British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Height: 363.000 mm
Width: 510.000 mm
Prints and Drawings
Luke Clennell, The Fair on the Thames, February 4th 1814, a hand-coloured etching
London, England, AD 1814
Printed in commemoration of the festivities held on the frozen River Thames from 27 December 1813 to 27 March 1814
The medieval London Bridge was built on nineteen narrow arches that served to slow the flow of the Thames. Until the old bridge was demolished in 1831, the river froze over during cold winters and the opportunity was taken to hold impromptu fairs. 1813-14 saw the greatest 'frost fair' of the nineteenth century. A contemporary eye-witness decribed the scene thus:
'swings, bookstalls, dancing in a barge, suttling [drinking] booths, playing at skittles, and almost every appendage of a fair on land was now transferred to the Thames... the view of St Paul's and the city with its white foreground had a very singular effect'.
This print was published in May just after the river had begun to thaw. The explanatory text is in English and French for the international market. It entered The British Museum as part of the huge collection of topographical prints and drawings of London put together by Frederick Crace between 1829 and 1859.
The plate was engraved by Luke Clennell, a pupil of the celebrated wood engraver Thomas Bewick (1753-1828). Clennell had a successful career as a painter and illustrator before succumbing to a mental illness in 1817.
W. Andrews, Famous frosts and frost fairs (London, George Redway, 1887)
A. Griffiths and R. Williams, The Department of Prints and D (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)