The Reverend Robert Walker, 1755 – 1808: Icecapades

We’ve the good fortune of having a year round ice skating rink nearby, which makes for a nice break in a steamy July day.  This provides me a contrived intro for the Raeburn chestnut to our left.   You know the piece. The Reverend Something Something skating on Someplace Someplace.  That one.

The Reverend was the third child of William Walker and Susanna Sturment, he a Scotsman and she a Virginian, of all things.  The father also a man of the cloth was called to minister to the Church of Scotland ex-patriots at the Scottish Kirk in Rotterdam (destroyed in the last war, alas).

What is a boy to do in the Netherlands when the winter cold freezes the canals? 

He didn’t live only on the continent.  When he was fifteen it was back to Scotland, there to enroll in the family trade. (They got to work faster back in the day.)   He got a living at Cramond Kirk, six miles northwest  of  Edinburgh, where he is said to have fixed a pretty under-performing operation.

He was your basic mens sana in corpore sana sort of fellow, albeit in the most dignified manner possible.  In the warmer months, he hung with the Royal Company of Archers.  In the winter, the Edinburgh Skating Society, a young organization (first of its kind, in fact) of enthusiasts where he would fit right in – all those frozen canals back in Rotterdam.  Suitable exercise for a vicar.  Dignified.  You don’t imagine this figure doing sow cows or even much in the way of jumps.

When not improving the body, he was exercising the mind.  He scribbled away on  various topics, not least of all the Dutch and their peculiar ways.  Natives of the Low-lands at that time,  he tells us,  played a game they called “kolf”, if you can credit it.   (Not quite the game you’re thinking of.)

He was credible enough to become a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, chaplain to the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Speculative Society, which puts him in the company of the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Adam Smith.  Also the painter Sir Henry Raeburn. Which gets us back to the painting.

For such a ubiquitous painting,  it’s surprising  that the thing was only shown publicly in 1949.

4 thoughts on “The Reverend Robert Walker, 1755 – 1808: Icecapades

  1. Here in Northeast Ohio we were mad about skating on our local rivers, twenty years ago they stopped freezing over enough to skate on, it is to the point where even the swamps are a risk of getting wet.

    • That’s as sad a thing as I’ve read all day. I lived in the Netherlands in the mid-sixties and I can tell you I never saw canals freeze enough to skate on.

      I’m told natural ice is a different animal from arena ice. True? We yearn to know.

      • It is a bit rougher from the wind and blowing snow, the natural ice. A bit of a trick as well, currents, animal runs, mudflats can cause the ice to thin to the point of a soaker. We always wore life vests under our coats on the big rivers in case we went through the ice. In clear ice spots you could see the fallen trees float by under the ice, not a happy thought if one were to get pulled under the ice. Last year was the first in three years that there was ice to skate on , thick enough for a party-6 inches is deemed safe if it is new ice that has not been rained on or slushed up from a thaw. In the 60s, we skated from late November to March. Even into the mid 80s, January and February were months where skating was a big part of our social agenda. We had ponds with lights and fireplaces, pumps to flood the ice for a nice surface, it is just not possible this far south today.

        • Sounds like a sport of young men.

          Or God fearing vicars.

          In other words, not for me. I’ll stick to the arena, regardless of the occasional crowd.

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