The air was more severely piercing than ever

These fragments come from an account of a terrible cold snap in the winter of 1683. The author begins by recounting some of the more infamous frosts experienced in England, and then goes on to provide an interesting account of how Londoners are coping with the freezing conditions of 1683.

In the reign of King Edward the Third, a frost lasted from the midst of September to the month of April, and a great part of the time with great violence. In the 15th year of the reign of King Henry the Eighth, after great rains and winds, there followed so sore a frost, that many dyed for cold, and some lost fingers, some toes, and many their nails. In the seventh year of Queen Elizabeth, on the 21st of December, began a frost so extreme, that on New-Years-Eve, people passed over the Thames on foot. Some played at Football, some shot at Pricks, as if it had been firm ground. Yet the great frost, the third of January at night, began to thaw, and by the fifth day, there was no ice at all to be seen, which sudden thaw, caused great inundations. In the sixth year of the reign of King James the First, 1608, a frost began in December, which continued till April following, with such violence, that not only the Thames was so frozen that carts loaden were driven over as on dry land, but many fowls and birds perished; as also much herbage in gardens, especially Artichoaks and Rosemary were destroyed. In the ninth year of the reign of King Henry the Fourth, there was so sharp a winter, and so great a frost, with such abundance of snow, continuing December, January, February, and March, that great quantities of cattle and large fowl died, and almost all small birds perished through hunger.

About the midst of December 1683, at first by mean and ordinary degrees, but towards Christmas, came a sharp frost. The first week of January the river Thames was so frozen that people began to walk over. On Monday January the 7th, on the change of the moon, there were expectations, and some likelyhood of a thaw; but presently after, it froze more violently, and on the 10th and 11th in the morning, a coach plied between the Temple and the Old Barge house. Yet towards night on the 11th it thawed a little, and the 12th and 13th was fine gentle weather, yet not much thawing, the wind continuing still at north-east. On the 13th, it froze again briskly, till the 17th, when a great snow fell. The 18th came high, most sharp, and piercing winds, and on the 23rd the air was more severely piercing than ever and more snow fell. And being the first day of the Term, coaches plied at the Temple Staires, and carried the lawyers to Westminster on the ice. A kind of a fair was kept there on the river, called Blanket-Fair, from the numerous company of blankets used to cover huts or tents, where both men, women, and children, horses, carts and coaches, went thereon as on dry ground. Whole streets of shedds everywhere were built on the Thames, thousands passing, buying, selling, drinking and revelling (I wish I could not say on the Lords Day too) and most sorts of trade shops on the ice. Foot passengers went as thick as in any street in London.  There were also several diversions, as bull-baiting, nine-pin-playing &c. A whole oxe was roasted on the ice against Whitehall, and likewise a printing press was kept in a booth over against York Stairs, where many thousands had their names printed. All of which still continues at the writing hereof, being January the 29th 1683.

For the Frost Fair of 1608 see my post here

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  • December 2, 2010 - 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Christopher! Hope you’ll contribute to the discussions here and elswhere too!

  • December 2, 2010 - 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I used the Dekker woodcut because I love it so much. The only depiction I’ve seen of an early modern snowball fight!

  • December 2, 2010 - 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Worth pointing out for those unaware that the woodcut at the top is a depiction of an earlier Great Snow of 1615 (from the title page of a Thomas Dekker pamphlet). I wonder why the prologue of the 1683 pamphlet doesn’t mention that particular cold snap!

  • Christopher Thompson
    November 30, 2010 - 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for your kind remarks. Your blog and Nick Poyntz’s at Mercurius Politicus are my personal favourites. I shall keep reading if not writing.

  • November 29, 2010 - 4:53 pm | Permalink

    and they call it bitterly cold when the temperature falls to -2 degrees nowadays….

    I would love to see a frost fair on the Thames. It sounds really exciting. Do you think Health and Safety would allow us on there? Or would they be too worried someone would fall in?

  • November 27, 2010 - 12:41 pm | Permalink

    oh how I wish the noble sport of ‘shooting at pricks’ had not died out. Fascinating account. The English obsessed with the weather since Early modern Times.

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