The London Road That Never Existed
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.’
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.