With a city as old and home to so many people as London it’s almost inevitable that there have been some shocking tragedies over the years.
But most of these tragedies are well known and remembered today for the lives lost.
So you might be surprised to learn that just over 150 years ago 40 people were killed in Regent’s Park in an accident whilst ice-skating of all activities.
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The Regents Park boating lake today
(Image: N Chadwick)
The terrible tragedy happened 154 years ago in January 1867, after what had been an unusually cold month – meaning most areas of open water in the city had completely frozen over.
This included the boating lake in Regent’s Park, which many Londoners today will be familiar with, and naturally with the lake frozen over hundreds of people took the opportunity to go skating on it.
However things turned sour on January 14 when the ice cracked and 21 people were plunged into the freezing waters below – but luckily all of these 21 were safely pulled out and warmed up, escaping unhurt.
Despite this near miss, the warning the lake had given wasn’t heeded and the following day 500 people retook to the only just refrozen ice.
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It is thought there were also as many as 2,000 onlookers watching the fun.
Midway through the afternoon there was an audible crack that rang out across the lake before almost half the skaters were once again plunged into the dangerously cold water.
This time they weren’t so lucky, though half were saved with boats and branches and others dragged themselves out, the death toll was shocking.
40 people either drowned or later died of hypothermia after their heavy winter clothing and metal skates dragged them to the bottom of the freezing lake.
Another contemporary depiction from the London Police News
In a further gruesome twist the recovery of some bodies took days with the lake continually freezing over and divers having to be enlisted for their extraction from the water.
An inquest after the tragedy led to the lake’s depth being reduced from its original 12 foot depth and a concrete base installed.
If you go for a paddle nowadays you’ll find the lake is just four feet deep as a result.
There is no memorial to the tragedy though and so it remains one of the lesser known incidents to have shaken the capital over the years.
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