Local Historical Stories


Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - one of our local historians was asked if he would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. He thought he could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they were still going. Once, and only once, he received an unsolicited article from an outside source, this was the reminiscence of a school for wartime evacuees at Nent Hall that came from Mr. Michael Dickinson and it was gratefully included in the series.

They’re a real mixed bag, too random to put into a book, but they’re still worth keeping in a more permanent form, so the Historical Society website seemed the perfect place to have them.

Material for the articles came largely from local sources, from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, St. Augustine’s Church Records, Alston Library, the Cumbria County Records Office in Carlisle and the County Records Office Northumberland.

There has been editing in some cases that will be noted at the beginning of each item, otherwise the articles have been left as they were written, complete with occasional references to such things as cement lorries, the millennium, and foot and mouth disease, which are themselves now things of the past (?).
Read on …

Story No 7: Alston's Skating Rink


On the 30th October 1880, under the caption “EARLY WINTER”, it was reported that – “Snow has fallen incessantly since early on Wednesday morning accompanied with heavy winds, the hill tops in some places being covered to the depth of 15 inches.”

The weather prompted a letter to the Editor:-
“Sir - Winter is coming on apace, and those who tasted the pleasure of skating last winter are wondering if there will be any ice this time to help them to pass a few pleasant hours in this out of the way region. Is there any person speculative enough to flood a field? There are some that could be transformed into a sheet of ice at very little cost, and I am sure skaters would willingly pay an admittance fee or even purchase a pass for the whole season. However that may be, someone may be able to suggest a way to give lovers of skating a chance of enjoying themselves.
Trusting this will be done to bring about the above, -
I am &c. ‘ACME’, Alston Oct. 21st. 1880”

In the same edition ‘SPECTATOR’ was having thoughts along the same lines:-
“Many suggestions with a view to enlivening the dreary spare hours of winter have been made to me; one friend proposes an amateur concert, another a cat show, and another suggested the formation of a curling and also a skating club. I think the last suggestion is a good one, and most likely to receive general support. It is my opinion little or no difficulty would be experienced in obtaining a plot of ground convertable to such a purpose, and at only a small cost: I am requested therefore to invite suggestions on the subject through your medium, after which, no doubt, a public meeting will be convened to take into consideration such a scheme.”

The following week’s paper on the 6th November saw this report:-
“SNOW STORM - A snow storm of great violence was experienced on Wednesday and Thursday week accompanied by a strong north east wind. Considerable damage was done to telegraph wires in this neighbourhood, communication by which was entirely interrupted for some time. By force of wind together with the weight of the snow, many trees were nearly stripped of their branches, some broken down, while others were uprooted.”

During that week the Alston with Garrigill Board of Guardians had received complaints, “of snow having been thrown from the (pavement) flags onto some portions of the public street, rendering it almost impassable”.

The idea of flooding a field in order to make a skating rink was not quickly taken up. On the 13th November ‘SPECTATOR’ wrote:-
“Not having heard anything more from my friends in regard to a skating pond for Alston, I am afraid they have been discouraged by the fact that no further correspondence has taken place. I can assure them that many would join in a scheme as intimated by ‘Acme’, in your edition of 30th ult., and only requires a little more energy to bring it to a favourable issue. I have myself inspected several fields admirably suited for such a purpose, and shall be glad of a call from anyone interested in an undertaking of the kind.”

However, the snow did not last. Perhaps it was the thaw which led to a report on the 20th November that, “the road near Mr. Thomas Bowman’s residence at Clitheroe was flooded to a depth of nearly three feet”.

‘Spectator’s’ letter at last spurred some residents into action, for, on the 27th November 1880, the ‘Herald’ reported that:-
“A meeting to consider the flooding of a field for a skating rink belonging to Mr. William Hymers, of the Golden Lion Hotel, was held on Tuesday evening last at the Golden Lion. Satisfactory arrangements were made, and preparations are now being carried out for the purpose intimated. Twelve gentlemen who attended the meeting formed themselves into a committee. Mr. Lawrence James was appointed treasurer and Mr. James Akerigg secretary. It was decided the season tickets for admission be 2s.6d.; for workmen and boys 1s.6d. (What about women and girls?) Non members will be charged 3d. for each admission.”

Wintry weather soon returned. On the 4th December it was reported: “A severe storm of wind and rain was experienced here on Sunday last and during the week the weather has been extremely boisterous”. But as yet there was no return of snow.

Also that week there was news of the:-
The committee of this society held their second meeting on Tuesday evening and reported favourable progress, the trial to flood the field belonging to Mr. William Hymers of the Golden Lion Hotel being a great success. The committee, composed of the following gentlemen, are now open to sell tickets for the season 1880 and 1881: Mr. Lawrence James hon. treasurer, Mr. James Akerigg, hon. secretary, Messrs. Jacob Walton, Joseph R. Walton, H. L. Dickinson, Stewart Carson, jnr., H. S. Dryden, Edmund Crawhall, F. B. Sheppard (Alston Herald office), Maughan, Charles Millican, John Dawson, grocer, and Cranston, grocer. Season tickets 2s.6d. each; evening(?) tickets 1s.6d. each, daily tickets 3d.”

And ‘SPECTATOR’ celebrated:-
“Hurrah boys! as will be seen in another column, the Skating Club committee reports having had great success in flooding the field and are now open to sell tickets for the season. By jove - little Alston is certainly coming out in its old age - only fancy a skating pond! and in such close proximity too, where everyone can by paying the small sum of half a crown participate in the invigorating and graceful pastime for the whole season. The weather for the last week had certainly been unfavourable for it, but the clerk of the weather is sure before long to give us a turn so don’t hesitate but purchase your ticket at once. The committee are determined to study the interests and convenience of its members, and will not under any pretence whatever, allow any but members in the field so that holders of tickets will be prevented being annoyed by non-members and lads.”

Unfortunately further progress for December is a mystery, as there are no Skating Club activities reported for the rest of the month.

Then, on the 1st January 1881:-
The hard frost which prevailed last week provided plenty of ice for those who indulge in this enjoyable exercise. During the afternoon, however, the weight of people on the surface caused many cracks, and the field, when darkness set in, had to be abandoned. It was expected that the severe frost, together with careful management, would enable the members to continue the skating next day, but in consequence of a very heavy fall of snow during the night the case was a hopeless one.”

During January, temperatures of minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, or 42 degrees below freezing were recorded in the Tyne Valley, and there were three weeks of continuous frost. On the 15th January 1881 it was noted that:-
“The field flooded for the purpose of skating has been well patronised during the past week or ten days, owing to the severe frost which has prevailed during that time.”

The weather remained in favour of the Skating Rink (but not in favour of anything else). On the 22nd January:- “The weather continues very severe, on Tuesday the thermometer showed nine degrees below zero.” The streets were in “a very dangerous state”, but the Skating Club was very buoyant:-
During this week skating has been carried on with great spirit, but owing to the poor state of the ice in the field, several members of the society took advantage of the river, which is covered for a considerable distance with a good coating. Skating has become a favourite recreation in this district.”

Now then, do we want a winter fit for a skating rink, or are we in favour of global warming?
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Alston Moor Historical Society was founded in 1973 and, due to the nature of Alston Moor, it is a member of both the Northumberland Association of Local History Societies and the Cumbria Federation of Local History Societies.
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