First recognised winner of an individual British Championship (1894)
Charles J. Wilson was born on 12th August 1876, three years before the formation of the National Skating Association of Great Britain.
He started skating at the age of 6 in Camden and by the age of 13 had won a "juvenile championship" at Olympia. Skating was in a boom period and in that event alone there were 54 starters, although it is reported that half of them fell at the start! In those days this would have been an unofficial championship with the first senior championship not recognised until 1894. In fact, there would be no official "juvenile" or junior championships right up until 1961.
That very first Senior British Championship took place on 6th February 1894 at the St. George rink in Wandsworth. It was Wilson's home track and racing for the Wandsworth St. George club he entered the event over a mile distance. Back then it was a time trial event, billed as a 'speed test' and it Wilson came away victorious to be crowned the very first official British Champion. Around that time a well know London store, Benetfink & Co. who dealt with furnishings and ironmongery was taken over by businessman Albert Evans. His vision was to branch out into sports, athletics, outfitting and cycle and motor accessories. Benetfink & Co. donated a trophy, the Benetfink Challenge Trophy, as the prize for the winning skater. That trophy still serves today as a trophy for a senior men's British Championship amongst the numerous titles that can now be won.
After Wilson's first championship win there were no NSA championship events scheduled for another 12 years! In the intervening years he raced mostly on his home rink until the turn of the century. In 1900 the Crystal Palace Company started to sponsor numerous speed events on the Crystal Palace rink. With the closure of the St. George rink Wilson switched clubs to Willesden. Wilson featured heavily in these amateur races, more often than not coming away victorious.
In 1906 the NSA reinstated the British Championships, this time over one and a half miles. Despite his 12 year absence and now aged 30, Wilson again took the title and retained the Benetfink Cup. With the event being held on the Crystal Palace rink, Wilson was clearly a favourite. He repeated his success again a year later in 1907 and again in 1908, all on the Crystal Palace rink, making it four championships in succession.
In those days there was a distinct difference between amateur and professional when it came to sport. After his amateur British title winning performance in 1908 Wilson turned professional for the 1908-1909 season. On February 26th 1909 at the Olympia rink Wilson finished third out of 150 competitors behind the legendary Harley Davidson (USA) and Allie Moore (USA) over a mile distance. A month later on 27th March in the one and half mile championship event, Wilson would be crowned "Professional Champion" becoming the first skater to have won both amateur and professional national titles.On the 26th April 1910 at Maida Vale Wilson was again victorious and once more on 12th April 1911 on the Brixton rink, albeit somewhat fortuitously. This would be Wilson's final Championship victory and this is how it was reported in The Rinking World magazine on 22nd April:FINAL:
The final brought about a really great race. Wilson was off first, followed by Curtis and Greenall. They continued to race splendidly , Wilson leading all the time until two laps from home, when Curtis passed Wilson, and in doing so unfortunately for himself transgressed the rules of the N.S.A. From the racing point of view it was a splendid finish, Curtis getting home a few inches ahead of Wilson, with Greenall about a foot away. Although Curtis was first past the line he was, as stated above, disqualified. This brought Wilson up into first place and gave to him the championship honours. Time 3 min. 7 sec. This time constitutes a record for the Brixton Rink.
Being professional meant that it was now very difficult to turn down a challenge from other professional skaters. One such challenge came from well known Leicester Boulevard rink manager and owner, the wonderfully named Tertius Picton Blakesley. Wilson did not often compete outside of London but on 4th May 1911, nearing his 35th birthday, he did so and would again come away with the spoils.
By the early 1920's the Professional Championships had ceased to be competed for. In 1923 and now in his mid/late 40's Wilson wrote to the Roller Committee of the NSA and asked if his amateur status could be reinstated. After some discussion the Committee decided that they would not grant his request, citing his professional racing between 1909 and 1911 as the reason behind this decision.
By the time Wilson retired from the sport he had not only become the very first 'amateur' British Champion, as well as the first British skater to win both amateur and professional titles but had also won more than 200 events over distances ranging from a quarter mile to fifty miles. In fact, such was his superiority over all others at that time that throughout his racing career he proudly boasted that he had "never been beaten by a subject of the King". In a time before World or European Championships this was the only measure one could have of a skaters ability, and Wilson's achievement is one that very few, if any, could match even now more than a century since he first graced a rink.