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Roller-skating Victorians

3 April 2017 by Liz

The research undertaken into the history of Pembroke Place, as part of the Galkoff’s and Secret Life of Pembroke Place project is throwing up some exciting and quirky aspects of Liverpool’s history!

As part of this Heritage Lottery Fund supported project 24 volunteers have scoured censuses, historic newspapers and street directories to paint a picture of the history of the street.

One set of newspaper adverts from the 1870s and 1880s especially caught their attention – those for a ‘roller rink’!

A little further reading has helped us explore the phenomenon of ‘rinkomania’ when there was a fashion for people to take up roller skating. It was even being recommended as a new means of commuting to work!

Roller skates were first invented as early as the 1760s. Over time, technological developments in skate design made the whole experience more comfortable, one of the big breakthroughs coming in 1859 when the ‘Woodward Skate’ with rubber wheels was introduced onto the market.

It seems Liverpool was at the forefront of this fashion, with a popular rink on Pembroke Place in existence for over a decade according to newspaper adverts. One of the adverts even refers to a Liverpool song, ‘Pembroke Rink’ being played at an event!

Amazingly, we have a handful of photographs of Liverpool people roller skating in the 19th century. This photograph, in the Walker Art Gallery collections, was taken on the Isle of Man where this Liverpool couple were on holiday. It presents the wonderful contrast of the dress, which looks formal, even uncomfortable to modern taste, and the comparative frivolity of the skates!

While roller skating has survived from the 18th to the 21st century as a leisure activity, it didn’t become the primary means of transport some once dreamed of.  This is partially because of the development of trains, trams, and eventually cars. However, it’s brilliant to know that the site of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine on Pembroke Place was home to a roller skating rink in the 1870s and 1880s!

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