Ice blocks in the Thames

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In 1814, during January, there had been a very severe frost, but, a thaw having taken place, the sight on the Thames at London Bridge was extraordinary. At the ebbing of the tide, huge fragments of ice were carried down the stream with great force, with a crashing noise like artillery.

On the return of the tide they were forced back again, but the obstacle opposed to their progress through the arches was so great as to threaten a total stoppage of the navigation.

A few days after, on the 1st of February, the Thames between Blackfriars and London Bridges continued to "present the novel scene of people moving on the ice in all directions and in great numbers."

The ice, however, from its roughness and inequalities, was totally unfit for amusement, although several booths were erected on it for the sale of small wares, but the publicans and spirit dealers were most in request. The whole of the river opposite Queenhithe was completely frozen, but the ice varied in thickness, and nearer Blackfriars was highly dangerous.

This state of the river continued until the 7th, when the mass of ice broke up through high tides. People were crossing over even up to the last, but at 4 p.m. it gave way and swept through the arches of Blackfriars Bridge, carrying along with it innumerable boats and about forty barges; but the construction of the new Strand Bridge, afterwards called Waterloo, impeded its progress, and it was some time before the passage became free.

Many people who were foolhardy enough to remain in the booths until the last minute found to their alarm that the solid mass on which they stood began to move; they managed to scramble into two derelict barges, and one managed to pass safely through Blackfriars Bridge, but the other struck against one of the piers, and ropes had to be let down from the bridge to rescue this involuntary crew.

A few days after this, on the 12th, Sir Christopher Wren's Custom House was burnt down and unfortunately a number of warehouses, private houses, and inns. An explosion of gunpowder scattered terror and dismay in the very height of the conflagration, and for a time paralysed all attempts to subdue the flames. The loss to the Government and to private owners too was immense.

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