#Unearthed: Christmas At Sunberry Dale

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's 'buried treasure' is an excerpt from the 1870 book "Christmas At Sunberry Dale". Given the story's religious undertones, it is no surprise it was penned by Wesleyan missionary Rev. William Birmington Boyce under his pseudonym 'W.B.B.' This piece, another 'falling through the ice' cautionary tale, well expressed the intense desire to 'skate while you had the chance' during the Victorian era in England.


The Hadfields had been at the Dale nearly three weeks, and still the snow remained on the ground, frozen into a hard, crisp mass. The trees looked as though they were hung with jewels, and the icicles on the eaves of the house glistened like crystal pendants. The sparrows that chirped on the lime trees
looked thin and listless, and the red-breast grew bold enough to sit on the window-sill until a supply of crumbs had satisfied his wants.

The great pond in Leyoak Park had been frozen over nearly a fortnight, and many persons had been skating upon it for the last two days. The boys at the Dale had begged very hard to be allowed to go on the ice on the Tuesday after the party, but Mrs. Melville had been so opposed to it that all thought of it had been abandoned. On the Thursday the petition was renewed with greater vigour.

" It's quite safe, mamma!' said Charlie.

"How do you know that?" said Mrs. Melville.

"The keeper told me yesterday it was safe," replied he.

" What do you say about it, Mark?" said his mother.

"Well, I think it is alright," said he. "The Hardings were on the ice almost all day yesterday."

"Are you sure they were there?" said Mrs. Melville.

"Yes, mamma. I met Alfred Harding last night in the town, and he told me they had all been during the day."

" Very well then," said she. "I suppose you had better go, only be sure and take care of yourselves; and be back by two o'clock."

A loud " hurra" and a somersault turned by Charlie, were sufficient proof of the pleasure the permission gave them. There was a general rush after hats, caps, coats, and skates, and in less than ten minutes the whole group, with the exception of Kate, were eagerly walking towards the pond.

The fish-pond was a large piece of water covering many acres, and was pleasantly situated in a hollow near to one of the entrances to the park. Great beeches stood thickly clustered near the pond and stretched out their branches over the water, whilst sloping banks of green sward stretched down
to the water's edge. The banks were now all covered with snow trodden into dirty, irregular paths, by the tramping of many feet. On the west side the pond was bounded by a wide gravelled walk, in the centre of which stood a picturesque thatched building called the "boat-house." This building was
without doors or windows, and was simply a roof resting on ornamental pillars, with the side away from the water enclosed down to the ground. In this boat-house stood two or three old chairs and stools for the use of those who wished to put on skates.

The young people from the Dale soon reached the pond, and although early, a large number of persons were already engaged in sliding or skating upon its frozen surface. Mark was told by one of the keepers that the ice was quite safe except in one part near to the boat-house, where it had been
broken by the keepers a day or two previously, to supply the swans with water, and was now frozen over again. Mark pointed out this dangerous place to his brother and cousins, and desired them to keep away from it.

Two hours passed pleasantly by; the boys were expert skaters, and they thoroughly entered into the pleasure and excitement of the sport. Edith and Nellie had crossed the pond twice under the escort of Mark, and were standing near the boat-house laughing at the awkwardness and frequent falls of
those who were inexperienced in the use of skates. The Chesterton church clock struck twelve,
as Mark, meeting with one of the Glossops, stopped to ask him some questions about a Latin lesson. He had not been talking many minutes when, turning to look for his companions, he saw George racing with another boy near the spot he had been told to avoid. Mark at once turned towards the place, shouting to George to return.

The two boys were skating very swiftly, and George, who was in advance of his companion, tried to stop suddenly. It was too late, the velocity of his pace brought him on the thin ice. There was a loud crash, a fearful scream, and George slipped through into the water. He rose again almost immediately, and as he came to the surface, he caught at the edge of the ice, and grasping it firmly, was able to hold his head above the water.

The skaters came from all parts of the pond at the sound of the crash, whilst Nellie and Edith stood on the shore with hands clasped convulsively and faces almost as white as the snow around them. Mark immediately fastened a rope, which was lying near, around his waist, and telling the bystanders to hold it securely, crept softly towards his cousin, and kneeling as near as he could, stretched out his hand to him. George grasped it tightly and raised himself out of the water on to the ice. It was a time of intense anxiety; the ice was so frail that large pieces broke off several times as George succeeded in putting his knee upon it. Mark held him fast, however, and in a few minutes he had gained a firm foot-hold, and they were drawn to the shore amidst the ringing cheers of the excited crowd.

The strain and the fright proved almost too much for both the boys. George fainted and Mark seemed quite exhausted. As soon as they recovered a little, Rupert and Charlie threw off their skates and ran to the Bale for the carriage to convey them home.

Kate and Mrs. Melville were standing at the west window of Kate's room talking, when they caught sight of two lads running rapidly towards the house.

"Why, aunt, that boy without a cap is Rupert!"

" Surely not, my dear," said Mrs. Melville, looking earnestly at them for a few moments.

"It is, aunt; and the other is Charlie!"

"So it is dear, but why should they be running in that way?"

" I don't know, aunt; I hope there is nothing the matter."

" I hope not, Kate. Let us go down into the hall and meet them."

In a few minutes the lads had rushed breathlessly into the hall, Charlie saying, "Don't be frightened, mamma; but we want the carriage for Mark and George."

" The carriage! What for, dear?" said Mrs. Melville.

"George fell through the ice, mamma, and Mark got him out," said Charlie, as well as hurry and excitement would allow him.

Kate clung to her aunt in terror.

"Don't be alarmed, aunt," said Rupert, "They are not drowned; only very exhausted."

Mrs. Melville breathed a sigh of relief, and at once gave orders for the carriage to go speedily to the pond, and for a fire to be lighted in the boys' room, and the beds to be made warm.

In less than an hour Mark and George were comfortable in bed; Mark explaining to his mother how it had occurred.

Many grateful tears fell that night at family worship, as Mr. Melville thanked God for his preserving care and for his goodness in averting from them so great a sorrow. Kate's little Bible lay open on the table as she entered her room at night, and looking down on its open page she saw these words:

"The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil; He shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore."

The words touched her heart and called forth her grateful feeling, and she went to sleep comforted by the loving promise.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.