December 31, 2020|Reports

“Frost, Freezes & Fairs” – Ian Currie

This joint Wickham Society and Wickham History Society Christmas meeting was the first time we haven’t been able to get together for mulled wine or Christmas cocktails – we look forward to being back at the Community Centre for Christmas 2021.

Nonetheless over sixty members, wearing a variety of Christmas jumpers and hats gathered together on Zoom on Tuesday 8th December to hear local meteorologist Ian Currie talk about the times when the Thames froze over.  The first recorded freeze was during the ‘Little Ice Age’ from the mid-seventeenth century to early eighteenth century.  In 1683/4 polar bears reached as far south as Scotland and the Solent almost completely froze over.  The Thames boatmen, deprived of their normal livelihood, took advantage of the frozen River Thames to create the famous ‘Frost Fairs’ on the River.

Ian had a wonderful selection of paintings and engravings of the fairs.  There was bear baiting, plenty of drinking dens, skating, plays and even barbecues.  Visitors paid extra to see an unfortunate soldier who had frozen to death in the ice.  The Thames boatmen must have made a fortune – without having to lift an oar!

The fairs continued in bad winters up to 1814 – the last fair on the river.  The demolition of the old London Bridge, dredging and the growth of London all combined to stop the lower river ever freezing again, even in the very severe winters of 1881, 1947 and 1963.  Not all the action was on the river however.  In 1740, the second coldest winter ever recorded, trees ‘exploded’ as ice split them apart, while in 1881 there were 15’ snowdrifts in Oxford Street.

It was a fascinating insight into past winters, particularly now as our winters are so much milder, but Ian pointed out that global warming can also lead to very unusual conditions – such as snow in Hampshire in October, something not previous recorded.

Do you have something to contribute to the society?