It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...both were true in the winter of 1813-14, one of the most brutal winters in the history of Britain and Ireland. Thanks to global cooling, a murderous series of cold snaps, freezing fog and snowstorms reduced London and other cities to an urban wasteland like something out of The Walking Dead...except a lot colder. Yet at the same time, as the people of London were at wit’s end, the freezing of the Thames created the opportunity for a magical winter festival that only happened a few times a century and has never happened again since 1814: the last of the legendary “Frost Fairs.”
Historian Sean Munger explains the historical and environmental background of the festival, and how Frost Fairs have resonated in English literature since the times of Shakespeare. In this episode you’ll encounter the mysterious “Mountain X,” greedy coach drivers, desperate ferrymen, bear-baiters and prostitutes, a bewildered Prince Regent, a drunken King Charles II, “Lapland Mutton,” and you’ll find out what Harry Potter, Neil Gaiman and Virginia Woolf have to do with the second decade of the 19th century. Join us for a very chilly trip into the past!
For this episode, special thanks is due to the members of the University of Oregon “Glacier Lab” for their comments and contributions on the script.
(Background music for this episode licensed CC3.0 by Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston).