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A Brief History of Ice and the National Ice Skating Association of Great Britain

The origins of skating are unknown.  The beginning may have been some 4000 years ago, when men from Northern Europe took to sliding about on pieces of wood or bone, in order to cross the frozen wastes hunting food or seeking habitation.

Circa 1190


William Fitzstephen(sub-deacon to Archbishop Thomas-a- Becket) wrote -in Latin-of " When the great fen or moor which watereth the walls of the city (LONDON) on the Northside is frozen, many young men play upon the ice.  Some tie bones to their feet, and shoving themselves by a little picked staff, do slide as swiftly as a bird flyeth."

Circa 1395


Iron skates, which could be given "edges" to grip the ice,had become a useful means of travel in Scandinavia and Holland.  A young Dutch girl, Lidwina or Liedwi of Schiedam, gave skating a symbolic figure. She lived from 1380 - 1433. When she was 15 she was knocked down whilst skating and fractured a rib. It never healed.  She was bedridden for the rest of her life. Because of her saintly character she is known now as St. Litwina.

Circa 1650


At the time of the Cromwell revolution, the British Royal family fled to Holland. There they learned to skate- particularly the Duke of Monmouth, Princess Mary( later Queen Mary II) and her father the Duke of York(later King James ll and Vll).  They returned to England when the monarchy was restored and the diarists, Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, both recorded a skating display in London by the Duke of York. 

Circa 1660


Dutch engineers were employed to drain the Cambridgeshire fens, and they brought their skates with them.  Thus began the popularity of outdoor speed skating in that area.



The River Thames froze over for several weeks. "The Great Frost Fair" was held on the ice and Samuel Pepys skated with King Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwynn.



The world's first skating club was formed - the Edinburgh Skating Club. To join applicants had to pass a test: skate a complete circle on each foot, and then jump over first one hat, then two hats, then three hats each on top of the other.



Second Lieutenant Robert Jones of the Royal Artillery published the world's first book on the sport::-"A Treatise on Skating.  Founded on certain principles deduced from Many Year's experience."


Up to then skating had been for men only,but he wrote: " I can see no reason why the ladies are to be excluded..."


He described various edges and figures such as the basic circle "eight"



The first English club was formed in London - The Skating Club. It became the Royal Skating Club in 1932.



Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg was a keen skater. In 1840 he had married Queen Victoria.  On February 9th, 1841 he was skating on the lake at Buckingham Palace. The Queen's diary recorded that:


....." The ice cracked , and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below. In my agony of fright and despair I screamed and stretched out my arm... My Dearest Albert managed to catch my arm and reached the ground in safety."


At that time no male heir had been born and had Albert drowned the whole monarchial succession would have been different and there would have been no Queen Elizabeth ll !!



Henry Eugene Vandervell (1824-1908) invented the Counter turn and Thomas Maxwell Witham invented the Bracket turn.



The American skater, Jackson Haines(1840-1875) GAVE EXHIBITIONS IN London.  He then moved on to Vienna, where he invented the Sitspin and gave demonstrations of free skating to music by classical composers.  He inspired the Viennese to develop the art of Figure Skating.


One result was a book "Spuren auf dem Eise" (Tracings on the ice) which laid out the schedule of geometrical figures based on two and three circles. These became the basis of Compulsory Figures, in use in World Championships until 1990. One Foot Eights, Threes to a Centre, Rockers, Brackets, Loop change Loops, Bracket change Brackets all formed part of this basic discipline of figure skating.   



The London Glaciarium, London's first artificial ice rink, was opened in Chelsea.  It was followed by four other, larger Glaciariums. The longest lived was in Southport in Lancashire (1879-1889)



A Cambridge Journalist, James Drake Digby, thought that the Fen speed skaters were worthy of national recognition.  He was also concerned at the undesirable betting that was involved, leading to cheating and other malpractices. He thought that skating needed a national organisation to control it, like the Jockey Club in horse racing.


He organise the setting up of the NATIONAL SKATING ASSOCIATION in Cambridge.



The new NSA broadened its scope to include Figure Skating as well as Speed Skating.


H.E Vandervell ( he of the counter turns) set up proficiency tests at Bronze, Silver and Gold level.


Germany organised the first European figure skating championships in Hamburg. It was in the International style developed from the demonstrations of Jackson Haines and the Viennese.  Britain did not compete, for at that time our skating was in the "English" style- groups of 4 skating around an orange on the ice and responding to the orders of a rinkside "caller".



In July at Scheveningen in Holland, international skaters, including the NSA of Great Britain, set up a body to control the sport world-wide, both speed and figure.  This was, and still is,The International Skating Union ( The ISU).



The NSA of Great Britain assumed responsibility for Roller Skating.  This was relinquished in 1990 when a separate Roller authority was set up.



The NSA Headquarters, hitherto Cambridge, moved to Hengler's Circus (National Skating Palace) in London. The building is now better known as the London Palladium, home to many comedians and Variety shows.



The Swedish skater, Henning Grenander(1874-1958) gave a demonstration of the International style of skating at the National Skating Palace in London.  This awakened interest in the new style. In the same year, Prince's Skating Club opened in Knightsbridge and until it finally closed in 1917 was very popular with London's aristocratic society.



The ISU allocated the World Championships to London. It was held at the National Skating Palace and was won by Henning Grenander.



The NSA held its first International style competition at the Hippodrome in Brighton. Edgar Syers(1863-1946) was 3rd in the World Championships in Davos.  The ISU held its lVth Congress in London.


James Drake Digby, founder of the NSA died age 62.    



The ISU again allotted the World Championships to London. However, the death of Queen Victoria and the consequent national mourning in Great Britain caused the event to be transferred to Stockholm in Sweden.



A week of celebrations commemorated the NSA's 21st Year.  This included the World Championships held at the circular Niagara rink in York St, Petty France, London.  Hitherto the competitors had always been men but there was no specific rule barring women from entering. Mrs Madge Syers the 20 year old wife of Edgar Syers entered.  The defending champion Ulrich Salchow (1877- 1949) won again but Mrs Syers came second beating two other men.


The President of the ISU, Colonel Viktor Black presented a cup to the NSA which is now the Trophy for the British Men's Championship.  Colonel Balck being Swedish, it is now known as the Swedish Cup.



The first British Championship was held for the Swedish Cup. Mrs Madge Syers won it and again the following year.



King Edward Vll presented a cup for the amateur speed skating championship of Great Britain, always to take place outdoors in the Eastern Counties of Great Britain.  It was awarded first to Albert Tebbit.


It can only be contested when the weather produces sufficient ice.  Latest winner of the King Edward cup is Olympic Bronze medal winner, Nicky Gooch, who won the Cup in 1997.



The ISU , as a result of Mrs Syers performances in 1902, instituted a separate event(later recognised as a World Championship) for women.  Mrs Syers won the first contest at Davos in 1906 and retained her title the following year in Vienna.



The first Scottish rink opened at Crossmyloof near Glasgow. It had a bandstand high up on legs in the middle of the ice!



The Olympic Games were held in London and the NSA organised the first ever skating events at Prince's Skating Club. Ulrich Salchow (Sweden) won the men's Gold medal.  Mrs Syers won the women's title and with her husband, Edgar, took the Bronze in Pair skating. Other British skaters were second in the Pairs and also second and third in the Special Pattern Skating Competition for drawing complicated designs on the ice.



James Johnson and his wife, Phyliss won the World Pair Skating Championship in Stockholm.



The Manchester Ice Palace opened. In the 1920's, it was for several years the only rink in England. It closed some 50 years later



The NSA organised the World Pair skating championships in Manchester. It was again won by Mr and Mrs Johnson.The men's title at the same rink went to Fritz Kachler of Austria.



Mr and Mrs J.H. Johnson presented a cup for the new British Pair Skating Championship and won it themselves at the Haymarket rink in Edinburgh, which opened in 1912. Until 2000, it was the only senior national championship ever to be held in Scotland.   

Madge Sayers Britain's First OLYMPIC CHAMPION



At the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, Basil Williams and Mrs Phyliss Johnson were awarded the Bronze medal in Pair skating.



The British Championships were revived following the 1st World War.  They were held at Manchester Ice Palace and Mrs. Phyliss Johnson won the singles title.



The first separate Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix, France.  Ethel Muckelt took the Bronze medal in the Women's event.



The Ice Club, Westminster, opened. Like Prince's SC earlier in the century ,it became the favourite rink of London's high society until it closed in 1939 at the outbreak of War.  It was the venue for the British Championship in 1927, including the first Women's Championship for the Martineau Cup. This had been presented by Major Hubert Martineau, a skating judge. Kathleen Shaw was the first winner.



The World Championships for Women and Pairs were held at the Ice Club, Westminster. Sonja Henie of Norway won for the second time, and among the spectators was a 7 year old English Girl who said " I should like to skate like her".  Her name was Cecilia Colledge.


Later in 1928 the NSA appointed its first paid official as Assistant Secretary.  He was Eric Coggins, who became General secretary from 1933 until his death aged 63 in 1966.


At the end of the year one of Britain's most famous Rinks opened.  It was the Sportsdrome at Richmond in Surrey. It closed in 1991.



The World Men's Championship was held at the Ice Club, Westminster. The winner was the legendary Swedish architect, poet and painter, Gillis Grafstrom(1893-1938) Three time Olympic Gold medallist and runner up in 1932, he seldom bothered to enter the World Championships, but when he did , he won.

In April the NSA's 50th Anniversary was celebrated with a gala at Richmond Ice Rink.



Severe unemployment led to the British Government to enquire whether it was necessary to employ foreign Coaches at British Rinks.  The NSA replied that it was, but decided to improve the quality of tuition by setting up Instructors tests at Bronze, Silver and Gold levels.


Several new rinks opened in 1930 - Queen's Ice Club, in Bayswater, London, Grimsby, Oxford, and the Westover Ice Rink in Bournemouth.  In the years up to 1940 a further 23 rinks followed. Amongst them were Streatham, Southampton, Birmingham, Wembley, Brighton, Liverpool, Blackpool, Dundee, Nottingham, Murrayfield and Durham.



The Skating Club, founded in 1830 to promote the English style of figure skating, became the Royal Skating Club by permission of King George V. The 3rd Winter Olympic Games were held in Lake Placid, New York. The British team consisted of four competitors in the Women's Singles.  Two of them were the youngest ever Competitors in any Olympic sport. This is a record that will never be beaten. Cecilia Colledge was 11 years and 75 days old and Megan Taylor was 11 years and 108 days old when their event began.


Megan Taylor finished 7th and Cecilia Colledge 8th. Mollie Phillips, who was 9th, became the first woman to carry the British flag at the Opening Ceremony..

Ice Dancing began to develop extensively in Britain.  Paul Kreckow and Trudy Harris demonstrated their new Tango at Hammersmith rink and the first British Inter Rink Ice Dance competition was held at Bournemouth.  It was won by Graham Sharp and Violet (Vita) Supple.


Having organised a competition for male instructors in 1931, the NSA now set up an Open Professional Championship for Men, Women and Pairs (and from 1939 in Ice Dancing).  These events continued until1956, and competitors included Howard Nicholson( Sonja Henie's Coach), the Swiss brothers, Jacob (Jacques) and Arnold Gerschwiler. ( Jacques lived to be over 100 from 1898 to 2000 and his brother Arnold is still going strong).  Also Herbert Aylward, Cecilia Colledge, Marilyn Hoskins, Jenny Nicks, Ronald Baker, Gladys Hogg, Len Liggett and Pamela Murray and many others.



The European Championships were held at the Ice Club, Westminster.  The winners were Sonja Henie(Norway) with 12 year old Cecilia Colledge 2nd. Karl Schafer (Austria) won the Mens event and Karl Zwack and Idi Papez (Austria) won the Pairs Championship.  The Inte-Rink Dance competition saw the first demonstration of the Foxtrot, invented by Eric Van der Wyeden and his wife Eva Keats.



An NSA competition open to both amateurs and professionals was held at Streatham to evaluate 9 new dances.  These included the van Der Weyden's Viennese Waltz and Rocker Foxtrot and Robert Dench's Blues. The first ice dance test, Bronze was instituted and Silver and Gold followed a year or so later.



The IVth Winter Olympic Games were held at Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany.  Cecelia Colledge took the Silver medal behind Norway's Sonja Heinie.

The Games were staged as a propaganda exercise for Germany's Nazi Government and teenage British skater, Freddie Tomlins caused a stir when he forced his way through the SS Guards to the autograph of the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.



At the European Championships held in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Cecilia Colledge became Ladies Champion with Megan Taylor in 2nd place.  In the World Championships, held at the Empress Hall, Earls Court, London, Cecilia Colledge became the first British Ladies World Champion since Madge Syers in 1907, with Megan Taylor in 2nd place.  The Pairs title was retained by the holders, Ernst Baier and Maxi Herber of Germany.


The NSA held the first British Ice Dance Competition ( which later became the Ice Dance Championship) . It was won by Reginald Wilkie (1907-1962) and Daphne Wallis.  They had by then designed three new dance - The Argentine Tango, Paso Doble and the Quickstep.


The first NSA Junior Women's Competition was held and later became the Junior Championship for Ladies.    


Cecilia Colledge retained her European title in St Moritz, Switzerland, but was unexpectedly beaten in her defence of the World Championship, by Megan Taylor.

The NSA revised its figure skating tests, introducing a new Preliminary test and an Inter-silver test. The first Junior Men's competition was held, the forerunner of the Junior Men's Championship.



The European Championship for Ladies was held at the Empress Hall in London and in the Ladies Championship, Britain took all three medals. Cecilia Colledge, Megan Taylor and 14 year old, Daphne Walker taking Gold, Silver and Bronze. Graham Sharp became the first Englishman to win the European Men's title with Freddie Tomlins in Silver medal position.


In the World Championships in Prague, Megan Taylor and Daphne Walker were 1st and 3rd respectively and Graham Sharp and Freddie Tomlins took Gold and Silver in the Men's Championship.


The first NSA Professional Dance Championship was won by Walter Gregory and Muriel Roberts. Walter Gregory is the inventor of the Rhumba.



Early casualties of the Second World War were Bristol and Southampton Ice Rinks, both destroyed by enemy bombing.

Skaters went to War and some lost their lives amongst them, Walter Gregory, Freddie Tomlins and Tony Austin.  Others fought with distinction. Graham Sharp became a Captain in the Army. Geoffrey Yates (1936 Olympics) a Major in the Royal Marines, Cecilia Colledge a driver in the Mechanised Transport Corps, Denis Silverthorne 1939 Junior Champion and Leslie Cliff ( Pair Champion) became officers in the RAF.


Graham Sharp World Champion 1939



Valda Osborn, age 9 years 263 days became the youngest ever to pass her Gold medal NSA figure test on D-Day 6th June 1944.  Her record still stands in the 21st century .



Rinks began to re-open after the war. The British Championships were revived in May at Wembley. Championship winners were Cecilia Colledge, Graham Sharp and Denis and Winifred Silverthorne.


Herbert James Clarke( Olympic skater in 1924) was elected the first, and to date the only, British President of the ISU. He held office until ill health forced him to retire in 1953.



Vth Winter Olympic Games were held in St Moritz, Switzerland.  Jeanette Altwegg gained bronze for Britain in the Ladies event.  The NSA instituted tests in pair skating at bronze, silver and gold level. Also the Junior Pair Skating Championship was introduced.



The NSA organised the World Championships at Wembley. Jeanette Altwegg took the Silver medal in the Ladies event, John and Jenny Nicks took Silver in the Pairs event. The first International Ice Dance event ( a forerunner to the World Championships in 1952) Robert Hudson and Sybil Cooke were second.



Jeanette Altwegg became European Champion in Zurich, with Barbara Wyatt in 3rd place. Jeanette won the World Championship in Milan, Italy and Britain were 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the ISU Ice Dance Competition.


John Dennis Cronshey achieved Britain's best ever result in the World Speed Championship ( Long Track, there was no short track at that time). He was 2nd to Hjalmar Anderson of Norway in Davos, Switzerland.


The sons of Henry Vandervell (inventor of the counter turn in the 1860's) presented the NSA with the Vandervell Trophy to awarded annually the British skater who gives the best performance of the year. The first winner was Jeanette Altwegg.    



Jeanette Altwegg and Barbara Wyatt were again 1st and 3rd in the European Championships in Vienna. At the Vl th Winter Olympic Games in Oslo, Jeanette Altwegg became the first British gold medal winner since Madge Syers in 1908.

At the first World Ice Dance Championships in Paris, Laurence Demmy and Jean Westwood were the winners and John Slater and Joan Dewhirst came second.



Valda Osborn became European Champion in Dortmund, Germany with Scotland's, Erica Batchelor in 3rd place. John and Jenny Nicks won the European Pairs title.

At the World Championships in Davos, Switzerland, John and Jenny Nicks became World Pair Champions, Valda Osborn took Bronze in the Ladies Championship. In the Dance Championship, Laurence Demmy and Jean Westwood , John Slater and Joan Dewhirst, took Gold and Silver.


Mollie Phillips became the first woman to referee any ISU Championship when she officiated in the Ice Dance Championships.


(British victories and medallists were so numerous in the years between 1952 and 1984 that they are not listed here but on a separate page on the website. As at 2001 , Britain has won 16 European, 18 World and One Olympic Gold and many silver and bronze medals.)    


In the Coronation Honours list, Queen Elizabeth ll appointed Jeanette Altwegg a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), the highest award given for services to skating.


As in the 1930's there was a massive expansion of ice rinks in this period. It was partly due to John Tree (1920-1964) former floor manager at the Brighton Sports Stadium. He wanted to improve the spartan facilities in British Rinks to make them more comfortable places of entertainment. He formed the Silver Blades Company later taken over by Mecca Ltd. The firm opened new rinks in Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Bristol, also taking over existing rinks at Streatham, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. The Rank Organisation took over rinks in Southampton, Brighton and Aviemore. Also opened were rinks in Whitley Bay, Altrincham, Kelso, Solihull, Lockerbie, Billingham, Islington (The Sobell Centre), Irvine and Sunderland.


Vlllth Winter Olympic Games were held in Squaw Valley, California. Terence Monaghan achieved Britain's best placing in the 10000 metres, placing 5th.    



Courtney Jones, many time World, European and British Ice Dance Champion created two new dances with Peri Horne, The Starlight Waltz and Silver Samba.



Ice Dancers seldom fell over in the 20th Century - but Bernard Ford did at the World Championships in Davos, Switzerland. " I crossed my feet instead of my fingers" he said afterwards. But with his partner Diane Towler he went on to win the first of 4 World titles.


Eric Coggins OBE,NSA General Secretary since 1933, died suddenly. He was succeeded by his deputy Roger Drake, who served until his retirement in 1980.



The NSA organised the World Roller Championships in Birmingham.



The NSA organised the 33rd Congress of the International Skating Union at Maidenhead in Berkshire.



The NSA published a pamphlet "Notes for Guidance in planning and provision for ice and roller skating rinks". It was prepared in consultation with the NSA's architects, Peter Jordan, H.George Marsh and Ernest Matthews, themselves former skaters.    



John Curry, an artistic genius on ice, had been gradually working his way up in Championship results. In this year he became, Olympic, World and European Champion. He also became the first ice skater to be voted BBC Sports Personality of the year.



To mark the centenary of the formation of the NSA, a celebratory lunch was held at the Guildhall in Cambridge, birthplace of the NSA. Later a Gala was organised at the Empire Pool in Wembley. This was attended by the patron of the NSA, HRH Queen Elizabeth ll and the Duke of Edinburgh.


A centenary history of the NSA had been written ( "Our Skating Heritage by Denis L.Bird) and a leather bound copy was presented to Her Majesty. The gala was preceded by a parade of past British Champions.

John Curry Olympic Champion 1976.



At the XIII th Winter Olympic Games held in Lake Placid,Canada, Robin Cousins won the Gold medal in the Men's event. He also took the European Championship's in Goteborg, Sweden and finished 2nd in the World Championships in Dortmund, Germany.    


Robin Cousins OLYMPIC CHAMPION 1980



Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill, already several times European and World Ice Dance Champions, achieved a clean sweep of medals. They won Olympic Gold in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, World Gold in Ottawa, Canada and European Gold in Budapest, Hungary.



In the XVth Winter Olympic Games held in Calgary, Canada, Wild O'Reilly, won 2 Gold medals in the demonstration event of Short Track Speed Skating



The NSA organised the European Championships at the National Exhibition Centre Solihull, Birmingham.



A major re-organisation of the sport took place. The Roller skaters broke away and formed their own Governing body and the NSA became the National Ice Skating Association of Great Britain (NISA) , the governing body responsible for Figure Skating and Short Track Speed in the United Kingdom.


Compulsory or "School" figures (the tracing of turns or loops in figure eights or 3 circle patterns) were discontinued after the World Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia.    



Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill made an amazing comeback to win the European Ice Dance title, 10 years after their last win. The International Olympic Committee, as a one off gesture, allowed professionals to compete in the XVIIIth Winter Olympic Games at Hamar in Norway. Chris and Jayne, in somewhat controversial circumstances, earned a Bronze medal to add to their 1984 Gold.



Also at the Hamar, Olympics, Short track Speed skater, Nicky Gooch, took the Bronze medal in the 500metres .



NISA organised the World Championships at the National Exhibition Centre , Solihull, Birmingham. The first World Figure Skating Championship to be held in Britain since 1950.



The British Championships were held in Northern Ireland for the first time at Dundonald.



The National Ice Centre in Nottingham was opened.  The British Championships were held at the Centrum Arena in Ayr, Scotland for the first time since the Pairs Championship of 1914, in Edinburgh.



NISA moves to new headquarters at the Nottingham National Ice Centre after 106 years in London.



NISA rebrands as ‘British Ice Skating’..



British Ice Skating transfers its operational base to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, putting it in amongst other sporting National Governing Bodies with access to modern, state-of-the-art facilities.





1875 - 2001

1879 - Charles Watson Townley, Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire (Active President)

William Cavendish, 7th Earl of Devonshire (Non-active President)

Thomas William Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester (Non-active President)

1891 - Dr. George Cunningham MA. LDS.

1894 - Rt Hon William Hayes Fisher MP. (later 1st Baron Downham)

1920 - Edward St. Leger, 6th Viscount Doneraile

1941 - Vacant

1945 - Rt Hon Sir Samuel Gurney Hoare, 1st Viscount Templewood of Chelsea.

1948 - Vacant

1956 - Major Kenneth Macdonald Beaumont, CBE. DSO.

1966 - Alfred Ronald Dashwood Gilbey CBE.

1976 - Leonard Charles Seagrave OBE.

1985 - Courtney John Lyndhurst Jones OBE.

1995 - Sally Anne Martine Stapleford OBE.

Last Updated: 12th January 2010 2:20pm

By Denis L. Bird (Deceased) 

Former NISA Archivist and Historian

The Association
Development & Talent ID 
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