My Mud Rose characters, Hetty and Pip plied their trade year round. Mudlarking was an especially cold business to be in during the winter, but at least by their time, London’s River Thames was no longer freezing over. Before the old medieval London Bridge was torn down in 1831, ice did sometimes manage to form on the water pooled behind its arches. The river was also wider, shallower, and not as fast moving as it was after the embankments were completed in 1870.
Between 1400 and 1814, the Thames froze twenty-six times, and, ever ready to make the most of a bad situation, Londoners responded with frost fairs.
The first frost fair on record was held in 1608, with the most celebrated one taking place in the winter of 1683-84. Food and goods booths went up on the ice from Temple Stairs to the south bank, some of them selling souvenirs such as tiny frost fair mugs. The ice-covered river also offered the enchanted merrymakers puppet shows, football games, horse and coach races, and, regrettably, but in keeping with the times, fox-hunting and bull and bear-baiting.
The last frost fair was held two hundred years ago, in 1814.