Saturday 8 December 2018

Christmas in the time of a Regency Frost Fair, by Jackie Williams #Christmas #Regency @wackyjackyful

Christmas in the time of...

A Regency Frost Fair

By Jackie Williams

The last great Frost Fair on the Thames came during February 1814. A spectacle never to be repeated after the demolition of the original London Bridge. The deepening of the river and the more widely spaced support arches in the new construction meant that the tide travelled more quickly, preventing the ice forming, to a safe depth for a Frost Fair, ever again.

But on the day of the 1814 Thames Frost Fair, amongst games of skittles, fortune tellers, and gamblers, one man set up his printing press and printed out his 124 page book. A History of the River Thames in a Frozen State, was published while in his ‘print shop’ set up on the Thames. Another enterprising person lit a fire and roasted a pig to the delight of many a hungry visitor. And in one of the greatest, most talked about sights, an elephant walked on water, crossing the Thames on the ice near Blackfriars Bridge.

Who would have imagined such a spectacle? And wouldn’t it have been fabulous if it had happened at Christmas...

Let your imagination run wild while you enjoy a short excerpt from my as yet unnamed 8th book in the Unrivalled Regency series.

Crisp air assaulted Lucinda Eliot’s cheeks. Ducking her head, she tucked her precious bundle tighter against her chest before taking a last glance at the haven she would probably never return to, and stepped out into the freezing Christmas morning.
A great flow of people swept around her, voices buzzing with excitement. Lucinda already knew what the commotion was about. One of the coffee shop’s early customers had already spread the news. The winter’s chill had become extreme, freezing the great river from Fulham to Putney. It had been years since such a frost had blighted the capital. A tide of curious Londoners were gathering that Christmas morning to view the scene.
And along with the crowds came a hoard of traders and entertainers determined to take advantage of the unexpected ice’s rich pickings.
A juggler tossed his brightly coloured balls alongside a man selling fur muffs. Fairground rides swung eager children over the heads of an enthusiastic choir singing Christmas carols. A decorated tree stood proud and pretty in an earth filled barrel. Someone had brought out a steaming cauldron of mulled wine and its spiced scent filled the frigid air, tempting many of the shivering crowd into an eager bout of early festive drinking.
Lucinda gave a wistful sigh. She wasn’t sure when she might be able to afford her next glass of milk let alone a cup of the seasonal brew. Bypassing a fortune teller’s tent, she ignored the mystical crystals and amulets hanging about the entrance. What would be the point in hearing about her future? She already knew that it was bleak.
She startled as a man with baskets of oranges at his feet suddenly called out, his coarse accent thick with common tones.
‘Penny for a noringe! Tuppence for three!’
Her favourite fruit! Her cheeks sucked in and she swallowed hard. But while her mouth watered, she shook her head and began to move away. She had but a few coins in her purse. There would be none of the tangy but sweet delight for her. However, his cries attracted the attention of others - a group of well-dressed young ladies riding by in their horse drawn sled.  
Lucinda glanced up enviously at the warmly clad, chattering women. Her own coat was thin, more suitable to a carriage trip during a mild spring afternoon than a walk on a frozen river in December. But it was Christmas day and though she had nowhere to go, nowhere warm to stay, Lucinda had wanted to see the fair.
One of the women on the sleigh laughed over Lucinda’s head. A tinkling, light-hearted sound that had her friends joining in. All except one, a slender slip of woman who kept her head down and her lips pressed together. Lucinda wondered why the young lady didn’t find her companion’s comments amusing. She stared a moment longer as a hand reached out and tapped the reticent lady on the shoulder.
Lucinda quickly ducked her head. She clamped her chattering teeth together as the unamused lady lifted her chin. Familiar golden curls peeped out from beneath a thickly fur-lined hood. Clarissa Eliot’s smile didn’t quite reach her eyes, though she gave a fair imitation of looking happy. But Lucinda could tell the difference in her younger sister. While the young woman’s friends cooed at the unfamiliar spectacle of a thoroughfare made of ice, Clarissa appeared to be disinterested, her dark eyes haunted, shadowed beneath and hollow. Even the sight of an elephant crossing the frozen water seemed to hold no allure.

“An elephant! My, look at that!” One of the ladies pointed a glove covered finger.
“Good heavens! There really is an elephant! I thought George had been at the port when he told us about it, though it is a little early even for him. Clarissa, do you see?” Another clutched at the blonde’s arm.
Clarissa Eliot blinked away her worries and smiled at the unusual sight.
“I hope someone has tested the depth of the ice,” she commented, her voice only just audible above the general commotion.
Her companions laughed.
“Of course they have. The temperature has dropped so low there is apparently eighteen inches of ice between us and the water.” One of them assured their friend.
Clarissa shivered and turned back towards the orange seller.
“Noringes! Noringes! Penny for one, tuppence for three!” The man dug this thumbs into the bright flesh as he shouted across the frosty route, the deliciously tart scent reminding Clarissa of her sister’s love for the citrus fruit.
Her heart leapt to her throat, threatening to choke her. She had last seen Lucinda in the summer. Clarissa’s eyes filled with tears and nearly blinded her as she recalled the quick goodbye. A swift kiss on her cheek in the early hours of the morning. She hardly remembered it happening, her eyes only just opening as Lucinda fled their home, her departure swift and secret. If only she had known why.

Lucinda stood transfixed, the elephant and the orange seller forgotten as she gazed at her beautiful sister. Could she have done things differently? Lucinda didn’t know. She regretted many things about last summer, but as her bundle gave a wriggle, she knew there were some things that she would never change.
At the time, being jilted while almost at the altar had rated highly amongst the most horrendous days of her life. But she knew now that the hurt and embarrassment of that day were nothing in comparison to what had followed. And not being able to explain her flight to Clarissa had weighed heavily on Lucinda’s heart, But given her situation, what alternatives had she? She wiped the thought from her mind. Nothing could change what had happened. Reliving the circumstances of her departure wasn’t going to make them disappear.
Cuddling her bundle close, she turned. She no longer belonged in the world of aristocratic ladies, wearing furs or riding in horse drawn sleighs, and needed to slip away.
But the bundle she held to her chest gave a more forceful wriggle, followed by small, nagging cry which soon became an ear-splitting yowl of proportions incommensurate with the tiny child’s size. Baby Holly, though only a little more than two week’s old, let everyone within hearing distance know that she was either hungry, wet, or cold, or possibly all three.
Lucinda hushed the squalling infant, but her pleas were ignored. An arm escaped its blanket and waved about in the wintry air. Lucinda tucked it back inside the blanket. It was too cold for the child to be exposed, but the little face reddened dramatically, the baby’s indignation of being so confined evident for all to see.

Distracted from both the orange seller, the elephant, and her friends, Clarissa stared at the baby screaming fit to burst. And then she looked at the woman trying to comfort it.
Forcing herself not to faint, Clarissa stared in shock.
“Lucinda?” She breathed gently, her eyes suddenly sparkling as brightly as the frost underfoot. “Lucinda! Is that you?”
The woman holding the infant lifted her head, their eyes meeting for a long moment, before quickly turning away. She began running on the ice, sliding once and nearly falling before she found her footing once again and dashed into the gathered crowds.
Clarissa didn’t hesitate. She jumped from the sled, skidding onto the ice. Gathering herself and throwing some coins at the orange seller, she grabbed some of the fragrant fruit before running after her sister. A sister that she hadn’t seen in more than half a year.
“Stop! Wait!” She called after the retreating figure and stretched out her stride. Thank goodness she had worn a dress with plenty of skirt. The distance between them lessened before Lucinda suddenly changed direction, slipping and crying out as she dashed around the now red faced choir. The baby flew into the air as the woman hit the unforgiving ice.
“Holly!” Lucinda screamed and twisted, clearly desperate to see where her baby had landed. But she didn’t have to look far. Clarissa sat on the ice a few feet behind her, oranges rolling about her while in her arms lay the now contentedly cooing child.
Clarissa stared down at the baby she had deftly caught and lifted the blanket away from its face. Pink spots lit the child’s cold cheeks as it blinked its bluer than blue eyes.
“What a beautiful child!” She exclaimed and looked back at her sister.
Lucinda scrabbled to her feet.
“Give her back to me.” She demanded as she held out her arms.
Clarissa ignored her and tilted her head as she looked back down at the child.
“A girl? Max’s?” She asked on a breath, though she already knew the answer.
Lucinda closed her eyes for a moment, settling the thump of her heart before shaking her head.
“This isn’t Max’s baby. He married another. He had promised himself to me, but he married another.” The desolate tears couldn’t be stopped. They dripped onto the ice.
Clarissa gasped as she was suddenly helped to her feet, a crowd gathering around her. She tried to push them away, but holding the baby securely took the use of her arms. She craned over the concerned crowd, eyes searching frantically for her sister.
“No! He didn’t! Max didn’t marry anyone.” She didn’t know whether Lucinda heard.
But then chapped hands reached through the throng and took the baby.
“Don’t lie to me, Clarissa. I have to live with what I have done. And so does he. Isn’t that enough.” Lucinda tugged the baby back into her arms.
Clarissa tried to shake off her meddlesome friends.
“Who is that beggar woman? Ugh! Did the infant soil your dress, Clarissa? It is too bad. London is full of vagrant and thieves. Go away! Go away and leave our friend alone! If you have picked Lady Clarissa’s pockets...”
The rest of the woman’s comments were lost as Lucinda dragged her baby back into the shelter of her thin overcoat and vanished into the throng still enjoying the ice.
But Clarissa wasn’t about to let her sister disappear again. She glowered at her friends.
“Leave me alone. Do not stand in my way. I need to speak to that woman. Immediately!” Her anxious tones rose in pitch as she struggled against her friends and concerned passersby.
Her friends gave her some room, but remained in a circle around her. All of them curious, questioning Clarissa’s reason. Though Clarissa could hardly expect any different. Even her parents had given up on her. Clarissa had only ventured out this Christmas day to stop them from calling the doctor. Not that any medicine he prescribed could help her out of her depression. For what kind of potion could cure a grieving heart? A heart that suddenly pounded out a deafening rhythm.
“But she’s a vagrant, possibly a whore! We won’t let you go after her.” A shocked voice cut through Clarissa’s thoughts.
Clarissa felt her anger rise. She had brooded over the loss of her sister long enough. This time she wouldn’t remain silent. Not when she had just discovered that she had been lied to.
“How dare you call Lu...” She closed her mouth before she revealed her sister’s shocking secret, but her mind ran in wild circles. She had thought Lucinda dead. That was what she had been told. But it was clear the truth had been denied her.
Clarissa’s heart thumped in an erratic rhythm. Lucinda was alive! And had been holding Max’s baby. Though Lucinda had rejected that claim, there could be no denying the child’s heritage. The adorable little girl was the image of her father. A man who now lived desperate and alone, shunning the world after losing the woman he loved.
A woman who had apparently now risen from an early grave and who clearly didn’t know the facts.
Clarissa turned away from her friends and stood staring after... No one. Her heart plummeted into her stomach. Where had Lucinda gone? Clarissa stood on her tiptoes, then ran onto the choir’s makeshift stage. She scanned the masses around her, desperate to catch any sight.
But it was hopeless. The crowd had become thicker, everyone keen to see the elephant, to eat the oranges, or have their fortunes read. It seemed that the whole of London had come to experience Christmas at the Frost Fair.
And her sister, clearly alone, afraid, and thinking herself abandoned, had disappeared into the chattering throng making merry on the glistening ice.

I hope this excerpt has given you a flavour of Christmas at a Frost Fair. The 8th book in the Unrivalled Regency series will be coming early in 2019. In the meantime, you can read more about the seven previous standalone romantic mystery stories HERE!

And you can discover me on: WebsiteNewsletterBlogGoogle + FaceBookTwitterInstagram

Jackie Williams
I was born in Essex England during the mid sixties but I missed all the fun. Being only young, I assumed that all Beatles were six legged creatures and Flower Power was something to do with the vigorous way my mother kneaded the bread dough.

My wonderful parents brought me up with a huge love of books. We read anything and everything. Bedtime stories were a treasured time of adventure and mystery. My sister and I sat wide eyed in wonder and to this day I worry about Dinah and Dorinda being pricked with pins because they grew so fat, and I never pull faces at the a waning moon (or was it a waxing one?) just in case my chops stay that way . (The Wind On The Moon)

I began reading romance while still at school. The fuel for many a teenage fantasy leapt from between the covers of wildly romantic books and my passion still lingers now for all those dark haired heroes.

After being challenged by my husband, my own beautiful teenage daughter persuaded me to write my first romance. She was only fourteen at the time and between books for children and adults. She couldn't find anything that ticked all her numerous and particular boxes and so she asked me to write a book, with all the exact ingredients just for her. Though not just a book for teens, she enjoyed the resulting tale so much that she shared it with her friends and I eventually published A Perfect Summer as an ebook on amazon.

But I have discovered that writing is not easily stopped once you start. It has turned into a grand passion that I just cannot hold back. The fingertips start tapping the keys and ideas suddenly come flooding, far too many for just one book and so I began another and then another, 31 books later I am still nowhere near done.

I hope you enjoy all of my efforts and I look forward to your comments and reviews.


  1. Loved the excerpt from your upcoming work, Jackie. I can’t wait to find out what happens to Lucinda and Holly.

    1. Thank you! I so enjoyed writing it, and discovering more about the Frost Fairs made it feel all the more special. What a spectacle they must have been.

  2. Please let us know when you have a release date for the 8th book in the Unrivalled Regency series, I want to find out what happens next!!

  3. Will do! Hopefully I will be able to finish it soon.

  4. Ooooo! I MUST read the rest of this story! I enjoy all your books: quick reads with nice dollops of sensuality in the mix!

    1. Yes, I live to entertain! Glad you enjoy them. Will have this new book finished soon and will let you know the publication date.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx