London’s Frost Fairs

An exhibit at the Museum of London in the City of London and the Museum of London Docklands commemorates the 200th anniversary of the last “Frost Fair” held on the River Thames. During the “Little Ice Age” from 1550 to 1850, there were several occasions in which the Thames froze over so hard that people could not only walk on it, but pitch tents and throw a party.

The Frost Fairs were held in 1683-4, 1716, 1739-40, 1789, and 1814. Activities included fox hunting, bull-baiting, roasting sheep, horse-drawn boat rides, games that including “throwing things at roosters,” but more drinking than anything else. A lot of the revelry was the fun of watching people slip and fall on the ice. The fairs lasted until the ice began to crack.

Atlas Obscura has a collection of drawings and paintings from the exhibit Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1814 depicting the various fairs, with many of the activities labeled for posterity.

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