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New display at the Museum of London traces the capital’s obsession with ice skating

15 December 2016

Skating on Ice

Museum of London

16 Dec 2016 – 8 Feb 2017

FREE display

The Museum of London’s latest display, Skating on Ice, looks at the popular seasonal pastime of ice skating which, in London, dates back to at least the 12th century. The first known account by William FitzStephen describes locals strapping animal bones to their feet to play on a patch of ice at Moorfields in 1173.

Opening on Friday 16 December, the display tracks the advancements in ice skate designs, highlights changing fashions, and demonstrates how skating on London’s frozen lakes and ponds became an annual, if sometimes dangerous, winter tradition.

The most popular lake during the 19th century was the Serpentine in Hyde Park, attracting up to 10,000 skaters each day. A 1839 oil painting from the museum’s collection by J. Baber depicts a typically festive scene from these times, with stalls hiring out skates and selling food and drink, as well as ‘Icemen’ on standby to rescue skaters when accidents occurred.

One such tragedy happened in Regent’s Park on 15 January 1867, when around 500 revellers were enjoying an afternoon of skating on the frozen ornamental pond. The ice suddenly shattered and scores of skaters disappeared into the deep waters below. Sketches on display from the Illustrated London News in 1867 show the rescue operation to recover the 40 bodies of those who had drowned, the majority of whom were young men in their teens and early twenties.

From the 1920s until the Second World War, the number of indoor and man-made rinks then rose dramatically, including a temporary ice rink installed on the roof of Selfridge’s in 1924. As the pastime ingrained itself in London society, fashionable ice skating outfits were on the rise. A navy blue gabardine skirt suit on show from the department store Fortnum & Mason demonstrates the height of sophisticated skating fashion in the late 1930s.

The enduring popularity of the sport can be seen by the evolution of the ice skates on display; a pair of flattened and polished post-medieval animal bone skates, a pair of Victorian racing skates known as Fen Runners, a pair of women’s ankle boots from the early 1900s said to be convertible for ice skating, and a pair of ice skates from the late 1930s used almost weekly by Londoner Christina Greenberry at Streatham Ice Arena.

Skating on Ice will be on display in Show Space at the Museum of London from 16 December 2016 – 8 February 2017. For further information please visit


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The Museum of London tells the ever-changing story of this great world city and its people, from 450,000 BC to the present day. Our galleries, exhibitions, displays and activities seek to inspire a passion for London and provide a sense of the vibrancy that makes the city such a unique place.

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