Saturday, January 07, 2017

Curling at the Prince's Skating Club in London

The Prince's Skating Club in Knightsbridge, London, opened on November 7, 1896. The artificial ice rink was installed in a refurbished building, the new interior by JM Boekbinder, a well known decorator of the time. The large ice surface was rectangular, in contrast to other ice skating rinks in London which were circular in shape, according to the Morning Post newspaper.

The Princes Skating Club was a private club, and was a great success. Membership in the early years was ten guineas - around £1000 today. Two years after opening, the interior of the building was renovated, and the artwork redone by M Picat with an Egyptian theme throughout. In charge of the ice was WW Nightingale who had been manager of the Southport Glaciarium some years previously.

Although curling had been mentioned from the start as a possible recreation alongside ice skating, it was not until 1902 that the sport began to be played at Prince's. In November 1902, a Scottish newspaper, the Bellshill Speaker, described the Prince's Skating Club as 'a rendezvous of fashionable society', but 'it was not inhospitable' being available on one day a week to the curling club. The curling club in question was the London Caledonian CC.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1902-03 included in its review of the 1901-02 season, the following, "Last winter much enjoyment was afforded to Scotsmen resident in London by the formation of the London Caledonian Club which was formed for the purpose of playing in the Glaciarium. The president was the redoubtable Mr Samuel Gibson, while the secretaries were Mr Nightingale, the pioneer of ice rinks, and Mr RH Forsyth. Some splendid play was had, and the club, we understand, is to affiliate with the Royal Club.

This form of curling is evidently to be developed, for at the time of writing we notice this announcement in the Scotsman: LONDON'S INDOOR GAME. An effort is to be made this winter to introduce indoor curling as an additional attraction at the Prince's Skating Club, Knightsbridge. The club is one of the most exclusive in London, and this year was the venue of the world's figure skating championships, the King being present during a portion of the competition.

The idea of a curling section in connection with the Knightsbridge institution has been very favourably entertained, already over two hundred members having joined, among whom are some of the best curlers in Scotland - Lord Balfour of Burleigh, General Stephenson and Captain Wentworth.

It is hoped to make the Scottish national winter pastime very popular in London this season. There is abundance of space at the club for curling, the rink measuring 214 feet by 65 feet, which will allow of four games being played simultaneously. The ice is procured by the ammonia process. A couple of days are needed to make the first ice of the season; thereafter a new surface can be provided in little over an hour. A sum of between £200 and £300 weekly is spent on the upkeep of the ice and the building generally.

There is no doubt that such facilities for the practice of curling must prove a great boon to Scotsmen and others in the great Metropolis. By and by it might be possible to return the hospitality now offered by Canada to our team by entertaining Canadians in London where we can be as certain as they are of ice by the device of Glaciaria."

So, the London Caledonian Curling Club was formed during the winter of 1901-02. It did indeed become affiliated to the Royal Club in 1902, and the club met weekly at the Prince's Skating Club. Their 1902-03 season opened on October 30, 1902, as reported in the Scotsman the following day.

There were seventy-one regular members and eighteen honorary members in that first season according to the Annual for 1902-03. The club's patrons included the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, the Duke of Roxburghe, the Earl of Rosebery, the Earl of Dalkeith and the Earl of Mansfield.

The Dundee Courier of January 27, 1903, noted that the London Caledonian had 'made its home' at the Prince's Rinks and, "On one night a week since the opening of the season some very enjoyable games have been witnessed by spectators who seemed just as much interested and enthusiastic as the curlers themselves. As four full sized rinks can be accommodated at a time, it will be at once apparent that it is actually the real thing and not a make-believe, as some good people imagine."

This last sentence would indicate that there was some scepticism about play on indoor artificial ice, most curling in the early years of the twentieth century still being played outside.

It should be said here that in 1903 the Prince's Skating Rink was the only indoor rink for curling in the whole of Britain. Curling had been played on artificial ice in 1877 at the short-lived ice rink in Rusholme, Manchester, see here. The Southport Glaciarium was more successful, hosting curling and skating between 1877 and 1889, see here. Scotland's first indoor rink, to host curling on a regular basis, would be at Crossmyloof, Glasgow. This rink opened in 1907.

By November 1903, the Prince's Skating Club had a new owner, the Duchess of Bedford, who had purchased the site, the buildings, and the plant. Mary Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, seems to have been a most interesting character, see here and here. Remembered these days as a pioneer aviator, when she was younger she was a keen sportswoman and an accomplished figure skater.

Thursday seems to have been the day on which the London Caledonian members played. As well as curling and skating, the rink was used for ice hockey.

 
Here's the first image of curling in the Prince's Skating Club that I've been able to find. It's by CH Taffs and appeared in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News on April 22, 1905, entitled 'A Curling Bonspiel in London - the Contests'. This shows that by 1905 the Prince's Skating Club had become the venue for major curling competitions.

The caption explains further, "The Royal Caledonian English Province Curling Clubs' tournament for the President's Cup was held at the Princes Skating Club, Knightsbridge, last week and attracted a large entry. In the penultimate round, Malton and Darlington, by defeating Huddersfield and Liverpool, qualified for the final. This yielded a lengthy struggle on the Friday and resulted in a victory for Darlington  by 17 to 14."

In the 1904-05 season there were forty-two curling clubs in England affiliated to the Royal Club. The 'President's Cup' was that donated by William I'Anson, and the trophy is still played for today, see here.

This photo was printed in the Penny Illustrated Paper of April 13, 1907, and captioned 'Curling Championships at Prince's. The annual competition by the English Province of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Players applauding a good shot'! This photo had been taken during competition for the I'Anson trophy, held again at the Knightsbridge rink in April, 1907.

In February 1908 it was announced that the Duchess of Bedford had donated a challenge trophy for a competition at the Princes Skating Club, 'open to all clubs in the world, affiliated with the Royal Caledonian Curling Club'. The first competition for the Duchess of Bedford Shield was held April 21-25, 1908. Perhaps this first open event at Prince's was not as successful as it might have been, most English clubs having chosen to play in the I'Anson Trophy at the new Scottish Ice Rink at Crossmyloof in Glasgow, also held in April that year. In the years which followed the Duchess of Bedford Shield competition at the Princes Skating Club grew in popularity.

In October 1908, the figure skating events at the London Olympic Games took place at the Prince's Skating Club, see here.

When David Smith wrote his book Curling: an illustrated history, published in 1981, he was unaware of curling at the Prince's Skating Club rink. However, sometime later he acquired 'a group of stereoscopic lantern slides of a very small format', and wrote about his discovery in the May 2008 Scottish Curler magazine. In that article he noted that they dated, apparently, from 1910.

These remarkable photographs show the glass roof, the murals on the walls around the rink, and certainly give an impression of the grandeur of the place.

And they vividly show what the curling in the rink looked like, and what the players were wearing. Note the different types of brooms in use.

Play was from the crampit.

David's research led him to believe that the action depicted was from the Duchess of Bedford Shield competition, and that at least some of the players were from the Newcastle-on-Tyne and/or the Newcastle Tyneside curling clubs, both of which were taking part in the competition in 1910.

The Duchess of Bedford Shield competition was won that year by a Huddersfield team, here posing for a photograph for the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.

In season 1910-11, the Prince's Skating Club became home to a second curling club, called simply the 'Prince's Curling Club'. According to the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of April 10, 1911, "This club has grown with astonishing rapidity, some of its most enthusiastic players being drawn from the Scots Guards." This club played on the rink on Saturdays. In the Annual for 1911-12, the Prince's Club had nineteen regular and thirteen occasional members. By comparison, the London Caledonian CC had fifty regular and five occasional members. It is interesting to note that several curlers were members of both clubs - suggesting that the new club had been formed to satisfy a demand for more curling, and not because of any dispute amongst London Caledonian members.

Remarkably, here is a photograph of four members of the Prince's CC, albeit that is is not of high quality. The team above (L-R: HJ Betts, BG Adams, HW Page and AW Leslie-Lickley, skip) had won the Club Championship in the 1911-12 season as well as the Vice-president's prize for the rink having the largest number of wins in Club events during the season. They also met and defeated rinks representing Bedford, Grindelwald (twice), London Caledonians, and Wimbledon. Taking part in twenty-one matches, they won seventeen, lost three, and drew one.

AW Leslie-Lickley, on the right of the photograph, was the Secretary of the Prince's CC.

Curling continued at the Prince's rink at least until January 1915. I suspect that all ice activities finished at this time, with WW1 in progress.

Thereafter the venue was used for a variety of exhibitions. In October 1915 there was a display of Christmas toys, the work of disabled soldiers in the Lord Roberts' Memorial Workshops. And on March 18, 1916, an 'active service exhibition' opened at the venue to give Londoners and visitors to the city 'an opportunity of seeing for themselves exactly what trench warfare is like'!

The Prince's Skating Club was let to the British Red Cross Society in May 1917. 

What the rink was like then can be seen in this painting by Haydn Reynolds Mackey (1881–1979). This can be studied in more detail on the ArtUK website here. The painting is titled, 'Prince's Skating Rink, Knightsbridge, London, during the War: British Red Cross Society Store'.

In May 1919, the war over, the Sketch reported that the Daimler Hire Company had taken over the Prince's Skating Club building with a view to turning it into a large garage and hiring depot. The building no longer exists, having been replaced by housing. I have looked in vain (so far) for an image of the outside of the building.

Where exactly was the rink? It was on Hill Street, which has since been re-named as Trevor Place, between Montpelier Square and Knightsbridge, just south of the Hyde Park Barracks. The map above, from 1914, although not published until 1936, names the building.

The top image is © Illustrated London News Group, and made available via the British Newspaper Archive, as are the other newspaper clippings. The BNA was the source of much of the information in this article. The photograph of the Leslie-Lickey team is by News Illustrations Company, London, as printed in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1912-13.  The Haydn Reynolds Mackey is from the ArtUK website, and credited to the Imperial War Museums. The London map is from the National Library of Scotland's maps website, here.

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