It hasn’t happened for a few years now but the icing over of the Grantham Canal and Hickling Canal Basin used to be a regular occurrence; stories tell of skating from Hickling to Nottingham and from Hickling to Grantham, of ice hockey matches on the Basin, of a fundraising festival during WWI and of crowds of 60 skaters at once. Stories also tell of how safety was ensured – with at least two different large local gentlemen named as having being sent out into the middle with a rope around their middle to test how strong the ice was.
We think the last time anyone skated on the Basin was on Boxing Day 2010 but the swans and ducks still get regular opportunities to skate …
“The story goes that to test the ice residents tied a rope around Freddy Keys waist and he would go out on the basin to see if safe enough (apparently a large gentleman) if it didn’t give way it was deemed safe. I can remember skating on it along with sixty plus locals. My father Jack Bailey, Trigger Smith, Dick Goodson and if I’m not mistaken Teddy Faulks (AE Faulks) skated through to Grantham and back.” (K.Bailey, January 2021)
“When I was growing up in Kinoulton we used to be allowed to skate on the basin if Mr McIntosh had tried it, he used to live on Harles Acres and was a “giant”.” (J.Richards, January 2021)
“I have photos of folk in Hickling skating on the Basin & the kids playing ice hockey – would have been 1983/4 … Edwin Woolley was always one down there skating if he could. Happy memories … Couple standing together are Mike & Sue Schizler (not sure if spelt surname right), the group one is where our friends staying & I took our boys onto the canal as they wanted to see the boys playing ice hockey (you can see one of the lads behind Mike & Sue with his hockey stick – looks like their son Nicky). The fire brigade had been down & ok’d it for ice skating on!” (P.Simons, January 2021)
Buller Timms; from Nottingham to Hickling, Traveller’s Privilege and The Plough Inn.
“In January 1940 I skated from Lady Bay Bridge to Hickling Basin. This was made more difficult by a light fall of snow overnight and instead of gliding over the ice it was necessary to strike for every yard of the way, but otherwise the ice was so good that I was able to skate under every bridge. By the time I reached Cotgrave I was ready for a break, so I slung my skates over my shoulder and walked the two or three hundred yards to the ‘local’, only to be met by an apologetic landlady with the information that she was just closing.
“Oh, well,” I said, “I am skating from Nottingham to Hickling and would like to claim Traveller’s Privilege.”
“Without any argument she ushered me into the bar parlour and went away, to return a few moments later with a pint of beer and the most succulent cheese sandwich I have ever tasted. “Thus refreshed I resumed my journey and eventually reached Hickling in time for tea at the Plough.
“For the last thirty years I kept my skates hanging in my garden shed, and when the ice would bear, I used to skate from the bottom of my garden to Mabel Grove and back to prove that I could still do it. However, the last time I tried, I could only find one skate; one of my skates, like the lost lambs we sing about, had ‘gone astray.’
“(Traveller’s Privilege – an innkeeper must provide sustenance for a genuine traveller at any time … and beer in a bucket for his horse!)
“Hickling Basin provided an excellent rink in hard winters, so that most of the local people had grown up learning to skate. The atmosphere of a brilliant frosty moonlit night, skating on the Basin, had to be experienced to be believed.”
(A page from Bob Timms’ family history; this extract is a memory of his Uncle Buller (Burton Timms) who was landlord of the Plough from 1956 when Bob’s great aunt, Ethel Armstrong, died to 1959. Buller was the brother of Uncle Tom, Edward Thomas Timms who had the Post Office and Shop.)
From Hazel Wadkin’s Village History Books:
“When the canal was frozen most people of the village would go skating as soon as the yard work was finished in the morning and stay until afternoon milking, then return in the evening by the light of lanterns, During the freeze-up of 1962/63 the canal was frozen from December until the first week in March. One evening a bonfire was lit on the bank and skaters took tins of soup which were all put in a saucepan and heated on the bonfire. The different flavours of hot soup mixed together on that cold night was delicious.” (Scrapbook of Hickling, 1982)
“February 1917: An Ice Carnival was held on Hickling Basin, refreshments were arranged by a small committee. Fancy skating was given by experts of the Art. A sum of £1.7s was collected to provide funds to buy wool for the Council School girls to make comforts for the village soldier lads.” (Scrapbook of Hickling, 1982)
“In the winter if the canal was frozen it again was an attraction, this time for the skating community, when I was at school I remember the canal being frozen for skating quite a week or two, we children loved it, but the cold winds chafed our knees and I know I cried more than once when I went home, we never wore long stockings until quite a while after leaving school. Whole families would be on the ice, the essential work, milking and feeding the animals were done, then everyone down to the ‘Cut’ grown ups skating, children sliding. During the 1914-18 War there was a ‘Tea’ on the ice for Red Cross Funds, such a crowd gathered, skaters came from Kinoulton, Harby and Hose on the ice, it was a great success.” (Maggie’s Memories, p.69)