Exhibitions | Frozen Thames: Frost Fair, 1684 and 1814

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on February 5, 2014

Press release (29 January 2014) from the Museum of London:

Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1814 and Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1684 open at the Museum of London Docklands and Museum of London respectively, from Wednesday 29 January to Sunday 30 March 2014. The mini-exhibitions feature objects, paintings, keepsakes, engravings and etchings from the collection.

Why did the Thames freeze?

The Thames could freeze over not necessarily because it was colder these years, but because the river was much more sluggish and slow flowing than today. There was no embankment and the arches of the former London Bridge was much wider and protected by floating pontoons in front of them which impeded the current. Evidence for this is that after 1831 the old London Bridge—resting on its twenty solid piers—was demolished, and replaced with a new bridge with just five arches. No further Frost Fairs have been recorded since. Narrower and with fewer obstacles, the Thames now flows too fast to freeze, and the Thames Frost Fair is a spectacle we will probably never see again.

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Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1814
Museum of London Docklands, 29 January — 30 March 2014


George Cruikshank and Thomas Tegg,
Gambols on the River Thames, February 1814

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To the modern observer, it is a scene from London’s history that is difficult to comprehend. For just under one week, from 1 February 1814 until 5 February 1814, the River Thames, the artery of the city, froze completely solid between London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. Exactly 200 years ago this week, Londoners of all backgrounds took to the ice to revel in the event.

Georgina Young, Senior Curator at the Museum of London said: “The 1814 Frost Fair brightened the depths of London’s coldest winters. Imagine a travelling carnival and a street market rolled into one. Coffee houses, taverns and souvenir stalls formed improvised streets across the frozen Thames, with entertainments from skittles to swings ranged all around.”

The only surviving piece of gingerbread bought at the 1814 Frost Fair, is among a variety of objects, paintings, keepsakes, engravings and etchings which will go on display as part of two Frost Fair displays, running in parallel at the Museum of London Docklands near Canary Wharf and the Museum of London in the City of London.

The 1814 Fair was the last of its kind, but it was not the first. Between 1309 and 1814, the Thames froze at least 23 times and on five of these occasions, the freeze was extensive enough to support the weight of festivities, and a Frost Fair was born. The Museum of London collection evidences five Fairs in 1683–84, 1716, 1739–40, 1789 and 1814.

The display at the Museum of London Docklands includes a varied collection of original keepsakes from the 1814 Frost Fair, and important contemporary illustrations of the Fair, including two etchings by satirical artist, George Cruikshank, and a print by George Thompson.

For most people, a Frost Fair on the frozen Thames was a once in a lifetime occasion, and all kinds of mementoes were kept. These include fragments of stone chipped from Blackfriars Bridge, printed keepsakes, and a piece of gingerbread, bought at the Fair, which comes with an original handwritten note, identifying the purchaser as Thomas Moxon. The printed items were produced and sold by enterprising printers, who relocated their businesses onto the ice, turning crisis into opportunity. Indeed, when the Thames froze over, the normal workings of London froze with it—even the Thames Watermen converted their boats into temporary stages, and there are reports that an elephant was led across the Thames by Blackfriars Bridge.

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Frozen Thames: Frost Fair 1684
Museum of London, 29 January — 30 March 2014


Abraham Hondius, Frost Fair, 1684
(Museum of London)

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The star objects in the Museum of London display are two paintings by the Dutch artist, working in London, Abraham Hondius (c.1625–91) who was a notable artist in the expanding art market fostered by Charles II. The first painting depicts the frozen Thames in 1677 looking eastwards towards London Bridge (though this was not recorded as a ‘Frost Fair’), and the second, portrays the area of present day Temple on the north side of the river, in the grip of the 1684 Frost Fair.

Pat Hardy, Curator for Paintings, Prints and Drawings at the Museum of London, said: “Hondius brought with him from the Netherlands new painting and print techniques as well as an acute observation of contemporary life. The pleasures of the 1684 Fair are vividly captured.”

The paintings by Hondius appear alongside other works by unknown artists, which depict the 1684 Fair, and a later drawing of the 1716 Frost Fair, which grew even larger than its predecessor.


Frost fair on the Thames in 1715–16, woodcut. This view is taken from
near Temple Stairs, with Old London Bridge in the background.

New Book | From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town

Posted in books by Editor on February 5, 2014

From Harvard UP:

Ingrid D. Rowland, From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014), 352 pages, ISBN 978-0674047938, $29 / £22 / €26.

9780674047938_500X500When Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, the force of the explosion blew the top right off the mountain, burying nearby Pompeii in a shower of volcanic ash. Ironically, the calamity that proved so lethal for Pompeii’s inhabitants preserved the city for centuries, leaving behind a snapshot of Roman daily life that has captured the imagination of generations.

The experience of Pompeii always reflects a particular time and sensibility, says Ingrid Rowland. From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town explores the fascinating variety of these different experiences, as described by the artists, writers, actors, and others who have toured the excavated site. The city’s houses, temples, gardens—and traces of Vesuvius’s human victims—have elicited responses ranging from awe to embarrassment, with shifting cultural tastes playing an important role. The erotic frescoes that appalled eighteenth-century viewers inspired Renoir to change the way he painted. For Freud, visiting Pompeii was as therapeutic as a session of psychoanalysis. Crown Prince Hirohito, arriving in the Bay of Naples by battleship, found Pompeii interesting, but Vesuvius, to his eyes, was just an ugly version of Mount Fuji. Rowland treats readers to the distinctive, often quirky responses of visitors ranging from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain to Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman. Interwoven throughout a narrative lush with detail and insight is the thread of Rowland’s own impressions of Pompeii, where she has returned many times since first visiting in 1962.

Ingrid D. Rowland is Professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture in Rome.

Introduction: Naples, 1962
1. Pompeii, May 2013
2. The Blood of San Gennaro and the Eruption of Vesuvius
3. Before Pompeii: Kircher and Holste
4. Mr. Freeman Goes to Herculaneum
5. The Rediscovery of Pompeii
6. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
7. Further Excavations
8. Karl Bryullov
9. Railway Tourism
10. Charles Dickens and Mark Twain
11. Giuseppe Fiorelli, the “Pope” of Pompeii
12. Bartolo Longo
13. The Social Role of Tourist Cameos
14. Pierre-Auguste Renoir
15. The Legacy of August Mau
16. Crown Prince Hirohito of Japan
17. Don Amedeo Maiuri
18. Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman
19. Autobus Gran Turismo
Coda: Atomic Pizza

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