LAST week we featured the story of Norman Eells, a member of the Bradford Roller Skating Club from their glory days in the 1950s, so now it is time for a history lesson, courtesy of former British and European roller speed skating gold medallist John Fry.

Strap yourselves in for the tale of a flame that burned extraordinarily bright for a few glorious years...

In 1908, the Bradford Rolarena rink in Manningham Lane was built, one of the largest rinks in the country at that time.

But it was not until October 1949, a few months after the popular Batley rink, where the supremely talented Yorkshireman Geoff Wright had begun to make his name, had burned down, that the Bradford Roller Skating Club was inaugurated at the Rolarena.

In 1951 the National Skating Association put on the first major event in the north of England since the Batley fire, the Northern Counties Championships.

Wright was victorious, just like he had been in 1949, and in fact it was a clean sweep for the Bradford club, with Bob Tankard and Eric Rowley finishing second and third respectively.

In 1952 the Bradford Rolarena decided to put on a series of open events for all comers. One of the events was a half mile scratch race, with the then world record holder of that distance, Pat Kirkham (Birmingham) taking part.

Also in that race was 15-year-old Pauline Hoyle, skating for the Bradford club.

Hoyle lived on Manningham Lane, on the same street and virtually next door to the roller rink.

She first took to the rink aged just 11 in August 1948, when her first interest was figure and dance skating.

She passed many of the governing body’s proficiency tests up to a silver standard but in 1951, took an interest in speed skating and joined the Bradford speed club under the coaching of Geoff Norburn, with the support of Wright.

Despite being on home turf, the teenager was given little chance of a performance against Kirkham, who was one of Britain’s elite and would go on to finish fourth in World Championships just a year later.

Much to the surprise of everybody, Hoyle crossed the line neck and neck with Kirkham.

Kirkham was awarded the victory but such was the closeness of the finish that both skaters were awarded exactly the same time.

A year later, in November 1953, Hoyle firmly cemented herself into the annals of speed skating history.

Up until then, Bradford skaters had only ever won races on their home rink.

Hoyle, however, would take Bradford’s first ever gold medal in a National Championship, staving off all comers that included British internationals, Kirkham, Doreen Aspley and Patricia Harris, in the Half Mile event at Leicester’s Granby Halls.

Not only that, but Hoyle became the first ever “northerner” to take a title from the stronghold of the major cities of London and Birmingham and at 16 years of age, she was the youngest ever senior women’s British Champion.

Two weeks later, Hoyle and her team-mate, Sheila Gardiner, would travel to the Midlands and dominate events at the Birmingham Embassy rink.

Gardiner would take gold and Hoyle the silver ahead of another British international, Patricia Harris (Birmingham).

It was virtually unheard of for the elite Birmingham ladies to be beaten on their home track, but in just a fortnight, Hoyle and Gardiner had turned British ladies speed skating on it’s head.

Bradford was rapidly becoming the club on the move and the team to beat.

In January 1954, Hoyle and Gardiner were joined by M.Sagar and S.Sugden as a quartet for the British Ladies Relay Championship.

Bradford would finish a commendable second behind Birmingham and what was effectively the current British ladies international team.

Gardiner was a year older than Hoyle and also an accomplished figure and dance skater. She was originally from Middlesbrough but in 1950 started taking lessons from Bradford roller dance skater, Rhoda Peel.

In October 1952, she represented Great Britain at the World Figure & Dance Championships in Germany and in March 1953 was crowned British Amateur Ladies Roller Figure Skating Champion.

Like Hoyle though, Gardiner also had one eye on speed skating.

In February 1954, Gardiner became the second Bradford skater to be crowned British Speed Skating Champion.

The event was the Quarter Mile and Gardiner again beat the best Britain had to offer, most notably this time the London speed skater Joan Rawlings (Cricklewood)

In a few months, Rawlings would become Britain’s first ever world speed medallist and the first ever woman globally to break the Italian stronghold on the world scene.

On the same day as Gardiner’s victory, Bob Tankard also took gold for Bradford in the British Men’s Open Mile Handicap Championship for the Jesson Cup, closely followed home by team-mate Gordon Harrison.

A week later and Tankard would also be crowned Northern & Midland Counties Champion.

A few weeks after that, Wright, John Craske, Bob and Barry Tankard came within a whisker of taking the British Men’s Relay Championship, narrowly being beaten by Cricklewood and its team of internationals.

The nucleus of this success was Wright, who had been speed skating for some years. He was as strong as an ox and his forte was distance skating. Once he hit the front he could wind the pace up to a speed that very few could match.

Having him to train with, the Bradford youngsters had firmly put the club at the very top of British speed skating.

Even Bill Jackson, the club secretary, was getting in on the act with a victory in the prestigious North London Trophy, the first of Bradford’s victories in the capital.

Wright’s reward for his outstanding performances was a place on the British national team that would compete in the 1954 World Championships in Bari, Italy.

In his first time out in a British shirt, Wright would come home with the bronze medal in the 20,000 metres.

In January 1955, Wright achieved another of his goals, winning the Men's Mile Championships, his first national title.

The trophy, the Benetfink Cup, was the oldest and most prestigious trophy on the racing calendar, having first been awarded to the very first British Champion, Charles Wilson, back in 1894.

Wright won the title in front of a roaring home crowd at the Rolarena, the icing on the cake being that team mates (and brothers) Barry and Bob Tankard joined him on the podium in second and third places respectively.

Since the inaugural running of this event more than 60 years previously, Wright became the first skater north of London to hold the title of British One Mile Champion.

Three weeks later and Bob Tankard became the first British skater to retain the Murphy Cup for the Northern Counties Championship.

Again, Bradford swept all before them this time with Craske and Philip Smith making up the other medal placings.

Not to be outdone, Gardiner took her second British title, the Half Mile event that her team mate, Hoyle, had won previously.

Over the next few months, Bradford were consistently in the medals in National Championships.

Wright won his second title, the Five Mile, Gardiner retained her Quarter Mile Championship and Wright, Norburn and David Race made it a Bradford 1-2-3 in the British Open Handicap.

Despite the men’s relay team again being pipped to the Championship, this time by Alexandra Palace, it seemed like nothing could stop this northern juggernaut. But then disaster struck.

On July 13, 1955, just like Batley before it, the Bradford Rolarena burned to the ground.

There were to be no World Championships in 1955 and Hoyle and Gardiner would not take to the rink again for speed events, choosing instead to concentrate on their figure and dance competitions.

The club was understandably in a state of shock and disarray but still managed to gather themselves together for the first race of the 1955-56 season in October.

Soon afterwards, the team re-registered themselves as New Bradford, with Eells taking over from Bill Jackson as club secretary, but without any proper base in which to train, the club failed to make an impression in domestic competition.

Whereas 12 months earlier Bradford had reigned supreme, in 1956 they failed to take a single gold medal.

In October of that year, the World Championships were in Spain, and Wright’s name was again on the team sheet. At these championships, he would go one better than in Italy and come home with a silver medal in the 10,000 metres.

This was no mean feat considering that Wright did not have a home rink. He was also 32 years old and considered a “senior citizen” in global skating terms.

1957 was again a lean year domestically for the club, with Wright’s victory in the Northern Counties Championships the only result of note.

It was a similar picture in 1958, though Wright did take his third and final national title in March.

Wright soon decided it was time to call it a day and his retirement from racing effectively cemented the demise of Bradford roller speed skating, as he was the glue that held the club together.

By the start of the 1960 season, the name Bradford had disappeared from the list of registered clubs.

The Bradford club had never really recovered from the burning down of the Rolarena and it was only really Wright’s successes that kept the club together.

It will never be known if successors to the likes of Wright, Tankard, Hoyle and Gardiner would have surfaced had the rink survived, but its destruction certainly didn’t help.

What we do know for sure is that for a brief period in the 1950s, the city of Bradford produced speed skaters that could take on the world’s best...and win.