The name Tongue End became known to the nation – possibly for the first time – when speed skating was brought back to its natural home in the Lincolnshire Fens 50 years ago.
The country was in the grip of the hardest spell of frost known for years when the Amateur Skating Championship of Great Britain was held near Spalding for the first time since the 1880s.
A reporter of the time for these newspapers quipped that Spalding would have to wait a year or two for its promised indoor sports centre, but that at Tongue End there was “a vast outdoor arena capable of giving pleasure to thousands of enthusiasts”.
Two men were credited with thinking up the “new, compact version of Cowbit Wash”, whose long skating history had ended with the cutting of the Coronation Channel in 1953. They were Coun Ernest Fisher, a member of Welland River Board, and Deepings Fen Drainage Board engineer Mr W D Miles.
The drainage board provided a site between the Glen and the Counter Drain and the Welland River Board provided the water to flood the land.
The report states: “The site can be flooded from the Glen to a depth of up to 2ft in a day and drained off into the Counter Drain in the same time.”
Events such as The Amateur Skating Championship and The Fenland Association Championships – plus the Lincolnshire Mile that was due to be held if the ice held – followed a week of general skating by local enthusiasts on the safe stretch of ice over a mile long. Children also took the opportunity to play with toboggans and even the odd kitchen chair to make the most of the ice.
Part-way through the event, workmen were out early one morning clearing snow from the course after an overnight blizzard.
Reports in these newspapers said Spalding’s “new skating centre” at Tongue End had a touch of St Moritz about it as competitors wore brightly coloured winter sports gear and that the event brought out the crowds over the Christmas holiday break.
Moulton Chapel farm worker Victor Smith (20) won that year’s Lincolnshire Amateur Skating Championship, beating title holder Jack Cary of Crowland, as well as 17-year-old favourite Alan Fisher, also from Moulton Chapel. The report said that Victor had been skating since he was ten years old, but that it was his first season of speed skating.
The day’s Professional Championship of Great Britain title was won for the fourth time by Neville Young of Wisbech, who was competing for the ‘Professional Scarf’ and £10 in cash – the same amount awarded in 1895.
Hardest working man at the championships was said to be course steward and former county champion Bert Slater, of Crowland, who also commentated throughout the event.