Twice Back Centre Change, Three, Meet: The Humphry Cobb Story

"The skater should aim at travelling noiselessly and lightly, stealing smoothly over the ice without jar or necessary friction. He should never skate, so to speak, as if he were a dead weight, but while in motion he should always have a certain feeling of elasticity." - Humphry Cobb, "Figure Skating In The English Style", 1913

The son of Elizabeth (Sharpe) and Henry Peyton Cobb, Humphry Henry Cobb was born July 12, 1873 in the London borough of Paddington. He and his many siblings were raised at Wealdstone House, Harrow On The Hill, which employed a staff of five domestic servants. His father was a solicitor and banker who served as a Liberal Member of Parliament under Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. His great uncle was Reverend Edgar Stogdon, the longtime vicar of Harrow.

As a young man of means and social standing growing up in the late Victorian era, Humphry had access to England's elite sporting circles. He first made his mark as an athlete on the cricket field, playing for the Middlesex and West Herts Cricket Clubs. He also served as the captain of the Rosslyn Park Rugby Football Club, enjoyed boxing and swimming and was an early motoring enthusiast. However, his most important contributions to English sport were arguably on the ice.

Top (left to right): B. Spring Rice, E.D.P. Pinks, T. Nutall. Bottom (left to right): Dr. E.N. Lemon, L. Courvoisier and Humphry Cobb at Morgins, 1914

During the Edwardian era, Humphry made a name for himself in Switzerland as a leading exponent of English Style figure skating. He regularly participated in or judged the numerous English Style contests for cups and trophies held at winter resorts and earned the first class badge of the National Skating Association. He also served as President of the Grindelwald Skating Club.

In 1913, Humphry penned the book "Figure Skating In The English Style", which was described as "the number one practical bible of its day" for English Style skating. He followed the book up with a section on figure skating in Will Cadby's book "Switzerland In Winter (Discursive Information For Visitors)" the following year.

Humphry's theories on figure skating were infuenced by Henry C. Lowther, the Monier-Williams brothers, Edward Frederic Benson and H.J. Houghton, his predecessor as President of the Grindelwald Skating Club, who developed a patent English Style skate for Francis Wood & Son's. In an era when the Continental Style of skating was becoming immensely popular, Humphry was decidedly conservative in his views on skating and he was not alone in his views. With conviction, he wrote, "Power, which should, of course, be ultimately aimed at, must be acquired by degrees. To endeavour to force it merely results in a rough, scrambling performance, scraped turns, and a general want of steadiness. He should always skate within himself, that is, just as powerfully as he can, consistently with good skating, and not be led away by the popular fallacy that size and speed necessarily imply the latter, or seek for the applause which these qualities, in spite of all defects, never fail to elicit from the ignorant."

Humphry married his wife Edith Muriel Stogdon in 1908 and took up residence at The City, Harrow Weald. Five years later, his sister married into a title - the Baroness Ilkeston. During The Great War, Humphry was a Captain with the Oxfordshire and Bucks Light Infantry. He served in Mesopotamia and was wounded in the British advance on Flanders. He was sent to the Royal Free Hospital in London to recover, where had an operation to remove shrapnel from his side. His brother Kenneth had already been killed in battle in Gallipoli.

After the War, Humphry worked on the stock exchange and returned to the ice with a greater passion than ever for skating. He has been credited as playing an integral role in a "renaissance of the English Style" at Morgins, Switzerland in the roaring twenties. Winter sport enthusiast Arnold Lunn (rather dramatically) wrote, "English skating gradually faded from the ice rinks of the Alps, and might have disappeared completely, but for the fact that Morgins offered an asylum to the faithful. [Humphry] Cobb, the Moses of Anglican skating, led the chosen people out of the bondage of Egypt to the promised land of Morgins, where the law and prophets were honoured up to the very outbreak of the Second World War." 

In 1925, Humphry was one of the four members of the Bear Skating Club's winning team in the National Skating Association's Competition for the Challenge Shield for Combined Figure Skating. 
He served as Chairman of the National Skating Association's Ice Figure Committee from 1924 to 1926 and donated the Humphry Cobb Cup for junior competition in the English Style to the Association in 1925. Historian Dennis Bird noted, "He also invented a snow bicycle, made of wood with artificial sleds. It was really the prototype of the modern ski-bob, and he used it regularly at Morgins in Switzerland." In the thirties, Humphry took up rugby again, rejoining the Rosslyn Park team after a thirty-four year absence. His doctor suggested that playing again would "keep his muscles supple".

During World War II, Humphry mourned the loss of his son Patrick, who was killed on a motor gun-boat in the English Channel. Less than a decade later, on December 13, 1949, he passed away in Rye, Sussex. His passion for skating can be best remembered by his beautiful statement: "There can be few more pleasurable sensations... to mortal man than that experienced by a skater when moving at high speed on a long bold curve on a large level surface of ice. Every muscle in the body feels at rest, and the glorious sense of perfect balance combined with the joy of rushing through the air with the minimum of friction can only be, as it has so often been, compared to flying."

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