Known in France as ‘Le Grand Hiver’ (‘The Great Winter’) and in England as The Great Frost, the winter season of 1708-1709 was an extraordinary cold winter.

William Durham (1657-1735) was an English clergyman, natural theologian, natural philosopher, and scientist. In Upminster, a suburban town in East London, on the night of January 5, 1709, he recorded the lowest temperature he had ever measured since he started taking readings in 1697. It was a low of -12 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Fahrenheit). In ‘Philosophical Transactions’ he wrote: “I believe the Frost was greater if not more universal also) than any other within the Memory of Man.”

His contemporaries in the weather observation field in (western) Europe likewise recorded lows down to -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit).

France was particularly hard hit by the winter that year, with subsequent famine estimated to have caused 600,000 deaths by the end of 1710.

A few additional anecdotal events that were documented included: chicken combs froze solid and fell off, lakes, rivers and the Baltic Sea froze over, livestock died frozen in barns, trees exploded as their sap froze, fish froze in rivers, game died in the fields, small birds died by the millions, the wheat crop failed, herbs and exotic fruit trees died, as did hardy oak and ash trees, and bread froze so hard it took an axe to cut it.

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