Skaters up for the cup
PUBLISHED: 12:33 20 July 2006 | UPDATED: 11:53 04 May 2010
LAST week, a reader kindly brought in this photograph and it was exciting to try and uncover the story behind the faces. It is entitled the Hayes Fisher Cup, Littleport January 31, 1895, winner W. Housden. How I wish that all the photographs I work with w
LAST week, a reader kindly brought in this photograph and it was exciting to try and uncover the story behind the faces. It is entitled the Hayes Fisher Cup, Littleport January 31, 1895, winner W. Housden. How I wish that all the photographs I work with were labelled thus. It is so frustrating looking at wonderful photographs that will never reveal their secrets.
Research reveals that the Right Honourable William Hayes Fisher was MP for Fulham from 1895 - 1906 and again in 1910. His biography states that he was born in Downham (probably Downham Market) and was educated at Haileybury. In 1894 Hayes Fisher became the chairman of the National Skating Association, formed in Cambridge in 1879. In this capacity he served on the organising committee for the 1908 London Olympics.
He became 1st Baron Downham in 1911 and was elected chairman of the British Olympic Association at their headquarters in Russell Square in 1919, but unfortunately died just before the Antwerp games in 1920.
This race at Littleport in January, 1895 would have been the first opportunity he had to present the cup after he became chairman. Speed skating on the fens was obviously controlled by the weather and five nights of frost were needed before racing could take place. Sometimes the winters were simply not cold enough for it to take place.
Organised speed skating in England began in the Fens during the 19th century and was centred on the village of Welney. As soon as conditions were right, professional and amateur skaters would go out on the ice and races were organised. To give these races national recognition and to lay down clear rules and regulations and control the gambling involved, a Cambridge journalist called James Drake Digby organised the setting up of the National Skating Association in Cambridge.
Pictured here is William Hayes Fisher presenting the cup to Walter Housden, who won the race in 11.39.5. The race was for professionals and 13 competitors took part. Walter Housden won £10 for his effort and the other 12 men received £10 prize money between them.
Walter Housden was a local man and farmed at Duckett Farm, Upware. Antony Day's book Wicken - a Fen Village says Walter became the Amateur Skating Champion of Great Britain in 1891. In order to earn some money he turned professional, and while successful in his career, he never won the professional title, coming second and third on a number of occasions between 1895 and 1908.
The Hayes Fisher Cup was not staged again until 1929, a gap of 34 years. Apparently Walter, aged 56, took part in this race. He was still to be seen out on the ice in his seventies in Wicken.
They say that every picture tells a story and this one certainly does, but I do wonder where the Hayes Fisher Cup is today. There would be no chance of reviving the tradition however; health and safety would forbid such exploits.
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