Active until the end, the Duke of Wellington was an advocate of exercise and fresh air. In a letter to Angela Burdett-Coutts, he sent the following encouragement:
“Don’t repine! My Dear! that you are a Woman! There is nothing to prevent your skaiting; excepting the difficulty and want of opportunity now, possibly, of learning. But Women skait habitually in the Countries in which the Ice is certain annually, and in England I have seen Ladies skait beautifully. The best that I have seen, I think, is Lady Catherine Cavendish, and Her skaiting is admirable! But I have seen many who skait very well; as well at least as most Men . . . . “
Ice skating became so popular in Scotland that the first skating club was established in Edinburgh in 1742. In 1848, E. W. Bushnell invented the first all-iron ice skate that could be clipped to a boot. During the 1800’s, the popularity of ice skating skyrocketed. Skating clubs opened in London, Vienna and New York and rinks were built in Toronto, Canada and Davos, Switzerland. In 1876, the first artificially frozen ice rink, called the Glaciarium, was opened in London by John Gamgee and was mechanically refrigerated. Figure skating was first included as an event at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.
Here are two fun pictures of ice skaters from our favorite era. On the right is “The Skating Minister” by Henry Raeburn, from the National Gallery of Scotland, painted in the 1790’s. The full title is The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch.
The second portrait, below, is by American Gilbert Stuart, painted in 1782, “The Skater,” aka Portrait of William Grant, part of the Andrew W. Mellon Collection in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C.
Should you wish to take up the Duke’s advice, here are a few locations in London where you can practice your “skaiting.”
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland – 19 November to 3 January – Each year, Hyde Park becomes home to Central London’s largest open air ice skating rink. £30.00 per session. Ice guides are available to escort your party on the ice.Each Ice guide can look after up to 15 skaters and will be exclusive to your group for the 1 hour session.
Somerset House – 5 November to 17 January – The 18th century courtyard provides a magical setting for the ice rink, graced by a 12 foot Xmas tree. A skating school is held on the Somerset House Ice Rink on weekdays from 8.30-9.30am for adults, and there’s also Penguin Club, which teaches kids how to skate.
Natural History Museum – 5 November to 9 January – The Natural History Museum ice rink features a special viewing platform for spectators and visitors, providing a perfect place to enjoy a break from the ice. Visit the ice side Cafe Bar for food, drink and a chat with fellow skaters, before heading back to the ice for another quick spin or two. The Cafe Bar is always a popular addition to the ice skating, serving up mulled wine, hot chocolate and a great birdseye view of the ice rink itself.
Tower of London – 20 November to 9 January – Located in the dry moat beneath the fortress, the real-ice rink offers the chance to skate in a truly unique setting on the banks of the River Thames. The Moat Cafe offe
rs hot drinks to warm the cockles of skater’s hearts.
Hampton Court Palace – 27 November to 9 January – One of London’s most dramatic ice rinks, the rink at Hampton Court Palace is set against the backdrop of Henry VIII’s Tudor palace. The 900-square-metre rink which has room for 250 skaters. The adjacent café serves hot chocolate and snacks.