Early attempts at the construction of artificial ice rinks were first made in the 'rink mania' of 1841-44. As the technology for the maintenance of natural ice did not exist, these early rinks used a substitute consisting of a mixture of hog's lard and various salts.
An item in the 8 May 1844 issue of Littell's Living Age headed "The Glaciarium" reported that "This establishment, which has been removed to Grafton street East' Tottenham Court Road, was opened on Monday afternoon. The area of artificial ice is extremely convenient for such as may be desirous of engaging in the graceful and manly pastime of skating".
By 1844, these venues fell out of fashion, as customers grew tired of the 'smelly' ice substitute, and thirty years later refrigeration technology had developed to the point that natural ice could be used in the rink.
The world's first mechanically frozen ice rink was the Glaciarium, opened by John Gamgee in a tent in a small building just off the Kings Road in Chelsea, London, on 7 January 1876. In March, it moved to a permanent venue at 379 Kings Road, where a rink measuring 40 by 24 feet was established.
The rink was based on a concrete surface, with layers of earth, cow hair and timber planks. Atop these were laid oval copper pipes carrying a solution of glycerine with ether, nitrogen peroxide and water. The pipes were covered by water and the solution was pumped through, freezing the water into ice. Gamgee had discovered the process while attempting to develop a method to freeze meat for import from Australia and New Zealand, and had patented it as early as 1870.
Gamgee operated the rink on a membership-only basis and attempted to attract a wealthy clientele, experienced in open-air ice skating during winters in the Alps. He installed an orchestra gallery, which could also be used by spectators, and decorated the walls with views of the Swiss Alps.
The rink initially proved a success, and Gamgee opened two further rinks later in the year: at Rusholme in Manchester and the "Floating Glaciarium" at Charing Cross in London, this last significantly larger at 115 by 25 feet. The Southport Glaciarium opened in 1879, using Gamgee's method.
Photo: The Glaciarium, c. 1876