The London Road That Never Existed


Frost Fair

There are imaginary London addresses scattered throughout literature, but there’s also a real street in London that never actually existed, in the sense that one minute it wasn’t there, then it was, and then it was gone again. Any clues?

It was called Broad Streete, and it appeared on January the 8th in 1683 in the most central part of the city. A great many shops opened on it, many thousands of people visited and traders arrived, a bullring was built and there were games and displays of strength and skill. Oxen were roasted and drink was sold, and a great time was had by all along its length.

Broad Streete could only be built because between  the 14th and 19th centuries the Thames froze solid more than a dozen times. John Evelyn describes the street thus; ‘The ice was now become so incredibly thick, as the beare not onely whole streets of boothes in which they roasted meate, & had divers shops of wares…but coaches and horses passed over.’

Broad Streete


On this occasion the Thames had frozen to a thickness of almost a foot, and stayed that way for two months. At other times the ice grew to several feet thick, especially between Blackfriars and London Bridge. There are various reasons for the existence of Broad Streete. One was the ‘Little Ice Age’ that hit England, another was that the Thames had yet to be embanked, so it flowed more slowly and was prone to icing over. What happened when the ice melted? Rapid thaws sometimes caused loss of life and property. In January 1789, melting ice dragged away a ship which was anchored to a riverside pub, pulling the building down and causing five people to be crushed to death.

In the pedestrian tunnel under the south bank of Southwark Bridge there’s an engraving by sculptor Richard Kindersley made of slabs of grey slate, depicting a frost fair. The global climate grew milder, the river was banked and flowed faster, and that was the end of Broad Streete.

Jack Frost


17 comments on “The London Road That Never Existed”

  1. Jo W says:

    Hey,Admin,that would make a great quiz question? Any more like that?

  2. Jo W says:

    Oooops! One too many question marks there,sorry😉

  3. admin says:

    Oh, loads Jo! (I was a quizmaster for a while)

  4. Vivienne says:

    I have heard that another reason for the freezing was that Old London Bridge had lots of arches with quite thick supports, so the flow of the river was restricted which gave time enough for the river to freeze.

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    Aw, I reckon we could put together a pretty good London quiz from amongst the regulars. 🙂

  6. Rh says:

    Another daily one… You’d have a hard job finding ‘Bond Street’ when you leave the tube station of that name…’

  7. snowy says:

    I’ll drop in a pair of riddles since people seem to have the taste for them. Both have their solutions in London.

    The first is:

    Workers of the world unite!
    And work out where I spend the night.

    And the second:

    There are two big barrels at the door,
    but it’s not a pub, or bar, you saw.

  8. Vivienne says:

    Well Karl Marx lived in Dean Street above where Quo Vadis is, so maybe that’s the first one, but I can’t think of any barrels yet.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Rats! Vivienne got the one I knew. I wonder if we’re barking up the wrong tree with the second. Would barrel shaped objects be more of a clue? I still don’t know the answer, though.

  10. snowy says:

    Ms V is very smart, but only has it half right. 😉

  11. Jo W says:

    Snowy. Would you be talking about barrels of a gun? Such as the very large naval gun,just outside the main doors of the Imperial War Museum!by any chance?

  12. Vivienne says:

    Well, that’s a challenge, but I could also suggest the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell. Visited that on an Open London day and it’s full of old Daily Workers in the basement – brought back my childhood!

  13. snowy says:

    Jo is correct, sadly there is no $$$ prize just an internet star ★

    [Tradition has it that she gets to set the next riddle, if it’s her wish.]

    I thought the first one would go in a flash, but it’s very easy if you have the answer in front of you. And I’m finding it hard to conjure a clue that isn’t going to blow it straight away.

    Riddles never lie they just don’t tell the whole truth, in the first one tenses are the key to unlocking the puzzle.

  14. Jo W says:

    Hi Snowy! Thought again about the first riddle. Karl Marx spends his days where he spends his nights,doesn’t he? Highgate Cemetery. Sorry,I can’t think of another riddle to set,especially ones that rhyme. Perhaps I can leave that to you?😊

  15. Vivienne says:

    Well done, Jo W – I will try harder next time.

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