The Littleport Society gives you a look into the past glories and fascinating facts about the village!

Chair of the Society Roger Rudderham tells us about: Henrick Lindahl And The Littleport Challenge Cup

The Littleport Skating Club advertised the first race for their Littleport Challenge Cup for the 23rd December 1892. The Fifty Guinea Challenge Cup was made of solid silver, weighed 100 ounces, and was two feet three inches in height and seventeen inches wide. Anyone winning the cup three times in succession was to be declared outright winner and owner of the splendid trophy.

The Club also offered a Twenty Guinea Cup. This was also solid silver and weighed 42 ounces and stood fourteen inches in height. There was also a Ten Guinea Cup and two Five Guinea Cups.

On the day of the race 3,127 person passed the turnstiles – 2249 gentlemen and 878 ladies. All necessary preparation had been made for the comfort of the spectators, including refreshment places for intoxicants and nonintoxicants. The Challenge Cup race was run over a distance of one and half miles with five turns, and run against the clock.

Of the sixteen competitors four came from Welney including James and Jarman Smart. There was one competitor from Littleport, James Sparrow, but his poor time disqualified him in the first heat. In the final heat James Smart beat Fred Ward of Tydd Fen by just 20 seconds to win the cup and the £10 prize.

The next race for the Challenge Cup was advertised to be run in December 1893. However, the weather did not permit it to be contested until a deep freeze on the 8th January 1894. Amongst the 42 competitors was a stranger by the name of Henrick Lindahl, who came from Redditch, near Birmingham.

Henrick Lindahl was born in 1869 in Harmarstift, Norway. His skating career began in 1887, in a one mile race in Gjovick which he easily won and was awarded a silver cup. He went on to win many more races, becoming Amateur Champion of Norway in 1890 and 1891. In 1891 a match was arranged between him and Harold Hagen, the Norwegian Professional Champion over a distance of five miles, and Lindahl beat him by just one second. Shortly after this Lindahl married an English girl, and they came to England and settled in Redditch, where Henrick earned a living as a plumber. He had not entered a race in England until he was tempted by an advertisement for the race at Littleport for the Challenge Cup.

Henrick Lindahl had been in Littleport five days before the race practising on the course, whereas, James Smart, the holder of the cup, arrived only two hours before the race was to start, not knowing what a formidable rival he had in the Norwegian. A crowd of 3,444 persons assembled onto the ice to witness the great contest, and they were not disappointed. In an exciting final Lindahl beat Smart by 20 seconds to walk off with the Fifty Guinea Cup. A nasty rumour later circulated around the town that Smart had offered Lindahl £25 if he would let him win. Both men, however, strongly denied any truth in the slander.

In 1895 the Littleport Skating Club organised the race for the Challenge Cup on the 9th February, when forty-eight entries were accepted, including James Smart, and the holder of the cup, Henrick Lindahl. The weather was very severe, but, nonethe- less, 3,700 people passed the turnstiles, with the expectation of once again witnesses the battle of the champions, although Lindahl was the favourite to win. Four competitors qualified for the final round the first heat of which must have been what the spectators had been hoping for a match between Smart and Lindahl. Both men got off to a good start, but Smart soon gained a lead of two yards, and by the finish his lead had increased to five yards, and he was cheered loudly as he passed the finish. The big surprise however, was the second heat of the final contest by Fred Ward, of Tydd Fen, and Walter Housden of Upware. Fred Ward beat Housden by 35 yards, and as the competitors had raced against the clock, Fred Ward had completed the course in the shortest time and was declared the winner, and walked off with the trophy, leaving Smart in second place and Lindahl in a disappointing third.

Henrick Lindahl fared even worse in 1897. The race was held on the 27th January, and although the ice was not in a very good condition, Lindahl had raced well and qualified for the final heats. In his final heat Lindahl met his match, and was vanquished by Joe Bates, a Lancashire lad, who completed the course in the shortest time and won the Cup. Lindahl’s poor time pushed him into fourth place. He attributed his poor time to the fact that “he was running on the left hand side of the course whilst he has been used to the right, which enabled him to turn better.”

The next race for the Challenge Cup was held on Saturday 16th December 1899. A thaw had set in and there was some water on the surface of the ice. The poor condition of the course may have accounted for the low number of entrants, only 19. Never-the-less there was some good matches, but, the big surprise was the defeat of Cup holder, Joe Bates, in the second round, leaving it relatively easy for Lindahl to take the trophy in the final.

The Challenge Cup race was not held again until 1901, when many of the old champions, including James Smart, George Smart, Fred Ward, and Henrick Lindahl entered the race. The ice was rough, and many were of the opinion that the course had been incorrectly measured out and was well under the one mile and a half, neverthe- less, the race went ahead. Although Lindahl was in top form, he found a strong opponent in his old adversary, Joe Bates, who won the trophy, putting Lindahl into second place. In the following year the race was held on the 13th February which proved unlucky for Lindahl, as he was once again defeated by Joe Bates.

Henrick Lindahl did not enter for the next three Challenge Cup races held in 1903, 1905, and 1907, but was back in top form in 1908. The race was held on the 14th January, and was attended by about 2,000 spectators. A thaw had set in the previous night which had damaged the ice, parts of which were covered by surface water Although these conditions were not good for the skaters, some exciting racing was witnessed. Lindahl, although now 45 years of age, “skated with all his accustomed grace and style and negotiated the turns splendidly,” and in the final won the Cup with ease.

The following year the race was held on 29th January, when a large number of the best Fen skaters entered the competition. Lindahl was there to fight to retain the Cup and was once again in fine form, but he had fierce competition form Sid Greenhall, the British Professional Champion. To the great excitement of the spectators Lindahl and Greenhall were matched for the final heat. Both men got off the mark well, but Greenhall soon gained a slight lead. As the gap between them closed at the third turn, Lindahl fell. He quickly recovered and soon got back into his stride. The mishap had, however, given Greenhall several yards lead, and Lindahl could not make up the lost ground, and was beaten by ten yards.

There were no further races for the Challenge Cup until 1912, which proved to be the last race run for the splendid silver trophy. Henrick Lindahl did not compete, and the Cup was won by Charles Brett of Wisbech. The trophy which was never won three times in succession by the same person, subsequently disappeared. Does anyone know where the Littleport Skating Club trophies are?

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