Get your skates on…

The skating season is upon us again (the Royal Pavilion Ice Rink opens tomorrow), so it seemed a good moment to share these beautiful images of Brighton skaters in years gone by. These pictures, both of which appeared in Page’s Brighton Directory for 1877, were actually promoting rollerskating, a popular leisure pursuit in the mid-1870s. In some ways, this seems a surprise. How could these Victorian skaters, with their formal dress and strict social codes, embrace the rough and tumble of the rink?

Aquarium Skating Rink. Page’s Brighton Directory, 1877
Aquarium Skating Rink. Page’s Brighton Directory, 1877
Aquarium Skating Rink. Page’s Brighton Directory, 1877
Aquarium Skating Rink. Page’s Brighton Directory, 1877
Advert for the opening of Aquarium Grand Skating Rink: Brighton Gazette, 24 June 1876. Page’s Brighton Directory, 1877
Advert for the opening of Aquarium Grand Skating Rink: Brighton Gazette, 24 June 1876. Page’s Brighton Directory, 1877
Details of West Street Skating Rink, Brighton Gazette, 26 August 1876. Page’s Brighton Directory, 1877
Details of West Street Skating Rink, Brighton Gazette, 26 August 1876. Page’s Brighton Directory, 1877

In fact, it seems it was just that mix of wholesome exercise and relaxed socialising in elegant surroundings that appealed to the middle classes. Rink openings were grand affairs and the skating itself was accompanied by live music. Describing a skating ‘soiree’ held at the Corn Exchange in 1876, The Illustrated London News declared, ‘This rollerskating is a most healthful amusement; it combines the pleasures of the ballroom with the advantages of the gymnasium and is a delight both to young and old.’ Perhaps, in the 19th century, skaters were also better at staying on their feet!

Kate Elms, Brighton History Centre

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