In scenes reminiscent of the Great Freeze of 1963, part of the River Thames froze over as temperatures in Britain plummeted to sub-zero temperatures this week.
The bitter chill from the Baltic led to the river at Teddington Lock, south-west London, partially freezing over, becoming a skating rink for local birdlife.
At this section of the Thames, on the non-tidal side, water flows more slowly, so it is more susceptible to icing over.
It did so to spectacular effect in January 1963, the coldest winter for 200 years, as blizzards covered the country in deep snow drifts. Surreal scenes included a man cycling on the Thames near Windsor Bridge. Elsewhere, people skated outside Buckingham Palace, and a milkman delivered his round on skis as snow lay on the ground for 62 consecutive days in the south of England.
Modern times, however, have seen nothing compared to January 1814, when the last Frost Fair on the Thames was held. Then Londoners were able dance, play skittles, and drink purl – a mix of gin and wormwood wine similar to vermouth – from pop-up pubs and gingerbread sellers who set up stalls on the thick ice. Oxen were roasted on spits, and an elephant was even marched across the river alongside Blackfriars Bridge.
A Times report from the period said: “In some parts the ice was several feet thick, while in others it was dangerous to venture upon.” The fair sprang up at the heart of the capital, between London Bridge and Blackfriars.
Between 1309 and 1814, during which Britain was said to have experienced a “little ice age”, the Thames froze at least 23 times, and on five of those occasions impromptu frost fairs – described as being a cross between a Christmas market, circus and boisterous party – were held. At the time of the first frost fair, in 1608, the river froze over for six weeks.
London is unlikely to witness such a spectacle again. Apart from the climate crisis, the architecture on the Thames has changed. The new London Bridge, built in 1831 with fewer arches, allows more seawater to pass up river, and the saltier water means a lower freezing point. And the construction of the Embankment, later in the 19thcentury, narrowed the Thames, making it faster flowing.
Peter Finch, chairman of the River Thames Society, said that the river above Teddington Lock has frozen before in recent times, usually just above the lock gates but this has depended on the amount of boats coming through. This year, partly due to the pandemic, there has been little river traffic so the lock gates have opened less frequently. He added the Thames is tidal below the lock and has not frozen over and is unlikely to, given the flow.
— to www.theguardian.com