Tuesday 17 April 2018

The Frost Fair of 1814

It's a pleasure to welcome Amy D'Orazio, author of A Short Period of Exquisite Felicity, to the salon to guide us through the Frost Fair of 1814. Congratulations to Patty, Angelina and Beatrice, prizewinners!


Okay, so this might not be the best time to be talking about cold weather. For many of us in the US and England, as well as many other places, it was a long, hard winter. From where I sit in the northern US, we are even now, in mid-April, anxiously contemplating the possibility of a historic snowfall — Winter Storm Xanto — which might drop as much as two feet of snow in some places. Yikes! 
And yet no matter how severe this past winter has been, it has still been milder than the historic winter of 1814.  The winter of 1814 began with record cold; on the 27th of December, it was below zero and temperatures remained below zero until the end of January. The average temperature during that time was 3C (26F). There was a slight thaw during the second week of February, but then the cold returned and remained until the end of March, with temperatures hovering around 0C the entire time. Snowfalls were heavy and frequent throughout. In contrast, the coldest winter in the past 100 years has been the winter of 2010 during which average temperatures were around 4C (39F).
It was the first week of February, with ice thick on the part of the Thames that stretched from the London Bridge to Blackfriars  Bridge, that the final Frost Fair was held. Frost Fairs were not entirely unknown to England then, held in 1683-4, 1716, 1739-40, 1789, and 1814. They were, in essence, bacchanals, with the primary objective being to have as much fun as possible without breaking through the ice. 
The lightermen and watermen — whose usual jobs were to ferry people and goods across the river and who therefore lost their income when the river was impassable — usually kicked off the festivities. The fair of 1814 was one of the largest and best-attended frost fairs, although it was also the shortest, with thousands of people visiting daily. It was a boon to the watermen who charged twopence or threepence per person and demanded a tip on leaving — some made  £6-7 daily. 
On the first of February, seemingly overnight, a veritable city had been born on the frozen river. There were rows of tents, each boasting some delight to the fair-goers, from food and drink of every sort imaginable to toys, books and souvenirs. 

Food and drink were both plentiful. One of the main culinary draws was the roasting of an entire ox. Though an entire ox would have taken about 24 hours to cook when it was done one animal would have fed as many as 800 people. There was also sliced mutton and mince pies, gingerbread, hot apples, and oysters, as well as hot chocolate, tea and coffee among the delicacies. 
The tents selling alcohol were among the most popular. Called fuddling” tents, they sold a variety of particularly potent gin-based drinks, including Old Tom a sweet, light, but undeniably potent drink. Purl was a watermans favourite; served hot it was a combination of gin, spices and wormwood wine. Mum was another popular beverage in the fuddling tents, being a spiced ale concoction. 
Along with food and drink, there were amusements in abundance. People played games such as rouge et noir, te-totums, wheel of fortune, the garter, and skittles.  Swings were set up for the children, and dancing barges were filled with young couples dancing reels while fiddlers kept up merry tunes. Several eyewitness accounts also say that one day an elephant was led across the ice near Blackfriars Bridge. 
Pedlars and tradesman rushed to set up their shops amid this atmosphere of gay hedonism. Their wares included everything from books to toys, all of which bore a label saying something on the order of bought on the Thames” which increased the value of them many times above what it would have been otherwise. As is seen today, souvenirs were very popular, some as simple as a printed sheet describing the festivities. One enterprising publisher set up a printing press and cranked out copies of a book he wrote, titled Frostiana, for the fair attendees. 
By the end of the fifth day, temperatures had risen above freezing, and cracking sounds alerted the festival-goers that the ice was growing too thin to support the celebration. Some accounts say that no one died from falling through the ice while others say many did. One report said a plumber carrying lead sheets across the ice was the first to fall in; others say it was two ladies who slipped through but were rescued by the watermen. The tide turned soon after that, and enormous chunks of ice began to break loose, in one case carrying two men with it. Several of the dancing barges escaped their moorings and were quickly wrecked. By the 6th day, the makeshift town had disappeared just as quickly as it had arrived and to date remains the last of its kind.  

Could the Thames freeze again? It isnt likely and climate change isnt the only reason. While its true that the winters have become milder since the end of the Little Ice Age, the primary reason that the Thames doesnt freeze is the bridge itself. In 1831, the old bridge was destroyed, and a new one with five wider arches was built in its place. The new design allows for improved tidal flow and therefore the water doesnt freeze.  

The Frost Fair features in my most recent release, A Short Period of Exquisite Felicity, as the scene of reconciliation for Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. An excerpt is below — hope you enjoy! I would love to have a comment from you — I will choose one person from the comments to receive an ebook copy of A Short Period of Exquisite Felicity. Thank you! 

The wind bit at them as soon as they exited the bookseller's tent, stinging Darcys cheeks and stealing his breath away, but he thought nothing of it. There was a warmth within him that he knew only when he had Elizabeth by his side. How easy it was to forget anything was amiss when she was with him! How little anything else mattered when he could look down and see her gloved hand on his arm. 
They returned to the City of Moscow fuddling tent. Elizabeth looked around her, rising on her toes to look down the City Road, seeking her lost companions. 
The gentlemen bid us wait here. Alas, I did not heed their directive.
The fuddling tent was not spacious, and being less occupied than previously, there was no difficulty in confirming that Sir Edmund, Jolly, and Miss Bingley were not within. 
They exited the tent and spent several minutes searching the surrounding area. Darcy rather hoped he would not catch a glimpse of them; he was determined to make the most of this unexpected interlude with Elizabeth. He noted with satisfaction that she also seemed rather unconcerned. The crowd swelled with more and more people pressing their way onto the ice, though none of them appeared to be acquaintances of either hers or his.
What was your next planned destination?
Elizabeth shrugged. Miss Bingley wished for gingerbread, but I believe that is sold by the strolling vendors.
Perhaps we would do best to ramble about,” he suggested. No doubt we shall come upon them in due time.
No doubt,” she agreed. Darcy offered his arm again, but this time, she hesitated. 
My sister and Mr Bingley probably remain at the dancing barge. If you would kindly escort me there, I can relieve you of the burden of protectorship.
It is not a burden to me. Indeed I…”
He stopped, unsure what was better to be said or left unsaid. Their last meeting lay between them like a physical being. Her eyes were questioning as she sought his gaze, and at length, she bit her lip. He imagined that the recollection of their last meeting and the violent argument remained fresh in her mind. She had no idea where she stood in his regard, just as he did not know where he stood in hers. Neither of them was of a mind to speak plainly, certainly not here in the midst of a fair, surrounded by drunkards and laggards.
If you wish to go to your sister and Bingley, I shall by no means suspend that pleasure. We can go there at once.” He extended his arm in the direction of the barge, indicating she should precede himif she wished to. Or we could continue to walk about in hopes of finding the others.
She did not move. Her eyes searched his face, and he wondered what she saw or hoped to see. 
My only wish is that I not be an obligation to you.
It is my pleasure to attend you. Truly, it is.
It is my pleasure,” she said in a voice so quiet he could scarcely hear it, to be attended by you.
She blushed and looked away, directing his attention downriver. We came from that direction, so perhaps we should go towards there.


monkee said...

I really loved reading this again (I read the book). It's amazing how one can remember a book from a short passage and "feel" the atmosphere in your heart. Sharon legg slegg43@gmail.com

Victorianna said...

This article was so enjoyable to read. I would love to somehow go back in time and be able to observe all the "happy" people on the ice. If I were there as an observer I would most likely be drinking a hot chocolate and thinking how their love of fun and enterprise is not much different from our own today.

kneyda said...

I love when the frost fair is in JAFF books. Love the idea of E & D romance at the fair even more!!

darcybennett said...

Enjoyed the post and excerpt.

Patty said...

I would love to receive a cooy of this book. It is on my TBR pile. I do like it when authors put historical scenes in their writing esp. The Frost Fair. Love D & E scenes. Thanks for the opportunity to win.

Pattyedmisson at gmail dot com

Angelina Jameson said...

Lovely excerpt and one of the most thorough articles about the frost fairs that I have come across.

Jan Ashton said...

I've read your wonderful book and read about the Frost Fairs but you just taught me so much more about it, Amy. Loved it all.

Nightstitcher. said...

The excerpt whets my appetite for more, so please enter me in the drawing!

Elaine said...

Fascinating article. I never knew that whole fairs took place on the frozen Thames. Lovely excerpt too. I liked the tendrrnten between Elizabeth and Darcy at the end. Makes me want to read more, so I'll keep my fingers crossed...

Beatrice said...

I knew about there being activities on the ice when the Thames froze but didn't know about the frost fairs. How fun! Loved the excerpt. BTW my daughter lives in Ottawa Canada, and they do similar things - to a much smaller degree -on their canal each winter. Thanks for the post! I'd love to win the draw. beatriceyn at yahoo.com

Beatrice said...

Thank you for the post and opportunity to win an e-book of this charming tale. I knew about activities on the ice on the rare occasions when the Thames froze, but didn't know they rose to the status of frost fairs. However my daughter in Ottawa Canada reports much festivity on the canal there each winter, with many skaters and booths selling food.

LĂșthien84 said...

Thank you for sharing an extensive knowledge of the 1814 Frost Fair, Amy. I would love to be part of this fair and experience the fun and jolly activities. But then I'd be terrified if I were to fall into the freezing cold water.

Amy DOrazio said...

Sounds amazing doesn't it! I am partial to a good fair, I must admit it
Thank you!

Amy DOrazio said...

Such a lovely comment Sharon! Much appreciated! Thank you!

Amy DOrazio said...

Oh my goodness me too! Meet you at the hot chocolate tent! :)

Amy DOrazio said...

Me too! I've been wanting to work it into a book for a long time!

Amy DOrazio said...

Thank you Darcybennett!

Amy DOrazio said...

Thanks Patty! I love putting in the authentic historical events too... although if you can only imagine the DAYS of research I put in ... its scary!

Amy DOrazio said...

Thank you so much!

Amy DOrazio said...


Amy DOrazio said...

Thank you!

Amy DOrazio said...

Thank you Elaine!

Amy DOrazio said...

That sounds like so much fun! Almost makes the winter bearable... almost ;)

Amy DOrazio said...

Oh my, me too! I have a friend in Minnesota who drives across a lake in the winter to get to work... she says she once heard it start cracking as she went across, I'd have literally lost my wits!
Thank you so much Luthien!

Amy DOrazio said...

Many thanks to all of you who commented and entered the drawing! The winners are Patty, Angelina and Beatrice. I will be contacting you via email or facebook message in the next day or so to claim your prize! Thanks again!