Snow joke – we had ski jumpers on Heath
THE sight of people hurtling down Parliament Hill on toboggans at the weekend brought back memories for some of more daring winter sports on Hampstead Heath. On March 25, 1950, hundreds of onlookers flocked to see ski jumpers fly down a 60ft
THE sight of people hurtling down Parliament Hill on toboggans at the weekend brought back memories for some of more daring winter sports on Hampstead Heath.
On March 25, 1950, hundreds of onlookers flocked to see ski jumpers fly down a 60ft ramp coated in 45 tons of real snow shipped over especially from Norway.
The jump started at the Viaduct Pond and the landing area, enclosed with precautionary straw bales, stretched as far as the site of today's Peggy Jay memorial playground.
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For most it was their first ever glimpse of ski jumpers in action. Piers Plowright, who lives in Well Walk, was 11 years old when 25 of Norway's top ski jumpers arrived to take part in the London Challenge Cup.
"I was telling this story to my grandchildren recently and they didn't believe me," said the celebrated radio producer.
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"You have to remember that this was really just before television, and we certainly didn't have one in our house. I went along with my sister Susannah and I had never seen anything so exciting in my life before.
"It was terribly dramatic - I remember thinking those people were heroes. The jumpers came swooping down from the Viaduct Pond and launched themselves into space. I remember looking up into the blue sky and watching them soar through it like birds.
"I think it went on for several days and we went every day. We stayed until dark and didn't even go home for lunch.
"All the jumpers looked the same in their goggles and with their brightly coloured numbers on their chests. I thought they were like astronauts. It was simply the biggest thrill of my life at that age."
The opening competition involved the Norwegian specialists and the individual event was won by Arne Hoel from Oslo. This was followed by a varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge universities, which Oxford won, captained by C Huitfeldt.
Mr Plowright, who lived in Church Row at the time, said: "There was a commentator but I think it was just a man with a megaphone. Most of the guys doing the jumping were Scandinavian but there were a few Brits as well.
"The crowd were very good-humoured and there were people selling hot chestnuts and drinks from great tea urns. It was just a lovely feeling.
"The years when I was 10, 11 and 12 were the best of my life, although there have been good ones since. I was alive to every excitement."
Not everyone was blown away by the ski jumping event, however. Diana Raymond, who lives in East Heath Road, admitted: "I'm afraid it didn't make a great deal of impact on me. I didn't go along but I remember seeing it up on the Heath and it was certainly a strange sight."
Former Ham&High journalist Martin Jackson can also remember the spectacle from 1950, when he had to scale the ski jump to interview the skiers.
He said: "As a cub reporter I was sent with a photographer to cover its opening.
"I was - and still am - scared of heights. I still have nightmares about it."