It’s About Time: Frost Fair on the Thames in London – 1683-84

When the ice on the Thames at London was thick enough in 1683-84, a frost fair was held.  In 1683-84, pedestrians, sleds, & coaches could cross the Thames on the ice for 7 weeks.  It was reported that “whole streets of Booths” sprung up which thousands of Londoners visited.

Frost fairs were already common elsewhere in northern Europe, such as the Netherlands.   During London’s Great Frost of 1683–84, the Thames was completely frozen for 2 months, with the ice reaching a thickness of 11″ at the site of the city.  When the ice was thick enough…

Source: It’s About Time: Frost Fair on the Thames in London – 1683-84.

Love Tokens From The Thames | Spitalfields Life

The magical potential of throwing a coin into the water has been recognised by different cultures in different times with all kinds of meanings. Yet since we can never ask those who threw these tokens why they did so, we can only surmise that engraving your beloved’s name upon a coin and throwing it into the water was a gesture to attract good fortune. It was a wish.

With a great river like the Thames racing down towards the ocean, there is a sense of a connection to the infinite. And there is a sweet romance to the notion of a lover secretly throwing a token into the water, feeling that the strength of their emotions connects them to a force larger than themselves.

It was not part of the conceit that anyone might ever find these coins, centuries later – which gives them a mysterious poetry now, because each one represents a love story we shall never learn. Those who threw them have long  gone from the earth and all we can envisage are the coins tossed by unseen hands, flying from the river bank or a from the parapet of a bridge or from a boat, turning over in the air, plip-plopping into the water and spiralling down to lie for centuries in the mud, until Steve Brooker came along to gather them up. Much as we may yearn, we can never trace them back to ask “What happened?”

In the reign of William III, it was the fashion for a young man to give a crooked coin to the object of his affections. The coin was bent, both to become an amulet and to prevent it being spent. If the token was kept, it indicated that the affection was reciprocated, but if the coin was discarded then it was a rejection – which casts a different light upon these coins in the Thames. Are they, each one, evidence of unrequited affections?

For centuries, smoothed coins were used as love tokens, with the initials of the sender engraved or embossed upon the surface. Sometimes these were pierced, which gave…

via Love Tokens From The Thames | Spitalfields Life.

Billy & Charley’s Shadwell Shams | Spitalfields Life

This is the most magical tale I have ever read about mudlarks in Victorian London and proves that it is possible to fool a lot of people a great deal of the time!

Originally posted on Spitalfields Life.

William Smith & Charles Eaton – better known as Billy & Charley – were a couple of Thames mudlarks who sold artefacts they claimed to have found in the Thames in Shadwell and elsewhere. Yet this threadbare veil of fiction concealed the astonishing resourcefulness and creativity that these two illiterate East Enders demonstrated in designing and casting tens of thousands of cod-medieval trinkets – eventually referred to as “Shadwell Shams” – which had the nineteenth century archaeological establishment running around in circles of confusion and misdirection for decades.

“They were intelligent but without knowledge,” explained collector Philip Mernick, outlining the central mystery of Billy & Charley, “someone told them ‘If you can make these, you can get money for them.’ Yet someone must also have given them the designs, because I find it hard to believe…

Read more: Billy & Charley’s Shadwell Shams | Spitalfields Life.

The London Flood of 1928


On a recent visit to the Tate Britain gallery, on the north side of the Thames, we saw the excellent Ruin Lust exhibition, which charts artistic reactions to ruins, and the idea of ruins, through time. One of the show’s most striking pieces is Joseph Gandy’s Destruction of the Bank of England, a mammoth pen and ink drawing of 1830 which imagines Sir John Soane’s bank fallen into desuetude at some future point in time. Fascinatingly, Sir John commissioned the work himself, in what is usually considered an assertion of his own greatness as an architect. It is thought to have been a way to tell the world that he was worthy of consideration alongside the greatest designers of classical antiquity.

Joseph Michael Gandy, Destruction of the Bank of England, 1830. Joseph Michael Gandy, Destruction of the Bank of England, 1830.

After the exhibition, we visited the Tate’s fine subterranean restaurant, which boasts a famous four-wall mural by Rex WhistlerThe Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats. The mural, which dates from 1927, is a light-hearted celebration of…

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