British Skating Legends

Unsung heroes of British roller speed skating




James "Jimmy" Reed (No. 1 in the list of male British team members) epitomises the early years of roller speed skating for many people.  It is difficult to track down this individual, but what we do know is that he was born in the early 1900's and was a member of the Alexandra Palace Roller Speed Club in the late 1920's through the war years and into the mid 1940's.

Jimmy Reed was well known for coaching the local youngsters at the Alexandra Palace rink.  Known as 'Jimmy Reed's Boys' the group of youngsters would become firm friends for many years and one or two of them having a degree of success.  The most notable of these being Bob Halford, who would go on to represent Great Britain at World Championships.

On the 8th January 1928 Reed won the first of his many British Championship medals when he finished 3rd in the Half Mile on Holland Park.  A year later and Reed was unstoppable, winning all three championships, the Half Mile, One Mile and Five Mile over two weekends.  Prior to 1924 there was only the One Mile and Five Mile, but with the addition of the Half Mile he became the third skater to win all three titles in a single season (Benny Lee in 1924 and R.Symondson in 1926 being the others).

In 1930 he would add another two titles, the One Mile and Five Mile and also form part of the winning relay team for the very first time.

In 1931 he was again victorious in the relay but took no individual medals.  A lean year by his own standards, however 1932 saw him back on song.  It started with a second place in the Half Mile behind team mate Eddie Stumbke before taking gold in the One Mile on the 4th February.  This victory saw him take his sixth title and make him the most successful British speed skater to date.  With another silver (again behind Stumbke) in the Five Mile and another gold in the relay, Reed was well and truly back to winning ways.


1933 was also to be a successful year with yet more gold medals, again in the One Mile, Five Mile and relay, whilst the Half Mile eluded him once more as he could only manage the silver behind Stumbke for a second year in succession.

In 1934 it is not clear what happened to Reed.  He did not feature in any of the individual placings in the British Championships and nor did he feature in the Alexandra Palace team that again won the relay for a record sixth time.  What we do know, though, is that in 1935 he once more features, albeit a silver in the One Mile and return to the winning relay team.  Finishing ahead of Reed in the One Mile was Harold Wilkinson, formerly of Brixton All Blacks but now skating for Broadway.  Wilkinson was a former title winner back in 1931 and had featured occasionally in the medals, but in 1935 Wilkinson added his name to the list of "treble winners".  

Once again, in 1936, Reed does not feature in any of the Championship medal placings.  Further, the Alexandra Palace club lose their stranglehold on the relay when Broadway win the event on 14th February.  It was Palace's first loss since 1929. Despite these performances Reed would still become instrumental in paving the way for British international speed skating when he, Bill Ross (Alexandra Palace) and Harold Wilkinson (Broadway) got called up to represent Great Britain at the European Championships in Stuttgart in Germany.  

This was the third time a European Championships had been held, but the first time on a track (Anvers, Belgium in 1930 and Monza, Italy in 1935 had both been on a road circuit).  It was also notable in so far as it was the very first time that Great Britain sent a national team to a major international championships. In all there were eight events and Great Britain placed itself firmly on the speed skating map with victories in seven of them.  Bill Ross was victorious in the 500 metres, 10000 metres and 20000 metres whilst Harold Wilkinson would go on and win the 1500 metres and 2000 metres.  Reed came away with a gold medal in the 5000 metres.  It was an almighty performance and remains to this day the most number of senior gold medals taken by a British international team in a single championships.  Reed and the rest of the British team pioneered performances and set the scene for British speed skating for years to come.

Reed came home and where once some were questioning whether his day had been and gone, in 1937 he showed everyone just what a class act he still was. On 12th December 1936 he won the Half Mile Championship at the Granby Halls, Leicester, ahead of newly found British team mate, Wilkinson.  On 14th January 1937 he added the One Mile.  The 4th February saw him help Alexandra Palace take their place as the most successful club by winning yet another relay title and then on the 24th February Reed won the Five Mile becoming the first skater to do the "double triple".  It also took his tally of British titles to eleven, a record that would not be beaten for another 27 years, and then only by the legendary Les Woodley. 

From 1938 onwards his name disappears from the speed skating record books. It was also the year of the very first World Track Championships which were on home turf, at Wembley, London, but Reed was making a name for himself in another British shirt.  As well as speed skating Reed was also a keen competitor in roller speedway (a precursor to todays roller derby), so much so that he was due to travel with the British team to Chicago, but the outbreak of World War II put a stop to all that.

Let there be no doubt that Jimmy Reed was a trendsetter for British speed skating.  He was by far the man to beat in the 1930's and his triple gold medal winning performance in a single European Championships is still a British record to this day.  The fact he won no fewer than eleven British titles in an era when there were only three to win in any one year is also a remarkable feat in itself.  He also remains the only man to this day to have twice won all British titles, including the relay, in any one year.

The 1930's was a transitional period for British speed skating as the country looked to send it's first representatives to major international competitions, and heading up that transition was British skating legend, Jimmy Reed.