The Home of British Ice Skating - Welney

The Home of British
Ice Skating

Organised ice skating in Britain started in the Fens, more specifically Welney. During the 1890s it was the hub of English skating. The village church at Welney shows that there were many national champions, one of which, James Smart was professional world champion in 1895. This period was the Zenith of outdoor ice skating and, from this Fen enthusiasm for the sport, the National Skating Association (NSA) was formed in Cambridge in 1879 (now known as the National Ice Skating Association NISA).

Welney has a dedicated Ice Skating Pub, The Lamb and Flag - and it is there you can view photographs of past and present speed skating champions from the area. Yes if it was not for the Fen Skaters of Welney and neighbouring hamlets and villages the NSA may have never been formed.

Numerous books have been written on the exploits of the skaters from Welney a few are:


Another little known fact is that ice hockey started in Earith in the mid 1800s and was then taken to Canada; in fact it was called Bandy in those days.

Walter Housden (1873-1953)

Walter Housden farmed at Duckett farm, Upware, just into Swaffham Fen. The Cam floodbank rose across the rough road outside his front door and over that bank the floods froze in winter and Walter, from an early age, took to the ice. So did many another Upware resident, warming their blood most when the weather was cold, but none could keep up with Walter on skates. He became the Amateur Skating Champion of Great Britain in 1891 and might have retained it if he had not decided to turn professional to make himself some money while young. As such he was also very successful, although he never won the professional championship. In the consecutive races for it between 1895 and 1908 he finished third, third, second, third and second again. He also won the prestigious Hayes Fisher Cup over three miles at Littleport in 1895 over thirteen competitors, a race, however, that was not staged again until 1929 when, at 56, Walter entered, exceeded his old winning time by two seconds yet was unplaced. He was still on the ice in his seventies able to skate backwards faster than most going forwards in the community.

Wicken - A Fen Village by Anthony Day
Published by S.B. Publications - ISBN 1 85770 099 6

Extracts from the
Cambridge Chronicle
of ice related events around Littleport

26th Jan 1821 page 3.

...the accident happened to Mr. Youngs of Nordelph fen, while skating near Littleport, he failed to see a plank across the drain, in consequence he suffered a broken jaw and fractured skull.

17th Feb 1855 page 7.

A young man named Wilkinson Crowe, while skating along the river towards Ely, fell through a patch of thin ice and was drowned.

19th Jan 1867 page 6.

A skating match was held on the moors; a purse was collected on the ice, and some capital racing came off for it. In the final race Dewey beat J. Sparrow, covering the half mile course in 1 minute 44 seconds.

26th Feb 1870 page 6.

The Championship of England was held on the Dead Water, over a course of half a mile. The heats were fixed for three times around the course. A crowd of some 6,000 witnessed the final, in which Wiles, of Welney, beat Porter, of Southery, by about 15 yards.

18th Jan 1879 page 6.

A skating match was held on the Dead Water. A large crowd witnessed the racing in spite of rainy weather.

11th Jan 1889 page 6.

While skating along the Mildenhall Drain, a man named Rollett, hit his head on a bridge and sustained serious scalp injuries.

19th Dec 1890 page 6.

Two men skating near Littleport collided with each other at high speed, with the result that one man died, and the other sustained serious skull injuries.

9th Jan 1891 page 6.

A match was held over a mile and a half course between Littleport and Victoria bridges. In the final N. Legge beat J. Harrison by 18 yards.

16th Oct 1891 page 6.

Mr. homas Peacock proposed to adapt the Moors into a skating rink that would be "unsurpassed in the country".

1st Jan 1892 page 6.

A skating match was held on the Moors.

22nd Jan 1892 page 6.

The first skating match held on the new skating ground took place. The weather being fine, there was a good atendance, between 2,100 and 2,200 persons passing the trun-stiles. The final race was between James Smart, the World Champion, and his cousin "Turkey" Smart. The Champion beat his cousin by 5 seconds.

23rd Dec 1892 page 7.

The Littleport Skating Club announced its intention of offering a Fifty Guinea Challenge Cup. The Cup, of solid silver, was 2 feet 3 inches in height, 17 inches in width and weighed 100 ounces.

30th Dec1892 page 6.

The first race for the Littleport Challenge Cup was held on the Moors. The distance was 1 miles with five turns, and the competitors ran against time. In the final James Smart, of Welney, took the cup by easily beating Fred Ward, of Tydd Fen.

6th Jan 1893 page 6.

A Ladies and Gentlemen's race was held on the Moors.

15th Dec 1893 page 6.

The Moors were flooded and all necessary preparations, including cloak and refreshment rooms, were made in anticipation of favourable weather.

12th Jan 1894 page 6.

The race for the Littleport Challenge Cup was held, before no less than 3,444 spectators. In the final Hendrik Lindahl took the cup from James Smart, beating him by 20 yards.

11th Jan 1895 page 6.

The race for the Littleport Challenge Cup was held on the Moors. In the deciding round, Fred Ward's time being the fastest, he was declared the winner.

22nd Feb 1895 page 6.

Mr R. J. Leach slipped on some ice while walking in Victoria Street and fractured his wrist.

26th Jun 1896 page 6.

It was announced that the Moors would be available for skating during the next five winters. Mr. Thomas Mott hired the ground on a five years lease, and proposed conducting it on similar lines as previously managed by the late Thomas Peacock.

15 Dec 1899 page 6.

The Littleport Skating ground was opened for the season, and it was expected that the race for the Littleport Challenge Cup would be brought off. The holder of the cup was Joe Bates, of Leigh, Lancashire, who won it for the first time on 27th January 1897. No contests were held during the winters of 1897-98 and 1898-99.

22nd Dec 1899 page 3.

The race for the Littleport Challenge Cup was held. Nineteen professionals competed. the holder Joe Bates, who was beaten in the second round by the ultimate winner Hendrik Lindahl.

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Last Updated on: 21 August 2001
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