January 5, 1709 The Great Frost

King Henry VIII rode a sleigh down the Thames from London to Greenwich in 1536. Elizabeth I was on the ice shooting at archery targets in 1564

Three years ago tomorrow, January 6, 2014, temperatures dipped below zero as far south as Arkansas, and below freezing from the Florida panhandle to Texas, and well into Mexico.

In July of the preceding year, NASA satellite data revealed a low temperature of -135.3°f in Antarctica, just short of what has to be a record -135.8°f set in August of 2010.

A Russian ship full of Environmental, Scientific and Activist types, the Akademik Shokalskiy, had gotten stuck in the Antarctic ice a few weeks earlier, as did the Chinese icebreaker, the Xue Long, that came to their rescue.  CNN never did get around to reporting that they were there to study “Global Warming”.

Those environmental activists would object to my use of the term Global Warming, preferring what they feel is the far more descriptive “Climate Change”.  They’re right to prefer the term, because we can all agree that climate is changing, five ice ages prove that much, though it’s far from clear that the Co2 narrative has anything to do with it.

It was either Galileo Galilei or Thomas Harriot who made the first sunspot observations, late in 1610. The Zurich Observatory began the daily observation of sunspot activity in 1749 and, with the help of other observatories, continuous observations have been possible since 1849. These and other observations make it possible to extrapolate back in time, to come up with 1,000 years of sunspot activity, and what they show is not very surprising. They show that periods of low sunspot activity correlates with changes in climate.

The most pronounced low in sunspot activity in the last 1,000 years started in about 1645 and ended in 1715.  Known as the “Maunder Minimum”, fewer than 50 sunspots were observed during one 30-year period within this time frame, compared with 40,000–50,000 in modern times.

In England, accounts of the freezing of the River Thames date back as early as 250AD. The river was open to wheeled traffic for 13 weeks in 923 and again in 1410.  That time, the freeze lasted for 14 weeks. By the early 17th century, the Thames was a place of “Frost Fairs”.

frozenthames1677
1677 painting shows the ice depth on the frozen Thames

The “Medieval Warm Period”, lasting from 950 to 1250 and (unsurprisingly) corresponding with a near-1000 year maximum in sunspot activity, was followed by the “Little Ice Age”, a 300 year period beginning in the 16th century.  King Henry VIII rode a sleigh down the Thames from London to Greenwich in 1536.  Elizabeth I was on the ice shooting at archery targets in 1564.

There was a famous “Frost Fair” during the winter of 1683-84, for which the English writer John Evelyn gives us a description:  “Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets; sleds, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water”.

frostfair1683
1683 Frost Fair

The Great Frost of the winter of 1708-09 was held in the coldest winter Europe had seen in 500 years.  William Derham, an English clergyman and natural philosopher, best known for his reasonably accurate estimate of the speed of sound, recorded a low of −12°C (10 °F) on the night of January 5, 1709.  It was the lowest he had measured since he started taking readings in 1697, prompting his comment that “I believe the Frost was greater than any other within the Memory of Man”.  The resulting famine killed an estimated 600,000 in France alone, while in Italy, the lagoons and canals of Venice were frozen solid.

Breaks in cold weather inevitably marked the end of Thames River frost fairs, sometimes all of a sudden.  In January 1789, melting ice dragged a ship away, while tied to a riverside tavern, in Rotherhite.  Five people were killed when the building was pulled down on their heads.

The last Thames River frost fair took place in 1814, the year someone led an elephant across the ice, below the Blackfriar’s Bridge.  Structural changes in river embankments and the demolition of the old London Bridge have increased water flow in the Thames, making it possible that the river will not freeze again.

Today there is far too much money and too much political weight behind the “anthropogenic” (human caused) climate change narrative, for it to die quickly or easily.  Meanwhile, the sun is going to do what the sun is going to do, which at the moment appears to be another quiet period in sunspot activity.  Very quiet.

Before it’s over, we may find ourselves wishing for a little Global Warming.

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Author: capecodcurmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, father and grandfather, a history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. Four years ago, I began writing a daily "Today in History" story, as sort of a self-guided history course.  At some point I committed to myself to write 365.  The leap year changed that to 366. I make every effort to get my facts straight, but Lord knows I'm as good at being wrong as the next guy. I offer these "Today in History" stories, in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them as much as I have in writing them. Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share. Rick Long

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