Regent’s Park Skating Disaster

Illustrated London News
Written by Cynthia Poole, The. St. Marylebone Society

When The Regent’s Park lake froze over during the very cold winter of 1866/7, large numbers of people came to skate and slide on the ice, and many more to watch.  On this day, several hundred people were on the ice when it suddenly gave way and many of them fell into four metres of icy water. Spectators and park staff helped to rescue them, but 40 people, mostly young men, were drowned, and it took a week to recover all the bodies.  

The previous day, the ice had also given way, and 21 people had fallen in but all were rescued.  Park staff had broken ice for the water birds, and residents who had villas with lake frontages also broke ice to prevent people trespassing in their gardens, but a snowfall concealed the cracks in the refrozen ice and the weak spots were not visible.

Illustrated London News

After the disaster, the depth of the lake was reduced to one metre to prevent future tragedies. In 1886, the ice shattered again while people were skating, and about 100 were dumped in the water, but no-one died.

Ice-skating on the frozen lakes of the London parks was very popular, and people often fell into icy water.  The volunteer ‘icemen’ deployed by The Royal Humane Society, who had set up a ‘receiving house’ in Hyde Park, saved many lives and regularly featured as stalwart heroes in news reports of the time.  This Society, (first called the ‘Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently drowned’), was set up in 1774 by two doctors, to serve working people on London’s waterways who couldn’t swim and might be saved by new methods of resuscitation.

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