top of page

Astell's World: Bad Weather, Black Rolls,

and a Rhinoceros

Bad Weather

In the late seventeenth century, Western Europe was in the midst of the “Little Ice Age,” and the weather was particularly dismal in England in the fall and winter of 1696/7. The particular details of the weather in On Paradise Row have been taken from John Evelyn’s diary (Memoirs of John Evelyn, . . . Comprising his Diary, from 1641 to 1705-6, vol. 3 [London: Henry Colburn, 1827]). The Thames did not freeze in the winter of 1696 (it had in 1695), but the “Great Frost” alluded to in Chapter Four occurred in the winter of 1683/4. A wealth of curious detail is found in William Andrews, Famous Frosts and Frost Fairs in Great Britain, Chronicled from the Earliest to the Present Time (London: George Redway, 1887).

Black Rolls


The Society for the Reformation of Manners was organized in 1691, its main aim to punish “dissolute behavior,” especially “illicit” sexuality. In 1690, William III issued an “open letter” for distribution to every parish, urging all members of the clergy to insist on “a general reformation of the lives and manners of our subjects,” focusing on the punishment of adultery and fornication, blasphemy, perjury, drunkenness, and violations of the Sabbath (His Majesties Letter to the Lord Bishop of London, to be Communicated to the Two Provinces of Canterbury and York [London, 1689]). Among the “best-known clerical supporter” of the movement was Thomas Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury. The Society published black rolls between 1694 and 1707, “which displayed, in exact alphabetical order, the name and crime of every sexual offender it had brought to justice over the past twelve months,” posting and distributing the lists throughout London. One such black roll is appended to Proposals for a National Reformation of Manners Humbly Offered to the Consideration of our Magistrates & Clergy . . . (London, 1694). There is a large literature on the Society, but I recommend Faramerz Dabhoiwala, “Sex and Societies for Moral Reform, 1688-1800), Journal of British Studies 46 (2007): 290-319.)

A Rhinoceros


An advertisement for a “Very strange Beast called a Rhynoceros” appeared in the London Gazette on 10 October 1684:










According to the advertisement, the rhinoceros was “the first that ever was in England,” having arrived from the East Indies. It was “daily to be seen at the Bell Savage Inn on Ludgate-Hill, from Nine a Clock in the Morning till Eight at Night.” The strange beast had arrived on the East India Company’s Herbert and seems to have shipped from Golconda, India. The first note of its appearance in London was made on 23 August 1684; the animal was auctioned on 25 August and then exhibited. Visitors were charged one shilling just to look, but for two shillings, a visitor could ride on the rhino’s back. In his diary, John Evelyn records that he has gone to see the rhinoceros, “or unicorn,” on 22 October—Evelyn has heard that the “East India merchants” sold the animal “for above £2000.” “At the same time,” he continues, “I went to see a crocodile”—but he doesn’t say where (Memoirs of John Evelyn, . . . Comprising his Diary, from 1641 to 1705-6 [London: Henry Colburn, 1827], 3:119-20). After the rhinoceros left the London tavern, its whereabouts are unknown, but on 28 September 1686, a newsletter indicates that the rhinoceros had died the previous week. See L. C. Rookmaaker and Marvin Jones, The Rhinoceros in Captivity: A List of 2439 Rhinoceroses Kept from Roman Times to 1994 (The Hague: SPB Academic, 1998), 82-83 and Caroline Grigson, Menagerie: The History of Exotic Animals in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 38-40. T. H. Clarke includes three contemporary engravings of the London rhinoceros (including the one reproduced below) in The Rhinoceros from Dürer to Stubbs, 1515-1579  (London: Sotheby's Publications, 1986); see "The First Two London Rhinoceroses of 1684 and 1739," 37-56.

Also . . . 



There is a trove of information about fashion in the late seventeenth century available online, but I found Joan DeJean’s “When Women Ruled Fashion,” Lapham’s Quarterly 8, no. 4 (2015), 185-94 particularly helpful—she discusses the emergence of the maîtresses couturières in Paris and the effect of this guild on the development of French “high fashion.”

And . . . 

An advertisement for a “silver pendalum watch” that was “lost or left” in a hackney “coming from Chelsey” appeared in The London Gazette, issue 3359 (“from Monday January 17 to Thursday January 20 1697”)

The London Rhinoceros, 1684
The London rhinoceros, 1684
bottom of page