How Mansfield twice tried and failed to bring roller skating to the town

Roller skater Dora Wickham
Roller skater Dora Wickham

Do you rink, asks Liz Weston, curator at Mansfield Museum.

That was the question you might have put to roller skater Mrs Dora Wickham in the 1870’s, had you chanced upon her on the ‘spacious asphalte floor’ of the first of Mansfield’s two roller skating rinks.

You read that correctly – the town tried on two separate occasions to launch the new-fangled pastime as a lasting feature of the town’s leisure provision.

But it was not to be.

Opened in 1876, at the top of St John’s Street, Mansfield Skating Rink and Recreation Ground styled itself as ‘a place of varied, harmless, healthy and entertaining resort’

It sounded delightful, being bordered by ‘a charming promenade’ and featuring ‘a beautiful Swiss arbor’.

Skaters were provided with their own pair of ‘celebrated Plimpton roller skates’, as worn by Dora herself, which were useable ‘regardless of the weather’ and ‘by means of which the most graceful movements may be executed’.

For the non-skater, on-rink entertainment might feature diversions such as ‘an entirely new burlesque skating entertainment’, possibly with ‘the Mansfield United Brass Band in attendance’.

Despite its many attractions, however, the rink lasted only five years before closing in 1881.

Undaunted by its failure, though after a 30-year hiatus, a group of Nottingham businessmen opened the Princes’ Skating Rink on Church Lane in 1909.

Promising potential skaters that ‘rinking’ – a verb that never made it to the OED – ‘gives your body poise and grace and makes you lithe and supple’, this second venue fared no better than its predecessor.

Despite attracting more than a thousand customers on one day during its opening week, and tempting punters with such delights as ‘a military band’ and roller derby (against sides from Nottingham and Derby) Princes’ closed in April 1911, less than 18 months after it had first opened.