The Little Ice Age

1430 - 1850

Author Frits Locher

After the last grote ice age that ended about 11,000 jaar ago there were relatively many small climatic fluctuations. So it was relatively warm in the Roman period and the middle ages.

Frozen Thames near London, painting1667 by Abraham Hondius.

This was followed by a cold period that we call the little ice age. This period lasted roughly from 1300 – 1850. It was an average of two degrees colder than it is today. But the cold was certainly not always the same during the little ice age. In the last quarter of the 16th century there were some very harsh winters. And also in the first quarter of the 17th century and between 1650 and 1720. These winters started back in november and continued sometimes until the end of april. Large rivers such as the Rhine and the Thames frozen once in a while. About the exact period of the little ice age is much discussed by climate researchers.

After 1850 it started to be warmer and the number of genuine icewinters decreased. At the moment we are in a relatively warm period. The little ice age has made a great impression on her contemporaries. Partly as a result of this frequent cold winters and winter scenes were captured on prints, paintings and tiles; as well as in literature and poetry. Frost and snowfall had great influence on social life. Food stocks could run down and water facilities frozen but there was also a lot of fun on the ice with skates, colven, sledging and fairgrounds. In London was on the frozen River Thames for the first time a Carnival held in 1607 and for the last time in the year 1814.

Dutch tile 1e half 18e century
Dutch tile 1e half 17e century

The little ice age has helped that people started to desire for real skating (not anymore for the use of bones). Around 1250 was born the primitive wooden skate in the Netherlands as we have found during excavations. After that other models were made. Initially, simple in construction and shape. 

Probably around 1600 was born the first skate with a nice curl. This was frequently depicted on old tiles.

The Dutch winter landscape with ice during the little ice age was displayed by painters like Pieter Breughel the elder (1525-1569), Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634) and Aert van der Neer (1603-1677).

On these paintings are frozen water surfaces with on the side to see a castle, an old House, a farm or a mill. On the ice happens everything: all kinds of people skating, walking, pushing a sled or entertain themselves in other ways. These winter scenes remained also after the little ice age, so after 1850, so popular that many painters continued to put these on the canvas and this still happens today.

When wil be the next little ice age?

Hendrick Avercamp:  winter landscape near a town (ca.1620)





This article was published before in

1. Kouwe Drukte Volume 18 - number 50 - april 2014 pag. 8. [ISSN 1572-4476].
Kouwe Drukte is an magazine of the Dutch skate collectors club Foundation De Poolster

2. The newsletter of the Antique Ice Skate Club, Volume 15, Issue 3, July 2014.

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