Frost Fairs

1683 Frost Fair

If you’re looking for proof of climate change, consider that Londoners used to hold festivals on the frozen Thames that could go on for weeks. Of the 1683-84 “frost fair,” pictured above, diarist John Evelyn wrote:

Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets, sleds, sliding with skates, bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tippling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water.

Between 1400 and 1814 there are 23 documented cases of the Thames freezing over. The last fair lasted only four days, though; the climate was changing, and the river ran more swiftly as it was embanked during the 19th century.

“A Circumstantial and Authentic Account”

February 20, 1766, Richard Persons, and three other persons, met at a private house in Chalford, in order to play at cards. Though only nineteen years of age, he was very guilty of swearing, and using bad language. A dispute arising while thus engaged, he wished that his flesh might rot upon his bones, and frequently repeated this expression, with many others equally shocking. The party continued to play to a very late hour; and before they broke up Parsons felt a pain in his leg, and complained of it to his partner, of the name of Rolles. From that time it increased, and he went to Minchinhampton, to get advice of Mr. Pegler, a surgeon, who found that a mortification had taken place. All possible means were taken to prevent its spreading, but nothing could save him: it flew from his legs to various parts, viz. under his eyes, and the tops of his shoulders, and on one hand; and he died in twelve hours after it so spread, on the 4th of March in the morning, a most shocking spectacle.

Annual Register, 1766

Perfect Casting

In the 1970s, Anthony Hopkins won a role in the film The Girl From Petrovka. The story was based on a novel by George Feifer, and Hopkins sought it out in several bookstores, without success. He was waiting at the Leicester Square underground station when he noticed a discarded book on a bench nearby. It was The Girl from Petrovka, with notes written in the margins.

Two years later, while shooting the project in Vienna, Hopkins met Feifer, and during their conversation he learned that the novelist had no copy of the book. He had lent his to a friend, who had lost it somewhere in London.

Incredulous, Hopkins handed him the book he had found two years earlier. “Is this the one?” he asked. “With the notes scribbled in the margins?” It was Feifer’s book.

Requiescat In Pace

William Andrews, Curious Epitaphs, 1899

A puzzle from 1796. “This curious inscription is humbly dedicated to the penetrating geniuses of Oxford, Cambridge, Eton, and the learned Society of Antiquaries.” Can you decipher it?

Click for Answer


“If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans.” — Otto von Bismarck, 1898

“Crossing the Thames in a Butcher’s Tray”

July 5, 1766. At eight o’clock in the evening, a man who had laid a wager to cross the Thames in a butcher’s tray, set out in the same from Somerset Stairs, and reached the Surrey shore with great ease, using nothing but his hands. He had on a cork jacket, in case of any accident. It was said 1400l. was depending on this affair; and upwards of seventy boats full of spectators were present.

Annual Register, 1766


On March 23, 1989, a 1,000-foot asteroid missed the Earth by 400,000 miles.

If it had passed 6 hours earlier it would have struck us, creating the largest explosion in recorded history.

Math Notes

42 = 24

Sorry, Wrong Fugitive

In December 1974, Australian police arrested a man they believed was Lord Lucan, a British peer who had fled a murder investigation in London.

They were mistaken. It wasn’t Lord Lucan — it was British MP John Stonehouse, who had faked his suicide a month earlier.


Richelieu recommendation

If you’re the trusting sort, you might be pleased to carry this recommendation from Cardinal Richelieu to the French ambassador at Rome.

You wouldn’t last long, though. Rather than scan each line straight across, the ambassador would fold the page in half and read the truth about you in the left column.

(From Charles Bombaugh, Gleanings From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1860)