Museum tells story of Fen skating great in online exhibition

William Smart Fen Runners skates

William Smart (left), known as 'Turkey' is perhaps known as one of the greatest Fen skaters of all-time. Right, the 'Fen Runners' skates he wore, which are on show at Wisbech and Fenland Museum's online exhibition. - Credit: The Cambridgeshire Collection/Wisbech and Fenland Museum

A pair of wooden skates worn by one of the greatest ice skaters in the Fens will go on display at an online exhibition. 

The skates, donned by William Smart known as ‘Turkey’, are being displayed as part of an exhibition by Wisbech and Fenland Museum, which opened today (Friday) and will continue throughout this month. 

Diane Calton-Smith, local historian, is the great-great-granddaughter of Mr Smart from Welney, who started to make his name in skating drung the 1850s. 

“My ancestor took scores of titles and travelled abroad as well as across Britain to race in the 1850s and 60s,” Diane said. 

Fen Runners skates William Turkey Smart Welney

The 'Fen Runners' skates, worn by Fen skating great William 'Turkey' Smart, are on show at an online exhibition by Wisbech and Fenland Museum. - Credit: Wisbech and Fenland Museum

“These Fen skaters were huge celebrities, a bit like star footballers today, only they were amateur sportsmen who had to work for a living.  


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“Turkey Smart worked as a fen drainage labourer, lining ditches with clay, in the working week.” 

Mr Smart was born in Welney in 1830 and, although it is thought he never attended school, started work as an agricultural labourer from an early age. 

William Smart Fen Skaters Welney

William Smart (left), known as 'Turkey' is perhaps known as one of the greatest Fen skaters of all-time. - Credit: The Cambridgeshire Collection

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Since the first recorded race between Wisbech and Whittlesey in 1763, Mr Smart ended the four-year unbeaten streak of Larman Register, of Southery, over the half-a-mile course. 

It was from that point that the Welney Champions would reign supreme for the next 40 years, attracting spectators from as far as London. 

This month’s exhibition is part of a series of digital experiences as the museum tries new ways of exploring its collection through the new conservations project while the museum is being repaired

Sarah Coleman, project manager, said: “We cannot thank Diane enough for sharing her memories and curating this exhibition.  

"It’s great to be able to shine a light on some of the museum’s collection that is often hidden away and to kick things off with Turkey Smart.” 

Fen Runners skates held by Turkey Smart relative

Historian Diane Calton-Smith holds the Fen Runners skates worn by her great-great grandfather, William 'Turkey' Smart. - Credit: Wisbech and Fenland Museum

A blog on the Elgood Butterfly and Moth collection, written with Nigel Elgood, chairman of Elgood’s Brewery, is also part of this month’s exhibition, as well as other paintings, objects and manuscripts. 

Sarah added: “It’s been fascinating finding out more about Nigel’s father’s work in building the collection. 

“The collection is kept in storage in a controlled environment to protect the specimens so it is wonderful to be able to shine a light on this collection online.” 

To find the exhibitions, visit: https://www.wisbechmuseum.org.uk/.  

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