At the turn of the year, fog shrouded the British Isles. This later gave way to a bitter week-long cold spell bringing snow and ice. Supplies became scarce as roads remained closed and the price of coal soared. The Cambridge mail coach was snowed up and completely covered for almost eight hours. It took fourteen waggon-horses to drag it out. Amazingly, the passengers survived though ‘almost frozen to death’. There is no mention of the fate of the coachman—it is possible he continued the journey on horseback to deliver the mails and seek assistance.
At the end of January, the Thames froze to such a depth that a Frost Fair could be held on it and all the usual entertainments of a fair—swings, book-stalls, drinking and eating booths, dancing, skittles, knock-em-downs, wheels of fortune, and gaming tables were soon to be found on the frozen river. Printers set up their presses, selling commemorative pieces printed ‘on the Ice’ to the thousands promenading on the central footpath or ‘City Road’.
On 21st February, news reached London that the Allies had secured a great victory over Napoleon who had been slain by the Cossacks and that the Allied Sovereigns (the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia) were in Paris. The price of Government Omnium stock rose sharply, only to fall again when it became apparent that there had been no victory and that the whole thing was 'Fake News', a deliberate fraud by Charles Random de Berenger who, having posed as the bearer of important despatches from France, posted to London with horses decked with laurels.
Caught up in this Great Stock Exchange Fraud, as it came to be known, was Lord Cochrane, a renowned naval captain, Member of Parliament and eldest son and heir of the Earl of Dundonald, who had profited from the short surge in the price of omnium. Despite his protests that his stockbroker was acting on his standing instructions to sell Omnium if the price rose by one percent, he was convicted of complicity, fined a thousand pounds and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment in the Marshalsea. Before serving this sentence, he was to stand in the pillory for one hour. This last was afterwards remitted but a devastating social pillorying followed. His name was struck off the Navy list, he was expelled from the House of Commons, his arms were taken down from his stall as Knight of the Bath and his banner torn down and kicked ignominiously out of Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Many believed Lord Cochrane innocent and in the subsequent by-election he was re-elected to his seat in Parliament which he took the day he was released from prison. He continued to fight for the restoration of his good name and in 1832 received a ‘free pardon’; was restored to the Navy List, gazetted a rear-admiral and attended a levée at court. In 1847, his knighthood was restored and he was created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. He died in 1860. The day before his funeral, his banner was returned to Westminster Abbey where he is buried.
In 1876 his grandson received a payment of £40,000 from the British government, based on the recommendations of a Parliamentary select committee, in compensation for Cochrane's conviction which was believed to be unjust.