Ritter Road Skates
The Road Skate Co.
77 & 271 Oxford St., London, W.
Long before inline skates were a thing, there were Ritter's aptly named Road Skates. Like inline skates, they were meant to free skating enthusiasts of those pesky iceless roads. As the advertisement below reads, "Ritter Road Skates allow anyone to practice the graceful and healthful pastimes of speed and figure skating on any road or other suitable surface."
The fellow in the photos is George A. Best. In 1898 he bravely strapped on a pair of Road Skates and reviewed them for The Strand Magazine. Best's review was ultimately quite brutal. He described the contraptions as "...nothing so much as a pair of miniature bicycles." The process of getting back up from a fall, he described as a "...series of complicated and spasmodic movements..." For a good chuckle you may read the full review here.
Road Skates were available in several sizes for men and women. Each skate was marked left or right. The splints that run the length of the lower leg are there to keep the rider stable as well as to prevent ankle injuries. A cord was attached at one end to the brakes by the wheels while the other end was held by the rider.
As anachronistic as Ritter's Road Skates may have been, they were not the first single-row skates to have been invented. That title belongs to Belgian inventor John Joseph Merlin who experimented with the idea as early as 1760. Ritter's Road Skates were, however, a seemingly natural progression to the bicycle and roller skates boom that had taken over Victorian-era England in the mid 1800s. Several well known cyclists, like Montague Napier and Walter Munn, had at one point formed a Road Skate club and have been witnessed skating the roads on weekends. Purportedly, the Road Skates were also used by London's District Messenger Service.
I have to admit, I did try on a pair of Road Skates. I also have to admit that no other roller skates, inline skates, skateboard, scooter or any other similar mode of transportation has petrified me more. I dismounted, with haste.