The Frost Fairs: Christmas Parties on the Thames – when it was really cold!

We’ve all noticed it getting a lot colder the last few days and no doubt this has made many of us think of Christmas just a little bit more. There are the good bits of course: mulled wine, twinkling lights and decorations, time off work, presents, cosy log fires and Christmas parties where you can let your hair down! Then there are the less heart-warming aspects to winter and Christmas: frozen toes, short days and long nights, icy numb faces, red noses and bad colds! Well, we have it pretty good compared to some of the previous generations living in London.

Frozen Thames

Between the 15th and early 19th Centuries the River Thames froze over completely in central London no less than 26 times. Actually the Thames was narrower then as London was less build up, and of course the capital perhaps did not generate as much heat as it does now from the air conditioned buildings, millions of people, and cars that keep it buzzing these days.

As with all things bad (cold is bad right? That’s why we can provide hot water bottles on our outside decks for our Christmas parties – no red raw fingers on our cruises!)…there are silver linings. So to cheer everyone up, they had parties on the Thames way back then too, in the shape of the famous ‘frost fairs’. The frost fairs saw Londoners from Royalty to common paupers take to the river to skate, slide, drink, eat, be entertained, set up markets and generally frolic in what must have been an extraordinary atmosphere. In the 1814 frost fair an elephant was even led across the frozen Thames below Blackfriars Bridge!

Themed Christmas Boat Parties

In modern times the spirit of the frost fairs was revived at Bankside every Christmas between 2003 and 2008 but now such parties even on or near the Thames are nowhere to be seen. If of course the idea of a frost fair appeals to your romantic side (it does to us!) then maybe challenge us to theme a Christmas boat party for you – we’d love it! Fire-eaters, jugglers, sword swallowers, tavern booths handing out winter warming mulled brews, frosted decorations throughout, it can all be done! As for the Elephant, even our biggest boat the Dutch Master might struggle with that one so we’ll leave that consigned to history eh? Bring on Christmas!

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