A PASSAGE from a book about Billingers describes how 19-year-old Jack Hill became All England ice-skating champion on Carr Mill Dam in 1879, during the ‘great frost’.
Many thanks to Kevin Heneghan, who sent a letter including the excerpt about the Billinge skating hero known as ‘Our Nell’s Jack’.
Kevin said: “His full name was Jack Hill and he soared to national fame in the great frost of 1879 when, at the tender age of 19, he became All England skating champion.
“He was later landlord of the Brown Cow pub in Rainford Road.”
Chapter 7 of The Billingers by Richard Donald, describes the skating 400-yard race: “In 1879, the great frost lasted for over four months, and skating matches took place nearly every day on Carr Mill Dam before crowds that were numbered in their thousands.
“Jack Hill had won 22 matches in succession, so that his fame at last reached London.
“Gaming and betting men in the north and south became keen on a match between Jack and the Lincolnshire champion, Fish Smart, regarded generally as the All England champion.
“When Smart and his managers reached Wigan station they were met by a brass band and were then driven by pony and trap to Billinge for lunch at the Brown Cow.
“Enormous sums were wagered on the race, which took place on Sunday, December 29. One farmer sold two pigs to increase his stake, while the landlady of The George and Dragon bet a horse and trap on the result.
“Large sums were bet by southerners who naturally favoured Fish Smart. The race was more than 400 yards.”
It continues: “Smart had faster reflexes and was soon two yards ahead. But thereafter the gap neither widened nor narrowed. Then Smart put his head down and made a supreme effort.
“Jack lost a yard and then another, then imperceptibly edged closer. Soon they were together.
“Maybe Smart made his bid a few seconds too early or that Jack would not be humiliated in front of 500 cheering Billingers. At any rate, Jack won by six inches to a foot.
“Billinge, for the first time in its long history, was home to an English champion. Fish Smart did not come back to Carr Mill Dam.”
n KEVIN, meanwhile, referred to a letter from Rodney Chadwick featured in an earlier Coffey Time.
He said: “(It) will certainly have raised a few eyebrows among your Billinge readers, who had a local ice-skating hero called ‘Our Nell’s Jack’, not ‘Old Nell’s Jack’.”
Kevin added: “Rodney (Chadwick) mentioned how, in the 1920s, his father beat Bill Hughes a few times.
“I do remember in the early 1940s watching an elderly Mr Hughes from Park Street, skating on Blackbrook Canal while wearing a fawn-coloured mac and using long-bladed Norwegian racing skates.”
n FINALLY, I’d just like to advise readers who have written to me that I have fallen behind in dealing with emails and letters. Several phone messages on the answering service have also been deleted without a response. I send my apologies and hope to catch up over the next few columns.