Brixton Roller Skating Rink – memories from the late 1950s

Brixton Roller Rink - memories from the late 1950s

For over half a century Brixton had its own roller skating rink, located on the corner of Effra Road (opposite the George Canning/Hootenanny).

Opening  in 1910, contemporary reports say that dance bands regularly played at the skating rink, with a William Robert Fuller (b.1889) being a well known performer there.

Mr Fuller appears to have been a particularly talented chap and was able to play the Trumpet, Cornet, Piano, Organ, Violin, One string fiddle, Mandolin and the Swanee Whistle! (source).

The rink closed around 1965, and was occupied by a carpet warehouse for many years before being converted into a Sainsbury’s supermarket in 2012.

Fred Wilkinson’s excellent account manages to give us a flavour of what we’ve lost:

Fred Wilkinson at Brixton Roller Rink: Figure Skating Class circa 1959 – 1960

Roller skating was a major passion throughout my teens and I went to Brixton Roller Rink as often as possible from the mid 1950s until autumn 1961 when I left home to attend art school.

I loathed most sports, especially ball games and anything demanding teamwork, but self-reliant activities such as judo, rowing, fishing and skating had a much greater appeal. I had my first pair of street skates when I was 6 or 7 and roller skating became the only sport I ever excelled at.

As a teenager I went skating several times a week, and was never happier than racing around the Brixton rink impressing and chatting-up the girls.

My five shillings (25p) pocket money didn’t stretch very far, so I financed my hobby by helping street market traders during the school holidays and at weekends until I reached 14 when I took a part-time job at the rink’s cafe – serving snacks of toast and Mrs Ball’s home-made bread pudding, and ferrying (on skates) cups of tea to customers seated at tables.

Brixton Roller Rink - memories from the late 1950s

This photo above was taken to celebrate a child’s birthday after one of the private dance classes given by the lady teacher on the right.  I’ve no idea how I came to have a copy.

I was 15 and could only afford a few lessons, and would have liked more, but the instructor gave the clear impression that I was a little too ‘common’ to be mixing with her middle-class protégées with their proper costumes and expensive figure skates (I wore jeans and my Mum’s hand-knitted sweater, and my pride and joy were my homemade racing skates with wooden wheels and strips of tyre rubber for brakes).

The teacher also disapproved of my interest in the girl whose hand I’m holding…the shy star of her figure skating class!  Her younger sister is beside her.

I abandoned my lessons after realizing that skates built for speed lacked the ankle support and toe stops necessary for elegant figure skating and fancy dance manoeuvres. There was no way I could afford a second pair of skates.

I believe the smartly-dressed elderly gentleman in the front row manned the ticket kiosk. He also changed the dreary orchestral records that we skated to, and made announcements on the Tannoy.  He was very short, as were several others on the staff.   Indeed it seemed almost a pre-requisite of employment to be of diminutive stature.

The lady above him in the middle row also worked at the rink, distributing skates to the ladies.  Her brother, an Arthur Askey look-alike with thick-rimmed glasses (not in the photo), distributed skates to the men and then patrolled the rink to ensure good behaviour during public skating sessions.

The tall lady wearing spectacles in the back row was often present and may have been related to a member of staff or the management in some way.  All the others were regular members of the figure skating class, none of whom I knew.

A typical skating session would last 3 hours, and a queue would begin to form outside the rink about 20 minutes before opening time.  Very few people had their own skates and getting there early meant having the pick of the rink’s skates…or at least getting the correct size.

Once inside you would queue at a counter to collect your strap-on skates, then hand over your coat and bag and pick up a ticket for their return at the end of the session.

If your skates didn’t roll straight and true you would have to join the end of the queue again to exchange them, by which time mainly the duds were left.

Brixton Roller Rink - memories from the late 1950s
Interior view of Brixton Skating Rink showing perimeter seats, tables and lavish use of bunting  [ c.1920 © Lambeth Landmark]

The music would start and off you would go…skating clockwise around the rink which would be freshly dusted with French chalk to prevent slipping.  After a while there would be an announcement over the loudspeaker and everyone would skate in the reverse direction.

A member of staff was responsible for maintaining orderly behaviour on the rink.  He would skate slowly backwards between the oncoming skaters and toot his whistle and admonish anyone who stepped out of line and broke the rules.

Pushing, speeding, skating against the flow and cutting across the rink were major offences.  It was forbidden to cut across the rink as the centre was reserved for the more serious skaters to practice forward and backward figures.

Professional skaters

Halfway through the session there would be an interval and the rink would be cleared to make way for professional skaters to demonstrate their skills.

This was when everyone headed to the cafe for a snack and a smoke.  Then, if it was an evening or weekend session, members of the Brixton speed skating team would have their turn to tear around the rink as fast as they could.

With the music turned off and so many wooden wheels hitting the deck at speed this was a very noisy affair.  They always skated in single file, bent double with right arms swinging and the other neatly folded behind their backs.  I was too young to join the team but would occasionally tag onto the end as they tore around the track.

National Anthem

After a dozen or so circuits the MC would clear the floor and the music would start up again in a lighter, more contemporary, vein (Fats Domino, Johnnie Ray, Ray Charles) and it would be time for everyone to return to the rink for a final clockwise session before the National Anthem and home time.

Brixton Roller Rink - memories from the late 1950s

Advertisement published in the Brixton Free Press showing a roller skating couple at the Brixton Rink  [© 1914  Lambeth Landmark]

72 Comments on “Brixton Roller Skating Rink – memories from the late 1950s”

  1. I was a member of the “brixton falcons speed club” from 1948 until 1952 I then went into the army. I returned to the club in 1956-7.
    My time at brixton rink were happy days, I shall always remember them.
    This is where I met my wife


  2. Hi I was a member of the Birmingham speed club and did manage to race at Brixton a couple times, it was definately the fastest track in the country and if I’m honest i found it a bit scary as there were not really any straights, my best memory was in 1961 when Les woodley won the british mile event after skating around the outside of the south london boys who were excellent particulary on their own track, this evokes memories of the likes of Ray Wortley, Bill Sharman, John foley,brian sullivan to name but a few, Les skated for the Midland club who were our arch rivals but he did deserve some credit for that incredible piece of speed skating, I also seem to remember that he later broke most of the world record times that were held by the Italians who protested about the Brixton track among other petty things and as far as i know the record times set by Les were never made official, I also seem to remember the South London boys helped with the pacemaking for that event which probably would probably have been held around 1962/63. regards Roy

  3. Hi
    I virtually learned to skate at a very very young age, my mother was the cleaner at Brixton rink and a man there, name of Ken used to put polish impregnated sawdust down all over the wooden floor and then used a machine something like a wide lawn mower to collect it up and buff the floor with cloth rollers on the front, i learnt to skate by hanging on to this machine while it dragged me around, i think i was about five years old and Ken managed to acquire small skates for me, they were great days for me, in the school holidays my mother used to take me to work with her and i had the whole place to my self, i am now 62 but can still smell the coal smoke from the old iron pot bellied stove that stood near the entrance of the rink along with the smell of leather and the oil that was used on the wheel bearings.
    O happy memories, Kind regards to all who read this, Dave Elson

  4. @Dave Elson
    Dave, What great memories you have of the Rink. I think the man you refer to as Ken was my father. He was about 6 feet tall, slim build with glasses. I have a distant memory of being taken along once in the early sixties. The place seemed huge to me. I have been trying for ages to find some record of dad connected to the rink and yours is the first I have found. Regards Gary

    1. Yes I remember your dad Ken, and Mrs, Ball in the café. She had two children Barbara and a Peter, and an oldear daughter who worked in the café. I am third from left in the photo, next to my sister Linda and Fred on the left. Then there was “Auntie” Lou who worked in the ladies skateroom, her sister Vera on the right, the teacher and her husband Harry Harvey. The tall girl in the photo Louise, she had a brother Jimmy who worked in the men’s skateroom. Next to me is Susan, René and Roy Markham. In front Lavinia, and Yvonne Markham.

  5. good to read about the Brixton rink. Thanks to everyone! I never learned to roller or ice skate, but the Brixton & Streatham rinks were both such exciting/magic places. I went to both a few times, around 1954-6. I remember at Brixton, that there were times for the ‘experts’ to do their stuff, with the referee fellow, skating backwards, in the crowds of skaters, with his whistle. Very impressive to me.
    The hopeless learners like me stayed in ‘Mugs Alley’ a passageway defined by a barrier.
    The wilder lads zooming around at top speed, were true heros for me.

  6. What memories you have brought back. Around 1960 I would skate as often as finances would allow, eventually, the manager offered me a holiday job, half term etc, to run the cloakroom, for this I was paid the grand sum of 10 shillings a week plus lunch and a Pepsi I did not work many evenings as my father would not allow me to be out so late. The lady in the back row of your photo was Louise, she was the lady owner’s daughter and from time to time the mother would turn up at the rink resplendent in her fur coat and smart hats. I was a figure skater mainly but the manager took me under his wing and gave me dancing lessons free which I loved, he was a very nice man, always very smart in his black suit, white shirt and black bow tie. The hire skates had seen better days and were forever falling to bits, as a floor monitor, I was forever skating around trying to recover the wheels and ball-bearings. I remember Joan I think her name was who worked in the ladies skate room, Jimmy the attendent and not forgetting Mrs Balls (or was it Bowles) and her delicious rolls. It was at the rink that I met my husband Graham, a speed skater, he still skates when he can at the rink on Herne Bay pier but a little slower now, this rink is now due for closure. I would love to hear from anyone who was at the rink around this time.

    P.S. I do remember Ken in the men’s skate room.

  7. @a blighton


    Do you remember my father Joe Schofield, real namr Arthur Schofield
    he was a the rick all the time, might have even help out?
    my mother used to skate with him sometimes her name was Connie
    I believe he was also in the Brixtom Falcons club

    Any help would be great


  8. @Valerie Philp (nee Jones)
    hi val i was a member of the speed skating club from 1959 till 1969 when the rink closed.i also have fond memories of the rink.we used to go all over the country to race meetings.i am still intouch with some of the club members even now.regards john

  9. Hi Jim and John, regarding both questions, I am sure I remember Connie and I remember one or two guys called John, but I remember them as they were in the ’60’s also I would not necessarily have known their surnames but photos would probably make the job easier. Best wishes, Val.

  10. Hi, John Fuller, I remember you and Reg. There was also Mick who was a Gene Vincent lookalike. I skated there from 1959 until 1962. My ambition, at that time, was to get in front of you on the speed skating session but I only managed it once. You probably let me get in front just so you could cruise past me. You may remember two people in about 1960 that broke their ankles within six months of one another. Alan was the first and I was the second. I had very smelly feet at the time and Mick got the full whiff of it when he took my boots off as I lay on a stretcher and Chris whom I last saw a few years ago when he was still skating at Covent garden market. I also remember Fred with the thick lense glasses who married sheila.

  11. @Fred Street
    Mick was a fine speedskater and if you were skating behind him you must have raced with my husband Graham as he was Mick’s No. 2. Message for John, unable to see photos.

  12. I would love to hear from people that I knew like, Pat of Battersea whom I went out with for a while and her friend Kim. There was also Pam and Sue. Sue lived in Sandhurst Court Acre Lane and Pam lived in Bedford Road. She worked at County Hall and, even though she was 21 and I was 16, we dated for a while.

  13. Happy Xmas.

    Does anyone remember my Dad Cliff North?

    He along with Tommy Burfoot started the South London Roller Skating Club

    I have fond memories as a kid spending hours s the Brixton rink while Dad coached the team. We travelled to Italy to race which was very exciting for a nine year old in those days!

  14. @Chris North

  15. I seem to remember you, Valery. I think you were going out with somebody who was 6 or 7 years older than yourself. I think his name was Ron and you were broken hearted when he ended the relationship. I asked you for a date but you were still in recovery and you did not turn up. However, you did apologise.

  16. Happy New Year to all that remember the fun days at Brixton Roller Rink, it’s a pity there are no photos available of the boys and girls as memories are now fading, faces I remember but the names have passed me by, to anyone who may be interested, my Facebook site shows a photograph taken in the booth at the rink in 1960 with Graham,and a message for Fred, if that was me, sorry.

    I asked dad about the track suit and believe it or he has still got it!!!!!

    And his skates.

    What happened to you after the rink shut. Did you join him on international trips road racing ?

    Belgium etc

    He is pleased to hear from you. He is in the wars having a hop replacement today. Probably wore it out skating!

    Cheers keep well


  18. @Chris north

  19. Hi’ Chris,
    I am not sure if I am thinking of the right person but if I am you will remember me. I was the one who went to the ocassional party that you had at your house and always set out to get drunk as quickly as possible. I think it was after the third party you banned me from going. That last one really taught me a lesson. I was so ill when I got home that I did not touch alcohol for many years.
    I apologise for all the problems I gave you and Will. The last time I saw you was at the police building on the Albert Embankment. I was driving my London black cab after completing the knowledge. You said then that you were still skating at the Convent garden market.

  20. @Fred Street
    Hello Fred

    Not me and probably not my dad Cliff North. Back then in Bruxtin water lane. Dad didn’t have parties and I was just a young lad

    Good to see this site up and running. I sent some photos to Alan Rayner hopefully he will post them to the site



    @Chris north

    I have sent three photos to your email. It would good if you can get them
    On this site. Cheers. C

  22. im mick pearson i wore a leather jacket with apainting of a wicked beasti on the back used to hang around with fred night vic jeffryes and the lads in the speed club used to go out with one of the girls in the photo of the girls in the figure skating club

  23. Hello Mick, I remember you well. I mentioned you in an earlier posting when I said you always dressed and looked like Gene vincent. You may remember me too. I was the one that broke my ankle around 196o/61 and you took my boot of and nearly passed out from the smell of my feet. They don’t smell now. I also remember Vic as he punched me one night at a party because I chatted up his girlfriend. I didn’t blame him as I was drunk.



  25. hi fred.nice to see some replys about the old skating rink.i have not been on this site for some time,so thought i would have a look.reg was a good friend of mine for a long time.he imigrated to australia in 1965.i wa intouch with him for a while then he stopped writing.never heard from him again.i lived in sandmere rd which was off bedford rd.sandhurst crt was in acre lane which i knew well.mick pearson moved to dungeness in kent.he is a friend with me on friends reunited.are you on face book or friends reunited.if so look me up.
    my email address is

  26. Just wondering if anyone has any pictures of Johnny & Joan Ellis (nee) Noulton would be much apprechiated( I have fond memmories of Brixton Rink also Brokwell Park and most of all races at Alexandra Palace which I visited with Mum & Dad as a child. Sadly Dad passed away 4 years ago.

  27. Iwas one of the founders of the Falcons in 1949, I was capttain for a couple of years.I remember quite a few,Johnny & joan ellis, the 3 burfoot bros, ray tomasi,cliff north,tony blighton, and more ,i have a few photos of the whole club.
    I think the ones ive named will remember me. Ron Coopey

  28. hi ron.i have seen the pictures you sent john fry for his site. [skating legends].some great pictures there.i remember all of the brixton lads from the late 50s till the rink closed in 1968.i was a member of the SLRSC. formerly the falcons.sadly john ellis passed away some time ago.i have been intouch with his daughter who was asking if anybody had some pictures of her dad.i pointed her to john frys site.its a shame the old rink is now a carpet wharehouse now.i had a look in there didnt recognise the place .cheers john fuller.i am also on face book and friends reunited cheers

  29. Hallo all, I have just come across this post – is anyone still following it? I lived next door to the old rink. My father was the local GP and built his house (incorporating his surgery) on the bomb site next door in Josephine Avenue, which itself is now due for demolition. We grew up with the music of the rink (Tiptoe through the tulips) sounding through our evenings, though it was never very loud and was actually rather soothing. We went skating when we could but had to save up for a very long time for proper skates, and relied on those hired rattly ones. Does anyone remember the Burgess Cup? Awarded for skating very simple figures, it was the first thing I ever won, aged, I think, about 10.

    It was a scandal when they knocked the building down, listed beautiful maple floor and all – as I remember, at the time of the greatest corruption in the Town Hall. My father insisted on the high wall being retained along the side of our garden, just as well considering what’s happening now. I haven’t been back recently, I’m not sure I could bear to.

    1. hi Kate you obveastly went to the skating rink a bit before me . I started going there in 1959. I joined the speed skating club shortly after. the speed club trained Monday and Friday evening 6pm till the rink opened to the public at 730pm.when the rink closed in 1968 the club trained in brockwell park band stand. then at waterloo under pass. the club closed shortly after and the members went their different ways. After the rink closed it became a carpet warehouse. now its going to be a Sainsbury’s.
      I had many happy times at the rink even if the roof did leak. happy days. john fuller.

  30. Hi John, I think I was probably there around the same time as you! But not racing, I can’t remember when the junior classes were, but I remember the tall girl with specs in the picture, who taught us now and then. And yes, Michael, Dr Brown was my father. Do you remember him?

  31. Those were the days… my father died in 1991, my mother in 2011. Records of them and their house will be going into the Lambeth Archive when I can get it all together, to remember them after the house too has gone. I am thinking of writing a page about the skating rink now to add to it!

    I’ve just remembered that the BBC used to do a live broadcast from the rink now and then. They parked the outside broadcast van in our driveway and we used to be a real nuisance, I expect. The odd thing is that I remember the presenter as Johnny Morris, but it must have been long before the zoo days.

  32. WoW! Thank you for sharing your stories. I’ve always loved rollerskating and still skate. I grew up on Leander road, off Josephine Avenue in the 80’s and early 90’s and would walk past the carpet shop everyday.

    I never knew its history, so to hear such great memories is a real treat. Thank you all.

  33. Hi Gary Sherrington – I remember you dad Ken very well as he nearly always manned the gents skate kiosk handing out skates. He was a quiet and unassuming man who just got on with his job, as far as I recall. A nice guy.

    Hi Valerie Philp (nee Jones) – Mrs Ball ran the cafe for years, and as a schoolboy I worked part-time as her helper one evening a week and at week-ends from 1958 to Summer 61…serving coffees and rolls, and ferrying drinks and grub on skates to seated customers. Her best seller was her homemade bread pudding. She worked very long hours and was always tired. Her husband was 20 or 30 years her senior and in poor health…and burden to her when she was working so hard. Sometimes her nephew and a friend helped out in the evenings. I used the money I earned for cigarettes and to pay for more trips to the rink. It was my all-time favourite place and activity.

    1. Hi Fred – I have reason to believe that Mrs Ball was my great-grandmother Lucy (Tibby) Ball and lived on Appach Road. Please do get in touch if you have further memories or I may ask a few questions – many thanks, Richard

      1. Richard,
        I was born and brought up on Appach road in the 1950s and can well remember skating round the rink.
        Lot of water under the bridge since then.



        1. Thanks Michael, Fred – pretty sure we have the right person, so let me see if I can jog any more memories, gratefully received:

          Mrs Ball, Lucy, (also known as Powles), was small, frail, white haired and with glasses. Sound right?

          Does anyone else know if she worked there longer than 1958-61 while you were there? As a part time boss did you pay you any extra or provide free food. Did she smoke too in the cafe? Any stories that now come to mind? Did she ever skate herself?

          While she ”worked long hours and always tired” did you remember the husband Harry Ball (14 years her senior, and yes poorly) there at any time? Do you remember the nephew’s name? Do you recall her son (also) Harry (junior) there?, as he lived at home with her and may have accompanied.

          Fun to hear of her “homemade bread pudding”. Presumably she was there, working full time, so she made and brought in food on top of the standard cafe snacks. Any other favourites/best sellers?

          If getting too specific away from the rink please do private message me. Many thanks, R

          1. Thanks Michael, Fred – pretty sure we have the right person, so let me see if I can jog any more memories, gratefully received:

            Mrs Ball, Lucy, (also known as Powles), was small, frail, white haired and with glasses. Sound right? Not really, definitely not frail, perhaps a little plump as I recall, small to average height, grey rather than white hair and I don’t remember glasses.

            Does anyone else know if she worked there longer than 1958-61 while you were there? As a part time boss did you pay you any extra or provide free food. Did she smoke too in the cafe? Any stories that now come to mind? Did she ever skate herself? I never saw her smoke and she didn’t skate. I remember her as being middle-aged or older…50 plus.

            While she ”worked long hours and always tired” did you remember the husband Harry Ball (14 years her senior, and yes poorly) there at any time? Do you remember the nephew’s name? Do you recall her son (also) Harry (junior) there?, as he lived at home with her and may have accompanied. I never met her husband (she complained that she was the sole provider because of his age/health). Two youngish men helped out in the evening sessions, one of whom was her nephew (I don’t recall his name but would probably recognize it, maybe Leslie or Nevil) and the other probably her son. They worked alternate night shifts, not together. I was once suspected of stealing cigarettes. I did sneak a few packets but quickly stopped when challenged. The following week she apologized for suspecting me after her nephew owned up (she might have set a trap). He continued to work there. She said he was like a son.

            Fun to hear of her “homemade bread pudding”. Presumably she was there, working full time, so she made and brought in food on top of the standard cafe snacks. Any other favourites/best sellers? She always arrive early to set the cafe up…fill up the electric tea urn (coffee was poured from a large kettle), make cheese and ham rolls, put out her home-made rock cakes and heat up her trays of popular home-mede bread pudding. I don’t remember what she paid me per session but it included a cheese roll or slice of bread pudding and a coke. There wasn’t a lot of choice, sandwiches, a few choc bars and cigs. My job was to ferry food and drinks to seated customers and clear tables, and very occasionally serve in the cafe.

            If getting too specific away from the rink please do private message me. Many thanks, R


    2. Hi Fred, I am “the younger sister” you refer to in your article, which I found very interesting. It brought back many memories of life in our early days.

      1. Hi Margaret – nice to hear from you, and I remember you well, and your older sister of course although I don’t recall her name now, and I only got to hold her hand a couple of times! You always attended together and practiced figures in the centre of the rink with the teacher, often along with a younger lad in pressed trousers. You both appeared a little posh and quite shy. I wondered what became of you both. It must have been very strange coming across that photo of us from all those years ago,1959 I think, and yes it bought back many happy memories for me too.

        1. Hi Fred, good to hear back from you and interesting to hear your memories of life in the fifties. We were definitely not “posh” ha ha! 😂, but our lives were very much controlled by our parents and the influence of the teacher Vera. My sister is Linda, we have a copy of that photo buried somewhere in the archives and remember that evening which we believe was New Year’s Eve. We have been trying to name some of the people in the photo and wonder what happened to them. We used to skate at Brixton three or four times a week and have lessons on Saturday mornings.

          1. I recognise everyone in the photo as regulars but didn’t know any of them personally. I attended all day most Saturdays, and several weekday evenings throughout the mid to late 50s. Roller skating was the one sporting activity that I excelled at, apart from flirting, for which the rink was the perfect venue! I stopped skating aged 16 in 1961 when I moved to New Cross to attend Goldsmiths College of Art, where I met my wife on the first day.

          2. Where have the years gone? Linda and I skated until the early sixties until we started work and life moved on. Later in the sixties we married two brothers from Dulwich.

  34. Hi Fred, lovely to read your memories of the rink, Mrs Ball was a very kind lady and looked after me very well when I worked in the cloakroom during school holidays and week-ends.

  35. Hi Valerie thank you for the post I have just found this site it is strange to read about my family it is my aunty Lou that is in the pic her husband worked there to Harry and vira gave lessons there to

  36. For some strange reason I was looking up Battersea Park roller rink this evening but couldn’t find anything about it. I was brought up in Battersea in the 1950s in Cambridge Road near the park & spent years of my chilldhood skating at the rink in the park, I learnt very seriously to figure skate there. After we moved to Clapham I went to Brixton roller rink many times in the early 60s & remember that during each session the rink would be cleared for the speed skating which anyone could join in with, It was so much fun racing around the rink with all the speed skaters. What happy memories.
    Shame it has all gone now.

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