Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Sport -Skating  

Ice Skating, 1847 [ILN Picture Library]


    It is a day of hard frost, about the middle of February, and the hour is near noon; in the country the air would be clear, with the exception of the few drifting snow-flakes which the east wind drives in fantastic courses ere they settle on the. ground; but in London, though there is no fog, the smoke refuses to rise far above the level of the house-tops; and, congealed by the breath of winter, wraps every distant object in a semi-transparent curtain. We happen to be out for a ramble - in the neighbourhood of Charing-cross, and gathering from certain unmistakeable indications, in the shape of new skates curiously crossed with virgin straps, and dangling from the hands of gentlemen about town, that the ice in St. James's Park will bear, we take a short cut through Spring-gardens, and in a few minutes are standing upon the banks of the "ornamental water,'' a spectator of the winter sport of the Londoner. The park presents a singular picture, not wanting in features of grandeur and beauty, but having these somewhat comically contrasted with human peculiarities and oddities. The noble trees, stretching aloft their myriads of tiny hands to catch the falling snow flakes, stand vividly depicted in all their naked beauty against the leaden sky; or farther on, half veiled in the wintry mist, show like imploring spectres in the act of vanishing from mortal vision. Away on the right, the Queen's palace looms dimly in the white haze, bearing the unsubstantial aspect of a monster erection of thin grey and translucent tissue-paper, which a bird might pierce in its flight, or a breath might dissipate. The few houses that are visible through the heavy atmosphere are magnified to an abnormal size, and look like the shadowy structures of a by-gone time, or the colossal edifices eclipsed in the gloom of some of Martin's pictures. As we look around, the clock of the Horse-guards rings out the hour of noon, in notes so loud, clear, and close to the ear, that we are startled into the recognition of that national establishment, which, for all we can see of it, might be a hundred miles away.
    We find the banks of the lake thronged with spectators of both sexes, and all ages and classes; among which, however, greatly predominate the boys and the hobbledehoys, who make up so important a part of the London population. They are the first in every crowd, for whatever purpose it may assemble; and the first in every dangerous exploit, whether anything is to be got by it or not. Their presence on this occasion may serve to explain certain phenomena observable upon the banks and upon the frozen surface of the water. It is for their especial enlightenment that the poles surmounted with a board marked "dangerous" are set up-an admonition which, notwithstanding, they never take in good part. They invariably prefer testing the ice themselves, by walking on to it, or under it, as may happen: and it is for the sake of checking this precocious spirit of experiment, that the edge of the ice all round the lake has been broken every morning since the frost set in, by men appointed for the purpose; and hence it is that now, when it will bear, bridges of plank have to be laid down that they may get on and off. You may observe, likewise, that ropes are laid across the ice from one bank to the other, in readiness to be drawn instantly to any part that may give way. The surface of the ice looks anything but tempting to a person not enamoured of its glittering aspect. It is starred with huge cracks, stretching sheer across the basin, and in some parts is flooded with water, welling up from broad holes; but in spite of that, it is crowded with occupants eager in the pursuit of pleasure or of business, and all making the most of the few short hours of light afforded by the winter's day. Our parti-coloured friends and familiars, the poor ducks, geese, didappers, and foreign fowls of all sorts, not forgetting those rarae aves, the black swans, have got the worst of it just now: their impudence is completely frozen out of them and, to all appearance, their animosity too; for there they are yonder, all confined to one small pool broke for them by the humanity of the lodge-keeper, and wagging their variegated and thickly-feathered tails. Hard weather has taught them good behaviour, and misfortune, as it often does, has reconciled their feuds, and shown them that it may be politic to be birds of one family even though they are not of one feather.
    While admiring the graceful evolutions of some of the practised skaters, who seem to fly on the wings of the wind, and to be guided by the action of the will rather than the force of muscular exercise, we cannot help being struck with what appears to us a most undesirable change in the fashion of skating affected in the present day. When the young Benjamin West exhibited his Adonis-like form upon the Serpentine to the supreme admiration of our grandmothers, we are very sure that he had too true and fine a sense of the graceful to be seen for a moment in the attitude which now is esteemed the perfection of the accomplishment. Every skater now-a-days who has learned to feel his feet upon the ice, aspires apparently to emulate the motion of the crab, and esteems it the climax of the art to be able to skate backwards, twisting his neck in such a way as to enable him to see behind him. Think of a man travelling five or six hundred yards in the act of sitting down, and alternately grinning over either shoulder lest he should come in contact with another performing the same preposterous feat! We turn from such an exhibition to yonder gentlemanly sample of the old school: he has employed a man to sweep a small space clear for him, not more than a dozen feet square, and on that he occupies himself in cutting various small figures, all evidently devised originally to afford at once healthful exercise to the body and graceful postures for the limbs. He is a veteran in the art, and his motions are as easy as those of a gold fish in a glass globe.
    While we are enjoying his gratuitous display, it is suddenly interrupted by the apparition of Mr. Straddles, from Westminster, who being this morning screwed to a pair of skates for the first time, on which he is only able to support himself by the aid of a couple of stout walking sticks, is obliged to go wherever they choose to take him; and when they cannot agree upon that point, which, as he has a habit of turning out his toes, they never do long together, is obliged to come sprawling to the ground. There he goes again, with a flump! that's the twentieth time that his heels have been on a level with his head this morning; but no matter, he is picked up again in a twinkling by a brace of stipendiary sweepers, who have charge of him; and he swims, straddles, staggers, and sprawls off again. Here comes a costermonger who has been out crying "live soles" ever since he left Billingsgate at six o'clock, before it was light. He invested sixpenee in a pair of broken skates last night, and having levied the straps from his donkey-harness, is come to disport himself with the gentry for an hour or two. Yonder are a couple of mannikins, who having equal rights in a single pair of skates, and not being able to agree as to priority of claim, have divided the object of dispute and taken one each: they tumble about in emulation of each other; and the first who shall tire of the pummeling he gets, will surrender to the other the instrument of torture. Here comes, bareheaded to the weather, without a shirt to his back, and only a couple of shreds of shoes to his feet, a characteristic specimen of the nomadic population of London's vilest districts. Poor Josh the cadger, though his stomach is empty as his back is bare, and though he has neither skates to skate with, nor soles to his shoes to slide with, yet loves the ice with the instinct of his race, and must take his pleasure upon it. A lump of ice is all the apparatus he demands, and with one foot, whose red toes peep out from the worn-out shoe, fixed firmly upon that, he propels himself forward with the other, shouting with the pleasurable excitement, and as insensible to the sharp arrows of the east wind as he is, alas! to the duties and obligations of a life whose tenth winter finds him proof against all outward assaults.
    But it is worth while to turn our attention to the business part of the affair. Wherever in London pleasure is sought, there business waits upon the seekers, and even though there be but a chance of turning a penny, the chance is not thrown away, and the penny is turned if possible. Hence we have here, on the ice in St. James's Park, professionals of various kinds doing a trade and earning small gains under circumstances in which a provincial would hardly think of gain at all. First, here is the skate-jobber: he has brought a long bench, upon which he displays a score or two of pairs of skates, of various value, and which he hires out by the hour, at a charge of from four-pence to a shilling. He screws them into your Wellingtons, and straps them on to your feet, and when you have deposited their value with him, not for fear that you, being a gentleman, should run away with them, but merely to insure himself from the accident of your getting under the ice, in which case your executors might demur to his claim; then, having the cash in hand, he leaves you to glide at your pleasure wherever you choose. He makes hay, not when the sun shines, but when the east wind blows and the snow falls; and as he nets a few pounds in a good day, he would soon make a competence were the winters as durable here as they are in Holland. Next to the skate-jobber is the poor but handy fellow, who, having no capital, is proprietor of a chair or two and a gimlet, and who is glad to earn twopence by fastening on the skates of gentlemen who provide their own. When you have paid your twopence you are free of his chair, and may rest upon it whenever it is unoccupied and you are so disposed. Then come the sweepers; these are numerous, and if much snow be falling they have no sinecure: they sweep up the snow in a central mound, round which the skaters keep up a constant race: the contributions they levy are perfectly voluntary; but their services are of too much value to pass unrewarded. Even if there be no snow, the ice becomes in a short time so cut up by the skaters as to render their brooms indispensible. They are a numerous fraternity, and each one of them has abandoned a crossing in some public thoroughfare, to enjoy the combination of pleasure and business upon the frozen surface of the water. Next comes the strap-merchant: he is fringed around with dangling thongs of leather terminating in metal buckles, and his appearance is especially welcome to the proprietor of an old mildewed pair of skates, which, having been thrown by without cleaning after last winter's usage, will not submit to be buckled on without some portion at least of new harness. us stock-in-trade brings him a thumping profit, because he charges in a ratio settled by the necessities of the purchaser, rather than by the cost of production. His wares have a very suspicious resemblance to garters, under which denomination, in all likelihood, he retails them upon terra firma. And now a cheerful voice rings out in the frosty air, "Brandy-balls - balls-balls! Here you are! Brandy-balls, four a penny! Hot spiced gingerbread - the raal sort - hot as fire!" This orator, who is an old soldier, is the dispenser of the only sort of refreshment to be obtained on the ice; and he is a contraband dealer who has smuggled his goods into the park, where no traffic is allowed, though in the present instance it is not thought worth while to interfere with him. His "brandy-balls" are a kind of globular sweetmeats, totally innocent of alcohol, which is represented by an extra dose of peppermint and perhaps a flavour of cayenne; and his hot spiced nuts are a species of gingerbread, in the composition of which the ginger is out of all proportion with the bread - a single mouthful being enough to inflame your palate for the rest of the day. So soon as he makes his appearance, the lads flock round him with their pence, but a warning crack of the ice beneath their united weight scatters them like chaff, and, the old soldier first setting the example, there is a general rim upon the bank, where he can do business in security, and soon disposes of the contents of his tray.
    By this time the surface of the ice is crowded to an extent altogether incompatible with the safety of the multitude, and hundreds more are hurrying to get on. The long slides are covered with straddling figures from one end to the other, and the skaters have gradually formed into an endless chain, which wheels round the whole area of the lake, at a few yards from the shore. The spectacle, though animated enough, is not very pleasant to look upon. The tent of the Royal Humane Society, where all the appliances for restoring suspended animation are ready for immediate use, suggests unpleasant associations. Numbers of the Society's men perambulate the banks ready for an emergency, which it is but too plain they arc anticipating. Beneath the pressure of perhaps nine or ten thousand persons darting rapidly about in every direction, the surface of the ice bends and waves and undulates like the gentle swell of a summer sea. Suddenly an awful noise, comparable to no other natural sound that we know of proclaims that the impending calamity has taken place; it produces a general panic, during which there is a simultaneous rush to the shore, and the tumult on the ice is at an end, while all run eagerly to that part of the ground which commands The nearest view of the disaster. On turning our eyes in that direction, we are aware that a large section of the ice has given way, and that from ten to twenty individuals, submerged up to their necks, are holding on to its sharp edges, to keep themselves from sinking. One of them has a friend skating near him, and who makes an effort to rescue him. First he plucks the silken tie from his neck, and coming as near as he dares, tries to throw it within reach of his friend; but the wind is against him, and blows it away. Then he tears off one of his skates, fastens that to the neckerchief, and swings it within the grasp of the imperilled lad; now, with a long and steady pull, he strives to hoist him out, and has nearly succeeded when the frail silk breaks, and the poor fellow sinking over head and ears with a plunge is lost to view. But he rises again, shaking his head like a water- dog, and repeats the experiment: again it fails, and again he falls back into the icy flood. The third time, while, amid the encouraging cheers of the spectators, he is on the point of succeeding, the ice upon which his friend is standing gives way, and the two friends, now both submerged together, present their rueful faces over the edge of the ice, and beckon for assistance from shore. While this has been going on, some few have already been extricated by means of ropes prudently laid across the ice in expectation of a demand for them. But now the Society's boat, a light, broad, flat- bottomed tub, is seen rapidly advancing in the distance, propelled by a man who runs in its rear. Now it crashes over the edge of the ice, as the man who has it in charge throws himself into it, and it is floating buoyantly in the midst of the drowning skaters. In two or three minutes they are all lugged safe on board, and the boat, now heavily freighted, is pulled by ropes to the shore, splintering the ice like glass in its passage, and cheered by cries of "Bravo!" and the clapping of twenty thousand palms that line the banks, as though the whole thing were a dramatic spectacle got up for the pub- lie amusement; occasionally, however, the drama is turned into a tragedy, and the unhappy skater sinks before the eyes of the multitude to rise no more in life.
    The half-drowned patients become inmates of the Royal Humane Society's tent, where those that require it are put into a hot bath, and otherwise medicated until they are in a fit condition to be delivered over to their friends. A dose of extra strong stimulants enables a man of good constitution, who has not been long submerged, to walk home and take care of himself; while it not unfrequently happens that another who escaped drowning through the timely aid of the Society shall die from the results of the accident ere the leaves are upon the trees. The number of persons thus rescued from almost certain death during the frosts of a long winter by the instrumentality of this society alone, is something almost incredible. We have ourselves seen from thirty to forty pulled out in one day. The unlettered cockney looks upon all this as a matter of course; he seems to think that he has an undisputed right to risk his life if he choose, and that the Royal Humane Society "have a right" to save if they can, as a matter of business, and that accounts are square between them.
    One would think that the moral effect of such an event as we have above described would be to deter the spectators of it from incurring such a risk in their own persons: and so it is, for five or perhaps ten minutes - but not much longer. Hardly a quarter of an hour has elapsed since the rescue of their companions, and again the fascination of the ice has lured its votaries to the much-loved sport. As the day wanes the cold intensifies - the sloppy surface becomes frozen hard, and with this favouring circumstance, the sport goes on with greater vivacity than ever. It must, however, cease with the darkness, which closes in rapidly. The sweepers are the first to disappear; there is no longer any chance of coppers, and the poor fellows have been so long fasting, that they will be glad to exchange the few they have picked up for something substantial in the shape of a meal. The skate-jobber, who is threshing his own shoulders to keep them warm, must stay till his last customer is satisfied, which may not be till the laggards are warned off by the gate-keepers, when, as the park has to be closed for the night, all must clear out. The sharp wind has cleared the evening sky of clouds; the moon in her second quarter gleams palely aloft; and the amateurs of skating, as they button up their great-coats, and turn up the collars about their ears, hug themselves with the agreeable conviction that "it will be a pelting hard frost to-night, and the ice will be as firm as brass to-morrow."

Curiosities of London Life, by Charles Manby Smith, 1853

see also James Payn in Lights and Shadows of London Life - click here

"The skating rink represented in our engraving" says our artist, " is that belonging to the Prince's Cricket and Skating Club and is in the club grounds at Brompton. They have two rinks, a summer and winter one. The latter has not been in use many months. The clubs consists of ladies and gentlemen of rank and position and is very exclusive, so much so that even the members are not privileged to introduce a friend. In the use of these wheeled skates some of the men have gained great proficiency, but I saw no fancy skating amongst the ladies, who simply went in for gentle exercise, sweeping slowly around the building, chatting pleasantly to the droning accompaniment of their skates. In the case of a few beginners there was a slight loss of ladylike complacency, the circumstance being certainly ticklish, but no-one was so ill-bred as to tumble. So you see that feminine delicacy and reserve is more than a match for the laws of gravitation.

from The Graphic, April 1875



Punch, January 1, 1876


on real ice - that is, skating in safety as far as immunity from immersion goes - is the boon Professor Gamgee promises to provide the public with. So the Brothers Prince will have to look to their laurels, for there can be little doubt that the rage for roller-skating must soon by lessened if Professor Gamgee's invention prove as successful in summer as it certainly is at present. It may be premised that Professor John Gamgee, who has for years been aiming at the exclusion from our midst of foreign cattle plagues by facilitating dead-meat imports, has patented machinery which in the ensuing summer is to give up cheap ice. The "rink" mania naturally suggested a very profitable application of this invention; and Mr. Gamgee has accordingly perfected a system whereby sheets of ice may cheaply and safely be laid, so as to afford skaters and curlers perennial enjoyment in their favourite pastimes. The formation of artificial ice-rinks is no new suggestion. It was proposed and patented to make them with the old ether and ammonia machines, and brine circulating under a metal floor, as far back as 1865; but the difficulties in the way have hitherto prevented the carrying into practice of suggestions too crude to be safely followed. Mr. Gamgee works by a system of "cold accumulators," and ensuring temperatures of even stagnant liquid under the ice which would solidify the saline solutions hitherto used, and destroy the metal flooring. It is scarcely possible to conceive anything more simple and effective than the plan adopted with such success at


which experienced skaters have so far pronounced to be perfect. This novel ice-rink has been built of the site of the Old Clock House, King's-road, Chelsea. One of our representatives has tested the ice thoroughly, and has been on it both when the machinery in motion gave ice as hard as "adamant," and when, to afford time for boiler-cleaning, no circulation of the cold compound in the rink-tubes has been going on for nearly twenty-four hours. For figure-skaters, the smoothness, hardness, and perfect level assured by artificial freezing afford everything that can possibly be desired; and we shall be much astonished if the new invention does not create a world of really fine skaters.

Penny Illustrated Paper, 22 January, 1876


Fair One (to devoted Swain, who has just put her Skates on). "TA! AWF'LLY TA!!"

Punch, January 15, 1876



Punch, March 11, 1876

Yet another skating rink! No sooner has Professor Gamgee turned the Floating Swimming-Bath by Charing-cross Bridge into the "Floating Glaciarium" or Real Ice Rink, than we hear of a new West-End Rink of the handsomest description. The Dungannon-Cottage Marble Rink at Knightsbridge (like "The Marble" on the other side of the water) offers to Plimptonians a surface the smoothness of which is unrivalled save by a clear sheet of ice. How beautifully Dungannon Cottage has been fitted-up, by an enterprising gentleman for this healthy if hazardous exercise devotés to the roller-skate will quickly find out for themselves. A praiseworthy feature of this new marble rink is that "ladies desiring to chaperon their daughters" are granted a season-ticket for a merely nominal charge. To give spirit and zest to the skating, an excellent band discourses good music. Success to the Dungannon!

Penny Illustrated Paper, 30 December, 1876


At Ebury-street, Eton-square; at Addison-road; at Camberwell New Road (near L.C. and D. station); at South Kensington (entrance in Thistle-grove); at The Standard Theatre; at Royal-avenue, King's-road, Chelsea; at Oxford-circus; at Highbury (opposite the station); at Kennington-oval; at Brixton; at Harely-road (near Swiss Cottage station); "The Blaize" (close to Swiss Cottage station); "The Empress" (Tichborne-street, Piccadilly); at Cambridge-heath-road (opposite the station); "The Kennington" (71, New-street, Kennington Park-road); "The City" (Little Moorfields); "The Marble" (Clapham-road); at Clapham Junction (adjoining the station); "The South Metropolitan" (Blackfriars-road); at Dungannon Cottage (Knightsbridge); at Lillie-bridge; at the Crystal Palace and Cremorne Gardens; at "The Holborn" (late Amphitheatre); and at "The Floating Glaciarium" (foot of Northumberland-avenue, Charing-cross) nine a.m to ten p.m. The Real-Ice Skating-Rink is at the Old Clock House, King's-road, Chelsea; and the Charing-cross Floating Bath has also been temporarily transformed into real-ice skating-rink.

The Penny Illustrated Paper, 27 January 1877

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Skating Club, Archers’ Hall, Regent’s-park, and 1, Devonport-street, Hyde-park. Subscription: £2 2s. per annum; entrance fee £3 3s. Object: For the practice of “figure” skating.

Skating Rinks COMPTON SKATING RINK, Canonbury-road, St. Pauls-road, Highbury. – Open from 10 a.m. till  5 p.m., and from 6 p.m. till 10 pm. Plimpton’s skates. Admission 1s., skates 6d. Lawn-tennis courts are open during the day at 2s. per court per hour. A tennis club and skating club meet on Wednesdays. Schools admitted at half price on Wednesday afternoons; and season tickets for various terms are issued
LACEY’S, Exmouth-street, Commercial-road, E.— Open daily until 10 p.m. Various skates. Admission 1s., including use of skates.
MARBLE RINK, 143, Clapham-road.—Open from 10 am. till 10 p.m. Plimpton’s skates. Admission by shilling, season, and family tickets on the pro rata system.
SOUTH KENSINGTON SKATING-RINK, Thistle-grove, South Kensington.—Open from 11 a.m. till 1 p.m., 3 till 6 p.m., 7.30 till 10.30p.m. Plimpton’s skates. Admission 1s., skates 6d. Season ticket, £3 3S. Special terms for family tickets.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

    Late in the seventies of our century the social craze of what was called 'rinkomania' set in. Any available buildings were laid down with floors more or less lubricated, on which the sons and daughters of the various sections of the great middle class, shod with a peculiar adaptation of wheels, slipped about, and called it skating. These resorts were no doubt admirably conducted. Acquaintances made at them were probably blameless. They often perhaps ended in blissful and desirable marriage. But not without a shock to her sense of maternal propriety did the english matron of old-fashioned ideas see, or hear of, her daughter being twirled round in the arms of some youth just introduced, or perhaps without even the preliminary of that easy form. the young woman could cite plausible precedent for the process. The most fond and nervous of mothers suffered her fears to be allayed. No evil, and it may be hoped some good, to mind and body, came perhaps from these experiences.
    It was, nevertheless, an innovation on the usage of generations to which bygone ancestors and ancestresses would not readily have reconciled themselves. In plain words it signified the revolt of the sons and daughters of the middle class against their exclusion from modes of social enjoyment that to their contemporaries slightly above them in the social scale had long been allowed.

T.H.S Escott Social Transformations of the Victorian Age, 1897

    It was in December I first had my experience in "Ice Duty," - that is, when the Serpentine is frozen over. So many Police Constables are posted along the banks to prevent persons going on to skate or slide until it is considered safe by some official appointed from "The Office of Works." Colonel Wheatley, in his capacity as Park Bailiff, was for many years entrusted with this responsible duty. Major Clive Hussey now holds the position. The Long Water, as a rule, was the first portion of the lake to be opened, as the water is much more shallow in that particular spot than the Serpentine, varying from three to five feet up to the west or Magazine Bridge, which divides the above from the Serpentine. I must explain-although one distinct lake-that portion in Kensington Gardens is known as the Long Water. Beyond the bridge and entering the Serpentine the water becomes gradually deeper, and in some parts attains a depth of fourteen feet; greater precautions are, of course, taken before this part is opened, that is to say, while the frost continues a hole in the ice is bored, and measured every morning, and must at least be four or five inches in thickness before skating is permitted upon it. I have known the ice-I believe it was in the "eighties", anyhow a most severe winter- of such a thickness that a gentleman drove a dogcart tandem across the deepest part of the lake-a freak, of course, possibly for a wager, for all I know. Taking advantage of the early morning, when things are tolerably quiet, be succeeded in driving safely from shore to shore; he did not, however, escape scot free, for endangering his own and other people's lives, for he was met on the other side by a police constable, the result being a summons before the Magistrate for "driving on an unauthorised place", which cost him a little for his adventure.
    In this particular month (December, my first winter) I witnessed a sad fatality that has never been erased from my mind. The ice at this time was about an inch or two in thickness. It is an astonishing fact that at the first appearance of frost, and when the ice will hardly more than bear a duck, scores of people will flock down to the sides, with their skates under their arms, and look most wistfully at the ice, and would really risk their very lives if it were not for the police preventing them. In the case I am about to relate the poor young fellow did more than risk it-for he lost it. He was a young Belgian-of good position, so I was informed-at the well -known firm of Swan and Edgar, Drapers, etc., Regent Street, who had come over here to acquire a knowledge of the business. He, with two young ladies, about eight p.m., like many others, walked down to the Serpentine in hopes of "having them on" for half-an-hour, but, to his dismay, notice boards and police were there prohibiting anyone doing so; I suppose the temptation was too strong, for, watching his opportunity, he, I was told, slipped on his skates in a jiffey and soon glided about fifty yards from the shore (this was at the east end of the lake, near to the little or east end bridge), but he had not gone more than that distance before there was a crash, and in he went into about eight or ten feet of water. Shouts and screams for help attracted my attention. I was on duty near "William's" boat-house, and ran round to the bridge. I could just see the poor fellow in the darkness clinging to an expanding ice-ladder which had been pushed out to him. Several plucky attempts had been made to rescue him, but each one on going on the ice about half-a-dozen yards went through, and had to scramble back the best way they could. Poor old John Winnett, the ferry boatman on the Serpentine for many years, arrived on the scene with his cork jacket, and  he, like the others, had not gone far before the ice gave way; but his jacket kept him up, and he battled and broke away at the ice with one of the long drag poles like a good-one. With strained eyes we watched him as he crashed his way nearer and nearer toward the drowning man, and, I should say, got within half-a-dozen yards, when we heard an awful gasp for breath from the head we could just dimly see clinging to the ladder, and all at once it disappeared beneath the ice. It was all over, he had held on till exhaustion and cold caused him to succumb. It was distressing to hear the piteous cries of the poor young ladies who had accompanied him. A sledge* ( * Specially built for and supplied by the R.H.S. in case of imrnersiee.Sledge-like runners are affixed underneath the bottom of these boats, enabling them to he easily pushed over the ice or frosty ground to wherever they may he required.) boat had by this time been brought up by land; we very soon launched it, and broke away the ice until the spot was reached. With pole-hooks we soon dragged the body up, and got it ashore, and without the least delay bore it to the Royal Humane Society's Receiving House, situate on the north side of the Serpentine, where all possible means were applied to restore animation pending the arrival of a doctor, who soon stated it was of no avail. A sad and sudden end, I thought to a fine young fellow! When stripped, I never saw a man of more splendid physique.
    Although a body may have been under water for some considerable time, life is not despaired of at this Institution (The R.H. Society's Receiving House). The "Silvester" method of "artificial respiration to the apparently drowned" is energetically applied until the arrival of a doctor who decides as to whether or not death has placed their efforts beyond all doubt. A small pamphlet, written by Dr. Silvester, on the treatment of the above, and obtainable from the R.H. Society, con. tains invaluable information for in many cases a steady and persevering application has been rewarded with gratifying results.
    When the Serpentine or a portion of it is reported to be safe, all is plain sailing, and it is a fine sight to see the thousands of ladies and gentlemen, soldiers, boys and girls, all intermixed, enjoying their skating and sliding. The evenings on such occasions are novel sights, for probably there are then more people on the ice than in the daytime. The shops and other business places being closed, it becomes practically crowded. To stand on the Magazine Bridge and witness the moving mass of lights, made up of torches, Chinese and other lanterns, etc., carried by the skaters, presents a most fantastical scene. One thing I cannot understand; it seems to me to have such a fascination that some people don't care what money or property they risk in order to indulge in this recreation. On the announcement that the ice is safe, so many tickets or permits are issued for the hiring of skates at the Superintendent's (of the Park) Office, adjoining the Police Station-Superintendent Browne in my time-Mr. J. Gardner now holds the appointment -these are given to any apparently honest applicant. There is usually a big rush for them, and, unfortunately for the hirers, they are not all honest. These men stand on the side of the ice with their chairs, the tickets pinned conspicuously in front of their hats, with half-a-dozen or so pair of skates, and shout "On or off, ladies and gents, skates to hire! Who'll have a pair on ?" and other such inviting exclamations to attract attention. They charge, I believe, about one shilling an hour, and always require a deposit on the skates. I have known plenty of cases where people have left five or six shillings on a pair of skates not worth eighteenpence; they take the number of the man's card, but, on their return the man, number, card, and all, have disappeared. One particular case I remember. A commercial traveller passing through the park thought he would like to "have a pair on". He left his box (or bag) of samples in charge of one of these men also a deposit on the skates, and all was missing on his return. He came to the station and reported his loss. He said they would be of little or no value to the thief, as they were only miniature samples of cutlery. But it meant a loss of £20 to him.
    Having given us all the information he could, the gentleman was assured that we should do all that lay in our power to trace the man that had charge of his property. Still, it was a great chance, as the police had nothing whatever to do with the issuing of the tickets to these men, consequently we could not be responsible for the correctness of names and addresses given by them. As it was getting dusk, the Inspector, at the gentleman's request, sent me to show him the way to Paddington Station. I accompanied him across the Park, and put him in the direct street for that terminus. He thanked me, and kindly gave me a shilling for my little assistance, but he appeared very crestfallen, and I could not help feeling sorry to see him go off empty-handed without even his umbrella (which he had also left with his case of samples). However, I believe that a better system and more precautions are now taken to protect the public in such matters.
    Sometimes a rapid thaw would set in, consequently it became necessary to clear the ice (or serious results would surely follow)-not an easy task, for all the warn- big persuasion and shouting "All off! was of no avail to some of those enthusiastic skaters who would persist in dodging and evading us. It was very amusing, I have no doubt, for those on the bank to stand and witness us slipping about after these bravadoes; but it was not so with us. One of our men, I remember, received a severe cut at the back of his head from a fall. So we had to resort to the rope, that is to say, one of the long ropes that lie on the bank in readiness for rescue purposes in cases of immersion, was brought into requisition. Some dozen of us with this extended right across the ice and in skirmishing order, proceeded down the whole length of the lake, and eventually succeeded in making a clearance. I scarcely need state that those who were daring enough (and some did) to evade this obstacle were lucky if they escaped without getting tripped up on their back. This comical method of clearing the ice by the police was humorously depicted in "Punch", January, 1887.

Edward Owen, Hyde Park, Select Narratives, Annual Event, etc, 
during twenty years' Police Service in Hyde Park,

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Skating on the Long Water

Skating Hyde Park - photograph


When the ice is considered safe by the authorities, who take every precaution, the public is permitted to skate on the Long Water, and then many a Londoner can say with Wordsworth, "All shod with steel We hissed along the polished ice in games confederate." The Long Water, as that part of the Serpentine which is situated in Kensington Gardens is commonly called, affords some of the best skating in the metropolis, and during spells of frost hundreds of thousands disport themselves upon it by torchlight, as well as in the daytime. The average depth of the Serpentine is seven feet in the centre and three feet near the banks. The handsome spire in the distance is that of Christchurch, Lancaster Gate.