Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ice hockey in 19th-century England

The winter remained mild till early in January when the first green leaves had appeared on the woodbine. One evening Polly announced that it was going to freeze, for the cat as he sat on the hearthrug had put his paw over his ear. If he sat with his back to the fire, that was a sign of rain. If he put his paw over his ear that indicated frost. 
It did freeze and hard. The wind being still, the New Sea was soon frozen over except in two places. There was a breathing-hole in Fir-Tree Gulf about fifty or sixty yards from the mouth of the Nile. The channel between New Formosa and Serendib did not “catch,” perhaps the current from Sweet River Falls was the cause, and though they could skate up within twenty yards, they could not land on the islands. Jack and Frances came to skate day after day; Bevis and Mark with Ted, Cecil, and the rest fought hockey battles for hours together.
Richard Jefferies Bevis: The Story of a Boy (1882) As I have said before, one of the reasons I like Richard Jefferies (about whom I wrote my Masters dissertation) so much are his unexpected insights into social history. Who knew that village lads in 19th-century England played ice hockey?

The 'New Sea' is Jefferies' and his characters' improved or mythologised version of Coate Water near Swindon.

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