The 1964 World Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze

Radios blared with news of the Vietnam War and Beatlemania. Cassius Clay had just been crowned the heavyweight champion of the world. Agatha Christie's Miss Poirot mystery "The Clocks" was on every nightstand and The Swinging Blue Jeans' cover of Chan Romero's "Hippy Hippy Shake" topped the music charts. 

The year was 1964 and from February 25 to March 1, a who's who of figure skating gathered at the twelve year old Große Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, West Germany. The 1964 World Figure Skating Championships proved to be one of the most exciting and well attended post-Olympic World Championships in history but it wasn't an event without drama.

Left: Mr. and Mrs. Willy Böckl in Dortmund. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Right: German lobby card of Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler. Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze.

NATO refused the visas of East German skaters who hoped to compete on the other side of the Berlin Wall and then the team dramatically withdrew when West German announcers refused to say "Deutschland Ost", instead announcing the East German skating association Deutscher Eislauf-Verband. An angry mob was waiting for Suzanne Morrow-Francis when the Canadian contingent arrived by bus in Dortmund. The judge dubbed by the European press as 'The Red Devil Of Innsbruck' had given low scores to the popular West German team of Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler at the Olympics and the patriotic Dortmund crowd was out for blood from the moment she arrived.

In her book "Ice Time", Debbi Wilkes recalled, "They were ready to tear Suzy apart. She switched outfits with Marg Hyland and quickly walked out with the kids with Marg's hat pulled over her face. Marg sauntered out in the red coat and said, 'Hi, everybody.' Everyone stared at her. 'Who are you?' She said, 'I'm one of the mothers.'"

Photos courtesy Julia C. Schulze

Soon after the Trojan Horse like ruse was discovered, the media frenzy continued. With all of the theatrics off the ice, tension was building in the Westphalian city before the competition even began but the action on the ice turned out to be just as exciting as the hype. Let's take a look back at the thrills and spills of this fascinating event!

Manfred Schnelldorfer and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler


Men's medallists in Dortmund. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

Despite the fact that twenty one year old Munich student Manfred Schnelldorfer had walked away with a surprise gold medal at the 1964 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, many of those 'in the know' in the skating community still considered twenty three year old Alain Calmat of France - the defending European and World Champion - the overwhelming, hands down favourite entering the men's event in Dortmund.

German press clipping featuring Sjoukje Dijkstra and Manfred Schnelldorfer. Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze.

However, in the school figures, five judges had Manfred Schnelldorfer first.  Two gave Alain Calmat the nod, the Canadian judge favoured Karol Divín of Czechoslovakia. The Italian judge tied Schnelldorfer and Calmat. The free skate was won by Tommy Litz of Hershey, Pennsylvania, who made history by landing the first triple toe-loop in international competition in his athletic performance.

Tommy Litz

Manfred Schnelldorfer finished second in the free skate and Scotty Allen, Emmerich Danzer and Calmat were close behind. Karol Divín imploded and received ordinals from sixth to twelfth place in the free skate but narrowly held on for the bronze behind Schnelldorfer and Calmat. Scotty Allen of Smoke Rise, New Jersey settled for fourth place ahead of Danzer and Litz. Canadians Donald Knight and Charles Snelling placed ninth and twelfth.

In unseating Alain Calmat, Manfred Schnelldorfer became the first skater from East, West or unified Germany to win a gold medal at the World Championships in men's singles since Gilbert Fuchs in 1906.

Scotty Allen on "To Tell The Truth" following the 1964 World Championships


Left: Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman. Right: Janet Sawbridge and David Hickinbottom. Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine.

Eighteen and twenty one year old Czechoslovakian siblings Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman led the pack after the compulsory dances with first place ordinals from every judge. Janet Sawbridge and her bespectacled partner David Hickinbottom sat close behind in second. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "Eva and Pavel won unanimously, skating faultlessly and in perfect unison the same free dance program they had used for three years. The key to their success was elegant dancing. The gallery criticized the prevalence of pair-like moves and skating apart in the free dances, especially among the lower placed European Continentals. The English-speaking countries locked up second through eighth place. [Paulette] Doan/[Kenneth] Ormsby, recently engaged, had a lot to celebrate in moving up from third to second with their charming performance. Skating very close together and smoothly, their lively footwork brought fewer points but more ordinals to rise a place and beat the couple with higher marks. Sawbridge/Hickinbottom dropped to third with their classically English free incorporating neat changes of temp. [Yvonne] Suddick/[Roger] Kennison skated as well as they could for fourth."

Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray

Canadians Carole Forrest and Kevin Lethbridge and Marilyn Crawford and Blair Armitage placed seventh and eleventh. The judges didn't know quite what to do with an unheralded pair of sixteen year olds named Diane Towler and Bernard Ford. Only fourth in Great Britain's junior ranks ten months earlier, they were completely unknown to the international judges. British judge Harry Lawrence had them tied for fourth in the compulsories and seventh overall. They finished an unlucky thirteenth, with a last place ordinal from the Hungarian judge. Lawrence earned a one year suspension for 'inexperience' and two years later, Towler and Ford were World Champions. Demonstrations of the Cha-Cha, Cuban Rhumba, Jamaican Rhumba, Samba, Silver Samba, Starlight Waltz were skated by Peri Horne and Courtney Jones and Joan and John Slater and the Starlight Waltz was accepted as a new compulsory by the ISU, with the others taken under consideration.


Marika Kilius, Hans-Jürgen Bäumler, Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell in Dortmund. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

The 1964 World Championships in Dortmund marked the first time a two and a half minute compulsory connected (short) program was skated by pairs at the World Championships. The compulsory program had been tested at that year's European Championships in Grenoble, France but had not been included at the Olympics in Innsbruck. Olympic Gold Medallists Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov took a slight lead in the first phase of the pairs competition. Six judges had them first, one had them tied with Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler and two gave the latter the nod. The West Germans had won the European Championships and the Soviets the Olympics and the battle between the two pairs in the free skate - on Kilius and Bäumler's home turf - was the talk of the entire competition.

Left: Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler kiss for the photographers. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives. Right: Photographic postcard of the pairs medallists.

In his 1966 book "Winter Sports", British sportswriter Howard Bass described the showdown in front of twelve thousand, two hundred skating fans thusly: "The Russians, skating their free programme first, were at their classical zenith, achieving lifts and daring spirals of even greater difficulty than at Innsbruck. Their victory seemed assured but the tension was electric as the West Germans followed immediately afterwards. Knowing that something fantastic was necessary, they risked everything - and by a miracle everything came off in their greatest-ever performance. Five of the nine judges gave them 5.9 for technical merit and six awarded the same for artistic impression. Their seemingly impossible triumph was a fitting farewell for the Garmisch students."

Pairs medallists. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

As in Innsbruck, Canada's Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell decisively took the bronze ahead of Americans Vivian and Ronald Joseph. Debbi Wilkes recalled, "We had gold costumes that were totally beaded. We didn't dare wear them for the Olympic Games because everything was black or navy back in those days - that was the trend and the expected fashion. We didn't want to do anything that was going to jeopardize our ability to finish as high as we could, so we opted to stay with the black. There was no short program at the Olympic Games, but there was a short program for the first time in pairs, at Worlds. I think we wore black for the short program and then we decided, 'What the hell... we're going to wear the gold!' We wore the gold for the free program and it was like, when we stepped on the ice, the air went out of the building. It was like, 'Oh my God! What are those Canadians doing?' It was pretty funny... I remember Guy coming off the ice at Worlds saying, 'Those beads have got to come off the waist of that dress. They're making my hands bloody!' How true though - all those catches and twists with those bugle beads which were glass. He was trying to catch me around the waist and he was getting cut in the process. It wasn't very funny at the time, but it seems funny now."

Tatiana Zhuk and Alexander Gavrilov made up serious ground in the free skate to move up to sixth behind West Germans Sonja Pfersdorf and Günther Matzdorf. The Soviets had been ranked as low as eleventh of the twelve teams competing by the West German and Hungarian judges in the compulsory program.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

Interestingly, the whole debacle surrounding the medals in the pairs competition at the 1964 Winter Olympics didn't ultimately tarnish Kilius and Bäumler's World title win in Dortmund as the complaint regarding their amateur status had been made to the International Olympic Committee - not the International Skating Union. Nevertheless, it was their swan song to amateur skating.


Women's medallists. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives

More than six thousand people came from Holland on four special trains to watch the newly crowned twenty two year old Olympic Gold Medallist Sjoukje Dijkstra skate in her final World Championships. Of the twenty two women who skated their school figures, Dijkstra and Austria's Regine Heitzer were unanimously first and second. Canada's Petra Burka was a solid third, followed by Christine Haigler of the United States and Nicole Hassler of France.

Left: Sjoukje Dijkstra and Arnold Gerschwiler toasting her success in Dortmund. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives. Right: Peggy Fleming in 1964. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

Twelve thousand spectators packed the Große Westfalenhalle for the women's free skate. Though she turned out of an early double Axel attempt, Dijkstra - dressed in turquoise silk crepe - won the gold medal with first place ordinals from every judge. Interestingly, the Dutch judge gave Burka the nod over Dijkstra in the free skate. Another judge, Dr. János Zsigmondy of West Germany, had the two tied. Both Heitzer and Haigler had disastrous showings in the free skate. Heitzer fell twice - once on a double Axel attempt and a second time while making a turn at the edge of the rink. One judge had Heitzer in a tie for fourteenth; three judges had Haigler nineteenth. The skater who actually finished third in the free skate, Helli Sengtschmid of Austria, shockingly remained in twelfth place overall, hindered by a disappointing showing in the school figures and ordinals for other skaters that were all over the place.

Top: Scotty Allen and Regine Heitzer. Bottom: Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler. Photos courtesy Julia C. Schulze.

A young Peggy Fleming placed seventh in her first trip to the World Championships and Canadians Shirra Kenworthy and Wendy Griner placed tenth and eleventh. Sengtschmid's result contrasted with Heitzer's sparked much discussion about the weight of school figures in determining the overall result of international competition.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Rags, Riches And Restitution: The Arnold Shoda Story

Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive

"I think of myself as a glider floating through space when I am skating. My aim is to please the eye, rather than excite the mind." - Arnold Shoda, "The Reading Eagle", July 19, 1951

Born August 18, 1926, Arnold Shoda grew up in crushing poverty in the tenements of Manhattan, New York during The Great Depression. His father Ignatz was born in Minsk, Russia and kept food on the table as best he could by taking a job with a cleaning firm as a window cleaner. His mother Poli, born in Austria, contributed by working as a housekeeper. The family had arrived in Ellis Island from Steinbrück in 1911 and hadn't had an easy go of it raising Arnold and their eldest son Stephen. In a sea of Italian, Polish, Czechslovakian and Jewish immigrants, the Shoda's were 'just another' struggling family trying to make it in the Big Apple.

When Arnold was twelve in 1939, he discovered the skating at the rink at the New York World's Fair and was instantly hooked. Every day after school, he showed up at the rink, borrowed skates and taught himself how to skate by following around the experienced skaters like a puppy and mimicking what they did. His parents recognized how much he loved the ice and somehow managed to find the money somewhere to get him his own pair of skates, even though they certainly couldn't afford it. In an interview in August of 1951, he recalled, "My mother bought me my first skates. They were hockey skates, and she bought the shoes too big so that I could grow into them. I scuffed the toes dreadfully." He continued to improve and quickly graduated out of those hockey skates into a pair of figure skates.

There were no competitions; no lessons. Arnold didn't have the inclination and Ignatz and Poli just didn't have the money. What Arnold did have was ambition, sparkling aquamarine eyes and a certain flair about him.

Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive

Arnold auditioned for an ice show in the Bowman Room at the Biltmore Hotel on Madison Avenue and Forty Third Street, got the job and soon found himself skating pairs with Joan Hyldoft. In case you're trying to do the math here, yes, Arnold was an untrained, professional skater at sixteen. He later skated and sang at the Terrace Room at the Hotel New Yorker in its "Circus Daze" show alongside Bob Ballard and Mary Jane Yeo. The May 20, 1944 issue of "Billboard" magazine raved, "Shoda, as ringmaster, darts about on the ice in flashy manner, and also warbles 'Circus On Parade' in nice fashion."

Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive

The Biltmore and Hotel New Yorker gigs led to a fifteen month stint at the Center Theatre in Arthur M. Wirtz and Sonja Henie's shows and a fourteen month engagement skating at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. Once you got your foot in the door in those days, more opportunities presented themselves. More opportunities, luckily for Arnold, meant more money.

After World War II, Arnold found himself headlining a series of tank ice shows at the Roxy Theater in New York with Carol Lynne, Jean Arlen, Bruce Mapes and Martha Firschke, a.k.a. Trixie The Skating Juggler. A versatile entertainer, he skated to everything from gypsy folk music to Edvard Grieg's "Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16" and soon gained respect and a keen following among fellow skaters for his artistry and sensitivity toward music.

In a July 1951 interview with society columnist Alice Hughes, Arnold proudly proclaimed, "There are lots of ice skaters, but not many who combine skating with ballet. That's what I do." His dream was to have his own touring show just like Sonja Henie and he stayed in shape "just like any athlete. No smoking; hardly any drinking; as much sleep as I can get and of course, three hours a day training whenever I'm not doing four shows a day, as I am now. Any slight injury to a foot or even an arm is dangerous, for I have to be as supple as a ballet dancer." He kept his dressing room 'neat as a pin' apparently and loved to cook.

By 1951, Arnold was represented by the Fosters Agency, the same talent agency who represented Cecilia Colledge, Carol Lynne and Adele Inge. By 1952, they got him out of the Roxy and into the Boulevard Room at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago, where his big act combined a vocal rendition of a song called "My Heart Is In My Boots" with a 'show stopping solo' which the July 5, 1952 issue of "Billboard" magazine described thusly: "A dance routine to a tango beat, featuring some flashy stag jumps, Axels, headless and sit spins. He ended the routine with a fast spin and pulled a big hand."

Arnold Shoda and Kay Servatius. Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive.

After reuniting with his old partner Joan Hyldoft, Arnold had finally accepted the realization that he'd never have his own touring show like Sonja Henie when he was offered a position as a principal on Holiday On Ice.

Arnold Shoda and Kay Servatius. Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive.

Arnold soon found himself touring with two time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button and skating behind the Iron Curtain in Moscow as one of the European tour's male leads. That 1959 Holiday On Ice show was the first American skating production to perform in the Soviet Union. Four years prior to the trip where he met Nikolai Kruschev, Arnold partnered Sonja Henie in her 'Holiday On Ice' Christmas special. His usual partner on the tour was Kay Servatius.

Right photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

Arnold remained with Holiday On Ice for over a decade and found himself more at home on the North American tour, doing everything from playing the tragic clown Pagliacci in a 'Continental Circus' to skating a pairs routine to the old standard "Begin The Beguine".

Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive

Arnold later coached at the All Weather Roll 'N' Ice rink in Copiague, Long Island. When he died June 25, 2003 in Palm Desert, Riverside, California at the age of seventy six, he may have taken heart in one good deed he performed that few who came to marvel at him in shows ever knew about. The very first thing that he did when he started making money as a teenage show skater was buy his impoverished parents a nice house in Long Island. They took a chance on him when they couldn't afford to, and he never forgot it.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The 1937 British Ice Skating Championships

In modern day, when someone says, "I'm going to Nationals" we safely assume they are heading to one venue for a several day figure skating competition featuring multiple disciplines. However, if the year was 1937 and you lived in Great Britain and told someone the exact same thing, you could have been talking about one of any number of events! Today on the blog, we'll take a trip back in time to pre-World War II England for a look at the many British Championships of 1937.

Beryl Styles

In early February of 1937, the National Skating Association presented the first 'Junior Competition For Ladies', which was open to young women over the age of twelve who had not competed in the British Championships prior to October 1, 1936. In his book "Skaters' Cavalcade: Fifty Years Of Skating", author A.C. Wade explained, "This competition was frequently referred to as the British Junior Championship, and although this definition was incorrect the contest was regarded by many as for the Junior title. The first winner was Miss Beryl Styles, who, not long afterwards became a professional, and was the star in the very successful ice revue 'Marina' which ran for many months at Brighton and later at Earl's Court. While at Earl's Court the Queen saw 'Marina' and Beryl was presented to her Majesty."

Cecilia Colledge, Megan Taylor and Belita Jepson-Turner

On February 16 and 17, 1937, the British Ladies Championships were held at the Westminster Ice Rink. After the compulsory figures, Park Lane's Cecilia Colledge held a twenty three point lead over Manchester's Megan Taylor. The February 16, 1937 issue of "The Western Morning News And Daily Gazette" noted, "Miss Colledge, at sixteen, was one of the oldest of the nine competitors who for eight hours circled gracefully on the ice in six set figures and skated with each foot in turn." The youngest entry in the event was thirteen year old Daphne Walker, whom the London County Council made wait until after midnight to be 'seen by the judges' in the previous year's competition. This was owing to the Young Children and Persons Act, which forbade young people to give public exhibitions after seven in the evening, unless it was for charity. At Westminster she told reporters, "I felt tired occasionally, but it was the waiting between the figures which fatigued me."

Some in the audience believed that Megan Taylor might overtake Cecilia Colledge in the free skate. The February 17, 1937 issue of "The Aberdeen Press And Journal" reported, "Miss Colledge's skate grated ominously as she pirouetted into a simple spin, and the spectators held their breath, but [she] recovered and went on to perform an intricate series of spins and jumps - a programme which won her the title for the third year in succession." Taylor settled for silver, ahead of Streatham's Gladys Jagger, Jacques Gerschwiler's protégé Belita Jepson-Turner, Daphne Walker, Pamela Stephany, Joy Ricketts, Jean Leonard-Smith and Beryl Styles.

Violet and Leslie Cliff

Bournemouth's Violet and Leslie Cliff reigned supreme at the British Pairs Championships ahead of Daphne Wallis and Reginald Wilkie, better known as ice dancing pioneers than pairs skaters. At the first British Ice Dancing Championship for seniors at Richmond Ice Rink, Wallis and Wilkie also reigned supreme.

Graham Sharp

On March 14 and 15, 1937, the British Men's Championship was held at Harringay Arena. Fresh off a silver medal win at the World Championships in Vienna, Henry Graham Sharp skated to a commanding lead in the school figures. Though Freddie Tomlins won the free skate, Sharp's early lead was enough for him to easily retain his title. The skating correspondent for "The Times" remarked, "I find it hard to understand why the judges could make such a great difference between the holder's skating and that of his nearest rival, F. Tomlins, who skated very steadily and with true lines and in excellent style."

Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders

The following month, the British Open Professional Championships for men, women and pairs were held at Harringay Arena. In the women's event, eighteen year old Pamela Prior was victorious in her first appearance in the event. She was actually the only entry but was still expected to obtain at least two thirds of the maximum marks for compulsory figures (yes, figures in a professional event) and seven twelfths of the maximum marks in free skating to be awarded the Championship. She earned 956.7 points out of a possible 1250. London born Hope Braine reclaimed the men's title ahead of ahead of one Herr Rolle from Germany. Four teams contested the pairs title, where Australians Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders defeated two time Olympic Gold Medallists and four time World Champions Andrée and Pierre Brunet by one tenth of a point.

On December 12 and 13, the National Skating Association decided to finally consolidate the British Men's, Ladies and Pairs Championships into one event at one venue, the Empire Pool, Wembley. One of the reasons often cited for this decision is the fact that audiences would flock to see the women's competitions and rarely turn up in the same numbers for the men's or pairs events. A.C. Wade noted, "This meeting proved an immense success, about 10,000 people being present, and many turned away." The Cliff's repeated as pairs champions and Daphne Walker won the bronze medal behind Cecilia Colledge and Megan Taylor, but actually beat Megan in the free skate and reportedly received more applause than either of her older competitors. The men's event was far closer than the one held that March, with Sharp's margin of victory over Tomlins depleted significantly. On his "Saturday Page", Godfrey Winn offered us a rare glimpse into the men's event and the relationship between Sharp and Tomlins: "Graham Sharp sailed on to the ice to give his exhibition of free skating. But, good though he is, the enthusiasm in the crowd is twice as great for the boy who follows, and in the five minutes allotted to him, courts disaster a dozen times by the daring of his leaps and turns. There is a roar as he makes his exit. I look at the programme excitedly. Freddie Tomlins. The name is new to me. Perhaps to you, too. Remember it. He is going to be the champion one day. Afterwards I went behind the scene and met this comet in the skating world. On the final figures of the judges he was placed second to Sharp by a very small margin. You might have expected him to be disappointed. You might have expected a feeling of tenseness between the two close rivals, the assured champion and the youngster stepping on his heels. But not a bit of it. Sharp and Tomlins talked to me with their arms around each other's shoulders. 'If he could do figure skating like I can, and I could put up his show at free-skating, we'd win the World Championship between us,' Sharp explains. 'Anyway, we're off to Berlin next month, aren't we Tommy, to see what we can do!' Tommy grins. He is shy. All his articulation lies in his feet. But all the same it easy for me to see that there is not a scrap of jealousy in his nature. He has done is best, he has been beaten at the post by a better man. He acknowledges the other's superiority and thereby gains new laurels for himself. Some people would have gone home blaming the judges, picking holes in their rival's perfection. In short, they would have spoiled the thought of having held a prize at all by the vain envy of the man or woman who topped the poll."

The next time you bemoan the expense and time off work involved in attending one National Championships a year, be thankful that you didn't have to attend seven!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Flemings In The Fens: How Pattens Came To England

"Winter Landscape With A Boy On Skates Pushing A Sled", 1627 painting by Flemish artist Salomon van Ruysdael

Early chronicles of how iron skates and figure skating first arrived in Great Britain tend to focus heavily on accounts from Samuel Pepys' diaries and the British royals exiled in Holland who taught the English Country Dance to Dutch women in exchange for skating lessons. However, little credit is given to another group who greatly influenced the development of skating in England during the same era... the Flemish and French protestants who fled en masse to the British Isles to escape religious persecution from the Catholics.

In the seventeenth century, refugee Protestants from Lille, Turcoing, Sainghin and the French Walloons arrived in England in droves. Many worked alongside Dutch settlers draining fens and building dykes in the East Anglia region which is now comprised of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire counties. It is believed that on the frozen fens in that part of the country, these refugees may have exposed many Brits to the joys of skating. In his 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History", skating historian Nigel Brown noted, "When in 1625 Charles I engaged the great Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, to drain the Isle of Axholme and various parts of the Eastern Counties he appears to have employed French and Flemish workmen, who would have known of skating although they may not have practiced it in England. That the word 'pattens', meaning a pair of skates, was used in the Fen district up until nearly the end of the nineteenth century indicates very conclusively that skating was introduced by French and Flemish refugees. The point, however, which is important is that the type of society which did bring it to the waterlogged area was that of workmen or artisans whose skating activities would be confined to its utility as a form of locomotion, and where pleasure and fun entered, to speed." Interestingly, up until the twentieth century it was in 'the fen country' that speed skating flourished while in the higher class areas of England, figure skating dominated.

Nigel Brown's assertion that the term 'pattens', a derivative of 'patiner' and 'patin' (the French verb for 'to skate' and the noun for 'skate'), was used well up until the end of the nineteenth century in 'the fen country' is certainly verifiable with primary sources. In his 1892 book "Skating", John Moyer Heathcote remarked, "Passing through Whittlesea in December of last year (1890), I observed an advertisement displayed by an enterprising but imperfectly educated mechanic of that town announcing, 'Pattons grond here!'"

What's quite interesting is the fact that at the same time skates were being referred to as 'pattens' in East Anglia by the descendants of those seventeenth century French and Flemish refugees, the rest of Victorian England was embracing a practical invention of the same name. 'Pattens' were a metal platform that were nailed to shoes that allowed the well-to-do to traverse filthy city streets without getting their feet covered in mud, horse droppings and the steady stream of human sewage from chamber pots that was often ankle deep.

In the late nineteenth century, British skating judge and historian George Herbert Fowler noted the regional nature of the term 'patten' and hypothesized further as to how it came to be used in Cornwall:
"The Fenmen of to-day still use 'patten' for 'skate' all over the eastern counties; beyond their boundaries I have only heard the word once, namely, in Cornwall, where my friend, Mr. [Edgar] Syers, gleaned the delightful phrase, 'skittering on pattens.' As a skating frost is a great rarity in Cornwall, the word is not likely to be indigenous, and may have been brought by the east coast fishermen, who frequent Cornish harbours in great numbers." 

Cuthbert Bede, writing in "The Leisure Hour" in 1876, acknowledged that the term 'pattens' had more than even those two meanings and was also used to describe shoes worn in Turkish baths and the base of a wooden foot-stall or partition. He wrote, "But if, in France, a skate is called patin, it is called patten in East Anglia. The fen-men of Lincolnshire and Huntingdonshire, even at the present day, when Whittlesea Mere and many fens exist but in name, invariably speak of their skates as 'pattens'. A fen-man would seem to be born a skater, and to ask for his pattens as naturally as he would cry for his first food. If the little boys in Pekin are adepts in skating, the fen-boys of England can rival them; and although a fen-woman may not often skate to market with her poultry and butter poised on her head, a fen-man has frequently done so, just as if he had been 'to the manner born' in Rotterdam, Antwerp, Dordrecht, Haarlem, Utrecht or Moerdyk, instead of bearing reared within sight of the spires, towers, and 'stump' of Whittlesea, Ely, Crowland, Wisbeach or Boston."

Skaters in Lincolnshire

Had it not been for those Flemish and French refugees who fled the religious persecution, the many 'pattens' wouldn't have woven their way into the pattern of England's skating history... and many everyday people wouldn't likely have been exposed to a popular pastime of the well-to-do as early as they were. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The Aeros And Berolina Eisrevues

Created in 1956 as a branch of the Circus Aeros and originally known as the Aeros-Eisrevue, the Berolina-Eisrevue became thusly known after the name 'Aeros' sparked confusion from audiences confused whether or not they were attending the circus or an ice show. The show, which featured a cast of Czechoslovakian and East German skaters, integrated into the VEB Zentral-Zirkus Berlin in 1961 and toured Europe, setting up portable ice rinks in circus tents.

Photo courtesy German Federal Archives

The idea of a touring, circus style ice show was nothing new to German audiences at the time. In the late forties, British impresario Tom Arnold had established a similar touring company in West Germany. Not long after the show began, one of his employees, Hanns Thelen, left the company. Taking several of the show's skaters with him, Mr. Thelen established the Scala Eisrevue of 1951. Jacqueline du Bief recalled, "At a time in when more than half Germany lived in camps, caravans and reception centres, and when most of the streets were in ruins, it would have been ridiculous to look for buildings in which to perform... In one year, Mr. Thelen equipped and organized his show according to the German circus tradition. Not only was the show performed under canvas, but the artistes lived in caravans. Sets, organization, discipline, and mentality, everything in this show... can be summed up in one word: 'Circus.'"

In its early years, the Aeros-Eisrevue featured a more diverse cast of European skaters, but by the early sixties under the Berolina-Eisrevue name, only Czechoslovakian and East German skaters participated. This would have been due to the fact the VEB Zentral-Zirkus was state sponsored and the show's choreographer, Boris (Bohumil) Milec, was Czechoslovakian. Unlike the large scale touring North American shows and British pantomimes of the era, the Aeros and Berolina Eisrevues didn't boast any big headliners whatsoever. Much of the shows consisted of ensemble work, focused more so on showy costumes and sets than excellent skating. In one show, Eastern bloc skaters took audiences in Communist countries 'around the world', offering their interpretations of the cultures of New York, Havana, Cairo and Peking. These skating acts likely gave spectators living behind the Iron Curtain some wild ideas about what life was like in 'exotic' distant lands.

The show disbanded at the end of the 1962 season due to both a lack of suitable professional skaters and the fact the equipment the tour used for mobile ice production was wearing down after almost ten years of constant use. Although we don't often consider the Aeros and Berolina Eisrevues when reflecting upon the touring ice shows of the fifties and sixties, these shows are certainly an interesting footnote to the skating history of that period.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

#Unearthed: A Skating Romance

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's #Unearthed is a story called "A Skating Romance", which appeared in the Chicago daily newspaper "The Day Book" on December 11, 1912. Its author, Augustus Goodrich Sherwin, was a cloth salesman who moonlighted as a writer for extra money. F. Scott Fitzgerald he was not, but he certainly penned a charming tale I think you'll enjoy reading!


The ice on the river was burnished by the bright sunlight till it shone like a sheet of gold. Half a hundred happy persons hovered about, and Nelly Blair was the center of her own little group of select friends.

There was a pout upon her lips and a discontented, almost angry expression in her eyes. She stamped her little foot until the skate blade rang.

"I will never speak to Lisle Jordan again!" she declared. "I have a good mind to send him back the engagement ring."

"Don't be foolish, Nelly," advised her sister. "You are making a great big mountain out of a very small mole hill."

"Big? Little?" gasped Nelly, her eyes full of tears. "I saw him skating away from everybody with one of the new academy girls. His arm was around her, and I am sure I saw him kiss her.

"Did he see you, Nellie?" enquired her sister.

"He acted as if he didn't want to see me," cried the vexed girl. "He was to be here to skate with me two hours ago and-"

"Why, there he is now, Nelly; there is some mistake. He must have just come from home."

But Nelly was not in hearing now and soon she was out of sight. She had glanced just once at an approaching figure. It was her lover, with his skates over his shoulder.

Nelly was soon far from the general throng. Every moment she felt more absurd and perverse. When she came to where the river divided, she took the far western branch.

Here the ice was a clear, brilliant sheet, scarcely marked. Nelly rested for a moment. Then she casually noticed a man coming her way. He wore a very fancy skating costume and his progress was the rarest poetry of motion.

Nelly drew back timidly. The stranger was a foreigner, with jet black eyes and a waxed moustache. He lightly kissed the tips of his fingers, he smiled and bowed with an excess of courtesy.

"Beautiful, very beautiful," he said, and Nelly was more astonished than ever. He described a wonderful circle on one foot, and then with a flourish, made a series of quick whirls.

Nelly gasped and flushed at the audacity of the man. Plainly he had written on the ice with wonderful skill a name.

It was: "Nelly."

"How dare you?" flashed forth the little lady, but, with a delighted laugh, the expert skater was off on a long glide, and farther away Nelly him once more write that name on the glassy surface of the ice.

"Oh, dear! I am the most friendless and forlorn bing the world!" burst forth Nelly. "Everybody is cruel to me."

The expert skater was manoeuvring between the spot where Nelly was and the junction of the rivers. Nelly was really frightened at the impertinent, airy fellow, as she judged him. She got out of his way by skating on. Finally she espied a cut-off leading to the other river branch. It had steep clay sides, and Nelly started along it.

Crack-swish-crack, crack! Nelly uttered a sharp, sudden cry of dismay. The frail rubber ice was bending under her weight. Then one foot went through it to the ankle. She darted for shore, but though at every step her feet broke through, she gained the bank.

A driftwood log was there, and Nelly sat down on it, breathless and with wet feet. All her sudden temper was subdued. How lonesome it was! How foolish she had been! In regaining the main river she might incur no actual danger, but her feet might sink in deeper.

"There is no Lisle to find me," mourned the dejected maid. "I suppose all men flirt. I wish - I wish I hadn't run away. Oh, dear!" and Nelly burst out crying.

She looked up at the sound of clanging skate blades and crackling ice. Her lover was coming towards her. She could read the anxiety and solicitude in his pale, earnest face. In his expertness he evaded breaking through the ice.

"Why, Nelly," he cried in a glad, relieved tone. "I feared I should not find you. If it were not for a skater I met who had seen you come this way, I might have searched for hours. And in trouble, too, poor little girl!"

"Yes, I am in dreadful trouble," sobbed Nelly. "Was it a man in a fancy costume you met?"

"Yes - a stranger - looked like a foreigner."

"He is a bold, bad man," blazed out Nelly. "He smiled at me - and deliberately wrote my name on the ice. I was never so affronted in my life."

"He did, eh?" flared up Lisle, in his turn. "Well, we'll see about that. Now, little girl, I'll carry you over the rubber ice here, and we'll just go and bring that impertinent fellow to time."

Nelly nestled in his arms so gladly that he forgot all her pet grievances.

"Now you must skate to keep from freezing," advised the thoughtful lover. "I must get you home just as quickly as possible."

"Oh - I am not the least bit cold, and I don't mind the wet one bit," declared Nelly, with a joyous thrill at being under such lovable protection again.

"Ah, there is that insolent fellow!" exclaimed Lisle, as they came to a bend in the river and the man who had so frightened Nelly was in view. "You wait here while I attend to the gentleman."

"How strong, how brave is Lisle," enthused Nelly, as she watched her lover approach the object of her complaint. Then, to her astonishment, instead of a stormy collision there was a perfectly friendly meeting. The stranger bowed and showed the most extravagant courtesy. Lisle skated back to Nelly, his face in a broad smile.

"Why," he observed, "there is, of course, only one Nelly in the world for me, but there are two Nelly's mixed up in this skating experience."

"What do you mean, Lisle?" asked Nelly bewilderingly.

"That gentleman yonder and his wife are a roller skating team who are here with a vaudeville company. He was simply practicing on ice skates. His wife's name is the same as yours, and he was delighted to find he was able to write it on the ice."

"Oh, dear! What a foolish girl I have been," said Nelly.

"Your sister told me of your mistake about myself," pursued Lisle.

"Mistake?" repeated Nelly.

"Yes, dear. The person you mistook for me was a college friend, Jack Delmar. I loaned him my outfit this morning."

"Oh, Lisle! Can you ever forgive me for doubting you?" almost sobbed Nelly. "That Jack Delmar, though, is a bold fellow - I saw him kiss the girl with him."

"Why not? She is one of the seminary girls, and Jack is engaged to her. I tell you, Nelly, Jack is a fine fellow."

Nelly nestled closer to her lover, subdued, contrite, but immensely happy. Then she glanced up archly, and said: "And you are a fine fellow, too, Lisle!"

He was not adverse to the delicate hint, and their kiss of reconciliation was as well the kiss of peace and perfect understanding."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Featured Post

Pre-Order Your Copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King"

  "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" won't be available for purchase until November 1, but the good news is that you can place...