Authors: Edward Marston
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Historical
The Frost Fair
First published in Great Britain in 2002 by
Allison & Busby Limited
Bon Marche Centre
241-251 Ferndale Road
Brixton, London SW9 8BJ
Copyright © 2002 by Edward Marston
The right of Edward Marston to be identified as
author of this work has been asserted by him in
accordance with the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act, 1988
This is a work of fiction and all characters, firms, organisations and instants portrayed are
imaginary. They are not meant to resemble any counterparts in the real world; in the unlikely
event that any similarity does exist it is an unintended coincidence.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not,
by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or
otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior
written consent in any form of binding or cover other than
that in which it is published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed upon the subsequent purchaser.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 07490 0600 5
Printed and bound in Ebbw Vale,
by Creative Print & Design
EDWARD MARSTON was born and brought up in South Wales. A full-time writer for over thirty years, he has worked in radio, film, television and the theatre. Prolific and highly successful, he is equally at home writing children's books or literary criticism, plays or biographies and settings for his crime novels range from the world of professional golf to the compilation of the Domesday Survey.
The Frost Fair
is the fourth book in the series featuring architect Christopher Redmayne and Puritan constable Jonathan Bale, set in Restoration London after the Great Fire of 1666.
The frost still continuing more & more severe, the Thames before
London was planted with bothes in formal streetes, as in a Citty, or
Continual faire, all sorts of trades and shops furnished and full of
Commodities, even to a printing presse…
John Evelyn: Diary
Table of Contents
Snow came like a thief in the night. Quickly and silently it fell over the whole of London, searching every last corner and robbing the city of its distinctive appearance. When they awoke next day, Londoners found that they were in the grip of a raging blizzard. Not only did it smother the streets and coat the buildings in white, the snow was blown hither and thither by a mischievous wind that was determined to cause the greatest possible inconvenience. Heavy drifts leaned against doors, sealed up windows and blocked off lanes and alleyways. Wherever there was a gap in a threshold, a hole in a roof or even a tiny opening in some shutters, the snow blew in unbidden. Those who had slept in warm beds were fortunate. Beggars, urchins and stray animals that had spent the night in the open were destined to slumber forever. Unable to escape from the blizzard, they had curled up in doorways or hidden beneath benches, only to be frozen to the marrow by the chill wind and covered by an ever-thickening shroud of snow.
Fires were lit in grates all over the capital but they only added to the general discomfort. They might bring relief to those who huddled around them but the smoke they produced could not disperse in the cold air. A sulphurous stench invaded the streets. Even when the snow finally abated, the smoke continued to belch from the chimneys, darkening the sky and swirling down to attack the throats and eyes of any citizens unwise enough to be abroad. London was brought to a standstill. Markets were cancelled, trades abandoned, shops left shut. Few visitors entered the city by means of its gates or its famous bridge and none tried to leave. For most people, it was a time to wrap up and stay indoors. Hardier souls took on the task of clearing the streets as best they could so that some movement could take place. It was slow and laborious work.
The snow had a deadly accomplice in its wake. Frost set in with a vengeance. Icy fingers took London by the throat and sought to throttle it. The old, the sick and the very young were its first victims, weakened, tormented, then finally killed off by the freezing temperatures. Even the most robust citizens found themselves prey to the infections that winter always brings. Thoroughfares that had been matted with snow were now glistening with ice, waiting to catch the unwary traveller and send him flying. Broken legs, arms, wrists and ankles were inflicted indiscriminately. But it was the Thames that underwent the most dramatic change. Ice formed first along the banks then, gradually and imperceptibly, extended its reach across the whole river. The water that was the life-blood of the city disappeared from sight. Above the bridge, and partially below it, the Thames was one long sheet of cold, solid, continuous, unrelenting ice.
No ships could sail, no boats could ferry passengers from one bank to another. London was starved of everything that came in by water. The huge trade in coal from Newcastle came to a complete halt. Fuel prices soon soared. The city shivered on. Yet there was no sense of doom. Having endured virulent plague and a devastating fire in recent years, the capital met the latest crisis with a mixture of bravery and resignation. At a time of suffering, it also found a new source of pleasure. They held a frost fair.
'It's wonderful!' exclaimed Susan Cheever, clapping her gloved hands together. 'I've never been to a frost fair before.'
'No more have I,' said Christopher Redmayne, gazing around in amazement. 'A hundred architects could not effect such a transformation. Mother Nature has redesigned the whole city. In place of a river, we have the widest street in Europe.'
'Our pond freezes every year, and so does the stream at the bottom of our garden. But I never thought that a river as broad and eager as the Thames would turn to ice. Still less, that a fair could be set on its back.'
'That is to blame,' he explained, pointing to the huge bridge that spanned the river. 'The piers that support it are set into starlings that restrict the flow of water. Above the bridge, as you see, it freezes more thoroughly.' He smiled at her. 'Shall we test it?'
Susan laughed. 'Everyone else has done so.'
'Then we must not be left out.'
They were standing on the northern bank of the river, midway between London Bridge and the Tower. To keep out the sharp pinch of winter, Susan was wearing a long coat that all but brushed her ankles and a bonnet that protected her head and ears. A woollen scarf at the neck added both warmth and decoration. Enough of her face could be seen to remind her companion how beautiful she was. The sparkle in her eyes and the softness in her voice were a constant delight to him. He escorted her to the stone steps.
'Take my arm,' he offered. 'The stairs are slippery.'
'Descend with care.'
'I shall,' she promised.
Arm in arm, they went slowly down the steps and Christopher enjoyed every moment of their proximity. They had known each other long enough to dispense with some of the formalities but too short a time for him to take any real liberties. An aspiring young architect, Christopher was helping to rebuild the city after the ravages of the Great Fire and one of the most appealing commissions that had come his way was a contract to design a town house for Sir Julius Cheever, elected to Parliament to represent the county of Northamptonshire. Sir Julius was a truculent man by nature and not always easy company, but his daughter knew exactly how to handle him. During the building of the house, her friendship with its architect had steadily developed and he was thrilled that she took every excuse to quit her home in the Midlands so that she could visit the capital. The affection between them was unspoken but no less real for that.
'Well,' he said, as they stepped on to the ice, 'here we are.'
She tapped a foot. 'It feels so solid.'
'There's talk of a thaw but I've not seen a sign of it.' He released her arm. 'When you return home, you'll be able to boast that you achieved a true miracle.'
'You walked on water.'
'Some people are doing much more than that.'
'Let's take a closer look at them.'
Wanting her to take his arm again, Christopher contented himself with the merest touch of her back as his palm eased her forward. Like her, he wore his winter attire, a long blue coat and a wide- brimmed hat keeping the wind at bay. He was tall, slim and well- favoured with an open face that glowed with intelligence. Peeping out from beneath his hat was curly brown hair with a reddish tinge. As they strolled towards the fair, they made a handsome couple, their reflections walking ahead of them in the ice. Christopher looked down to study her moving portrait but Susan only had eyes for the fair itself.
'Half of the city must be here,' she observed.
'Can you think of a better place to be?'
She pointed a finger. 'What's that they are roasting?'
'An ox, I think,' he said, staring across at the spit, 'and I fancy we'll see a pig or two being turned over a brazier as well. Warm meat sells well on cold days.'
'Will the fire not melt the ice?'
'It appears not.'
'You'll have much to tell them in Northamptonshire.'
'I plan to linger here for a while first,' she said, turning to him with a smile.
He met her gaze. 'Call on me for anything you should require.'
They walked on into the heart of the fair. Lines of booths had been set up to form an avenue that was known as Temple Street since it ran from the bottom of Temple stairs. Every conceivable item of merchandise was on sale and there was loud haggling over each purchase. Large crowds and horse-drawn coaches went up and down the street with complete confidence. In some of the tents, freaks of nature were on display. Lurid banners advertised a cow with five legs, a sheep with two heads and a dog that could sing like a bird. Feats of strength were displayed by a giant of a blacksmith, bare-armed to show off his rippling muscles and seemingly impervious to the cold. Two dwarves in yellow costumes had a mock fight to entertain the children. Puppet plays and interludes were also drawing their audiences. Horse races were being held at regular intervals and sizeable bets were being made. Those who preferred more brutish pleasures flocked to the bull ring that had been erected below the Tower to cheer on the vicious hounds that baited the animals.