A “Little Ice Age” occurred in Europe from about 1550 to 1850 and, as a result, the Thames River in London froze 23 times between 1408 and 1814.
A frozen river provided an opportunity for a carnival or a “Frost Fair.” The Frost Fair of 1683-84, known as the Blanket Fair and was especially festive with bear-baiting, fox hunting, horse racing and puppet shows – all on the ice.
It was a carnival atmosphere with vendors of food, drink and souvenirs. Even printers set up presses to sell broadsides, cards and other items “printed on the ice.” For a couple of weeks, the whole town was in attendance.
The Temple Stairs is the the left of this painting. Pass the stairs is the Whitefryers Precinct. Art critic Connie J Jasperson makes the following observation:
Everywhere you look you see color. Red wheels on a cart, red tents, blue tents, and yellow–color is everywhere. We sometimes think of the 17th century as a dark colorless time, but clearly it was not. People were much the same then as they are today. We love to have fun and will find a way to enjoy ourselves even in the harshest conditions.
And winters during that time were harsh. Fuel for heating and cooking was expensive, food was expensive, and many people died from the cold and starvation.
Below is another view showing the Temple area in the center of the background. The Whitefriars precinct is to the right. Dogwell Court, where Edward Mashborne Sr. and his wife Sarah (nee Sindery) lived, is hidden behind the large rectangular building.
Sarah died and was buried on March 30, 1683 next to her young daughter at churchyard in St. Giles-in-the-fields where the family had previously lived before moving to Whitefriars. Nine months later, one of the worst cold spells in history ascended upon London.
From his home in Dogwell Court, Edward Mashburn Jr., age 9, would have walked down the old Whitefriars Street until he came to steps that led down to the riverbank. Whitefriars is circled in red ink on the bird’s eye view of Blanket Fair.
The ice on the river was 16-18 inches thick and could actually hold horses and coaches. Everybody of every class (including the king and queen) were in attendance.
The following videos contains a lot of information on the Frost Fairs, especially the 1684-85 Blanket Fair.
- Frost Fairs: London’s Frozen Thames (Museum of London)
- Frost Fair: A British History in Weather, Holiday on Ice
- BBC News Frost Fair The festival on the frozen River Thames
- A later Frost Fair made it into a Dr. Who episode.
After the Blanket Fair
On 16 May 1685, three months after the Blanket Fair, Edward Sr. remarried Elizbeth Nash. After his death Elizabeth raised the Mashburn children as her own. There is some evidence that she may have operated a dame school at her home in Dogwell Lane to support them.
Elizabeth later remarried Edward Lloyd (of Lloyd’s of London fame). Later she sold the house on Dogwell to Dryden Lynch, a political printer and best friend of the infamous John Wilkes (a distant relative and namesake of John Wilkes Booth).