

Continue reading...

The Unknown Warrior

November 26, 2021
When visiting Westminster Abbey or watching one of the filmed ceremonies you may notice a black marble stone (7x 4 ft) set in the floor which everyone walks around, including the Queen. That is the grave of the Unknown Warrior, a symbol of all the glorious dead from World War I (1914-1918).

How did this soldier end up amongst the kings in Westminster Abbey? 

In 1916 a young military chaplain by the name of David Railton had been conducting burial services for fallen soldiers in France. He sa...

Continue reading...

What did the Georgians use to brush their teeth?

November 15, 2021

I spoke with Sarah Murden to talk about dental care during the Georgian era. 

My first question was 'What did the Georgians use to brush their teeth?'

Here's what she said:

"A Frenchman, a chap called Pierre Fauchard, actually studied the anatomy of the mouth and looked at the actual teeth, looked at the construction of the teeth and he started to write documents and, I think, wrote a thesis on what we were doing wrong, this is what we should be doing and this is how to look after the teeth bett...

Continue reading...

Who was Robert Hooke's neice?

November 5, 2021
Who was Robert Hooke's neice? Grace Hooke was the daughter of Grocer John Hooke and his wife Elizabeth. She was baptised on 2nd May 1660 at Newport parish church. She grew up in a large substantial property on Newport High Street. On 16th October 1668 her father John Hooke (brother of Robert Hooke) became Mayor of Newport. ​​John Hooke started to borrow money from his brother Robert during the 1670's. Robert, was not a big spender and was sensible with his own money, kept an account of ...
Continue reading...

Victorian Actor William Terriss

October 29, 2021

The Adelphi Theatre, smack bang in the middle of London’s theatreland, holds many secrets; one of which is what happened to the leading actor of the Victorian era William Terriss? His ghost purportedly still haunts the theatre.

But what happened to William? Why did the nations’ favourite theatre actor lose his life at the hand of one of his colleagues and what happened to incite it?

After a number of short unsuccessful careers, Terriss was mistakenly identified as Prince Alfred, Queen Victo...

Continue reading...


"online bookings' cpd #earthrise 17th 1830s 18thcentury 1930s 20th 50th a abbey adele afternoon afternoon tea age ages alastair ancient and animals annie anniversary apps architecture arsenal art arts attack autumn awards baker bank bankside barbican barrier bathhouses battersea bazalgette bear beasts becket bells bexley bishopsgate black blackfriars blackout blitz bloomsbury bombers book books borough bowie breakfast brewery brick bridge britain british bronze bronze age brunch buckingham burger burlesque buses cab cabaret cake canal canary captain care carl carol caroline carols cathedral cemetery cenotaph century chapman charles charlton cheap cheapside cheese childhood chips chiswick chocolate christmas church city city of london clapham clerkenwell cocktails coffee coffeehouses common company concert corporate covent covent garden covid-19 cream crime cross crown cruise crystal danson david davy day december dental deptford dick dickens dinner dinosaurs do dock dockland museum dragons dreamtime druitt earth east eat eating eats ecommerce edward edwardians edwin egypt elizabethan end engineering era ernst event events exhibition exhibitions facebook fair fairytale fall family fantastic farringdon fashion february festival film finance fire first fiscus florence folklore food for francis free friars frost gallery galliard garden george georgian georgians german germany gibb gift girls globe grade great greenhithe greenwich group guided guides gun half hall halsk handel harle harry potter hats havering havering hoard hawksmoor hazel heroes hidden highbury hill hilton history holloway homes hooke hot hotel house housing how humphry i ian ianmcd ice ice cream icelandic ii iii in india inigo isaac islington italian iv jack jack the ripper jack's james jenny jewels john johns jones joseph katharines kelly kenneth kew gardens kids kidstours killer kim king kings kingston lambeth lane lewis lights limestone literature liverpool locations londinium london london bridge london's londoners londonhistory lunch lutyens macaulay magnus management maritime market markets martyr mary match matilda maufe mayfair mcdiarmid measure medical medieval memorial middle military millennium mock-tudor modern modernist montague month monument moorgate mosaic murder murderers museum museum of london docklands music musicals mystery n7 national gallery national history museum ned new newcomen news newton nhs nichols night nightingale nurse of old street oliver open opera paddington palace palaces pancakes pandemic panoramic park parties path pauls people philip photo photograhy photography photos pizza places plague plantation plays plumstead podcast poetry pokemon polly poor pop poplar port poverty prince priory private tours pub public pubs purbeck qe2 queen queenhithe quirky railways recording regency reid religion rembrandt renaissance restoration ripper river road rob robert roman romans roundhouse royal saga saints salute saxon school. science sculpture scupture seacole second serial servants sewers shakespeare shoreditch siemens sir slave slavery small smartphone smith smithfield smithfields soap soho somme south southbank southwark spitalfields spy squirrels ss st statue stories stow street strike stuart stuarts studios subscription suffragettes sugar summer susan sydenham tate taxi tea ten term terror thames thamesmeade the theatre thiepval things things to do thrifty thriftytheatre to toothbrush tour tours tower trade travel truman tudor tudors tumblety twelfth twentieth twist und underground update v&a ve victims victoria victorian victorian london victorians viking virtual vouchers wales walk walking walks wall war water werner west westend westminster wharf wheeler whitechapel wilde wildlife willelm william windrush wine winter women wood woodland woolwich world wyatt york zachary 1666 1888 2019 2020





Site by Hazel  |  Photographs by Hazel or Ian