Littleport and an old skater’s dream of an outdoor ice stadium!

Most fairy stories begin with once upon a time, but this is no fairy story although it begins with that time-honoured phrase and ends with another, expressing a hoped-for ‘and they lived happily ever after!’

Once upon a time lots of ice speed skaters, bandy playing enthusiasts and thousands who just loved skating, including watching skating too, crowded into Littleport when the water on the Moors was frozen…

How did this come about? A keen fen skater, Thomas Peacock, had accrued a tidy fortune in lands and towns far away, and came home to Littleport to put his money to good use.

Opening a garment factory in 1882, he enabled the women and girls of his village to come in from the fields where they had always laboured for little recompense, to another less brutal way of earning a proper wage.

The building overlooked a field next to the Littleport railway station, called the Moors, 28 acres of flood plain. Thomas decided to buy the lease in 1891 and to deliberately flood it in the freezing winter to create a specially designated skating ground. Until then the local river and dykes had been the site of racing events and recreational activities.

The neighbouring village of Welney and famous Welney Wash had always hosted races that many of its sons and daughters had raced on and won. And all over the fens there was good skating when the ice set solid enough, made famous too by the bandy players of Bluntisham on Berry or Bury Fen who had not only done well in the league matches organised by the National Bandy Association, but became champions abroad as well!

The Littleport Skating Association, that was also a member and had a team playing in the NBA’s league, enjoyed hosting all the events on the Moors. The first big race was held there in January 1892.

Only 3 years later, in 1895, Littleport’s benefactor died suddenly. At least he had had the pleasure of seeing Littleport become a skating Mecca with thousands coming to the village by rail from London and Lynn for that first and subsequent events on the prepared ice ground.

The last races took place in 1912 and the outbreak of the 1914 war seemed to also signal an end to organised skating in Littleport.

When skating and racing became a possibility again after 1918, Welney once again became the primary venue for Littleport skaters, and general skating and racing took place whenever the winter frosts permitted across the fen region under the auspices of the Fen Centre that was always recognised as the governing body for outdoor skating. It is affiliated to the British Ice Skating organisation that was originally called the National Skating Association set up in Cambridge in 1897 ostensibly and primarily to establish an amateur v professional set of rules that also forbade betting on race results etc., and the giving of prizes of monetary value and substance.

A new initiative following Thomas Peacock and the old Littleport Skating Association’s lead has been started by Lyn Gibb-de Swarte who 5 years ago consulted with Littleport architectural designer Ian Rose to draw up plans for a stadium with a 400 meter track for speed skating and a 100 x 60 meter inner ice pad for Bandy matches.

So far there has been much stirring of interest in the media both broadcast and print – but no funding forthcoming.

This area of artificially frozen ice the size of a football pitch with a running track round it covered over or more cheaply uncovered would so benefit the community in every way, economically and socially and put Littleport back where it belongs on the skating map of the world. Why not join the effort and message Lyn on Facebook or email Together we can make it a real happy ever after story.

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