Heads up: Top comment and controversy

You call this snow?: The Coldest Winters in British History

Snow, snow and more snow.  The latest weather forecasts predict the temperature in Britain won't rise much about 0 for the next week, making this the coldest winter the country has seen for some time. But as cold as the winter of 2013 is turning out, it's a beach holiday in the Bahamas compared to the British winters of yesteryear.

 Some older readers may remember The Big Freeze of '63. December 1962 began with the last Great Smog before the Clean Air Act came into effect. As if that wasn't bad enough, a cold easterly wind blew in from Scandinavia on the 22nd and didn't let up for the rest of the month. The snow was 8 feet deep in Kent and the upper reaches of the Thames froze over.

It did not, however, freeze over in central London, which would have provided ideal conditions for a River Thames frost fair, such as that held during the Great Frost of 1683-84. That year, during the peak of the period known as the Little Ice Age, the Thames was completely frozen over for two months and solid ice reportedly extended several miles into the North Sea.

The diarist John Evelyn described the frost fair that year as "a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water." The ice was thick enough to support not only sledding and skating, but "bull baiting", horse and coach races and general drunken revelry.

In 1709, a William Derham of Upminster recorded a temperature of -12 C on the night of the 5th of January. He wrote "I believe the Frost was greater (if not more universal also) than any other within the Memory of Man."

1814 was (probably) the last year that a British winter was cold enough to hold a frost fair on the Thames. That year, organisers rather pushed their luck by leading an elephant across the river below Blackfrairs Bridge. The stunt was a success and both elephant and elephant handler survived.

React Now

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower