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London, England

Scenes from the Frost Fair

Murals of the wild parties once held on the frozen River Thames. 

Walk beneath the Southwark Bridge and you’ll see murals carved in slate of one of London’s wildest parties. 

Back when the London Bridge was more barrier than bridge and the world was in the midst of the Little Ice Age that dropped temperatures to frigid levels, the River Thames would totally freeze over. Between 1550 and 1850, there were five occurrences of entrepreneurs and revelers taking to the ice for a Frost Fair, turning the frozen river into a wild festival.

The principal activity was getting totally wasted, and tents were set up selling gin, beer, and Purl — a wormwood ale. There was much tumbling, and sometimes even people crashing through the ice itself. Meanwhile children were hurled in swings, people played games, and some even tried bull-baiting and fox hunting. According to reports, an elephant was even paraded through the ice, snow, and frozen fog. 

Frost Fairs were held in 1683-34, 1716, 1739-40, and 1814. It’s unlikely to happen again due to more of a flowing River Thames and the warmer winters, but through these overlooked murals created by Richard Kindersley you can glimpse some of the bacchanalia of yore. 

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