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Article: The Regency Guide to Embracing the Winter Chill

The Frost Fair of 1814 on the River Thames in London  Painting by Luke Clenell, entitled The Fair on the Thames, Feb'y 4th 1814
Frost fair

The Regency Guide to Embracing the Winter Chill

The Frost Fair of 1814 on the River Thames in London  Painting by Luke Clenell, entitled The Fair on the Thames, Feb'y 4th 1814

Monday. Here’s a day! – The Ground covered with snow! What is to become of us? – We were to have walked out early to near Shops, & had the Carriage for the more distant. – Mr. Richard Snow is dreadfuly fond of us. I dare say he has stretched himself out at Chawton too.

Jane Austen in London to her sister Cassandra at Chawton, March 7th, 1814

I draw my coat more tightly around myself as the train pulls into Blackfriars, anticipating the chill that has finally descended on the city. Winter is coming, and preparations are only just beginning - shops switching out Halloween displays for the red and green of Christmas, cranes out in the early mornings winching light displays into place. Still, from up here I can hardly believe that the Thames below could, in fact had on multiple occasions, frozen over entirely. The last such occasion was in the winter of 1813-14, when the final Frost Fair found its home upon the Thames. For over a month, the ice sustained many festivities, including ice skating, gingerbread sales and plenty of boozing. Taking inspiration from our Regency forebears, here’s a few ideas of how to embrace the chill, Regency style. 

Put your skates on 

We did not take our walk on Friday, it was too dirty, nor have we yet done it; we may perhaps do something like it to-day, as after seeing Frank skate, which he hopes to do in the meadows by the beech, we are to treat ourselves with a passage over the ferry. It is one of the pleasantest frosts I ever knew, so very quiet. I hope it will last some time longer for Frank's sake, who is quite anxious to get some skating; he tried yesterday, but it would not do.

Jane Austen to Cassandra, Castle Square, Friday, December 9, 1808

Ice skating was popular in the Regency period, especially as a way of entertaining yourself when the ponds and rivers froze over. These days, it rarely gets cold enough in England for the ice to get thick enough to be safely skated on. Fortunately, many public ice rinks are set up over the winter months inside and outside major cities, where you can hire a good pair of skates, wrap up warm, and try not to topple over. 

Make a Regency Cocoa

hot chocolate

Though solid chocolate candy bars wouldn’t be introduced until later, hot chocolate as a drink boomed in popularity in Regency households. Less straightforward than sticking a mug of milk in a microwave and stirring in the powder, making a steaming mug of cocoa wasn’t quite the easy task it is today. However, they took great pride in their concoctions, adding spices and flavours such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla into the mix. Sounds extra festive to me. Check out a recipe for an authentic regency hot chocolate at this link.

Get Layering 

In the Regency period, there was no central heating, nor was it cheap to heat one’s home. To keep out the cold, ladies and gentlemen would pile on as many layers of wool and fur as their means would allow, donning blankets and making sure to bring umbrellas out and about. Moreover they would avoid the need to go outside where possible. These days, finding high quality, thick pieces can be tough, but they are still out there. It’s worth thinking ahead and trying to invest in some quality pieces that will keep you warm in the elements and allow you to leave the expensive heating off for longer. 

Cosy up in the living room 

Without central heating, keeping your whole house warm could be a costly and time consuming venture. Rather than heating every room, a family might choose to focus on heatproofing one room with a roaring fire, heavy curtains, and using room screens to contain the heat to one area. This is still possible these days - getting together with your family or whoever you live with to make your living room extra cosy with blankets, hot water bottles, and cosy drinks. Put down your phones and laptops and have an analogue evening in - try a card game, or a puzzle. Soon you’ll have forgotten all about the cold weather outside. 

How are you preparing for the chillier months? We’re always looking for great tips on how to best cosy up with our favourite Austen novels. 

Ellen White is editor of the Jane Austen Centre blog. She would love to hear from you! Check out our Submission Guidelines and get in touch.

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