Cold doings in London

These snippets come from a tract entitled The great frost. Cold doings in London (1608). As a result of a severe winter in 1607-8 the river Thames in London froze. This account takes the form of a dialogue between two friends, who discuss the city’s reaction to the big freeze, and some of the fesitivities which occured on the frozen river.

The Thames began to put on his Freeze-coote about a week before Christmas, and hath kept it on till now, this latter end of January. This cold breakfast being given to the Cittie, and the Thames growing more & more hard harted, youthes and boyes were the first Merchant venturers that set out to discover these cold Landes upon the River; and the first path that was beaten forth, to passe to the Bank-Side with out going over Bridge or by Boat, was about Cold-Harbour, and in those places neere the Bridge.

Men, women, and children walked over, and up and downe in such companies that verily I believe, and I dare almost sweare it, the one half of the people in the Citie have been seene going on the Thames. The Gentlewoman that trembles to passe over a Bridge in the field, doth here walke boldly; the Citizens wife that lookes pale when she sits in a boate for feare of drowning, thinkes that here shee treades as safe now as in her parlour. Of all ages, of all professions, this is the common path: it is the roade way betweene London and Westminster, and betweene South-Warke and London.

But there were dangers too:

some have fallen in up to the knees, others to their middle, others to the arme-pittes, yea, and some have been ducked over head and eares, yet have crawled out like drowned Rats, while others have suncke to the bottome that never rose againe to the top, and they had a cold bed to lye in.

The friends relate the story of two boys, chasing birds on the frozen river: running to catch a sea gull:

one stumbled forward, his head slipt into a deepe hole, and there was hee drownd; the other in his haste slipt backwards, by that meanes he saved his [own] life.

And there is the sobering tale of

a poore fellow likewise having heated his body with drinke, thought belike to coole it on the water, but comming to walke on the Ice, his head was too heavy for his heeles, so that downe he fell, and there presently died.

But the dangers didn’t stop the merriment.
Thirst you for Beere, Ale, or for victualls, there you may buy it, and you may tell another day how you dined upon the Thames. Are you colde with going over? You shall, ere you come to the midst of the River, spie some ready with pannes of coales to warme your fingers. If you want fruite after you have dined, there stand Costermongers to serve you. And thus do people leave their houses and the streetes, turning the godliest River in the whole Kingdome into the broadest streete to walke in.
For more on London’s freezing winters see here
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