The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys is a delightful series of forty vignettes, each based on an actual time when the River Thames froze solid due to an exceptionally cold winter in England. The vignettes begin in 1142 and conclude in 1895, the last year in which the river froze. Humphreys writes a short piece to correspond with each year. Some of the pieces are based on documented historical events; others are tremendous feats of imagination. All are written in a lyrical prose that captures intimate snapshots of individuals from all walks of life as they cope with a frigidly cold winter and a frozen river.
Humphreys portrays the wintery scenes in vivid, poignant detail: frozen birds tumbling from the skies; skeletal humans and animals dying of starvation; the bitter cold seeping into the bones; the desperate poverty of tradesmen whose livelihood is threatened since the frozen river cannot transport their goods and services; the shortage of food; people falling through the ice as it softens and melts. But there were also some illustrations of resourcefulness and acts of kindness and compassion: the young boy who gently picks up frozen birds, reviving them with his hands and breath; the driver who patiently waits for his oxen until they are ready to tread across the river; the people who allow birds to nest in their homes for warmth; the desperate struggle to save people from drowning; the Frost Fairs—booths and side shows that spring up on the frozen river offering goods and services in a carnival like atmosphere.
Physically small in size and printed and illustrated on a heavy, gloss stock paper, the book is a pleasure to look at and a pleasure to read.