|English speed skates|
Fig.1: English speed skates, around 1875
The area above Cambridge is called Fen District. It has much in common with the low lying wet landscape of the Holland and Friesland lake districts in the Netherlands. In the 17th century William called in Dutch water workers to dry many of these fens and make polders of them. It is likely that they brought their ice skates with them and thus introduced their popular matches of short track skating. In the fen district a peculiar model of ice skates developed: the fen skate.
This figure shows all characteristics of the traditional fen skates. The runner blades are lower at the front than at the rear, the curl is not bent back but looks much more a hook and there is a huge heel screw. The platforms have four slots for the straps to fix the feet to them which is one more than usual. Typical for fen skates is the slot at the very rear end of the skates (detail 1c). The fine brass decorations (details 1a and 1b) make clear these skates were owned by a great lover of skating.
Manufacturer: James Howarth, Sheffield; mark: detail 1d
Technical data: total length: 36 cm; height over ice: 3.5 cm; platforms: 29 cm long, 6.5 cm wide; runner blades: 19-9 mm tall, 4 mm thick; weight: 310 g
Fig.2: English speed skates, around 1875
Beautiful hand forged pair of skates. The blades have been made of non-rockered iron and were heavily rusted. The brass decoration at the heel did not survive the ravages of time (detail 1).
Manufacturer: unknown; mark: none
Technical data: total length: 36 cm; height over ice: 3.5 cm; platforms: 29 cm long, 6 cm wide; runner blades: 19-9 mm tall, 3 mm thick; weight: 250 g
Fig.3: English speed skates, around 1890
A pair of ice skates from the big metalworking factory of Marsden Brothers. Detail 3a shows a repair that makes clear that these skates have been used intensively. This also appears from the fact that one of the platforms is (very professionally) renewed.
Manufacturer Marsden Brothers, Sheffield; mark: detail 3b shows this text: Marsden Brothers, skate manufacturers by special appointment to her majesty & the royal family, Sheffield
Technical data: total length: 34 cm; height over ice: 3 cm; platforms: 29 cm long, 6 cm wide; runner blades: 17-10 mm tall, 4 mm thick; weight: 265 g
Fig.4: English speed skates, around 1880
Two design details attract attention. Most clearly is the front with a curl that rises faster than usually almost resulting in a full curl (detail 4a). Also a pin is added in the front of the platform fixing the blade and preventing the platforms from cracking. This design detail is unusual but known from Swedish designs as well.
Manufacturer: Moulson Brothers, Sheffield; mark: detail 4b
Technical data: total length: 32 cm; height over ice: 3 cm; platforms: 28 cm long, 6.5 cm wide; runner blades: 17-12 mm tall, 5 mm thick; weight: 300 g
Fig.5: English speed skates, around 1880
The English metalworking industry was as in Germany well developed by the end of the 19th century. Companies like Marsden often sold their skates via small enterprises like Bodger in Wisbech (detail 5a). A pair of ice skates with a blacksmith's mark like these therefore may be considered as interesting.
Manufacturer: unknown; mark: J.W.S. (detail 5b)
Technical data: total length: 32 cm; height over ice: 3.5 cm; platforms: 26 cm long, 6 cm wide; runner blades: 17-12 mm tall, 5 mm thick; weight: 255 g
Fig.6: English speed skates, around 1900
This pair of fen skates was made in Rotterdam. These skates do not have a heel screw. They were not common in the Netherlands. The antislip pins are very much alike a design detail that is known from American speed skates from this period. It is a pity the brass dumbbells (detail 6a) have gone.
Manufacturer: Ravesteijn & Co., Rotterdam; mark: Go-Ahead (detail 6b)
Technical data: total length: 38 cm; height over ice: 5 cm; platforms: 30 cm long, 6 cm wide; runner blades: 18-13 mm tall, 3.5 mm thick; weight: 290 g
speed skates were called
This name derived from
the wet grounds above Cambridge which area is known as The Fens.
These ice skates also are called Whittlesea Runners, probably because
there has been a good blacksmith in the vicinity of Whittlesea Mere,
until the end of the 19th century a large shallow lake near Peterborough.
have runner blades
that are lower
at the toes
than at the heel.
The rider therefore
stands a bit head first
in a natural way.
This was thought
a good position
for riders of relatively