The Glaciarium - the first artificial ice rink


The Glaciarium - the first artificial ice rink

People have skated for pleasure outdoors for thousands of years, but the indoor rink is a much more recent phenomenon - first appearing in London in the 1840s - the amazing Glaciarium!

London's first artificial skating rink was an early experiment - appearing in 1841. It wasn't made of water but from a mixture of chemicals and pig fat.

By 1844 the "Glaciarium" had arrived - a larger version of the original "pig fat and chemicals" rink with a surface of 3,000 feet. It opened at the Baker Street Bazaar in Portman Square and was decorated with painted alpine scenery, with live music by a resident promenade band.

Visitors included Prince Albert and Prince Alexander of the Netherlands.

However, enthusiasm for the novelty faded quickly due to the smelliness of the ice substitute and the Glaciarium closed by the end of the year ... not to return for 30 years.

In the meantime, various accidents underlined the danger of winter outdoor skating on lakes and rivers. There was a particularly tragic accident on the frozen Regent's Park lake in 1867. 40 people died in what is still the worst ice disaster in London.

In January 1876 the new Glaciarium opened in Chelsea. It was the world’s first mechanically frozen water based ice rink.

Initially opened in a small tent to test the market, it moved to its permanent home in the Kings Road a few months later, where an all-year round ice rink measuring 40 feet by 24 feet was installed.

Created by the British inventor, John Gamgee, it was based on a method that he had accidentally discovered while trying to develop a method of freezing meat for import from Australia.

The Glaciarium was made from a concrete basin, with copper pipes carrying a special mixture of glycerine with ether, nitrogen peroxide and water. Water was pumped onto the basin, and frozen by the copper pipes.

The artificial ice-rink was operated on a membership-only basis to attract wealthy customers who were used to skating in the Alps on their winter holidays.

There was an orchestra gallery, which could also be used by spectators, and like his predecessor Henry Kirk, Gamgee decorated the walls with views of the Swiss Alps.

A second Glaciarium shortly followed, floating on a large barge on the Thames at Charing Cross to mimic the long lost frost fairs.

Unfortunately, the frozen ice tended to give off a mist as the building was itself not kept cool, and skating in the icy fog proved to be unpopular. The ice rinks closed just a couple of years later, in 1878.

There were a number of short-lived experiments in the following decades. Eventually the advances in refrigeration technologies in the early 20th century, driven mainly by the need to keep food fresh, led to the indoor ice-rink of today.

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