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Richmond Ice Rink


Heritage Lottery Fund

Below is a snapshop from Richard Meacock's original website



The Rich History of the Richmond Rink


For over 13 years, Richard Meacock battled to have a new ice rink built for the people of Richmond and the World. The old rink, long a landmark on Richmond's Riverside, served more than 4,000,000 people in its long lifetime. Most were ordinary folks. Some were World Famous: John Curry, Robin Cousins, Torvill and Dean and many other world-class and Olympian skaters. But, famous or not, the rink was special to us all. In January 1992 its doors were slammed in the face of all forever. Six months later it was demolished leaving a derelict wasteland. In this personal memoire, Richard Meacock tells the tale. (Written before his death in April 2006)


Richmond Ice Rink from the River

In my Gallery, I have for sale an engraving of the site of Richmond ice rink as it was in 1749 - before Richmond bridge was built. At that time, the land was part of the gardens surrounding the Duke of Cambridge's house. Richmond had no industry. It was a town of pleasurable persuits, servicing the Palace of Shene - there were coffee houses, theatres, health spa springs and pleasure/leisure gardens alongside the Thames. The Duke gave the town the riverside lands to continue the use for pleasure. Then in early Victorian times plots were sold for elegant villas - today's Cambridge Park. Later the grand house was demolished and Edwardian East Twickenham emerged in all its `planned town' drabness. But, they had, at least, a fine roller skating rink. A rare aerial photo of the rink as it was in 1912 hangs on my gallery wall. In the first world war, the building was taken over by a Belgian company under government requisition powers, and used to manufacture hand grenades. With the end of the war the building once again became a roller rink. But seven years later, tragedy struck when the rink burned down in 1925. However, as it was in this case, one man's tragedy often is another's opportunity. With the embers of the old roller rink hardly cold, the site was bought by Claude Langdon, an impresario who had developed the Hammersmith Palais. Two years later he threw open the doors to the public of his new rink, rebuilt from the ashes. For 23 years, Richmond enjoyed the largest indoor ice rink in the world.

During its illustrious lifetime, even if you were American, Canadian, Russian or Swiss, you just didn't rate in the skating world if you hadn't performed at Richmond rink. The rink was Wimbledon, Lords, Twickenham, St Motitz, the Bolshoi, all rolled into one. Politics didn't exist on Richmond's ice. Even the German Luftwaffe in the second world war honoured the rink's place in the world of sport. The bomb they dropped through the roof proved to be a dud and refused to explode. Nothing during the war could close the rink. Allied servicemen from all over the world insisted that it be kept open. Besides the kids of London couldn't do without it. So special was the rink considered - a meeting place of discipline, excellence and fun without alcohol - that the government made a special order to black out the 500 ft long building to allow it to remain open. Then came the Cold War years. There was no Cold War in Richmond. At the rink, the only thing that was cold was the ice. Russians and Americans happily shared the same dressing rooms as they honed their skating skills. Sadly, as the Cold War ended and the Iron Curtain came tumbling down, the rink was razed at just about the same time. The rink was a haven for characters - impossible to mention them all. Hoppy the Manager, Nobby the Skate Shop. Tom the Engineer. Jo, Dolly, etc etc etc. It's hardly surprising. After all, the Richmond rink was an institution where more than 4 million people learned to skate.

Then in 1950, the Vienna Stadthalle was opened which beat Richmond's rink in area of ice. Even though it was no longer the largest in the world. It was never surpassed in its importance worldwide to skating, The existence of the rink on the site of his former gardens would have delighted the Duke of Cambridge. There had been ice rinkss in Central London from Victorian times that had to succumb to the pressures of the developers of the Inter-war period and close their doors. Prince's in Knightsbridge. The Palladium and the Strand and the clubs associated with them transferred to Richmond.


Karen Wood, British Junior Ladies Figure Skating Champion, 1979

During its busiest periods 15,000 skater would take to the ice every week. If attendance dropped below 12,000 in a given week, everyone would wonder what was wrong. And all those regular skaters came from all over - mostly on foot and public transport bringing life to Richmond Town. Frequently there were gala's pantomimes and international competitions in figure skating, ice hockey, speed skating, ice dancing and curling. Daily there were three public sessions and constant teaching sessions and patches (areas of ice hired for, say, an hour) - almost 24 hours in each day.

Aldwych Speed Club, established in 1908, was among the clubs to make the switch. Even the Royal Skating Club, the world's oldest, which had been set up in 1830, performing the distinctive `English Style' and using the Serpentine as its rink made the trek to Richmond. The rink wasn't just for the individual skaters. The Richmond Hawks, The Flyers. The Raiders, The Peewees were only some of the ice hockey teams to make the rink their home. A flock of national, international and Olympic champions developmed their world beating skills at the rink. Some of the finest skating instructors in the world began a tradition of excellence at the rink making it virtually The Royal School of Ice Figure Skating. Royal is right! All our present Royal Family were taught to skate at Richmond by the rink's chief instructor from 1934 - 1992 Arnold Gershwiler. More National, European and World champions trained at Richmond from almost every country on the planet than on any other rink in the world. At one point the team of world class instructors giving training at Richmond's rink numbered 28 more than could be boasted by any other rink, bar none.

When television came along, the whole world could and did join in. Torvill and Dean dancing the Bolero caused the highest world television of all time - 500 million. And that's only the icing on the cake. Sonje Henie, Jeanette Altweg, Robin Cousins, John Curry, Valda Osborne, Jacqui Harbord, Norbert Schramm, Keren Barber and Nicky Slater, Keterina Witt, David Clements, limova and Ponomarenko, Jojo Starbuck, Dorothy Hamil. The roll of greats is endless - I have to leave out thousands. The rink was the most homely and friendly place you could possibly imaging and its fair to say that most happy marriages in West London started from a meeting at `the rink'. And, the Saturday morning childrens' classes brought tears to the hardest hearts at the sight of the joy on a child whizzing along - including the sessions for Down's Syndrome kids. In 1934, the rink changed hands when it was bought by the Rule family, forming a private dynasty - The Sportsdrome Limited. Under that regime, there was for a time, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a private event restaurant, a resident band and resident organist, a rink side restaurant, a games room - it was probably the earliest purpose-built English `leisure centre' Then about 1978, because of various internal problems, control of the rink fell into the hands of Tony Carratu, a property developer. Things appeared grim. 

But to Tony's own surprise, he got to like the skaters and was proud of his rink and travelled the world as part of the team, the Richmond Skaters - the best in the world sometimes and definitely the happiest family under the watchful eye of Arnold Gerschwiler. Enter the brothers Peter and John Beckwith who made Tony an offer he could not refuse. The Beckwith's Managing Directors of a development company, the London & Edinburgh Trust (LET) bought Tony out at the end of 1987. Although he sold the site with no written agreement that the rink would be replaced as a part of any development of the site, he felt able to assure the news media that he was selling on the basis that the rink would be rebuilt. Assurance was given by LET to the staff of the rink, the media and Richmond Council that, `We have pledged to keep it open until another one is built in the town.' And stresses, `It will not be demolished until a new one is opened.' With none of these assurances honoured, the rink was closed on January 5th, 1992 and soon demolished. The Dule of Cambridge must have turned in his grave in disgust.


Chronological Order of Events


The threatened destruction of the World Famous Richmond Ice Rink so that 7.5 acres of luxury flats could be added to the Richmond Riverside, galvanised the people of the town to act to save the rink or at least guarantee that it would be replaced. When the development company, London & Edinburgh Trust (LET) undertook to replace the rink with a £22.5million sports centre, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. But, they relaxed too soon. And with Richmond Council's decision to allow LET off the hook, a long saga began. Here are the highlights of the ins/outs and twists and turns of the last ten years or so.

1987 By the end of 1987, the Beckwith Brothers, Managing Directors of LET had obtained the 4 sites on which they were planning to build 200 or more luxury flats. One of the sites was 2.5 acres on which Richmond ice Rink had stood for the best part of a century. The Beckwith's bought the site from another developer. From the time of purchase until the building was demolished it was allowed to deteriorate.

1988 In June Savills produce a report suggesting 6 alternative sites for the replacement of the rink, including Manor Road gasworks site. This is the year that Richmond Council finally agreed to grant planning permission to LET,and for a new rink/sports centre on the Old Deer Park, and up until almost the last moment, the £22.5million replacement centre was part of the deal.

1989 Peter Beckwith, wrote a long letter addressed to Richard Harbord, Chief Executive of Richmond Council. Paraphrased Beckwith said basically: 1) We don't want to spend the promised £22.5million to replace the facilities; 2) We want to give you £2.5million instead; and 3) Or we will Appeal and win. On Sept 5th Daniel Robins, the Council barrister was found dead in his car. No other barrister was appointed at this time. Sept 15th Tim Razzall chairs meeting, minutes of which were destined to be hidden for 4 years. Decision made to let LET off obligation to replace rink, £20,000,000 and given planning permission to demolish the rink and build 250 flats. Oct 27th Richmond Council grants planning permission and adds two pages to the documents and allows LET to renege on its £22.5million obligation and sells the planning permission for £2.5million.

1990 Spring/summer 1) A petition is raised to save the rink. It garners some 48,000 signatures and is presented to Richmond Council by Torvill and Dean. There is a march to 10 Downing Street where a copy of the Petition is presented to Mrs Thatcher 2) Beckwith Brothers sell LET to Insurance giant SPP. At least one of the Beckwith Brothers is part of the new development company LET/SPP.

1991 On Feb 14th Richard Meacock writes to LET offering to buy the rink for £1million, (to keep it running until demolition day) Feb 25th the offer is refused.  The Crown Estates give their approval/consent to the Old Deer Park being used for the replacement ice rink/sports stadium. Richard Meacock goes to the Local Authority Ombudsman, DC Yardley, accusing Richmond Council of Maladministration.

1992 Taking a full wasteful year (legal action againtst the Council being banned), the Ombudsman found against Mr Meacock. (He is employed by the Council). ICE RINK CLOSED to the 12,000 children per week as demolition began.

1993 David Williams, Leader of the Council misleads the Richmond public by sending out hundreds of letters assuring them that the rink would be replaced, when he knew it wouldn't be. Nov 17th Mr Meacock applies to the High Court for a Judicial Review of Richmond Council's planning permission granting. Nov 29th the High Court adjourns the case to be retried in Open Court. Court request more information from the Council.

1994 Jan 18th Appeal Court upholds the High Court decision. The 3 Lord Justices express deep sympathy with case.  May 19th: Meacock writes to the European Commission of Human Rights. This is the start of 5 months correspondence. June: Tony Arbour, new Councillor discovers the minutes of the Sept 25th 1989 illegal meeting. Oct 26: Application sent to the Nolan Committee (Committee on Standards in public life) alleging corruption in Richmond Council - their first request. Oct 28th: BBC TV News item says Sept 25th 1989 Council Meeting was illegal. Andrew Hoskins , local government spokesman.
1995 Jan 20th, debate reached House of Commons, Keith Vaz MP puts forward an Early Day Motion. Ombudsman forced to reinvestigate. Feb 20th He throws it out again. Strasbourg does nothing. Daily Mail publishes an article and is threatened with legal action from Council and Beckwiths. April 17th Judicial Review Application is turned down by Justice Latham (Time limit applied yet again) Nov 6th Richmond Council announces a new rink on top of a car park near the station.

1996 July 28 a major article appears in the Sunday Independent Newspaper, about John Beckwith and his activities. Millennium application forms sent to Sports Council (now Sport England) for consideration. Nov 8th taken over by the Sports Lottery Fund to provide a new ice rink for Richmond.

1997 July 7 DoE Planning Inspectorate decision alters hopes for ice rink on Manor Road, it allows superstore. Richmond Council finally admits `Rink over Car Park' delayed indefinately. Tim Razzall made a Lord. Trevor Osborne (Hawk Developments) applies: planning application for small ice rink on Council Depot, Lower Mortlake Road.

1998 Jan 19th, Judgement given against Richard Meacock in High Court over Manor Road planning with liabilty for costs, High Court Judge Nigel McLeod QC refused to accept main headlines from Sunday Times & Independent on Sunday `Sainsbury gives £2 million to Labour' as evidence. Costs liability up to £1 million, stress causes cancer operation & 5 month convalescence for Richard Meacock, this was his consultants honest opinion. Richmond Council gives itself planning permission on Mortlake Road Council depot for houses then sells it. April 14 Ice Rink saga events brought to the attention of Lord Neill's Committee and Gov't Consultation on Ethical Local Government.

1999 May, new  radical staff changes have taken place at Richmond Council, new initiative towards a new International ice rink have commenced. June, District Auditor invites information as evidence for inquiry into affairs of Richmond Council. We supply it. Two sites close to swimming pool asked to be allocated as sites for the new rink in the UDP. Aug, Inaugural meeting of the Committee applying for Charitable Trust Status for the International School of Ice Skating Richmond to be built adjacent to the Pools on the Park.

2000 Evidence over Ice Rink affair given at UDP Inquiry to Mr Broyd of the DETR, including the Sainsbury's payment of £3 million to Tony Blair in the middle of Manor Road planning inquiry. This puts the story into the public domain again. June, Mr Childs a specialist Solicitor in Local Authority Finance, instructed to conduct a full investigation into Richmond Council's affairs over 15 years by Audit Commission.

2001 23rd March. Temporary ice rink came to Richmond for 5 weeks, 1000's of local children discover ice skating. Rink closes and Richmond & Twickenham Times endorses everything we have said, and throws down the gauntlet to councillors.

2001 October 4, Fraud Squad investigation starts into the activities of Richmond Council, evidence may be sent to National Criminal Intelligence, PO Box 8000, London SE11 5EN

2002 January, The Big Breakfast Show, 3½million people told about the loss of the Richmond Ice Rink, Channel 4's Richard Bacon, our sponsor. Feb 15, Half page National Daily Telegraph devoted entirely to the loss of Richmond Ice Rink & it's consequences. May 2, Following local elections, Lib/Dems ousted from Council 39 Conservatives 15 Lib/Dems. August, An Open Letter to the new Richmond Council sent by ISIS, (Egyptial Goddess) initials stand for International School of Ice Skating.

2003 Local MP's and the Mayor support the new ice rink proposals. June: The Queen writes to our Chairman with support for the new rink proposal. July Queen Charlotte's Hall PUBLIC MEETING 100% support. Sept 5 meeting at Crown Estates, Carlton House Terrace. Sept 10 Arnold Gerschwiler's Funeral.

2004  Committee meeting of Isis on Feb 13 2004 agreed to offer �000,000 for the Deer Park site. Lord Sainsbury admits on `Dessert Island Discs' (BBC Radio 4) , that he has paid over �million pounds to New Labour. March 11th, Article in `Time Out' magazine `FROZEN ASSETS'  by Hugh Graham, on the subject of London's dwindling Ice Rinks. Article points to this site. Article 1751 on page 40. Nov, 24 Richmond Hill hosts the Little Ice Rink Museum, open now, admission free 10am - 5pm

2005 Jan 12th Olympic 2012 official local launch at Strawberry Vale and RIBA Architectural Competition launched.  Jan 25th Richard Meacock puts questions to Richmond Council Meeting. Site option sought.

2006 Jan: Richard Meacock taken ill whilst on holiday after Christmas. On returning to the UK it was found that he had an inoperable cancer and that he was dying. He was taken from us on April 9th in this year. The Campaign still continues in his absence but the impetus has died down somewhat. He will be very sadly missed by his family and the thousands of skaters who were relying on him to get the new rink built.