In bitterly cold winters 150 years ago keen local amateur skaters from a Fenland village founded what is now an international winter sport. 

The Norris Museum, in St Ives, has an excellent collection of items, photos, films and books relating to Fen skating.

Last year, the museum was delighted to receive two diaries of a family who were at the centre of 19th Century Fen skating.

One diarist is Neville Goodman, the eldest son of Joseph Goodman – Potto Brown’s milling partner.

The other is his nephew, Neville Tebbutt, of Bluntisham. Within both diaries, are descriptions of Bandy matches (a form of hockey on ice), skating races and skating expeditions.

Needless to say, the weather conditions then were completely different to our 21st Century winters.

The frosts were hard and lasted for weeks. Neville Goodman describes one long-distance trip on the Fen waterways that he made with his brothers Albert and Henry on January 13, 1871.

"Started at Overcote at 8am and then skated by Earith, Welney to Denver at about eight miles per hour. Could not get off the Hundred Foot because of the tide breaking the sides.

"At length got off and went by a drain to Hilgay and so by Southery, Littleport to Ely and on. Met friends near the Five Miles from Anywhere [pub] and skated back to Ely, dined at Refreshment Room, then skated to Cambridge. Back at 6.45pm having skated 66 miles."

Neville and Albert Goodman wrote in A Handbook of Fen Skating in 1882. Another of their nephews, Charles Goodman Tebbutt, organised the rules of Bandy and captained the Bury Fen Bandy Club at Bluntisham.

The Tebbutts and the Bury Club promoted the sport widely in England and Northern Europe. Today Bandy is a major winter sport, particularly in Sweden and Russia where there are professional and amateur leagues.

Bury (now sometimes Berry) Fen now rarely sees hard ice on its flooded meadow. But in the centre of Bluntisham there is the little wooden shelter with a tiled roof, a weathervane on top and inside is a barograph.

It is dedicated to the memory of Charles and Mary Tebbutt and was given to the village in 1911 by their son Louis.

The whole Tebbutt family were stalwarts of the Bury Fen Bandy Club, and so Louis chose not a clock, a tree or a seat for the village, but a weather station.

When the winter wind swings to the north-east and the needle of the barograph traces rising atmospheric pressure, the freezing polar air is coming. And then Bluntisham knows – it’s time to get your skates on.