Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 8 January 2023

The wider effects of the ‘Little Ice Age’

I recently posted about research on the fifth century and the Hunnic invasions. and the case for seeing those events as originating in changes in the climate.

Now I have come upon an article looking at the effect of the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ on events of the seventeenth century. The limits assigned to the ‘Little Ice Age’ varies somewhat with different scholars, but it is generally agreed that the seventeenth century was not only very much in that era but was indeed its coldest period. This is epitomised in popular perception by the London Frost Fairs on the frozen Thames in that century and later, although the earliest recorded freezing of the river and the setting up of booths on the ice was in 695. The last frost fair was held in 1814. There is an introduction to them from Wikipedia at River Thames frost fairs

The wider effects of cooler temperatures on all aspects of life are summarised, and linked to the idea of a “General Crisis”, an idea developed and popularised by a number of historians over fifty years ago. 

The article from the iflscience website can be read at The 17th Century Was A Truly Terrible Time To Be A Human

That said if one uses the Thames as an indicator whilst this period was the heyday of the Frost Fairs the river had frozen over beforehand in 695, 1150, 1281, 1309, 1408, 1410, 1434 - showing greater frequency - and notably in 1515, 1536 and 1564, before the first Frost Fair in 1608. Which suggests both an underlying tendency by the slow moving river and that once a century events were becoming once a decade or more as the mean annual temperature dropped.

The frozen Thames and even more the Frost Fairs were, and are, an indicator of a wider climatic pattern. Although the Thames flows more swiftly now and there is no longer the significant blockage caused by the piers of Old London Bridge, who knows, maybe, just maybe, climate change could restore this feature to the life of the capital- but don’t tell the health and safety fanatics….

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