Monday, 11 June 2012

Edwardian Roller Skating Boom 1908-1912

Thursday 21 June. 2-3pm
I will talk on
The Edwardian Roller Skating Boom
The National Archives, Kew
Sponsored by Friends of TNA, this talk will concentrate on relevant material in the TNA collection.
Monday 25 June. 5.15pm.
I will talk on
Boom and Bust:
The Edwardian Roller Skating Boom, 1908-1912
Sports & Leisure Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, Bloomsbury Room 35, Senate House, Malet St/Russell Square, London, WC1
This talk will be have an emphasis different from that for TNA on 21 June.

Back in the early 1990s when I undertook some research for an American family into their grandfather in Britain. He turned out to have worked in skating rink in the Edwardian Roller Skating Boom of 1908-1912. This led me to undertake a wide rnage of research into different aspects of the boom.

As this is Olympics year this topic has become of interest. I have already given a talk about the boom in the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. Here is a brief explanation.

Roller-skating has had a continuing attraction in this country for at least 120 years, since 1870s. While its popularity has been subject to booms and slumps, there have always been dedicated groups of enthusiasts organised in roller-skating clubs, or in off-shoot sports like roller-hockey.

The Edwardian Boom

Perhaps the most explosive boom was that in the Edwardian period between 1908 and 1912, when roller-skating was called 'rinking', and was largely an indoor and seasonal recreation and sport carried on at skating rinks. In 1909 alone over 239 companies registered with the intention of building rinks. They had a share capital of just over £2m. The boom was so popular that rinks were established in competition with each other in the same town. Birmingham had six rinks as well as the one in nearby Erdington. Bournemouth had four rinks, some dating from the 1870s Victorian boom. Some companies developed chains of rinks, like Rinking Ltd with over 20 rinks by October 1909, and itself credited at the time with re-establishing the past-time in Britain. In 1910 there were 526 Rinks in Britain. The largest rinks could cater for thousands of skaters and spectators, while a more typical size catered for hundreds.

Employment and Activities

The industry employed thousands of people at the rinks, and in supply industries. Four specialist magazines were published between 1909 and 1911. There were Rink Owners and International Professional Roller Skaters' Associations. Professional fancy and trick skaters, including women, toured the country. The American Harley Davidson, finished his show by leaping backwards over seven chairs, turning a complete circle in the air.

The range of activities that could be carried out on skates was clearly one of skating's appeals, including roller push-ball, roller football, and very popular fancy-dress carnivals. Keen skaters formed racing and hockey clubs, which played each other through organisations like the Amateur Rink Hockey Association, and the London Roller Racing League.

The Role of the National Skating Association

Although its principal interest was ice-skating, the controlling body for roller-skating was the National Skating Association. Founded in 1879, and still going strong, the NSA oversaw the rules for amateur and professional competitions. Its patrons included the King, the Prince of Wales and Members of Parliament.

The Decline

Popular interest around the country in roller-skating began to wane from 1911, probably because of developments in the picture industry. The specialist magazines had all closed by the end of that year. Many companies went bust, and others shut their doors and the buildings were converted into other uses, including as picture houses. Many rinks, continued to flourish, like those at Crystal and Alexandra Palaces and the Westover in Bournemouth until the First World War, and Alexandra Palace after the War.

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