The Graceful and Manly Pastime of Skating
June 3, 2017 12:22 PM   Subscribe

In June 1844, the Glaciarium, an artificial ice-skating rink, opened to the public in London. However, ice couldn't be manufactured in quantities sufficient for a skating rink at the time, so the proprietor naturally turned to pig fat and salts.
posted by Etrigan (13 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That's nasty. But interesting!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:41 PM on June 3

I don't understand how pig fat and salts combine to create a surface one can skate on.
posted by notyou at 12:56 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

What, no one here has been lard-skating? The bath salts just add that je ne sais quois that puts it totally on fleek.
posted by kozad at 1:04 PM on June 3 [6 favorites]

The English are bloody offal skaters.
posted by srboisvert at 1:17 PM on June 3 [11 favorites]

I am totally filing this away as a period detail for a future historical romance novel. Because an awesome, seemingly anachronistic date-like activity that also smells super bad has hilarious meet cute written all over it.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:27 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]

That is fascinatingly wrong, but downright ingenious at the same time. I love it!
posted by monopas at 1:35 PM on June 3

notyou, I can't figure that out either. A layer of grease on top of waxed hardwood? Frequently topped up by a sort of manual lard Zamboni?
posted by Countess Elena at 1:53 PM on June 3

Metafilter: nasty, but interesting.
posted by datawrangler at 1:54 PM on June 3

I think it's also slightly amazing that the proprietor of the first real artificial ice rink in London had the last name of Gamgee.

This makes me imagine that, in some parallel universe, there is a version of The Lord of the Rings where the Hobbit Gordie Howe is accompanied on his quest to Mount Doom by his faithful companion Samwise Zamboni.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:02 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]

They still use artificial ice for skating shows where there's no time or room to create ice. I knew a professional skater who could take her 'ice' anywhere on short notice. I think she said it was just plastic and silicone oil. It tore up the skates, though, so they would have to be immediately resharpened afterwards.

She once set it up in her upper story apartment for herself and her skating roommates and the neighbors began to tell stories about ghostly women seen mysteriously gliding from window to window late at night.
posted by eye of newt at 11:07 PM on June 3 [3 favorites]

I had a look at the digital archive of The Times (thank you, local library) to see if there was any more information about it. I might have fallen down a 19th century newspaper rabbit hole…

First mention is 21st December, 1841, about the patenting and testing of the 'ice', several months previously which was "about seven-eighths of an inch in thickness; nevertheless, it stood an immensity of friction, and was but little damaged by the cutting of the scates in several months of very continuous wear and tear. Indeed, no real ice could have supported the same perpetual friction unless renewed by successive frosts". Mr Kirk was inviting all and sundry to test it out, looking for interest to "form a society or company" to make a bigger rink, which he wanted to be 30,000 square feet.

There is just the hint of a row, with a notice on 16th June 1842 that no patent or manufacture of artificial ice “is valid without the express concurrence of Mr W D Bradwell of 79 Torrington Square”. I can’t find anything else about this potential ice dispute (nor can I think of any appropriate ice pun).

21st July 1842 - there is another advert in the Times, that Mr Kirk was "now prepared to grant LICENCES for the patent ice... and that he has appointed agents to lay down the ice, to any extent, at noblemen's seats, colleges, schools, club lounges, hotels, pleasure grounds, and private dwellings". The ice had been laid down in the Colloseum as a display - it mentions that you could see people skating (these were hired performers - there is an advert in the 2nd June paper looking for a "good figure skater" for the artificial ice rink) and talk to Mr Kirk there. It doesn't look like this was meant as an attraction in its own right, but rather as an advert to encourage people to buy their own rinks.

However, by 1st September 1842 it's being advertised as an attraction with an entry charge of 1 shilling, with a note that gentlemen who want to skate need to bring their own skates. Seems that there weren't many noblemen who wanted an artificial rink.

There is a 10th December 1842 advert that the Glaciarium is open in Baker Street Bazaar (not 1844 as stated by both the Londonist and Smithsonian blog). Admission 1s, skating an additional 1s, but at this new venue skates are provided for no additional charge. The panorama of Lucerne was apparently painted especially for this venue.

The next advert is from 15th April, 1843; I do like the phrase in this notice, "skaters may be seen performing their elegant evolutions amidst Alpine scenery". Also note "Charge for seating 1s per hour" – that sounds like it was popular enough to have to stop people just staying there for ages. And from 9-11 am it is exclusively for "lady skaters with female attendants". The live music was only for the evening sessions.

30th October - a note that Grand Duke Michel "witnessed the evolutions of the skating club upon the artificial ice".

The next mention is a terrible joke that entry charges should be on a sliding scale (19th December, 1843)

4th April 1844 it's moved again, to No 8 Grafton Street East, Tottenham Court Road. Though no morning session for ladies, and now children are half price, it is larger than the previous Glaciarium (4,500 square feet, vs 3000 at the previous location).

When exactly that one closed I don’t know. The next mentions are the 1876 Glaciarium, which doesn't mention a previous rink at all. If you want a description that’s probably in-depth enough for you to build your own, the article in the 10th March 1876 Times has you covered.

Really fascinating is the article from 10th December 1876. There were apparently floating swimming baths on the Thames at Charing Cross (reassuringly I have found an article which describes how the water from the Thames was filtered for the baths), which as they were unheated were understandably empty in winter. That year, they were converted into another Glaciarium over the winter months; there’s also mention of a Glaciarium nearing completion in Manchester. However, 13th March 1879 there’s an article saying that the original 1876 Glaciarium closed about two years previously, but the machinery for the rink had been successfully converted to the manufacture of ice in large blocks, which was especially useful for medical purposes.

So the original ‘smelly’ Glaciarium (I can find no mention of it smelling) lasted from 1842-44, the technological marvel only from 1876-77. I think that this is all much more about anything to do with entertainment becoming dull and outmoded quickly; the 24th July 1842 ad is sandwiched between an advert for a collection of Chinese objects (open 10am to 10pm, admission 2s6d) and one for a Grand Centrifugal Railway (40 feet in circumference, also with waxwork exhibition included in price, 1s/6d depending on seating).
posted by Vortisaur at 3:25 AM on June 4 [12 favorites]

Here's a description of the patent for this artificial ice.
posted by eye of newt at 8:07 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]

manual lard Zamboni

One for the list of band names and/or backup MeFi usernames.
posted by acb at 1:56 PM on June 4

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