A thaw, by all that is miserable! The frost is completely broken up. You look down the long perspective of Oxford-street, the gas-lights mournfully reflected on the wet pavement, and can discern no speck in the road to encourage the belief that there is a cab or a coach to be had - the very coachmen have gone home in despair. The cold sleet is drizzling down with that gentle regularity, which betokens a duration of four-and-twenty hours at least; the damp hangs upon the house-tops and lamp-posts, and clings to you like an invisible cloak. The water is 'coming in' in every area, the pipes have burst, the water-butts are running over; the kennels seem to be doing matches against time, pump-handles descend of their own accord, horses in market-carts fall down, and there's no one to help them up again, policemen look as if they had been carefully sprinkled with powdered glass; here and there a milk-woman trudges slowly along, with a bit of list round each foot to keep her from slipping; boys who 'don't sleep in the house,' and are not allowed much sleep out of it, can't wake their masters by thundering at the shop-door, and cry with the cold - the compound of ice, snow, and water on the pavement, is a couple of inches thick - nobody ventures to walk fast to keep himself warm, and nobody could succeed in keeping himself warm if he did.
Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, 1836
Sir, - I am much surprised to see that one of the most dangerous
nuisances which, under the provisions of the Police Act, the police are
empowered and directed to prevent in and near the metropolis, is allowed to be
committed (even in their presence), which almost every street in the metropolis
will prove. I allude to the making of slides by boys upon the road and pavement.
I saw a striking effect of this practice myself a few evenings since. A person,
in walking over a slide, fell down, and a gentleman passing myself having
assisted him up and taken him to a surgeon, we found that he had received a
violent contusion, and had his head and one eye cut in a most frightful way.
I take the liberty, as a friend to man and beast, of requesting your kind insertion of this letter, hoping that it may draw attention to and cause the prevention of this dangerous practice. I am, &c.,
P.S. You will find, that under the 17th clause of the 54th section of the 47th cap. of 2 and 3 Victoria, "that every person who shall make or use any slide upon ice or snow in any street or other thoroughfare shall be liable to a penalty of 40s." If this was enforced in a few instances, it would be a very useful warning to offenders.
letter to The Times, December 17, 1840
Wednesday, 2 January. Since midnight, snow had silently fallen, to the depth of 6 to 8 inches; by breakfast time it was all over except a slight flaky dropping, & the day was calm & very cold. Nothing could be more beautiful; no change more complete & charming. The trees around the fountain near Garden Court were loaded with snow: an exquisite tracery of white branches, relieved against the dark red housefronts. But in the streets the transformation was greatest. All traffic, except afoot, was stopped; no cabs, no omnibuses, no waggons. The snow lay in heaps in the road; men were scraping & shovelling the footways; & people in thick coats & wrappers stepped noiselessly along. The Strand was as quiet and empty as a village street at nightfall; even the footpassengers were far fewer than usual. Here in the heart of London, & at midday, there was absolute cleanliness & brightness, absolute silence: instead of the roar & rush of wheels, the selfish hurry, the dirt & the cloudy fog, we had the loveliness & utter purity of new- fallen snow. It fell without force or sound; & all things huge & hasty & noisy were paralyzed in a moment. I walked along enjoying the wondrous lovely scene, the long perspective of houses, all grown picturesque & antique; their gable roofs white against a clear sky, & every salient cornice & lintel in their outline picked out in brilliant white; and beneath them, the tumbled & tenantless pavement of snow. It was like the quaint still London of old; one might have been arm in arm with Mr. Pepys, or even Mr. W. Shakespeare. And this state of things lasted all day. There were many crossing sweepers about: I noticed one near S. Clement Danes, a girl of 17 or so, in ragged but warm shawl, & a bit of an old bonnet, whose dark rough hair was covered with snow, & hung in a tangled white mass, like the foam of a waterfall, over her brown bonny face, as she stood with her broom under her arm, stamping & blowing her fingers.
Friday, 4 January. The cold out of doors at ten this forenoon was more intense, to my apprehension, than I ever remember. My beard froze, the nape of the neck, & the heart, seemed paralyzed, headache came on, & at the end of the short walk from here to Whitehall I was almost helpless. At 4, I walked westward, thinking to call on the Thackerays. The Horseguards Parade & the Mall were one sheet of snow, with paths trodden but not swept: a thick brown fog brooded over it, deepening the twilight; muffled spectral figures hurried to & fro across the slippery ground. . . . In Victoria Street a girl begged of me: a ragged tall lusty girl of 19, by name Caroline Randall, by trade an ironer; who has no home; who slept last night on a step in a sheltered corner, & felt 'as cold as a frog', she said.
Arthur Munby, Diary, 2 & 4 January 1867
see also Charles Manby Smith in The Little World of London - click here
see also Mysteries of Modern London - click here
see also James Payn in Lights and Shadows of London Life - click here
see also W.J.Gordon in article The Cleansing of London - click here
see also A.R.Bennett in London and Londoners - click here