THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

11 posts from May 2017

31 May 2017

Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett, bibliographer and company commander

Today we are telling the story of Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett, a British Museum librarian who was killed in action near the French city of Arras on 31 May 1917.

Arras IWM Q2375

 The ruins of the village of Monchy-le-Preux seen on 30 May 1917, following the Battle of Arras © IWM (Q 2375)

Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett was born at Aberdeen on 20 June 1885, the only son of William Kendall Burnett and his wife Margretta. William was the son of the 6th Laird of Kemnay and a prominent figure in Aberdeen civic life, serving as both magistrate and city treasurer before his death in 1912. Ian Burnett was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, where he evidently did very well. His university obituary stated that he had a brilliant career at school, ‘being first in every class, usually in every subject; he was editor of the school magazine and president of the debating society, and he became Dux of the school in 1903’. Burnett then entered the University of Aberdeen, graduating in 1908 as M.A. with First Class Honours in Foreign Languages. While at university, Burnett was involved in many extra-curricular activities, including significant roles in the university's literary and debating societies. In his final year, he was the editor of the university's student magazine Alma Mater.

In 1909, Burnett was appointed Assistant Librarian at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. The following year, he joined the staff of the British Museum, becoming Second Class Assistant in the Department of Printed Books. While at the museum, Burnett succeeded Harold Mattingly in compiling the List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900, now in the British Museum. Published by the trustees of the museum in 1915, the List remains a standard reference text for book provenance research.

It is possible to trace the broad framework of Burnett's military career from his service records and from unit histories. While still working at the museum, Burnett joined the cavalry squadron of the Inns of Court Officers' Training Corps in 1913. He gained a commission after the outbreak of war in 1914, and from then on served with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment. He was then attached to three different battalions on active service. We know that Burnett saw action in many of the key battles on the western front: 2nd Ypres in 1915, the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and the Battle of Arras in 1917. In his time at the front, Burnett suffered from gas poisoning once and was injured twice, returning to the UK each time to recuperate. By early 1917, Burnett had become a company commander in the 8th (Service) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, with the temporary rank of Captain. Burnett died on the 31 May 1917, when his battalion was involved in a futile night attack on Infantry Hill, east of Monchy-le-Preux, near Arras. His body was never recovered.

  Burnett from BNA 1917
Aberdeen Evening Express 14 June 1917 British Newspaper Archive

Captain Burnett’s name is recorded on the Arras Memorial to the Missing. He is also commemorated on war memorials and rolls of honour in in Aberdeen, Kemnay, and London, including the British Librarians’ memorial in the British Library at St Pancras.

  BLMemorial
British Librarians' Memorial at British Library St Pancras Noc

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

Further reading:
Valete fratres - Librarians and the First World War.
British Library, Guide to Sale Catalogues.
List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900, now in the British Museum (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1915).
Peter Kidd, Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900. In: Medieval manuscripts provenance, 23 August 2014.
Mabel Desborough Allardyce (ed.), University of Aberdeen Roll of Service in the Great War, 1914-1919 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1921), pp. 61-62; online version.
Obituaries in: Aberdeen University Review, Vol. 5, 1917-18, pp. 74, 189.
L. Nicholson, H. T. MacMullen, History of the East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Liverpool: Littlebury, 1936).
Stephen Barker, Christopher Boardman, Lancashire's Forgotten Heroes: 8th (Service) Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War (Stroud: History Press, 2008).
WO 339/27462, Captain Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett, the East Lancashire Regiment (long service papers), The National Archives, Kew.
WO 95/1498/1, 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew.
WO 95/2537/4, 8th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew.
WO WO 95/1506/1, 1st Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew.

 

29 May 2017

Illuminations at East India House

The end of the Crimean War in 1856 was celebrated in Britain with a national holiday on 29 May.  Public buildings in the City of London were fitted with splendid gas illuminations for the evening: the Post Office, Mansion House, Royal Exchange, Custom House, and East India House.

   East India House illuminations 1856

 Illuminations at East India House - Illustrated London News 31 May 1856

Matthew Digby Wyatt, Surveyor to the East India Company, was entrusted with the task of organising the illuminations at East India House in Leadenhall Street.  Four tenders were submitted to provide the equipment for hire or for purchase, ranging from £220 to £550. Wyatt chose the lowest purchase tender of £260 which came from James Meacock, a gas fitter based in Snow Hill.  Meacock was praised by Wyatt: ‘very great energy was displayed by the contractor in immediately getting the work in hand’.  The City of London Gas Company supplied the fuel, charging one penny per jet which included the cost of tapping the mains and supplying connectors.

  East India House illuminations 1856 - 2
London Evening Standard 30 May 1856 British Newspaper Archive

The illuminations consisted of ‘a stream of jets along the length of the building, with scroll-work inside of the pediment, and in Roman capitals the word “Peace”; underneath the pediment festoons and drapery going the whole length of the building’.  

Overall, Wyatt was  satisfied with the display.  He reported to the Company: ‘The whole of the fittings contracted for were completed by dusk on the evening of the 29th.  Unfortunately the wind exercised an influence adverse to the successful lighting especially during the early part of the evening but upon the whole the display was stated by the public press to have been of an effective description… So far as I have been enabled to ascertain the outlay for the Honourable Company’s illumination will be very far below the amounts incurred for the principal government Offices’.

The lighting equipment was carefully stowed away for future use.  However the magnificent East India House would not exist for much longer.  The entire building was demolished in 1862 after the India Office took over from the East India Company and decided to move to new headquarters in Whitehall.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Surveyor’s papers May-June 1856 IOR/L/SUR/1/3 ff.41, 53-54; IOR/L/SUR/2/1 ff. 478. 490-493.

 

25 May 2017

The Art of Children’s Games

One of the delights of working with archives is when you come across something unexpected while looking for something else completely. This occurred recently when I was looking through a file of newspaper cuttings relating to Persia in the collections of papers of Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, held at the British Library. Amongst the papers was a page from The Sphere newspaper, from March 1906, showing a collection of photographs under the title “What To Do With Children: The Art Of Games, as taught by the Children’s Happy Evenings Association”.

Children playing MSS Eur 112-249 cropped

The Sphere, 24 March 1906

In the late 19th century, the health of working class children was a major concern for social reformers. Children often lived in cramped and unhealthy conditions, with the expansion of cities leaving a lack of safe space where children could play in the evenings. The construction of railways and factories tended to take priority over parks and recreation grounds.

Founded in 1889 by Ada Heather-Bigg, the goal of the Children’s Happy Evenings Association was to provide a wide range of games and activities which working class children could do after school hours. Heather-Bigg believed that play created happiness which was an important element in the development of a child’s health. Giving children something to do in the evenings would also prevent them from getting into trouble and falling into bad ways. Participation in the Happy Evenings was dependent on a child having a good school attendance. This had the advantage of stressing the importance of school and education, but inevitably meant many of the poorest children were excluded.

Children playing MSS Eur 112-249

The Sphere, 24 March 1906

By 1906, the Association had 134 branches across London, and affiliated organisations had been set up in Manchester, Plymouth, Oxford, Middlesbrough and Walthamstow.  It relied on the help of volunteers, with around 1300 volunteers helping to teach 22,000 children from the poorest areas of London how to play. Toys, such as dolls and board games were donated by wealthier families, and there were more energetic games such as running, skipping, and boxing. Music and dancing was also offered, which was a real attraction at a time when a piano was not standard school equipment. The Association came to an end with the start of the First World War.

John O’Brien
India Office Records


Further reading:
The Sphere, 24 March 1906, page 275 (in a file of newspaper cuttings on Persia in the Curzon Papers) [Reference Mss Eur F112/249]
Women and the Politics of Schooling in Victorian and Edwardian England, Jane Martin (Leicester University Press, 1999)
Playwork: Theory and Practice, edited by Fraser Brown (Open University Press, 2003)

 

23 May 2017

Milking Oil - the start of the Kuwait Oil Industry

The Kuwait Investment Authority, the world’s fifth largest sovereign wealth fund, began life with the gift of two tins of condensed milk to the Sheikh of Kuwait in 1936.

Condensed milk

Tin of condensed milk (Wikimedia Commons)


Kuwait’s great prosperity rests on its oil industry, which started with the ceremonial opening of the Kuwait Oil Company’s first well on 30 May 1936. The occasion was captured in a picturesque report probably written by the British Political Agent in Kuwait (Gerald de Gaury).

Kuwait IOR R 15

Map of Kuwait (detail) c 1930, showing Bahra: IOR/R/15/1/621, f 132A

One hundred guests, including the Sheikh, local Notables, and Europeans had been invited by the joint British and US-owned Company to Bahra, the site of the well (known as ‘Bahra 1’).  The opening ceremony fell during the period of warm and strongish winds known as ‘Barih ath-Thuraiyah’, and the day was hot.

At 1.30pm a fleet of cars from Kuwait ‘most of them very fully laden with the Notables and their followers, set out at racing pace into the dust haze’.  ‘Strangely’ says the report, ‘there were no casualties reported’.

Kuwait L PS 12 -A

Extract from Kuwait Intelligence Summary No. 9 of 1936: the opening of the Kuwait Oil Company’s first well. IOR/L/PS/12/3824, f 365

On arrival the Company found that the weather had destroyed its arrangements, as the ‘flapping dust-filled tents were quite unsuitable as places of reception and were abandoned in favour of the garage’.  Speeches were then made by both the Company’s Manager and the Sheikh to ‘a very crowded audience only slightly revived by Sherbet [a cooling juice drink]’.

At 5pm the Sheikh pressed an electric button and ‘had the gratification of setting the rig, the first ever in Kuwait and the third only in all Arabia, to work’.  This was followed by some ‘shy applause’, before the Sheikh examined with attention the machinery both at the rig site and afterwards at the workshops.

The report then gives the following details of the Sheikh’s tour, adding a touch of pathos at the end: ‘Acetylene welding, in particular stirred his interest and he watched, through dark glasses, for some time the cutting of metal by an Indian welder who had already lost one eye through the pursuit of his trade’.

This was followed by the presentation of an unexpected gift: ‘Before leaving the Ruler was shown the Offices and storerooms where the Manager of the Company as a parting gift presented him with 2 tins of Nestle’s milk’.  The Sheikh then expressed very great satisfaction at everything he had seen, and the hope that oil production would not be far behind.  ‘As His Excellency entered his car’, states the report, perhaps somewhat sarcastically, ‘he was informed that the well had already reached a depth of eight feet’.

  Kuwait L PS 12 -BThe Kuwait Oil Company’s parting gift to the Sheikh of Kuwait: two tins of Nestlé’s milk. IOR/L/PS/12/3824, f 366

In the event, Bahra proved not to contain a commercial quantity of oil.  However, a second exploratory well, at Burgan in the southern part of Kuwait, was more encouraging, and a productive area of considerable size had been identified in the area before operations were suspended during the Second World War.

In the 1950s, the Kuwait Government prudently began investing the profits of its burgeoning oil industry in what is now the Kuwait Investment Authority. The fund today has assets in excess of $590 billion.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives  British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
London, British Library, Coll 30/104(2) 'Koweit Oil Concession: Operations of the Koweit Oil Company. (Provision of Motor Vehicles & Spares for Sheik of Koweit)'. IOR/L/PS/12/3824. (A digitised version of this file will appear in the Qatar Digital Library in the course of 2017).
D I Milton, ‘Geology of the Arabian Peninsula: Kuwait’ Geological Survey Professional Paper 560-F, (United States Government Printing Office, Washington 1967) (via Google Books).
Film of the Kuwait oilfield in the late 1940s.

20 May 2017

Constable’s English Landscape

On 20 May 1832 John Constable was at home in Hampstead drafting an introduction to English Landscape, a set of mezzotints after his own views.  Constable was writing at a time when ‘topographical’ art had become seen as a lesser form of landscape. The draft shows Constable struggling with how to express his aim of lauding “the Genuine Scenes of England” as “the vehicle of General Landscape”, “part of the legitimate art of the country”.

English Landscape C12694-01

British Library Walter Thornbury’s Life of Turner Tab. 438.a.1, Vol. X p.38

 

English Landscape

Rura mihi, et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes,
Flumina amen, sylvasque, inglorious.

This little work being at length compleated it is not without great anxiety that it is offered to the notice of the world - perhaps the very flattering manner in which it has been received by the profession and other intelligent persons cannot have failed both to promote and influence its publication.

The leading object in the production of these Landscape specimins subjects of Landscape - is to help and promote the love of English Scenery and to mark in nature the powerfull influence and endless changes of the “Chiaro scuro” to promote moreover that endeavour.

Another object of this work is to promote that happy union of the study of nature in the fields with the contemplation of works of art at home.

Respiciens rura – laremque suum Ovid

Neither can be effective alone – there can be no reason why the Genuine Scenes of England – repleat with all powerful associations and endearments –  with per this perhaps – their amenity – should not be made the Vehicle of General Landscape – be embodied with its principals – and become part of the legitimate art of the country – the art so pursued could not fail of becoming original & characteristic and what it is the endeavour of this work to promote notwithstanding the hazard of its present disadvantage.

In an age and country so abounding with great examplars – both of living and departed excellence genius. it will follow the imitator or at best and their consequent attendant conoursurship – it must follow that imitative merit or at best that excellence which is eclectic will be the least disputed – and more redily received than that with which the world is as yet unacquainted – but those species of merit would be neither congenial with the spirit, nor at all according the principals which it is the endeavour of this work to display.

Three other drafts of this introduction are held by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. They were donated in 1953 by Constable scholar R.B.Beckett.
“The most interesting [of the papers I am offering], to my mind, are the draft introductions to English Landscape. In his first draft Constable was going beyond his immediate purpose of explaining the mezzotints and was seeking to put into words the battle, so to speak, which he had been fighting all his life – that of setting landscape, and particularly English Landscape, on its own feet. There is something pathetic in his painful & cumbrous efforts to express himself: an exact parallel with the difficulties he found in his early attempts at drawing, which did not come naturally to him: or you may draw another parallel between his rapid sketches and short satirical remarks on the one hand, his attempts at ‘finishing’ and elaborating in paint or in words, on the other.”

Felicity Myrone
Lead Curator, Western Prints & Drawings

See more about topography and Constable - Draft introduction to English Landscape

Further reading:
Various Subjects of Landscape, Characteristic of English Scenery, from Pictures Painted by John Constable, R.A., Engraved by David Lucas, a set of mezzotints known as English Landscape.  The British Library holds Constable’s draft in an extra-illustrated copy of Walter Thornbury’s Life of Turner, Tab. 438.a.1. English Landscape was issued in parts from June 1830 to July 1832, with an introduction dated 28 May 1832 included in the July instalment.

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, draft introductions - MS 38-1953, which is not dated or addressed; MS 39-1953, dated May 1832; and MS 40-1953, dated 28 May 1832.

Felicity Myrone, ‘Introductions to Constable's English Landscape’, Print Quarterly, 24 (September 2007), 273-77.

 

18 May 2017

Loveable Oak Trees

Oak trees provided essential material for warships in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – the ‘wooden walls’ that defended the British Isles from invasion. But they inspired an affection that went far beyond an appreciation of their usefulness. Ancient oaks were treasured and preserved into extreme old age. Landowners were reluctant to cut them down, poets addressed verses to them, artists relished the chance to delineate their swelling trunks and shattered branches. Some went further and treated them as objects of worship.

Writers from this period state that their forefathers, the Druids, worshipped the true God in oak groves before churches were built – hence it was reasonable to see old trees as ‘natural temples’.

Oak trees were also credited with being the sites of the first parliaments, and  symbols of resistance to overweening authority. One famous tree, the Swilcar Oak, is given a speaking part in a poem by Francis Mundy about Needwood Forest in Staffordshire (1776). He shakes his tresses, spreads his bare arms to the skies, and begs the axeman to spare the young oaks growing around him. Horace Walpole claimed that an ancient tree was an image of liberty, since in a country ruled by a despot it would be appropriated for timber.

  Talking Oak

'The Talking-Oak' by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale from Poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1905) 556*.a.3/6 Noc

Another vocal tree was the ‘Talking Oak’ of Alfred Tennyson’s poem of that name (1837-8).  Its narrator confides so much in the old oak tree that the tree replies, and tells him that the woman he loves is superior to all the other young women he has seen in his five hundred years of life. What is more, because she also talks (and sings) to the tree, he can testify that his love for her is returned.

 Payne 2

Robert Pollard after James Andrews, An East View of Yardley Oak (1805). British Library K.Top XXXII Online Gallery Noc

 

There are many portraits of famous old oak trees.  The Yardley Oak was the subject of a poem by William Cowper (1791-2), who wrote that his idolatry of the tree had some excuse, because of the precedent set by the Druids.

Cowper writes lovingly of the giant bulk of the tree, its sides embossed with excrescences that have developed over many years. Such features also appealed to the artist Samuel Palmer, whose 1828 drawings of the oaks of Lullingstone, near Shoreham in Kent emphasized the human-like belly, shoulders and sinews of the ancient trees.

Payne 3
Samuel Palmer, Ancient Trees, Lullingstone Park (1828). Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut.


For Jacob George Strutt, who produced 40 portraits of trees for his Sylva Britannica (1822), 21 of them oaks, old trees were ‘silent witnesses of the successive generations of men, to whose destiny they bear so touching a resemblance, alike in their budding, their prime, and their decay’.

Do we still feel the same way about oak trees today?

Christiana Payne
Professor of History of Art, Oxford Brookes University

Further reading:
Christiana Payne, Remarkable trees via the British Library's new digital resource Picturing Places
Jacob George Strutt, Sylva Britannica; or, Portraits of Forest Trees, distinguished for their Antiquity, Magnitude, or Beauty. Drawn from nature and etched by Jacob George Strutt (London: J. G. Strutt and Colnaghi and Co, 1822)
Christiana Payne, Silent Witnesses: Trees in British Art, 1760-1870 (Sansom and Company, 2017)
Fiona Stafford, The Long, Long Life of Trees (Yale University Press, 2016)

 

16 May 2017

Henry Nicholetts’ voyage to Calcutta

India Office Private Papers recently acquired the journal of Henry Nicholetts written during a voyage to Calcutta in 1855. Henry was aged 15 and on his way to start a career in Borneo.  We are delighted that the journal is going to feature in an event at the British Library in June - A Passage to India: Shipboard Life

Nicholetts WD4560 compressed

Miniature portrait of Henry Nicholetts - British Library WD4560

Henry Nicholetts was born in South Petherton Somerset on 31 July 1840, the tenth child of solicitor John and his wife Mary.  Henry’s mother died shortly before his eighth birthday.  He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School in London and for a short time at Rugby.  In 1855 his father asked Henry if he would like to go to Borneo as a ‘governor’ of a district.  There was a family connection: Henry’s elder brother Gilbert was married to Mary Anna Johnson, a niece of Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak.  Henry tells us that he ’accepted the appointment without any hesitation’ and set off on his journey in July 1855 on board the Monarch bound for Calcutta.

  Monarch launch Blackwall 1844
Launch of the Monarch at Green’s Yard Blackwall -  Illustrated London News 15 June 1844


Henry kept a journal of the entire voyage, overcoming sea sickness in the early days to take pleasure in life on board ship:  ‘I think it is worth coming to sea if only to see the beautiful mornings’. 

Nicholetts diary 1

 British Library MSS Eur F706 Noc

The teenager complains at times of the monotony of the voyage, having nothing to record some days except the position of the ship. But he and his fellow passengers passed the time with whist, quoits, play-acting, singing, dancing, and shooting birds. There were fights and accidents to report – a chain fell from the rigging, rattling to the deck close to a young passenger, and a dog fell overboard. Henry enjoyed two traditional maritime celebrations: the ceremony of the dead horse when the sailors’ advance of one month’s pay ran out, and ‘crossing the line’ with Neptune. 

Nicholetts diary 2

British Library MSS Eur F706 Noc

Henry had tea with the midshipmen who were ‘very free and easy’, and he ‘began to know the ladies a little better’, chatting with ‘a young lady of very prepossessing appearance & of a very romantic turn of mind’. Small incidents are turned into amusing stories: the bad haircut given to one young man; the mixing of gin instead of water into port wine; the effect of the waves - ‘The ship rolling a good deal we had scenes in the cuddy - tea cups tumbling over; legs of mutton bounding down the table; ladies falling into gentlemen’s arms’.

Unfortunately our story of this engaging teenager does not have a happy ending.

On arrival in Sarawak, Henry was posted by Sir James Brooke to Lundu. In February 1857 he went on a short visit to stay with Brooke at Kuching.  

Mw00805

Sir James Brooke by Sir Francis Grant 1847 NPG 1559 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC

On the night of 18/19 February Brooke’s house was attacked by armed Chinese. Henry went out from the bungalow where he was sleeping.  Brooke wrote:  ‘Poor Harry Nicholetts! I mourn for his fate.  I was fond of him, for he was a gentle and amiable lad, promising well for the future. Suddenly awakened, he tried to make his way to the large house, and was killed in the attempt.  His sword lay beside him next morning when he was found. Poor, poor fellow!’

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Join us on 19 June to hear more about Henry’s shipboard experiences and those of other voyagers to India as revealed in their private papers.

19June_ApassagetoindiaLanding at Madras - British Library P1551 Noc

 

Further reading:
Henry Nicholetts’ journal MSS Eur F706
Gertrude L Jacob, The Raja of Sarawak (London, 1876)
Basil Lubbock, The Blackwall Frigates (Glasgow, 1962)

 

11 May 2017

A Carnival on the Water: the Frost Fair of 1683

The frost fair held on the iced-over River Thames in 1814 that recently featured in Doctor Who may have been the last, but it was the fair held during the Great Frost of 1683 that got the ball rolling with this famous tradition.

In the winter of 1683, the River Thames was iced over for two months.  Winters in the 17th century were more extreme than they are today – the frost of 1683 was the worst ever recorded and the ice reached a thickness of eleven inches in London.  The frozen river made shipping impossible and so Londoners would take to the ice-covered river for trade, travel and, eventually, entertainment.  The first recorded frost fair on the Thames took place in 1608, but this was pretty low key.  The festivities really took off in 1683 with the frost fair featuring all manner of stalls, entertainments and activities.

The two-month fair was indeed a spectacle and people flocked to see it.  Broadsides and flyers were hastily printed, advertising the fair as “Great Britain’s wonder” or “London’s admiration”.  They claimed that “men and beasts, coaches and carts, went as frequently [on the river] as boats were wont to pass before”.

Photo1
British Library C.20.f.2 (161) Noc

 

Photo2
British Library C.20.f.2 (159)   Noc

One broadside, titled Wonders on the Deep, captures the festivities in a fantastically detailed, labelled woodcut of the frost fair itself:

WondersOnTheDeepWoodcut
British Library C.20.f.2 (161) Noc

The fair is framed by the unmistakable outlines of London Bridge and the Tower of London.  On the ice itself an avenue of booths and stalls sprang up, stretching from the Temple to Southwark.  Scattered on strong ice everywhere did these “blanketed, boarded, matted booths appear”, where you could buy all sorts of wares from silver cups to gingerbread and roast beef.  Alternatively, you could stop at a coffee-house booth (number 1 on the illustration) or drop into a tavern.  A print shop, too, was established on the iced-over river so that printing was seen by members of the public often for the first time (number 9).   As if this wasn’t enough, an agog visitor would have seen sailing boats being dragged along the ice on wheels, bull and bear baiting (number 16), ice skating and fox hunting (number 34) all on the River Thames.

And for the more hardcore frost fair-goers out there, it also got a little more unusual.  Amidst more familiar entertainments, there appears to have been a booth with an injured phoenix inside (number 4) and other novelties with their meaning lost to us today, such as a “tory booth”  (number 3) or the “Dutch chear sliding round” (number 17). 

In February, after two months, the ice finally melted and the revelries came to an end.  The frost fair of 1683 established a precedent for future fairs, but no other frost was as lasting.  The last fair in 1814 only lasted for four days yet Londoners still managed to lead an elephant across the frozen Thames below Blackfriars Bridge in that time span.  It’s clear that, whether held in the 17th or 19th century, the frost fair was the pinnacle of seasonal cheer, spectacle and revelry – a “carnival on the water”, as described by John Evelyn in his diaries during the fair of 1683.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

See also Printing on Ice