In this article, I wish to tell the story of great teacher Bernard Adams, and how he became a professional skater. The story bears on ice-making and it has never been told in print. Bernard told me that when he was about sixteen years of age his father, architect to the Leeds Corporation, died leaving the family none too well off. He therefore left school, and having nothing to do and looking for a job, was asked if he would care to look after an ice surface which had been laid down in the basement of the Londesborough Theatre in Scarborough. Whether the process, which he told me was the patent of a Serbian Doctor, was that of Professor Gamgee I do not know. He was, furthermore, asked if he would be prepared to demonstrate skating to enquirers.
He took on the job, bought a book on skating and taught himself from it. Bernard Adams was subsequently brought to London to teach, and became the first man to be a double gold, i.e. to pass the first-class tests in both the English and the International styles of skating.
There is no doubt that the experiments carried out in the science of ice-making caused a resurgence of interest in figure-skating. After the period of Jones and his associates, and during the terrific frosts of the early nineteenth century, racing became almost a passion with the English, and from the records available, we find a continuous deterioration in its conduct, until the foundation of the National Skating Association of Great Britain in 1879.
Most of the racing before that time was for wagers and there can be no doubt that the enormous amount of betting done, led to every conceivable form of crookedness and irregularity. There are, of course, on record, incidents of a lighter character, as for example the race in 1805 between 130 young Dutchwomen held at Leeuwarden in Holland. In 1818 a famous race was held in Lancashire, the first prize, a hat, being won by a man named Marsh and the second prize, a bottle of gin, by a veteran called Harrison. These and other similar events with a variety of prizes from half a crown to a few guineas are reported in the Sporting Magazine, a widely read publication of that period.
The Stamford Mercury, one of the oldest journals in England, records a race at Crowland on January 28, 1820, for a prize of five guineas, in which the fastest English skaters, John Young and Charles and John Staplee raced against J. Gittam of Nordelph, Holland, who was the winner!
The same journal reports that this victory established Gittam as the champion and he was backed by Mr. Woodward, a well-known sportsman, to skate a straight mile, with a flying start, in less than three minutes, which he did at Prickwillow, on January 4th, 1821, with seven seconds to spare.
By this time racing had gripped the imagination of the people and it became one of the most popular sports in the country. Gittams superiority did not last long, for on January 14th, 1823, he, and sixteen others, the fastest men in Europe, were all beaten by J. Young of Nordeiph over a mile, for a prize of £10.00. Young, who must not be confused with Young of Mepal, remained supreme, challenged over and over again until 1830, when, in his thirty-third year, he was beaten.