An iconic image of the 1683–84 Frost Fair
By STOW, James; after Jan WYCK, 1825
N.W. View of the Fair on the River Thames during the Great Frost 1683/4 from an Original Drawing by Wyke in the British Museum. Taken near the Temple Stairs.
- Author: STOW, James; after Jan WYCK
- Publication place: London
- Publisher: Rob.t Wilkinson, No. 125 Fenchurch Street
- Publication date: 1st January 1825.
- Physical description: Watercolour and graphite drawing on two sheets of tracing paper; accompanied by Wilkinson’s published engraving; with a partial newspaper article.
- Dimensions: Watercolour: 247 by 730mm (9.75 by 28.75 inches); engraving: 247 by 730mm
- Inventory reference: 18173
Stow is probably best remembered for his engravings for John Boydell’s series illustrating the works of Shakespeare, and Robert Bowyer’s edition of David Hume’s ‘History of England’ (1806). But, tragically, “Stow is said to have fallen into intemperate habits, and he died in obscurity and poverty” (Ruth Cohen for DNB).
The River Thames has been known to freeze over on several occasions, especially during the “Little Ice Age” of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, upon which the inhabitants of London took to the solid ice for business and pleasure. The most important of these “Frost Fairs” occurred in 695, 1608, 1683–4, 1716, 1739–40, 1789, and 1814. In 1684, during the Great Freeze of 1683–4, which was the longest in London’s history and during which the ice reached depths of around 28cm, the diarist John Evelyn recorded the attractions of the Frost Fair:
“Streetes of Boothes were set upon the Thames… all sorts of Trades and shops furnished, & full of Commodities… 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 a carnival on water”.
- Engraving: BM 1880,0911.1007