The Original Climate Crisis: How the Little Ice Age Devastated Early Modern Europe

The frost fairs held on the frozen River Thames in London are often invoked as evidence for an effect of the MM on climate. Such evidence is anecdotal in nature and, as pointed out by Jones & Mann (2004) and Jones (2008), can be misleading for a host of different reasons. The date of the first such fair is often said to be 1608, and indeed this appears to be the first time that the name “frost fair” was used. However, there is also the definition of what constitutes a “frost fair” to consider. Eyewitness reports from as early as AD 250 talk of social gatherings on the river, which in that year was frozen solid for six weeks. Note that there is always the potential for confusion between “old” (Julian) and “new” (Gregorian) dates in these reports as the correction can be omitted, applied in error or even applied multiple times. The chronicler Thomas Tegg reports that that the Thames froze for over six weeks in 695 and that booths to sell goods were erected on it (Tegg 1835). Fires were lit and sports organized on the frozen river in 1309. It is probable that frost fairs became fashionable through the influence of Flemish immigrants from the Low Countries, where such events had been common for some time, and how much this contributed to their increased occurrence – as opposed to an increased occurrence in the required meteorological conditions – is not known.

Another problem with attaching significance to the frost fair dates is that it is certainly not true that a frost fair was held every winter in which the river was sufficiently frozen. In the winter of 923, the river carried loaded horse carts for 13 weeks and in both 1150 and 1410 the same was true for 14 weeks, but no frost fair is mentioned in the records. There are potential social, political, economic, health and, possibly, supply shortage reasons for this. Frost fairs were often bawdy and unruly events and were sometimes discouraged by puritanical authorities. It is noticeable that between the frost fairs of 1763 and 1789 there were five winters in which the Thames was reported as freezing yet there is no record of a frost fair being held. The winter of 1776 was particularly cold, with heavy snow and the river was known to be frozen. However, that winter London was also hit by an influenza epidemic, one that is estimated to have killed 40 000 people in England.

Frost fairs, sunspots and the Little Ice Age
Lockwood et. al. 2017

Frost fair The key phrases in this article could be: ‘Whatever its causes’ and ‘Average temperatures in the British Isles cooled by 2°C’. Climate science is unable to offer a specific explanation, although theories abound, but natural variation for whatever reasons is built-in and always will be. Quantifying it remains out of reach, but computer […]

The Original Climate Crisis: How the Little Ice Age Devastated Early Modern Europe

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