Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Great Frost of 1608

        As a few of you know, I'm researching and writing a nonfiction book about Anne Marbury Hutchinson. I haven't posted blog articles very often over the months of research and writing, and trying to make a living. Someone who negatively reviewed one of my Dyer books complained that some of the articles were taken from this Dyer blog, which costs me thousands of hours in research and writing time, and money spent on research books--but is provided at no cost to readers. But with that sort of critical attitude, I decided to remove or heavily edit some of the articles from this blog, to make the book even more exclusive than it had been. In this era when publishing companies and print periodicals have gone out of business, it's silly to dismiss websites and blogs as being wildly speculative or unsupported opinion. I know scores of historical authors and researchers who will agree with me that blogs are legitimate sources of research, infotainment, and newly discovered fact, as well as corrections to fanciful antiquarians of the 18th and 19th centures.
        When I researched the Dyer books, I read literally hundreds of books and scholarly papers about their culture, beliefs, and practices, spoke with experts and scholars, and I visited the places I was writing about.

        In the forthcoming Hutchinson book, there's a very long bibliography. This article, actually a chapter of the Hutchinson book, is about an event that took place when Anne Marbury (not yet Hutchinson) was a teenager living with her family in London. Her father was a popular minister and had authority over several churches at the time.
        I will probably remove this chapter from the blog, or severely edit it when the book is published, but as with the other books, I wanted to give you a taste of the book and an opportunity for input (in the comments).
        In the meantime, it's really, really hot, and I hope this article will help you forget for a few minutes. Cheers!
        PS: This is the sixth anniversary of the Dyer blog. Thank you for visiting and clicking the articles and links. At the moment, the page views are 471,634. Half a million is only a few days away!

The Great Frost
from the book, Anne Hutchinson, American Founding Mother
© 2017 by Christy K Robinson
he Great Frost of 1608 began in December 1607, when a massive freeze descended on Great Britain, Iceland, and Europe. It enveloped city and country alike, freezing animals and people, stopping trading ships, sending icebergs on the North Sea between England and the Continent, and freezing seaports so that coastal shipping trade came to a stop for three months. 

“The first decade of the 17th century was marked by a rapid cooling of the Northern Hemisphere, with some indications for global coverage. A burst of volcanism and the occurrence of El Niño seem to have contributed to the severity of the events. … Additional paleoclimatic, global evidence testifies for an equatorward shift of global wind patterns as the world experienced an interval of rapid, intense, and widespread cooling.”
Schimmelrnann, Lange, Zhao, and Harvey,  abstract,
The Peruvian silica volcano, Huaynaputina, erupted in 1600, with so much ejecta that more than 12 cubic miles of rock and ash filled the atmosphere, causing rapid global cooling and catastrophic weather events for a decade, including a Russian famine that killed two million people, epic mud flows in California, great droughts and freezes that affected the Popham and Jamestown colonies in Virginia, and die-offs in European vineyards. The far-off Peruvian volcano affected Great Britain, too.

A succession of hot, dry summers and extra-cold winters in England heralded the coldest years of the Little Ice Age in the seventeenth century. No one knew it then, of course. They just knuckled down and got on with survival.

In January 1607, there were “great floods;” in March it was unseasonably hot; the summer was extremely hot and dry, and many died because of it. But then came December 1607, which many judged to be the coldest winter in memory.

Fruit orchards that would only go dormant in a normal winter split their trunks and died. It cost more to feed livestock than to sustain people on that grain. Birds froze in flight or fell from their roosts.
In London, the River Thames froze solid. 

        According to Meriel Jeater of the Museum of London, the Thames froze 23 times between 1309 and 1814, and then never again. “The Old London Bridge at the time … had 19 arches, and each of the 20 piers was supported by large breakwaters. When chunks of ice got caught between them, it slowed the flow of the river above the bridge, making it more likely to freeze over. … When New London Bridge opened in 1831 it only had five arches. The Thames never froze over in the London area again.”
Perhaps to profit from the phenomenon of a once-in-a-lifetime cold spell, an anonymous author wrote a 28-page book, The Great Frost: Cold doings in London, except it be at the Lottery, With newes out of the country. A familiar talke betwene a country-man and a citizen touching this terrible frost and the great lotterie, and the effects of them. the description of the Thames frozen over, which may have a longer title than the interior text. The cover says it was printed on London Bridge (then supporting shops and tenements above the shops), so undoubtedly the book was meant to be sold on the frozen river below. There were two characters, the Countryman and the Citizen, having a dialogue about the first Frost Fair ever held, and the economic conditions of England because of the extended freeze.

         In the city, the Frost Fair meant that shops could set up market tents on the frozen river that “shows like grey marble roughly hewn” and sell souvenirs and winter clothing and shoes, serve alcohol from bars on wheels, gamble on sports or animal baiting, provide hot fair food from fires built on the ice (I wonder if they deep fried odd things as we do now), and have sleigh rides up and down the river. Ice skating was well-known in the Netherlands and Germany, and perhaps the English tried it. They also played football, and shot arrows and muskets. The Citizen said: “Both men, women, and children walked over, and up and downe in such companies, that I verily believe, and I dare almost sweare it, that one half (if not three parts) of the people in the Citie, have been seene going on the Thames.” 

And right there in London, probably out on the ice on a Saturday, we’d find the Marbury family, listening to musicians and watching dancers, playing, and eating fair food like turkey leg, meat or fruit pies, and gingerbread. 

            But at home, they were bundled up against the cold, as much as they’d been out on the Thames. The river was the main artery for shipping food, trade goods, and fuel like coal and wood into the city, and the ships were stuck out at sea, or frozen in ports. Wagons were similarly prevented from moving goods on frozen roads. The Citizen in The Great Frost bemoans the “unconscionable and unmerciful raising of the prices of fuel.”
A man golfing on ice, whose clothing style
 puts him in this time frame. Some avid golfers
will tell you that their sport of chasing
a little ball is silly in the best of summer
weather—but this man is very determined
to improve his game.

With little or no firewood or coal, people shared beds, mixing up aunties and grandchildren, parents and babies, servants and any guest staying the night. They had cupboard beds or four-posters with a canopy and curtains to keep their body heat and warm breath captive. The large Marbury family would have shared beds and body heat at night. 

The Countryman commended the city council for having stockpiled coal and wood against an emergency and price gouging. 

“Their care for fire was as great as for food. Nay, to want it was a worse torment than to be without meat. The belly was now pinched to have the body warmed: and had not the provident Fathers of this city carefully, charitably and out of a good and godly zeal, dispersed a relief to the poor in several parts and places about the outer bounds of the City, where poverty most inhabiteth; by storing them beforehand with sea coal and other firing at a reasonable rate, I verily persuade myself that the unconscionable and unmerciful raising of the prices of fuel by chandlers, woodmongers, &c.—who now meant to lay the poor on the rack—would have been the death of many a wretched creature through want of succour.”

The Citizen responded: “Strangers may guess at our harms: yet none can give the full number of them but we that are the inhabitants. For the City by this means [the closure of the river and roads] is cut off from all commerce.” 

         With commercial traffic stopped in its tracks during the Great Frost, the merchants, warehouses, dock hands, ship crews, and others were forced into stoppages they called “The dead vacation,” “The frozen vacation,” and “The cold vacation.” We can imagine the effect on their economy, especially if they were living hand to mouth. 

         Coupled with the loss of work and little to sell in the shops, the price of food rose precipitously. “For you of the country being not able to travel to the City with victuals, the price of victail must of necessity be enhanced; and victail itself brought into a scarcity,” wrote the Citizen.

The church poor rolls, the parish charity for widows and orphans, would have been stretched past their limits when they experienced weather and epidemiological catastrophes, so of course the Marburys would have been no stranger to hard work, short rations, and sharing small spaces.

The Great Frost was harsh, and it wasn’t the only time the Thames froze, but it was the most memorable. It lasted a little more than three months until the ice broke up and life returned to normal. Well, normal for them. Warmer meant…

Christy K Robinson is the author of this blog and these books: 

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018) (Amazon author page)