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Road-Skates from the 19th Century

timv's picture

Ritter Road-Skates from 1896

I was listening to music and reading The War of the Worlds last night while
waiting for some data crunching to finish when I happened to read, "We men,
with our bicycles and road-skates, our Lilienthal soaring-machines, our guns
and sticks and so forth, are just in the beginning of the evolution that the
Martians have worked out."

Huh, wait, what's that? "Road-skates" in an H.G. Wells novel from the 1890s?
Well yes, there are; and unlike the Martians (as far as we know) there actually
were real road-skates (hyphenated, just like the "heat-ray" used by the invaders
to incinerate much of southern England) that were sold and worn in Victorian
Ritter Road-Skates from 1896
I even thought about putting this aside for six weeks and posting it on April 1st
to make it look even more suspicious. But it checks out. There's a very
perceptive and entertaining 1898 review and trip report with them online. Says the author, "My first endeavors to acquire the graceful art of road-skating were distinctly grotesque, and afforded the keenest possible enjoyment to some dozens of interested spectators."

Read more and see more pictures here:




As an aside, there are lots of bicycles in the book too, a whole bunch of them.
Wells was a cycling fanatic and said that he chose locations for scenes in the
story while riding in the area around Woking where he lived. It's not hard to picture him coming up with the idea of the Martians using various mechanical devices to augment their diminished bodies as he pedaled along, meditating on
his bike as accessory for his own body.

And part of my interest in the novel comes from realizing that if the Martians
were to come to earth today and land in the location described in the book,
in the sand pits of Horsell Common, the buildings of McLaren Racing and the
McLaren Technology Center would be among the first destroyed by their fiendish


eebee's picture

Ritter Sport

The War of the Worlds. Brings back memories of losing Monopoly on a Winter's afternoon while listening to the Jeff Wayne version circa 1979. 

Incredible catch on the road-skates! I'm guessing they used the word road liberally back then. 

I noticed this couple does appear to be riding their outside edges beautifully, and circling the recovery leg around. With weight back on their heel wheels the one might not accidentally smash the other's face into the ground.



The BBC article mentions an 1880s skater who lived near the Fens in Eastern England (Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Huntingdonshire), part of which was recently featured on Best-Actress-nom'd movie w̶h̶i̶c̶h̶ ̶l̶a̶s̶t̶s̶ 45 Years. The skater in the article wore his Ritter set up for dryland training when there was no ice. I understand these days there isn't much ice in the Fens any more, whereas before they used to hold speed skating competitions, much like those in the Netherlands.


Did you see that sold Ebay listing where a pair went for three thousand quid? 


At 40 lb each skate, that's quite a workout.  


There's a surprising amount of fun info & photos online about these. Glad you posted about them. 






timv's picture

Agree that there's a

Agree that there's a surprising amount about them online, especially given that I hadn't run across any of it before.

Curious that the review I linked to by George A. Best from The Strand says they weigh "from six to eight pounds per pair." I'm not sure I totally believe either him or the source quoted in that eBay listing (remarkably well documented as it is.) To my eye, that's too much metal for four pounds each but not enough for forty. Bicycles lost weight quite quickly when they got popular and by the late 1890s. I believe forty pounds would have been heavy for a full-size bike by then, let along a miniature one for your foot.

Still I really do admire the spunk of someone who would barely learn to use them before deciding to skate 35 miles across the countryside. Folks were made of sterner stuff in those days, I guess.

I'm guessing they used the word road liberally back then.

Well that's a bit of a peeve of mine, with regard to bicycles and unicycles really.  We really don't need to buy some specialty model just for smooth graded dirt or gravel. Riding on an unpaved road isn't off-road riding. Normal roads were often like that when bikes first became popular. (This year's Paris-Nice race even includes some dirt roads, just for kicks.)

It might make for tricky skating though unless it's very smooth.

As for Jeff Wayne's concept album, all I really know of it is Justin Hayward singing, "My life will be forever autumn 'cause you're not he-ee-ee-ee-ee-re." Which as it turns out thanks to WIkipedia was originally written as a jingle for Legos!

timv's picture

Fen skating docu

Spotted in the right-hand column:


Chasing Ice: The Fen Skating Story was produced with assistance from the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP), the Fen Skating Association and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Barrie White, editor at Cambridge Filmworks, said: "It was a pleasure to put this film together, going through interviews and old archive, piecing together this uniquely Fenland story.

"Told through the testimony of actual participants, these engaging storytellers communicate the addictive nature of their somewhat random sport.

"Though they may skate on frozen Fenland only once every few years, the twinkle in their eyes as they talk of fresh ice is intriguing and charming."

Coincidence, I'm guessing...

eebee's picture

Must see

I'm going to have to watch that. Great to know they're still doing it!

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