Tragedy in Regents Park 1867
the great skating disaster
In the 1860s well-to-do Londoners had a mania for ice skating and news of frozen ponds and lakes brought many of them out for a day’s skating. January 1867 was a very cold month and on the 15th January hundreds of people had decided to visit the frozen lake in Regents Park. Despite being warned about the thinness of the ice, which had resulted in 21 people falling in the water the day before, many put on their skates and started to glide around. The ice weakened near the banks and eventually cracked, throwing 200 skaters into twelve feet of water. Some managed to cling to pieces of ice, but most were hampered by heavy Victorian clothing and freezing temperatures, and were wearing skates that prevented them from swimming, so despite the efforts of those on the shore, who broke off branches and found ropes, at least 40 people drowned. It proved difficult to find all the bodies, as the ice quickly refroze and channels had to be cut through, and it was at least a week until the last one was recovered. Many acts of individual heroism took place as many skaters were saved from drowning. Police and doctors living nearby dashed to the lake, and the rescued were taken off to their homes, hospital, or nearby workhouses. But then came the task of recovery and identification of the bodies which took several days.
The skaters were blamed for their own misfortunes, but it was also noted park keepers had been breaking ice round the edges to provide water for the important species of waterfowl in the park.
The depth of the lake was reduced to 4 or 5 feet to make such a tragedy impossible, and although another accident occurred many years later, no-one then was killed.