Sunday, 20 January 2013

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Welcome to our first Snow Special, and thank you to Sammy Cahn, lyricist, and composer Jules Styne for sitting down in Hollywood, on one of the hottest days in the summer of 1945, and writing a song to remind us that the last word on the subject of snow doesn’t have to be ‘White Christmas’.

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Well, I can tell you that here tonight in Shrewsbury the fire is indeed delightful  [I’m sitting beside it now with my computer on my lap] and the weather outside is frightful. I know this for a fact because earlier today I managed to lock myself out of my house, with shoes that leaked and without a phone.  Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow was not what I could be heard muttering to myself as I trudged the streets.  In fact the sentiment was more like the graffiti below - which I can assure you wasn’t mine. 

Back indoors, my spate out in the cold set me thinking back to the Great Frost of 1739. It arrived on Christmas Day and remained throughout January and February. The River Severn froze hard enough for stalls to be set up on it selling food and drink, and carriage trips went up and down the ice with paying passengers.  Even a printing-press was set up on the river to record events, and one of its prints can be seen framed and in the collection of Shrewsbury Museum today.

One of the highlights [pun alert] of the frost was the death-defying attempt by famous daredevil Robert Cadman to tightrope walk across the frozen Severn uphill into the centre of Shrewsbury.  The event happened on February 2nd, 1739. The river was packed with people come to watch, and so was the area around St Mary’s Church, where Robert Cadman’s wife was shaking the collecting tin. The plan was for her husband to tightrope walk approximately two hundred and fifty metres from an anchor in the Gay Meadow [later to become home of Shrewsbury Town Football Club] to the sixty-eight metre high church spire. 

So confident was Robert Cadman of achieving this objective that he stopped half way up the wire to fire off pistols and perform a variety of tricks.  He made it safely to St Mary’s Church spire, but then requested that the rope be slackened in readiness for his grand finale.  And therein lay his downfall [sorry, another pun alert]. 

Robert Cadman’s assistant heard him wrong. Instead of slackening the rope along which his brave master, attached to a wooden breastplate with a central groove, intended to hurtle to the ground in an appearance of flight, he tightened it. And that fatal error meant that Robert Cadman hurtled to his death.

Many people died in the Great Frost of 1739, but none like Robert Cadman.  ‘Good night, you madman, poor Bob Cadman,’ someone scrawled on the ground where his body fell.  And that spot is still commemorated. To this day you’ll find a plaque there in his name.  Here’s what it says:

‘Let this small Monument record the name
of Cadman, and to future time proclaim
How by'n attempt to fly from this high spire
across the Sabine stream he did acquire
His fatal end. Twas not for want of skill
Or courage to perform the task he fell,
No, no, a faulty Cord being drawn too tight
Harried his Soul on high to take her flight
Which bid the Body here beneath good Night.’

Well, if that frozen little tale of woe isn’t enough to put you off snow and  ice, here’s more of Shrewsbury in the snow.  'Bright White Blanket' - a beautiful little film about Shrewsbury in the snow by R & A Collaborations, dedicated to the memory of Danny Beath.  

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