Ice skates and their history (1)

Animal bones as gliders
There is a written 'description of the most noble city of London
', drawn up in Latin and published in 1180, which was translated by Stow, a London chronicler, into English in the 16th century. The account was written by a man named FitzStephen, who, at that time, was secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett, and reads as follows: "(...) when the great fenne or moore (which watereth the walles of the citie on the North side) is frozen, many young men play upon the yce, some striding as wide as they may, doe slide swiftly (...) some tye bones to their feete, and under their heeles, and shoving themselves by a little picked staffe, doe slide as swiftly as birde flyeth in the aire, or an arrow out of a crossbow. Sometime two runne together with poles, and hitting one the other, eyther one or both doe fall, not without hurt; some break their armes, some their legs, but youth desirous of glorie, in this sort exerciseth it selfe against time of warre (...)". From this description it appears that it is likely that in the 12th century ice skates with metal blades did not yet exist.

In the 19th century, when archaeology became a science, these bones were found at several places in Europe when making excavations. Generally they concern bones out of the legs of cattle like horses, cows and sheep. They were made suitable for gliding by flattening one side and drilling holes athwart for fastening them with laces. Further research has made clear that the use of bones as gliders under sledges and feet in northern Europe has been wide spread.

Anyway, a development from gliding on bones to skating on ironed wood seems to be logical. But unfortunately we do not know how this development has taken place.

The Vikings or the Dutch?
The diffusion of the art of ice skating as such is unclear too. Chauvinistic Dutchmen take it for granted that ice skates are a Dutch finding and that they were spread to the USA and Canada via England ("The Dutch William III married Mary Stuart and he brought a lot of Dutchmen with him who taught the English skating"). Scandinavians, however, claim that ice skating was introduced in the Netherlands by their ancestors, known as Vikings, who stroke the European coasts around 800. They think the art of ice skating derived from the Nordic custom to prevent people from sinking in loose snow by binding boards under their boots. This custom should have resulted in both skiing and ice skating.

the earliest picture
of ice skates
on a Swedish map
dated 1539
(Carta Marina)

a replica that shows
how gliders were used


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