Copyright @Jane Austen’s World. Gentle readers, as you know, the northeast has been socked in by snow, ice, gale winds, and bitterly cold temperatures today.
This is a perfect time for hunkering inside and drinking hot chocolate. Or is it?
My nephew’s children will go sledding, others will go ice skating, and my dog will bound through the snow drifts with undisguised glee, as people have done for ages.
As early as the 17th century, the noted diarist John Evelyn noted: ” Having seen the strange and wonderful dexterity of the sliders on the new canal in St James’s Park, performed before their Ma[ties] by divers gentlemen, and others with Scheetes, after the manner of the Hollander,s with what swiftnesse they passe, how suddainely they stop in full carriere upon the ice, I went home by water, but not without exceeding difficultie,s the Thames being frozen, greate flakes of ice incompassing our boate. Pepys entry is as follows: St James’s Park Dec 1 1662. “Over the Park where I first in my life it being a great frost did see people sliding with their skeates, which is a very pretty art.”
Skating has been around since 3,000 BC or thereabouts and stone age skates have been uncovered in bogs. But it was the lowlanders who took to the sport with glee, using wooden platform skates with iron runners as early as the 14th century. At first, skaters strapped their skates around their shoes with leather straps and propelled themselves forward with wooden poles.
Then, the Dutch invented a narrower double-edged metal blade that allowed them to glide with their feet, and the poles became obsolete.
Many 19th century images exist of people skating on frozen streams and ponds, and sledding or sleighing.
“..moderns sledges are used, which being extended from a centre by the means of a strong rope, those who are seated in them are moved round with great velocity, and form an extensive circle. Sledges of this kind were set upon the Thames during the hard frost in the year 1716 as the following couplet in a song written upon that occasion 1plainly proves:
“While the rabble in sledges run giddily round
And nought but a circle of folly is found” – The sports and pasttimes of the people of England
By the mid 18th century, Robert Jones described paired ice skating, or figure skating in A Treatise on Skating (1772).
Sleds and sleighs have been used for centuries to transports logs, people, and good over frozen waters all over northern Europe for centuries.
Called coasting, sliding down hills and inclines on hand sleds or sledges provided hours of pleasure, as well as a practical way to get around over frozen landscapes and water. Wooden sleds pulled by a rope are still a familiar sight today.
Fancy sleighs pulled by horses (or reindeer in the frozen north) transported groups of people, often in comfort, for their feet were placed upon footwarmers that were heated with hot coals, and their bodies were covered by thick furs or blankets.
More on the topic:
- Find images of stone age, medieval, and 18th century skates in this article: Playing through winter on snow and ice
- Keeping Warm in the Regency Era, Part One
- Keeping Warm in the Regency Era, Part Two