Home » Exhibitions » Skating on Ice at the Museum of London – 16th December 2016 to 8th February 2017

Skating on Ice at the Museum of London – 16th December 2016 to 8th February 2017

Skating on the Serpentine: 1838

Skating on the Serpentine by J Baber 1839 (c) Museum of London

One of Londoner’s favourite winter pastimes is skating on the outside rinks dotted around the capital. The Museum of London latest display, Skating on Ice, explores the popular seasonal pastime of ice skating in London and considers its history which 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.

If the original skates were rudimentary, over time there were considerable advancements in ice skate designs and the display highlights changing fashions, and demonstrates how skating on London’s frozen lakes and ponds became an annual, if sometimes dangerous, winter tradition.


Dandies showing off by Thomas Tegg 1818 (c) Museum of London

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.

Skating on frozen lakes and ponds often led to tragedies, one of the worst incidents 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 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. 


Illustrated London News 1867 depicting Regents Park Tragedy (c) Museum of London

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. This led to an increase in fashions related to the pastime. 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.


Christina Greenberry’s Ice skates from the late 1930s (c) Museum of London

Other highlights of the display include 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 is a free display at the Museum of London from 16 December 2016 – 8 February 2017.

If you would like further information or book tickets, visit the Museum of London website here

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