Curator's Choice: 'Rinkomania'

A bacl and white image of a painting showing Edwardian ladies playing football in rolle-skates

© Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

    • Before joining Show Me and our grown up site Culture 24, our Editorial Assistant Sarah Jackson used to work at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery as an Assistant Curator. Find out more about one of the more memorable things she found whilst working there.

      "I’ve worked at Brighton Museum in a number of different roles over the years, and I’ve been fortunate that those roles have always involved working closely with collections. It’s an amazing privilege to be able to work closely with museum objects – there’s always a new surprise just around the corner!

      One of the best things I’ve ever found in a museum store was a glass plate negative showing an image of Edwardian ladies playing football in roller-skates. I still love seeing people’s faces when I say that!

      I found the image quite by chance. I was helping the museum move some of its local history archive to a new home. One day, I was packing glass plate negatives taken of museum objects in new boxes lined with thick foam in order to keep them safe.

      A glass plate negative is basically a photographic negative that has been printed onto a square piece of glass. Back when photography was first invented in the late 19th century, that was how all photographs captured.

      As you can imagine, this format was very bulky and fragile, so when photographic film (which was more convenient and less fragile) was introduced most people stopped using glass. However, since glass plate negatives are less likely to distort or bend than film, some photographic businesses continued using them long after most people stopped.

      I didn’t have time to look at all the negatives I was packing, so it was by chance that I happened to pause and take a closer look at this one. Most of the other images I had looked at that day were either images of Brighton or of museum objects, such as ceramic figurines and paintings, so the image of these ladies playing football in roller-skates was a real surprise!

      Unfortunately, there was very little context for the image. After a bit of research we found out that the image – clearly a painting – also featured in a book called A Pictorial History of Brighton.

      According to the book:

      "Six-a-side roller-skate football played between two teams of women in an unidentified Brighton skating rink in January 1907. The goals were six feet high and seven feet wide and to prevent the ball lifting it was filled with one pint of water. Roller-skating itself was in the midst of a revival in the Edwardian period.

      First invented with the appearance of ball-bearings in the 1870s, the initial wave of 'rinkomania' was short-lived. It illustrates the changing attitude of women in the years before World War One, as they increasingly participated in active sports like tennis and cycling."

      Unfortunately, that’s all we know about it. We don’t know for certain who the painting is by, or where it was supposed to be depicting, nor how the museum came to have it.

      However, this mysterious object highlights several interesting things. For one thing, roller-skating is a lot older than I initially realised!

      It also shows how exciting archives can be. Even objects that initially look boring can suddenly produce something really interesting and unusual.  When you go delving into archives, you never know what you’ll find."

      You can see the glass plate negative on the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery website.
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