Veteran campaigner Richard Meacock, who has established an ice rink museum at his gallery on Richmond Hill, reveals fresh information about the manner in which ice skating was introduced to Richmond.

There were some dreadful accidents in the name of skating. The biggest loss of life being on the pond in Regents Park, when the ice broke under hundreds of skaters.

Richmond Park Ponds was also a Londoner's favourite venue when the frosts came which, in the late 1800s seemed to be every winter. There were heated debates in The House of Commons and because there was an indoor real ice rink for toffs in Knightsbridge it was decided by Act of Parliament to build indoor ice rinks in all major British cities.

By 1900 London had 11 rinks, some really lavish like The Great Hall at The Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, others just big like Hammersmith.

Queen Victoria's cousin, George, The Duke of Cambridge had departed East Twickenham to make way for housing, but in going he gave The Town of Richmond his riverside lands for leisure purposes'.

The first building to be erected on the duke's bequest land was a roller skating rink, probably because this was before ice making plants were invented.

Skating fitted in with the riverside location. Steps led down to the Thames where literally thousands of rowing boats were available for hire and between the bridge and the rink was a public park.

In 1914 the First World War erupted and the rink was requisitioned by the government to become a Belgian hand-grenade factory - not exactly what the duke had had in mind.

Meanwhile, in Hammer-smith, Prince's Club Knightsbridge, The Palladium, Earls Court, and other ice rinks prospered since ice skating was considered upper class. Black tie and tails were worn and hats and long dresses for the ladies.

Madge Syers of Richmond became the first Olympic Gold medalist for Britain for her skating. She competed against the men as there were no women's events, so this was a fantastic achievement. But ordinary folk continued to venture out onto ponds and the death toll rose.

The best skaters in the world were from Russia, Sweden and Canada who didn't have indoor all year round ice, so London started to attract the world champions. Ulrich Salchow, Panin, Axel Paulsen etc and English standards and styles became world standards.

The oldest ice skating club in the world was already in operation in Edinburgh with English speed skating established on The Fens. The National Skating Association of Great Britain set out standards' and issued memberships after tests of competence' from 1879.

Was this a golden age? In some respects yes, but even in the 1920s the spectre of changing the use of these huge rooms' for more profitable uses loomed. Money and rink ownership started to clash and government failed to spot the decline in ice skating provision that Parliament had wanted.

Hammersmith was owned and run by Claude Langdon, a showman. He liked his skaters' but a dance hall would make him more money. New railways and massive house building had more than doubled the size of London in the Victorian/Edwardian era. The place most accessible for these hordes of people in the west of London was Richmond, the centre of the public transport network with three railway lines including the Underground.

Bridges over the Thames allowed buses to connect to north, south, east and west so Richmond was the perfect spot.

What had been the roller rink was now a derelict factory and for sale. Claude Langdon met financier Victor Thompson and together they conceived a dream - a sports centre with riverside terrace and caf, bowling green, tennis courts and an indoor ice rink.

Was this the first leisure centre? The largest sheet of indoor ice the world has ever seen would be 285ft long. The building at Clevedon Road was only single story and somewhat less than theatrical. It had to be extended. A huge barrel roof in concrete with glass panels was envisaged, supported on internal concrete balconies. This raised the roof' in a sensational way. The engines for the ice making were the very latest design; the rink edging in mahogany.

It was a huge project and took from 1924 to 1927 to complete. The ice rink museum has drawings and photographs of its construction. The best news of all was that the duke's gift conditions for leisure for the people of Richmond were met in aces.

When the Hammersmith skaters were told their rink had become The Hammersmith Palais, they were given free tickets for the Richmond ice rink. Wonderful, not a day's skating lost and all the clubs that had been Hammersmith's and Earl's Court seamlessly transferred to a far easier place for all of west London to visit.

Skaters had a new home, a centre of excellence for the Aldwych speed skaters, professional tuition in figures, ice hockey, curling, freestyle, dance, the English style Royal Skating Club and National Skating Association tests.

A new Richmond Rink Orchestra was introduced and public sessions for all at reasonable prices. Democracy had arrived in west London, skating for all the family.

So started 65 years of the best ice rink in the world. The epicentre of traditional British ice skating preserved for future generations.

No longer did people have to venture out onto frozen ponds, this was skating 365 days a year.

A healthy pastime, skill, opportunity for stardom, meeting place, club, competition venue and ice show venue were all rolled into one under the banner of Sportsdrome Ltd'.