Less than two weeks to Christmas. It’s time for laughter-inspiring cant.
He’s like a winter’s day: short and dirty.
I couldn’t find any pictures to illustrate this slang term well, so instead I chose wintery Frost Fair scenes from the River Thames. According to most documentation, Frost Fairs were also of brief duration and left behind a filthy mess.
During winters when the river iced over, Frost Fairs were held right on the frozen Thames. These river fairs were rarer than one would think; the first recorded in 1608, the last 201 years ago in 1814 (the latter lasting a total of four days). All manner of festival attractions would set up quickly – sleigh rides, horse and coach races, bull-baiting, ice slides, puppet shows, food vendors (along with unlicensed gambling, drinking, and whoring) – with crowds never far behind.
The longest and largest recorded Frost Fair occurred in 1683-84. Diarist John Evelyn wrote:
“The Thames is now both fair and market too,
Where many thousands daily do resort.
There you may see the coaches swiftly run,
As if beneath the ice were waters none,
And shoals of people everywhere there be,
Just like the herrings in the brackish sea.
And there the quaking watermen will stand ye,
‘Kind master, drink you beer, or ale, or brandy;
Walk in, kind sir, this booth it is the chief,
We’ll entertain you with a slice of beef.’
Another cries, ‘Here, master, they but scoff ye;
Here is a dish of famous new-made coffee.’
There you may also this hard frosty winter
See on the rocky ice a Working-Printer,
Who hopes by his own art to reap some gain
Which he perchance does think he may obtain.
Here also is a lottery, music too,
Yea, a cheating, drunken, lewd, and debauch’d crew;
Hot codlins, pancakes, ducks, and goose, and sack,
Rabbit, capon, hen, turkey, and a wooden jack.
There on a sign you may most plainly see’t,
Here’s the first tavern built in Freezeland Street.
There is bull-baiting and bear-baiting too.
There roasted was a great and well-fed ox
And there with dogs hunted the common fox.”
For a little bonus this week, I discovered this little gem at the Museum of London: a surviving piece of Gingerbread from the 1814 Frost Fair. It reportedly even smells pleasantly of ginger to this day.
Definition from 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Frost Fair information from Frostiana, Or, a History of the River Thames in a Frozen State by George Davis, and The Diary of John Evelyn. Additional information and neat tidbits can be found in several articles at the Daily Mail.