Tag Archives: Victorian ice skating

Advice to Young Skaters: 1874


Advice to Young Skaters.

Never try to skate in two directions at once.

Eat a few apples for refreshment’s sake, while skating, and be sure to throw the cores on the ice for fast skaters to break their shins on.

There is no law to prevent a beginner from sitting down whenever he is so inclined.

Skate over all the small boys at once. Knock ‘em down. It makes great fun, and they like it.

If you skate into a hole in the ice take it coolly. Think how you would feel if the water were boiling hot.

If your skates are too slippery buy a new pair. Keep buying new pairs until you find a pair that is not slippery.

In sitting down do it gradually. Don’t be too sudden; you may break the ice.

When you fall headlong, examine the straps of your skates very carefully before you get up. That will make everybody think you fell because your skate was loose.

Wear a heavy overcoat or cloak until you get thoroughly warmed up, then throw it off, and let the wind cool you. This will insure you a fine cold!

After you get so you can skate tolerably well, skate three or four hours—skate frantically—skate till you can’t stand.

The Spirit of Democracy [Woodsfield OH] 10 February 1874: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Inexperienced skaters might also take advantage of the useful


Our readers can see the proportions in the cut. The bottom of the runners being slightly curved, the frame is easily turned in any direction. The ends of the runners being turned up, enables the frame to pass over any reasonable impediment, thus saving it from stopping, and being thrown over forwards; the long tails would not allow it to be pulled over backwards. The skater’s hands being placed on the hand rail, between its supports, prevents her from upsetting the frame sideways.

Godey’s Lady’s Book December 1863

skating frame

Advice on skating abounded, such as How to be Decorative While Ice-Skating and what NOT to do on the ice–A Swell Party on Ice.  Mrs Daffodil’s soundest advice is to stay indoors where you may spread oil-cloth on the parlour floor and slide about to your heart’s content, with no danger of frost-bite or pneumonia from an icy plunge. There a simple tug at the bell brings a convenient tray of tea, cocoa, and biscuits, something that cannot be said for frozen ponds, which are generally not equipped with servants’ bells.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

A Swell Party on Ice: 1881

London Skating Rink, 1882, British Museum.

London Skating Rink, 1882, British Museum.

“Clara Belle” has been to the aristocratic rink in the  polo grounds, off Fifth Avenue, and discourses of her skating sisters with her usual freedom. “A swell party,” she says, ” had hired the ice for the afternoon, and were thus enabled to skate without showing their heels to common people. A great deal of solid comfort was in the warm club-house, where the girls awarded the valued privilege of putting on their skates, and that sentimental operation was performed with some newly acquired graces. There was a prosaic attendant at hand to do the work, but he was only called on to serve the older and plainer women. The more attractive girls were beset by volunteers, and one impartial maiden surrendered a foot to each of two admirers. She manifestly enjoyed the experience of having two fellows on their knees before her at a time, and bore the ordeal with unexampled patience, though they were wonderfully slow, and kept her feet in their laps at least ten minutes. Not being shoemakers, they appeared to appreciate the boon, and to be each determined to make it last longer than the other, under the pretense of having trouble with the straps. Finally her big brother came along, and pulled the buckles into place with brutal celerity. She did not say ‘thank you’ to him, and probably didn’t feel like it.”

“The assemblage,” she continues, “was comely as a whole, and had a few good exhibits of American beauty. They wore short street-costumes, in many cases quite elaborate. The fashion used to be to wear plain woolen dresses, made expressly for skating ; but it is not so now. The rage for costly fabrics is too great to be relaxed for even one afternoon. Satins, velvets, and plushes were commoner than wool, and the damage done toilets by falls on the ice was simply immense. An awkward girl, with a weight of one hundred and eighty pounds, sat down with a thud on not less than a full square yard of embossed velvet, and slid over a rough spot, utterly ruining not less than forty dollars worth of surface. But she didn’t care. I only saw one who seemed to be at all mindful of consequences. She wore a skirt of velvet and brocade satin, and evidently was resolved not to spoil it. Whenever she slipped up she managed to fall cat fashion on all fours—and to straddle about until an upright position was regained without having dragged the precious cloth on the ice. She was built like a spider, weighed about ninety pounds, and could strike light, while the other girl went down with a crushing, spreading, sprawling force that was terrific.

“The only distinctive features of dress for the occasion were on the heads and legs. Many of the women wore turban-like caps of fur, plush, or velvet ; but there were a few very coquettish hoods, of the pattern usually worn by little children, but made of handsome dark materials. These were at once warm and stylish. The hair left visible was a frizzle or bang in front, and a careless brush hanging down behind. The effect was killing, particularly if the girl had any claims to beauty of face. A close hood on a round, rosy-cheeked creature, with a bang reaching nearly to her bright eyes, and a tangle of hair flying behind her, made her simply bewitching.”

But Clara reveals the artifices of the sex with most refreshing frankness. Listen:
“One whom I have especially in mind was as artful in reality as she was innocent in aspect. Her arrangement of stockings proved it. She wore a pair of leggings, or over-hose, of knitting or crochet work, reaching from low down on her boots to a little above the ankle. They were red, and therefore conspicuous enough to draw considerable attention to her skating gear. But that was not all. Every high flop of her short skirts revealed light pink silk stockings.— just a tantalizing amount of almost flesh-colored surface above the leggings, at the point where her legs began to swell. The contrivance has often been resorted to in the ballet. It may be that I wrong her by the suspicion that her falls were not always accidental. She was a most excellent skater, and it did seem odd that she should go over on her face, with her heels kicking up behind, four times in one hour. Being of her sex I was no doubt envious. However, I did not discern any incredulity on the part of the men, who invariably rushed to her assistance, and I really believe the trickery was as pleasing to them as it was to her.”

On the whole, it is perhaps as well that we have no skating in ‘Frisco.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 22 January 1881

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Well, quite.

Young ladies who skated in crinoline in the ’60s might certainly tantalise the young men with a glimpse of stocking, but the narrower dresses of the ’80s should have rendered this delight impossible, except, of course, to this saucy siren of the ice. One wonders if this member of the “swell” skating party “swelled” her calves by means of artificial padding as young ladies did in the ’60s.

Some other posts on ice-skating: A Naughty Story on Ice, An Idler at a New York Ice Carnival, and How to Be Decorative While Ice-Skating.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


A Naughty Story on Ice: 1865

A Naughty Story

A New York correspondent writes: Shall I tell you a naughty story? Let its veracity excuse it.

Some time ago a carnival came off on one of the Brooklyn ponds. Everybody was expected to wear fancy dress and mask, and the affair being very select, good folks by scores, resolved to go. Among them were Mr. Folie—I see that you demand all the names—and his handsome lady, of Clinton Avenue. Clinton avenue is the Madison Square, the West Green street of Brooklyn, and Mrs. Folie is the most admired mistress of its most sumptuous dwelling. She was quite a good figure upon steel, having practiced upon the Capitoline—not to speak of parlor skating, which teaches one the motion quite as well—every good afternoon. But unfortunately, Mr. Folie, who must necessarily make one of the party, did not know the use of patins, though to gratify his wife, who was much too “proper” to go anywhere by night, unaccompanied by her husband, he consented to attend the carnival.  Folie had never seen his wife on ice. Being a close business man, though something of a gallant, so he acknowledged her to be a nice thing, when gliding off so excellently, and “rolling” so elegantly. Poor fellow! Must he patter around like a cripple while she could skim like a racer? However, they masked at last in the separate buildings provided for the sexes, and put on their distinct costumes. Mr. Folie wore a dress of the time of Cosimo the First, and Mrs. Folie appeared as a fair Bretoness, with a Starched cap and skirt gown, which gave her graceful limbs free circulation. Folie, being absorbed in business had forgotten to ask what his wife’s garb would be; but Mrs. Folie, to be well protected, had betrayed her domino to a gentlemen whom she made promise not to reveal her incognito, and particularly to introduce no gentleman to her who was not absolutely fastidious and honorable. So they shot out for the pond; the ice was smooth as crystal; Drummond lights threw wide splashes of brightness to and fro, but here and there were dark, isolated covers and corners, secure from intrusion. The people were numerous and the costumes so mostly that the angel of the Plague would not have known whom to spare. So for an instant Mrs. Folie’s friend disappeared, being a poor skater and unable to keep up with her, till returning, he made her acquainted with Mr. Dromio. Bowing merely, but not unmasking her, the new arrival glided to Mrs. Folie’s side, took her hands in his, as couples on ice do, and they “rolled” off like two marvelous automatons. Dromio wore a splendid Florentine dress: plumed cap, long ringlets, dark hose over shapely limbs, with sword, jeweled dagger, and the cross of the order of St. John. He was the best gymnast on the pond—raced backward, forward, High Dutch, wriggle, inside out, heel up, squirm, turn over, swallow himself! Mrs. Folie was in ecstasies. She was animated to a generous rivalry, and surpassed her own previous agility. Warmed by exercise and contact, their tones grew softer, their speech less formal; poor Mrs. Folie once slipped, when Dromio supplely caught her by the waist, and, bold man! Kept his hand around her when they were again alert.

“Withdraw your arm!” whispered Mrs. Folie; “my husband is here—he may know me.”

“Say not so,”exclaimed the ardent Dromio; “let us ourselves withdraw.”

They glided off to the far angles of the Pond, where, unobserved, their conversation sweetened. At last the supple Florentine seized Mrs. Folie’s hand and swore that it was the fairest on Long Island.

“Flatterer!” she answered. “If this were not the Carnival , I should be indignant.”

“But since it is the Carnival, give me one kiss—you will not refuse me?”

She did not. They lingered a luscious moment on the margin of the word moral and the demi-monde , and then the bell at the great gate rang—the Carnival was over —it was time to unmask.

“I fear to uncover,” said the lady; “you men are so seldom honorable!”

“But you must, the hour has arrived. Come! We must, we shall meet again! Let us draw!”

They slipped off the dark visages instantaneously, and looked into each other’s faces.

“Good heavens! It is Folie!”

“My wife! My wife! said the strong man, and they wilted.

This closed the tableau.

I may add that Folie was a good skater, but, wishing to have some fun on his own account, had not told wife so.

The Weekly Vincennes [IN] Western Sun 24 June 1865

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A familiar story and one which has furnished a plot for many an operetta and play. One is uncertain as to the earliest version of this naughty tale, but here is another:

At Cornely’s Masquerade , last Monday, a pretty Fruit Wench attracted so forcibly the Attention of Lord Grosvenor that for two Hours she was the sole Object of his Flattery and Admiration. At length, worked up into an irresistible Want of forming an Alliance with her, he told her his Name, offered a Carte Blanche, and begged she would not delay his Happiness. The Lady whispered her Consent, but insisted upon continuing masked. The amorous Lord, overjoyed at the Conquest he had made, conducted his fair Inamorata to the Nunnery in Pall Mall, where, having praised and re-praised every Charm he beheld and enjoyed, he obtained Leave to untie the odious Mask that concealed the Beauty who had made him happy. What Pen, or Pencil, could paint or describe the ghastly Astonishment of his Lordship at the Sight of that Woman! What! my Wife, muttered he, shaking in every Limb! Lady Grosvenor burst into Laughter and left the Room, thanking him ironically for the Right he had given her to taste with Impunity of the forbidden Fruit.

The Virginia Gazette 14 May 1772

Ice carnivals were a highly popular winter entertainment. Mrs Daffodil has written previously about a New York ice carnival, as well as how to be decorative on skates .

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



An Idler at a New York Ice Carnival: 1864

A skating dress of the 1860s. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute.

A skating dress of the 1860s. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute.

The Idler About Town

There are all kinds of institutions in New York, institutions ranging from the highest intellectual points down to the most vulgar and debased, and there are all classes of persons to honor and patronise them by their presence. But the most curious of our modern institutions is the “Ice Carnival,” a sort of general fancy-dress party and masquerade! The idea is new to these latitudes, although it is common in northern Europe, but we think that with perseverance and judicious supervision it will be adopted by our people and become popular. Several of these quaint entertainments have been given in the far-off regions of Hoboken and Brooklyn, but as we should have required several handbooks and a band of trusty explorers to discover their locality, we did not venture on the journey, and have not, consequently, seen them. But we had an “Ice Carnival” of our own last week on the Fifth avenue skating pond, which was lively and spirited, indeed— first-rate as far as it went—but was considerably interfered with by the mild weather and the consequent mushy, cut up state of the ice. The fact is, there had been such a carnival on the pond all day—over 2,500 people having skated there—that the glassy surface was as badly scored as a Polish prisoner’s back after the application of the Russian knout. [One draws one’s breath in sharply at this dreadful imagery used to describe a popular entertainment.] Still the night carnival was rather a jolly affair. 

The moon shone as bright as day, so that you could see the faces of the skaters without the aid of the glaring lights which surrounded the pond on all sides. On we dashed towards the ice ballroom behind our spanking grays; we should have heard the band discoursing the most exquisite music, but the wind being unfavorable somebody else heard it instead. However, we were saluted by showers of very brilliant rockets, which being fired against the wind, insured the return of the sticks as near to the assembled crowd as possible. We narrowly escaped receiving three in our hat, and perchance our head, and the thud they made plunging into the ground close to us made us thankful that they did not favor us direct.

The scene on the pond was very animated. A hundred glow-worm-like lanterns were glancing along its surface with arrowy swiftness, lighting up here and there the dazzling dresses of gold, velvet and laces. There were quite a number of fancy costumes. Ladies in the Highland kirtles, and the still more becoming and seasonable Russian dress, short tunics trimmed with fur; cavaliers of all periods and no periods; then there were sultanas on ice, and, oh, eternal fitness of things, bears on ice! and, oh, anomaly of anomalies, excruciatingly refreshing, devils on ice ! An iced devil is not seen every day, and we are grateful to the ice carnival for having afforded us the sight. Every one seemed to be in a blaze of enjoyment. Of course we took the prettiest and sweetest girl of our acquaintance with us. We always do— for we are sensitively organized, and cannot endure proximity with anything short of the beautiful. We assisted remarkably dexterously in putting skates upon the smallest and prettiest feet in New York, and started off with fleetness of a Mercury and the grace of an Apollo. We are not absolute master of skating; our teeth have a strong sympathy with the outside “edge,” only our teeth accomplish more in that way than our feet, but we were decidedly more accomplished in the art than our companion.

So we skated and skated, and skated away, until the warm blood tingled in every vein and we both grew excited. Every now and then we indulged our companion in a little show off, doing something backwards, gliding half a yard on one skate while shaking the other in the air as a balance; and once we indulged in our chef d’œuvre , the spread eagle, with, we confess it, our toes a little turned in, for our figure is not favorable for exhibiting the royal brio in the necessary right angle-toed position Still she admired us vastly, and as we dashed off in that graceful, swaying, unisonous motion, we felt emboldened by that admiration, and exclaimed with fervor, “Dearest Ariadne, the propitious moment has arrived.” here we swayed off on the right foot, “when the passion of my life must find words,” here were swayed off on the left foot; “let me, beloved, lay this heart at your feet;” here a confounded rut caught our heel, and brought us down with a thud on the ice that would have broken a thinner man into pieces. Ariadne, too, the false as fair, sailed off at lightning speed, leaving behind her a little cutting laugh, which hurt us more than the fall. We were wet, very wet, shaken in our person and in our affections, and on after reflection we believe that we merited the endearing epithet of “bear” bestowed upon us by our gentle companion, as we took our surly ride homewards We called and apologised the next day, but that night on the ice is between us, and the wine of affection has had a cooler that forever forbids all genial reopening.  Frank Leslies Weekly, [New York, NY] 6 February 1864

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Ice-skating is said to be a healthful excercise, well-calculated to bring roses to the cheeks. The Americans went mad for it in the ’60s, when it became something of a national sport. One imagines that the American Civil War dampened some of the nation’s ardour for the pasttime, although it remained a popular winter recreation through the turn of the century and even beyond. 

Mrs Daffodil is writing this before a toasty fire with a cup of hot cocoa on the writing-desk. Muffins are warming on the grate. Mrs Daffodil does not skate. She has read far too many accounts of skating parties lost when they plunged through the ice and of young persons whose feet had to be amputated after lacing their skates too tightly. One has only to read the following to believe that staying indoors is the best policy, particularly in the current weather conditions.


(From Hall’s Journal of Health.)

1. Avoid skates which are strapped on the feet, as they prevent the circulation, and the foot becomes frozen before the skater is aware of it, because the tight strapping benumbs the foot and deprives it of feeling. A young lady at Boston lost a foot in this way; another in New York her life, by endeavoring to thaw her feet in warm water after taking off her skates. The safest kind are those which receive the forepart of the foot in a kind of toe, and stout leather around the heel, buckling in front of the ankle only, thus keeping the heel in place without spikes or screws, and aiding greatly in supporting the ankle. 2. It is not the object so much to skate fast, as to skate gracefully; and this is sooner and more easily learned by skating with deliberation; while it prevents overheating, and diminishes the chances of taking cold by cooling off too soon afterward. 3. If the wind is blowing, a veil should be worn over the face, at least of ladies and children; otherwise fatal inflammation of the lungs, “pneumonia,” may take place. 4. Do not sit down to rest a single half minute; nor stand still, if there is any wind; nor stop a moment after the skates are taken off; but walk about, so as to restore the circulation about the feet and toes, and to prevent being chilled. 5. It is safer to walk home than to ride; the latter is almost certain to give a cold. 6. It would be a safe rule for no child or lady to be on skates longer than an hour at a time. 7. The grace, exercise, and healthfulness of skating on the ice can be had, without any of its dangers, by the use of skates with rollers attached, on common floors; better, if covered with oil-cloth. Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] February, 1864

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.