The Building

Falkirk Ice Rink was conveniently situated on the outskirts of the town on the north side of the main road from Falkirk to Grangemouth.  The plans for the ice rink building were prepared by Wilson and Wilson ahead of the announcement made in February 1938 for the launch of the new company.  Although the frame of the building was relatively standard for a large industrial shed, there were specialist aspects relating to the function that required advice from external experts.  The building proper was constructed with a steel framework and brick walls and had a 4ins thick concrete floor.  It was erected by ordinary building contractors at a cost of around £30,100.  The refrigeration equipment was supplied and installed by separate contractors, who were specialists in this type of construction.  It consisted of the refrigerating, compressing and pumping machinery, and the ice floor.  The ice floor was composed of layers of bitumen cork and bitumen felt laid upon the main concrete floor of the building.  Wooden runners were laid upon the cork and felt and then 10 miles of malleable iron pipes of 1ins diameter were laid upon the runners.  The pipes were embedded in sand and covered by another reinforced concrete floor which provided the base for the ice. The ice floor was not built into the building in any way and was free to expand and contract.  Refrigeration was effected by means of brine which was reduced to a low temperature by the refrigeration plant, and pumped through the pipes.  About 500 gallons of brine a minute were circulated through the pipes.  The upper concrete floor was thus chilled, so that the thinly spread water thereon was quickly frozen into ice.  The cost of the refrigeration equipment was £9,350, of which £4,250 was for the ice floor or ice tray as it was sometimes called.  

Illus: The Refrigeration Plant at the Ice Rink (Falkirk Herald).

The surface of the ice measured 195ft by 97ft and so was the full size required for international ice hockey matches.  It was also sufficient for six full-size curling rinks, and while curling was in progress an area of 45ft by 97ft was available for skating.  When there was no curling the whole ice surface could be open to skaters.  It was so constructed that when the floor area was not flooded and covered with ice, it was available as a hall for exhibitions and entertainments of all kinds. 

The interior space was most impressive with a clear area to accommodate the ice rink and the spectators’ seats measuring approximately 268ft by 152ft.  The steel frame gave a clear roof span of 148ft providing an uninterrupted view.  Different temperatures of atmosphere and ice normally lead to condensation but this was overcome by a system of unit heaters distributed around the walls.  The hot air was directed to the seating area only, leaving the ice surface at the necessary low temperature.  By electric fans the hot air was trajected into the building while electric fans fixed in the roof drew out the vitiated air.  The lighting was carefully designed to give an even distribution over the whole skating surface.

Illus: The Ice Rink in 1938 with the Restaurant at the far side of the ice floor.

Wide access doors give easy access to the tiered staging which extended round three sides of the building to house the seating.  Here there were individual tip-up seats in the front rows, upholstered seats in the middle rows and comfortable back seats accommodating 2,938 spectators.  In addition, there was originally standing room for approximately 1,250.  Communication between the various entrances and exits and the seating was by a wide corridor underneath the staging.  This corridor provided ample locker space.

The building was placed with its shorter side or south gable facing the main Grangemouth Road and the longer side to a new private street and car park.  The exterior had simple lines and relied upon mass for visual impact; the important external brick surfaces were finished with cement and roughcast.  The attractive appearance was obtained by “graceful proportion and avoidance of unnecessary ornamentation.”  The window treatment with steel-framed windows was designed to accentuate the general horizontal lines.  Early plans had been for a typical 1930s main façade on the east but these were scaled back and simplified.

Illus: The Ice Rink nearing completion looking north-west (Falkirk Herald 26 November 1938, 6).

To help with the circulation of traffic and the stopping of buses an access road was placed parallel with the main road.  With great foresight it was realised that motor transport was going to be an important factor in the functioning of the ice rink and a large area was set aside for car parking, extending to approximately 4 acres.

Illus: The Ice Rink looking north-east, c1947.

The main entrance to the building was in the centre of the east façade, though there was a similar-sized but plainer one in the opposite west side.  Access could also be had from each of the four corners of the building and ticket offices were located at each.  The main entrance and those at either end of the south façade had broad flat concrete canopies and projecting side walls.  At night these were picked out in light to make them appear “cosy.”  Behind the main entrance was a “crush hall” designed to avoid stampedes and to allow those at the front of the queue to wait in the dry.  Turning left from this hall along the corridor led to the club rooms and associated toilets.  Here there were changing rooms for the curlers.  Locker accommodation was on the opposite side of the corridor.  Further on was a kiosk which sold confections, cigarettes and so on.  For the skater a commodious hiring room extended along the whole width of the south end of the building, one side being reserved for ladies and the other for gentlemen.  This room was equipped with ample cloak accommodation and hundreds of skate lockers along the walls.

Continuing along the internal corridor it ran up the west side of the building where separate changing rooms were provided for the hockey players of each team and for the referee.  These contained showers and lavatories.  Beyond were the fuel and plant rooms, which were accessed from outside of the building.  The corridor then turned to run along the north side of the ice floor.  There was no seating for the audience on this side but beyond the plant room was a milk-bar and then a large licensed lounge.  Stairs led from here led up to the coffee room and restaurant. 

Illus: Ground Floor Plan of Falkirk Ice Rink in 1942. 
1 – Wine Cellar; 2 – Fuel Heating; 3 – Hockey Teams; 4 – small Shop;
5 – Hockey Club; 6 – Offices; 7 – Shop

The northern end of the building provided facilities for dining and for staging conferences.  The whole front of the restaurant was formed by a glazed screen affording patrons the opportunity to dine whilst observing the activities on the ice floor.  The kitchen was fitted with gas cooking apparatus made in Falkirk and a cold-storage apartment cooled from the same refrigeration plant.  The staff room, manager’s office and ladies’ and gentlemen’s retiring rooms also lay in this wing. 

Illus: Plan of the First Floor of the North Wing of the Falkirk Ice Rink with the great picture windows at the bottom overlooking the Ice Floor.

Then there were further toilets and a store for the motorised plough which churned up the ice when it was to be removed.  Returning to the east corridor, the northern end was occupied by a shop for the sale of skates, boots, and dresses which in 1938 was under the charge of a Miss Alberta.  Opposite this lay the curling-stone cooling room – a properly insulated chamber chilled by the refrigeration plant where stones could be stored for cooling before being placed on the ice surface. 

Illus: The Ice Floor looking north-west towards the Restaurant, 1938.

Finally, just before reaching the main entrance, were the rooms for male and female instructors.  All in all, the ground floor covered 19,000 square feet and the upper 3,000 square feet when first built.  The overall colour scheme was green and cream with autumnal brown ceilings, this was designed to give a modern, cheerful and airy feeling to the interior but made it a little institutional.  All the floors were carpeted in contrasting shades of blue, while the furnishings in the public rooms were in bright pastel shades.

Modern amplification equipment was installed by Scottish Radio Industries Ltd, Radio Works, Denny.  This was used for announcements with microphones in the control rooms and the manager’s office.  Twin turntables broadcast music using gramophone records and a small radio receiver allowed outside broadcasts to be relayed on special occasions.  Concentric loud-speakers were suspended from the roof with cabinet speakers in the restaurant and tea-room. 

The control room was located at the east end of the upper floor adjoining the restaurant, overlooking the ice floor.

The 1938 contractors for the building were – general construction – Kelvin Construction Co Ltd, Glasgow; builder work – Duncan Stewart (Bonnybridge) Ltd, Bonnybridge; joiner work – A Williamson & Son, Grangemouth; plumber work – JT Borland, Falkirk; plaster and cement work – D Macnair & Sons Ltd, Falkirk; excavations – TN Hunter, Falkirk; electrical work – T Laurie & Co Ltd, Falkirk; refrigeration plant and ice floor – York Shipley Ltd, Glasgow; glazier work – D O’May, Falkirk; painter work – M Sinclair, Falkirk; heating and ventilation – Ashwell & Nesbitt ltd, Glasgow; kitchen equipment – J Stott & Co ltd, Glasgow, & Falkirk Iron Co Ltd, Falkirk; sound equipment – Scottish Radio Industries Ltd, Denny; fencing – A & J Main & Co Ltd, Glasgow, and James Strang & Sons, Polmont; inside barrier rails – RB Russell, Larbert; layout of grounds – Wm Spence, gardener, Falkirk.

The astonishing success of the ice rink meant that in June 1939 Falkirk Ice Rink Ltd applied for planning permission to carry out extensions at the north end of the building at a cost of a further £4,000.  These were to enlarge the members’ lounge, milk bar, restaurant, and kitchen accommodation and to provide additional lavatories and a ladies’ club room.  Additional seating was also installed in the main arena.  The work was undertaken over the summer of 1939 and was completed in time for the new skating season which, as it happened, coincided with the outbreak of war.

G.B. Bailey, 2022