Document of the Month January 2019

This month's document is chosen by Lisa Hudman, the Digitisation Assistant for the Film and Picture Library in the Archive.

I enjoy watching figure skating, particularly Ice Dancing and Pair Skating. Having seen a couple of programmes over the Christmas break about the 1984 Olympic Gold medallists, Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean I wondered if our Collections had any images of ice-skating stars. I decided to take a closer look and found a set of images in our Cowley glass plate negative collection. The images are all dated 6 November 1950 with the photographer's note 'ice-skating star with TD Midget'.

Why this document?

Given the lack of any other information, I thought it might be interesting to try to establish who the skater featured in the pictures is. Looking on various internet sites I started to read a bit about the history of skating which was really interesting. Apparently, the origins of skating are unknown. It is thought to have begun some 4000 years ago, when the inhabitants of Northern Europe took to sliding about on pieces of wood or bone in order to cross the frozen wastes, hunting food or seeking habitation. By around 1395, iron skates which were given 'edges' to grip the ice were a useful means of travel in Scandinavia and Holland.

In the 1650s, following the execution of Charles I, the British royal family sought refuge abroad. Some of them fled to Holland where they learned to skate – particularly the Duke of Monmouth (the illegitimate son of Charles II who was born in Rotterdam during his father's exile), Princess Mary (later Queen Mary II) and her father the Duke of York (later James II). When the monarchy was restored and they returned to England, both Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn recorded in their diaries a skating display in London put on by the Duke of York. In 1742 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, then three hats balanced on top of the other. In 1830 the first English club was formed in London. Originally known as the Skating Club, it became the Royal Skating Club in 1932.

In 1908 at the Olympic Games in London the National Skating Association NSA) organised the first ever skating events. Ulrich Salchow from Sweden won the men's Gold medal, Mrs Madge Syers won the women's title and with her husband, Edgar, took the Bronze in Pair skating. In 1948 at the Winter Olympics in St Moritz, Switzerland, a British contender from
Liverpool, Jeanette Altwegg, won the bronze medal in the Ladies event. In 1950 the NSA organised a World Championship at Wembley, and Jeanette took the Silver medal in the Ladies' event. This was also the year that the first international Ice Dance event took place. In 1952 at the Winter Olympics in Oslo, Jeanette became the first British figure skating gold medal winner since Madge Syers in 1908.

This brings us back to our photograph, because I think the skater featured there could be Jeanette Altwegg during a visit to the Cowley Factory either just for publicity purposes or maybe she was picking up her new MG TD Midget. I wish the photographer had included more information with the pictures at the time! By all means drop us a line if you recognise this ice-skating star yourself.

I found some other lovely images during the search. This one is really nice. Taken in 1945 and showcasing a Wolseley Twelve where a woman is putting her skates on, with skaters holding hands on a frozen lake?! Probably not the safest choice!

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