We Brits have all been talking about the snow this week. We never tire of discussing this kind of thing, partly because our climate’s very changeable and fond of playing tricks both on us and our often wildly inaccurate weathermen, partly because floods, droughts, strong winds and ice each bring different practical problems that we never adequately prepare for.
Heck, this time I had to abandon my car in a lane somewhere in remote, hilly Sussex. I blame the government, naturally, as is the duty of every proper Englishman.
So I’m entertained by the coincidence some finds made by Stuart Jenkins in a junk shop in Melbourne just this week. They’re a small collection of of lantern slides depicting Windermere during the Great Frost of 1895 – several of them are of skaters, curling and lake scenes, but the splendid one above shows an ice yacht. See the rest of his collection here.
Stuart points out that Arthur Ransome remembered the Great Frost and used it in his fictional children’s work Winter Holiday, which featured ice yachts, and sent over a link to a page on the allthingsransome.net website, which includes some splendid background taken from a local newspaper. A correspondent from Manchester wrote with particular enthusiasm:
”The office must manage its own affairs today,’ we said, as we read the telegraphic report that Windermere was one sheet of black ice and that the thermometer was registering 22 degrees of frost. We will not be cheated of a chance of 20 square miles of black ice, and we were soon steaming away from the blackened city into the clear country-side and its fields of spotless white…
‘Windermere Station was reached at last, and we were soon spinning cheerily down on the top of a well-loaded omnibus… As we descended towards the village that clusters round St Martin’s Church we saw people like black ants moving hurriedly to and fro upon the frozen level of the lake. Then the landings were reached, and such a scene presented itself as can only be seen in some old Dutch city in mid-winter. The whole interspace between the land and the island was powdered white from the innumerable iron heels of the skaters. Here a pony with its jangling sleigh bells dashed along; there fond fathers pushed their little ones in perambulators. A hurdy-gurdy man made music here, and yonder, on St Mary’s Holme, a brass band blew its best, and risked frozen lips and frost-bitten fingers in the process.
‘Presently a great boat-sail was seen to belly to the wind and an iceboat slid past. Big people, little people, middle-sized people panted against the wind, or turned and opened their coats and spun past without effort. Paterfamilias toddled past without skates, and screamed his threatenings to venturesome youngsters. Aged men puffed their pipes and solemnly talked of the frost of forty years ago… Ah, how one’s heart went back with pain to the Manchester slum! And how one could have desired an enchanter’s wand to bring the artisan for one short hour from the factory room and give him heels of iron and the wings of the wind, and let him know what a six mile stretch of black ice could do to drive dull care away!’
Many thanks Stuart – your images and links are great fun!