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News > Heritage > Winter at Bradfield

Winter at Bradfield

Skating and other winter pursuits
28 Nov 2019
Bradfield boys skating at Englefield c 1918
Bradfield boys skating at Englefield c 1918
From the early days of the College, skating was part of winter life at Bradfield and whenever it froze for long enough, quite commonly and certainly more frequently than nowadays, the boys would head over to Englefield Park where Bradfield pupils had a long-established privilege of access to roam from the 5th form up. This permission was used abundantly for egg-collecting, dormouse-catching, chestnut-harvesting and in the winter, skating.  

The following is from reminiscences by an assistant master, ALH, written in 1899 & his description of St Andrew's day, 30th November - a whole day holiday then and very much celebrated within the College:
  ‘On St Andrew’s Day, 1856 the lake in Englefield Park was frozen hard, & the school, masters and boys, skated and slid there for a great part of the day... Besides the whole holiday, there was a bonfire, with fireworks of the baser sort after dark. The latter were liable to abuse, and even to danger amongst the smaller boys...'

Not many decades later, the winter of 1890-91 had an exceptional cold spell that was to last from the 25th of November 1890 to the 22nd of January 1891. Lakes, rivers and canals froze to depths of several inches and the Thames was almost completely frozen over. Here below is a remarkable OB reminiscence of skating on the Thames the entire way from Reading to Oxford, a risky undertaking covering a distance of around 40 miles. 

The letter to The Times from John Martin Routh (OB 1857-65), was published in The Chronicle, March 1926:
  ‘On a Sunday in January, 1891, I got on the ice at Reading and skated to Pangbourne, where I met with three good skaters, strangers to  me, who had come from London that morning. On my mentioning that I thought of trying to get to Oxford, they agreed to come with me.    Unfortunately for them they got off the ice at Wallingford for luncheon, which proved to be their undoing, as, indeed, I anticipated. On  arriving at Abingdon Lock it was nearly dark, and the lock-keeper told me that it would be dangerous to go on as some of the ice above  me had been broken some time before. Luckily for me, a man who had just skated down from Oxford, finding that I was determined to go  on in the dark, very kindly said that he would return with me, and we finished the journey together. On that day the surface of the ice was  very rough, as wet snow had been frozen on it; but the only walking I did was past the locks… Eight days afterwards, my sister and I  skated down from Oxford to Cleve Lock, Goring; the ice had much improved in the interim.’

 The photos below are from a small personal album from the Archive. It is not named but one of the boys is John Cecil Neve (OB 1916-20) – his name is on the back of a photo, and it shows the boys skating at Englefield with rudimentary skates that were strapped over every day boots. One of the pictures shows them sledging in front of House on the Hill. (Click on each photo to see it in full.)

From School Notes in the Chronicle March 1929: ‘Thanks to the kindness of Mr Benyon the school enjoyed a long spell of skating on Englefield Pond. We had not before realised that so many humble exteriors in our midst harboured expert figure-skaters and ice-hockey players. The speed with which the novices discarded the horizontal position was quite astonishing.’

It is nice to imagine that the College had a store of skates and sledges that were handed out on snowy half-holidays. Does anybody know? And are there any more recent reminiscences of skating, perhaps in the freeze of 1963? Email


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