Tales of the Blade: 19th Century Rinks - Transcript


Transcribed by Clara (@daejangie) and Becs (@becsfer)

Niamh: Welcome to In the Loop Tales of the Blade, where we dive into the fascinating and often humorous history of figure skating. Let's welcome this week's hosts.

Evie: Hi, I'm Evie and I literally cannot wait to talk about this week's topic, I'm practically bouncing up and down with excitement right now! I'm on Twitter at @doubleflutz.

Niamh: Hi, I'm Niamh and I have zero idea of what we're going to be talking about today, so I am ready to learn. You can find my Twitter @rivrdance.

Evie: Okey-dokey Niamh, ready to learn things that you have no clue about? Woohoo, it's learning time!

Niamh: I am, I've been out of school for two months now.

Evie: Well, we're going to get you back into that back to school spirit, because we're going to learn things... For the people who don't know, because this is only our fourth episode: this is our new history series, where one person explains to the other person an interesting tidbit of figure skating history, and we can all learn some things and hopefully have a bit of a joke about them. So, today's episode: this topic actually comes from an article I read just a couple of nights ago, it's an article from the Smithsonian Magazine, written by Michael Waters. It's all about the history of ice rinks. So Niamh, just to start this off, how much do you know about how ice rinks are made?

Niamh: (laughing) I know about TCC's rink and that's it, not to expose myself...

Evie: Wow (laughing). Well, most modern ice rinks are constructed in one of two ways. For more permanent rinks like TCC's rink, or major training bases or arenas where they have permanent ice surfaces it's usually concrete that's got coolant pumped into it, and then they layer layers of water over the top that, which then freeze and make ice surfaces. And then there are temporary rinks, where you're going to an event at an arena that does other things and that doesn't have a permanent ice surface: they lay out plastic tubing that pumps coolant through it and then they spray water over the top of that.

Niamh: Oh, okay.

Evie: But obviously this kind of cooling technology is pretty - I wouldn't say new, but it's something that had to be developed over time. So knowing this, how do you think ice rinks were originally constructed in, say, the Victorian era?

Niamh: Literally the only thing I can think of is, like, lakes in the middle of the Canadian winter...

Evie: Well, you're not that far off actually! Because the majority of ice rinks that were used at the beginning of the sport were in fact outdoor rinks, usually on the surfaces of lakes or ponds. But this wasn't a good thing for the sport if you were training to be an athlete because in average 18th century England, for example, there were only 18 days a year where you could skate. All the other time the ice wasn't thick enough or it was summer.

Niamh: I'm just thinking of now, growing up - because Ireland is a lot colder than England, and we get snow maybe once a year, if that.

Evie: Yeah, it's very rare that you get a long stretch of days where the conditions are correct for skating. So obviously if you were a figure skating athlete in the late 18th century and you were looking to go places, you would probably want to move somewhere with a much colder climate. That's why a lot of British figure skaters used to train in the Swiss Alps, because there were a lot more days where you could go skate out on a lake!

Niamh: If you want snow in Europe, you go to Switzerland.

Evie: Exactly! But there's still the whole problem of, you know, the existence of summer. And the fact that there's no way to skate on ice during those months. There's only a couple of days a year in most European countries where you could actually go out and skate, because all the other times the conditions weren't correct for the ice surfaces. So there’s a gap in the market - something needs to be created so that people can skate all year round. And so a British inventor named Henry Kirk, in December of 1841, announced that he had created the first ever synthetic ice rink, the first ever ice rink that could be operated at all times of year no matter the weather. If it was the middle of the summer you could still go out and you could skate on it. This was a really big deal.

Niamh: In the London heat wave...

Evie: It's the middle of the London heat wave: go out, go skate on this fake ice! And I say fake ice because really it wasn't made of ice. Okay, let's have a guess - have a wild stab at what kind of ingredients they would add to make this fake ice. Something that would be suitable for figure skating on.

Niamh: The only thing I can think of is, like, gelatine?

Evie: Well, you're not that far off, honestly. You're a couple steps to the left of what was actually used. Henry Kirk tried to emulate the feeling of ice using a mixture of materials and included in this mixture were salt, copper, aluminium and... hog's lard. Literal hog's lard - the fat from a hog - to make it slippery enough to skate on!

Niamh: Who's sitting in their kitchen one night thinking, "Oh, I know what I'll do, I'll make some fake ice using hog's lard!"

Evie: Obviously Henry Kirk thought that. So here's your ingredients: "30-50 feral hogs --" (hosts laugh) I'm not even going to... it's such a bizarre thing! And you know what the crazy thing is? The fact that this apparently worked really well. When he opened the Glaciarium, which was the first ever artificial ice skating rink in the world, it opened to rave reviews and people kept commenting about the fact that the ice was really good - that they could skate as easily as if it were real ice! I'm just sitting here going, "Mhmm, nothing like a nice hoggy ice surface..."

Niamh: I'm just imagining Nathan Chen quadding on hog's lard...

Evie: I petition for this to be a new thing, when ice quality is really bad at a competition we should all just go, "Hmm, should've used more hog!". I think it would work, I think it would catch on!

Niamh: We should get Gabb to do a banner for IdF.

Evie: "Add more hog! Add more hog! Bring back the hog's lard 2k19!"

Niamh: At the 2022 Olympics...

Evie: Skating is missing something, and that something is hog's lard on the ice.

Niamh: That will fix the ice issue!

Evie: That should be a new event each season, where there's a kind of World Team Trophy, a casual competition at the end of the season but instead of skating on normal ice they skate on this fake ice with hog's lard on it - I'd pay to watch that competition.

Niamh: Junior Synchro Worlds is in the UK. I think we know what needs to happen.

Evie: There you go, you know what to do! But yeah, on June 8, 1844 the first artificial ice rink opened in London. Everyone thought it was a massive success, in fact even England's Prince Albert visited and was so taken with it that apparently he began to enquire about purchasing one for one of his own estates.

Niamh: I'm just imagining Buckingham Palace having an ice rink in the winter.

Evie: The newspaper that was reporting this said, "It is not improbable that a frozen lake will become as general to the mansions of the affluent as an orchard or a fish pond." You know, that's a pretty big statement right there: “in 10 years' time every fancy person will have a rink in their backyard made of pig fat and... metal”? And I've got some very exciting news for you, Niamh.

Niamh: Yes?

Evie: I have some text from a poster for the Glaciarium.

Niamh: Please!

Evie: I'm reading this directly from the poster that was advertising the rink. I need to put on an old-timey voice and put some effects over it so it sounds like I'm speaking on old radio. Here we go, this is what the poster says: “The proprietor of the Glaciarium feels it in his duty to apprize the Public that, the Metropolis will assuredly be visited on Thursday, the 25th of January, 1844, with the most Extraordinary Thaw ever witnessed in this country or any other; and he, therefore, takes the earliest opportunity of awakening the Public to the pending Calamity, and thus prevent disappointment to those who have not had good fortune to see this admitted Wonder of Novelties - The only one in the world: and, although the beautiful Lake of Lucerne is now fast Frozen - the Mountain, Rocks and Trees, covered with Snow - and the Glacier of ice, down which the venturous skaters descend with astonishing rapidity, is solid, yet all must, on the fast approaching dreaded 25th of January, “dissolve- and, like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a wreck behind.” Skaters and astonished skeptics are therefore invited, whilst the opportunity offers, to witness this wonderful discovery… A band of music will perform during the four days of the cattle show on the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th December- and, in the evening, the usual Promenade Musicale, led by Mr A Sedgewick. For the accommodation of visitors, there will be an entrance from the cattle show to the artificial ice.” And thus ends the poster of 1844. My dramatic reading of said poster.

Niamh: All figure skating events should come with a promenade musical with a cattle show.

Evie: Oh, I know. They were advertising the fact that all the ice surfaces will thaw in late January but it doesn’t matter because we have a fancy artificial ice rink that can go all year around so you should maybe visit them before this cattle show. In the transcript, I’ll write it up exactly how it is in the poster because they randomly capitalized different words like calamity. It’s just randomly capitalized. It really makes for a good Stan twitter post. The whole thing. It’s just so good.

Niamh: If stan Twitter was alive in the 18th century.

Evie: The fact that there is a cattle show right next to the artificial ice rink…

Niamh: That’s what you need at worlds. If you’re paying two thousand pounds for tickets; you need a cattle show.

Evie: Honestly, the direct entry onto the ice right from the cattle show is so convenient. They listed the prices for admission at the bottom of the poster, and for skating, I think it was one shilling which converted to today’s money was about three pounds which is a bargain!

Niamh: That’s good!

Evie: I know right! I wish I could skate for that cheaply. But yeah. After that the press stopped reporting on the ice rink around the 1850’s. All reports kind of dried up. There was an article in 1893 from James Digby who was the founder of the National Skating Association in England and he explained that, while the design of the rink drew everyone’s curiosity, at the end of the day the ice was not as suitable as actual ice would have been for skating. It "felt firm under the foot, cut up somewhat like ice under the skates, but overtaxed the energies of the most robust in the art of disporting themselves on it." Kirk’s use of hog’s lard in his synthetic ice proved unappealing—even the most eager ice skaters "soon tired of the smelly ice substitute."

He also said that because the ice surface used hog’s lard apparently it smelled really bad.

Niamh: Somehow I can imagine

Evie: Nothing like a nice sweaty pig rink for a figure skating competition.

Niamh: To wake you up.

Evie: So yeah. The Glaciarium fell out of fashion presumably because no one wanted to continue skating on that slippery, smelly, lard ice. But it was actually revived in 1876 by a man named John Gambee who brought something new to the table in terms of ice rinks: actual ice.

Niamh: Who would have imagined?

Evie: Shocking. Who would have guessed. He actually created a set of pipes containing coolant which used ammonia which kept the natural ice on top of it intact. It was the first kind of iteration of the same kind of process we use today to make ice rinks. After that, there was a boom in construction for artificial ice rinks because they were like “Oh crap! This actually works. and it's not smelly like a hog rink! This is a real rink with actual ice!

Niamh: And we're not using animal lard.

Evie: Yaaaaay!

Niamh: A win for vegans worldwide. (hosts laugh)

Evie: Yes all of the vegans in the Victorian era! Yes!

Niamh: Vegans' first win.

Evie: But yeah they were built all over the world. There were even some in Australia and then there was (to much fanfare) a couple of them opened in Paris. According to a journalist for The New York Times, when the first of the rinks opened in Paris in May of 1876, "The place was crammed to suffocation and yet thousands of ladies and gentlemen on foot and in carriages continued to arrive. With no way to enter through the doors, enterprising visitors began to climb the scaffolding outside the rink, then leapt in through the windows. Meanwhile, "crowds below persisted in besieging the doors. At times there was a fearful crush, and ladies were carried fainting out of the crowd. Many persons had their arms and legs injured." Which is honestly...that kind of hype we need in figure skating in our days. (hosts laugh)

Niamh: I mean stuff like that has happened in football.

Evie: Just imagining the fact that everyone is like "It's the opening night of this ice rink! We must all go to it. It's the newest craze! The newest fad! We must all go and see if it looks like everyone else in Paris had the same idea. Whatever shall we do? Well we're going to climb through the window of course!".

Niamh: You'd think there would have been more exciting things to do in Paris. (hosts laugh)

Evie: Nah nah! It's a new rink! It's y'know fancy! It's may, it's nearly summer so we must go see this ice!

Niamh: It's not made out of hogs lard.

Evie: And it's not made out of hogs lard. Thank god for that! But apparently this kind of mania surrounding ice rinks wasn't taken up everywhere. Apparently skaters in the US were particularly against the building of artificial ice rinks. In 1846 (this was before the ammonia chilled ice rinks were created, during the hogs lard period of ice rinks), There was a US skater wrote an editorial for a magazine and he said, "If shut up within the enclosures of the Rotunda of London, where the artificial Skating Pond was originally formed, we should hardly expect a person to experience the same enjoyment which is found on one of our American rivers or lakes." They were very much like "Yes, skating outside just surrounded by nature - that's the real American way of skating!"

Niamh: Listen America just because you're bitter that England controlled you for awhile...

Evie: I mean, if I saw the hogs lard rinks and I had some nice lakes I would probably go "Yeah I'm cool over here. This one doesn't smell. I think I'm just going to be fine. You guys... it's a really good try, maybe take a couple more stabs at it and when you come up with something that maybe isn't as smelly then come back to me."

Niamh: Well yeah but unlike Canada, England doesn't have minus sixty degree weather. We have to make do with the hogs.

Evie: We have to make do with the hogs! But yeah after awhile, after the ammonia based cooling rinks started taking off in Europe, America got quite a lot of them. By the end of the 19th century the US would have actually hundreds of them that would be able to facilitate skating year round. Obviously the hogs lard rinks were nowhere to be seen past that time. It was firmly modern day, well not really but olden day good old ammonia based cooling systems for our artificial rinks. And that's the story of how the first artificial ice rinks were created in figure skating.

Niamh: I say we have like a two hundred year throwback and make one last hogs lard rink.

Evie: Let's do it honestly. Let's get a bunch of people together. We get a bunch of hogs. Get some salt. Certainly got plenty of salt.

Niamh: In the Loop team meet up .

Evie: The weirdest meet up ever! All of us will gather all together and ITL will collectively make one last hogs lard ice skating rink.

Niamh. Yes.

Evie: So did you find that interesting, Niamh ?

Niamh: Why was the first thing they thought of hogs lard ?

Evie: I mean it was a fat. It was slippery. You need to try and simulate the feeling of ice being slippery.

Niamh: To be fair the first thought that comes to mind when I think of fat isn't a hog.

Evie: Might've just been the most accessible thing for him to have gotten in large quantities. Because I can't see anyone wanting it. It might've been weird but hey-

Niamh: It did work.

Evie: Let's get...actually no let's take your advice let's get a gelatin rink. Make a big jelly rink. How's that ?

Niamh: Yes please.

Evie: That'd be fun! But yes, that was the entire tale of the Victorian era ice rinks. Not quite as wild as some of the other stories we've had on Tales of the Blade but this article just made me laugh so much that I had to turn it into an episode. There couldn't have been a universe where I hadn't joked about this. That was my conclusion that I came to.

Niamh: I want to see the article.

Evie: Well there will be a link to it in the episode description of this episode and the transcript as well. I'll link it there for anyone to read. There are also some accompanying pictures on the article, including a picture of the poster that I did the dramatic reading from.

Niamh: Ooooh.

Evie: So yes it's a very good read. I highly recommend it if people want to read further all about ice rinks.

Niamh: For the beginnings of stan twitter grammar.

Evie: Exactly!

Evie: Thank you so much for listening, we hope to see you guys all again for our next episode!

Niamh: if you ever come across any more funny topics you’d to see us cover on Tales of the Blade, please let us know through all of our different contact sites including our website inthelopodcast.com or on Twitter or Tumblr. You can find us on Youtube, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify, or basically anywhere else you can find your favorite podcasts.

Evie: If you enjoy the show, and want to help support the team, please consider making a donation to us on our ko-fi page. All the donations we collect go directly back into the podcast in some form or another, whether that’s through website hosting fees or improving our equipment in order to produce the podcast and we’d really like to give a huge thank you to everyone who has supported us thus far. We really appreciate it.

Niamh: You can find the links to all our social media pages, our ko-fi, and so much more on the website.

Evie: If you’re listening on iTunes, please consider leaving a rating and a review if you enjoyed the show, we really appreciate that. Thanks for listening, this has been Evie -

Niamh: and Niamh.

Evie: See you soon guys!

Niamh: Bye! Don't skate on too many hogs!

Evie: Bring back hog rinks ! Bring back hog rinks! Bring back hog rinks...