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Skew Bridge Ski Club

News Letter 1970
The Ski Club was begun by Mr John Wills in 1952, after he had been extracting sand and gravel from land next to the skew bridge, on the Northampton Road.

At first the club was for water skiing on a lake formed where the gravel extraction had been finished, but then he built a dry ski slope, at a cost af around £12,000 in 1965, where skiers could practice before taking their holidays in the snow.

Pages from the Newsletter in Spring 1970.

Events Sking notes The National Water Skiing Championship was held at the club in 1964[?] but by 1970 it seems that water skiing had fallen from favour.

The dry ski slope was still much used, with a 3000 foot run for experienced skiers.

The club house, with a bar and restaurant, was used for dances, skittles, music and darts, was being rebuilt.

The early clubhouse and the lake Inside the nissen-hut club house
The early clubhouse and the lake
Inside the nissen-hut club house in the 1960s.
Inside the club house The bar

A selection of photos from John Wills' scrapbook showing the water skiing, the whole site with new ski slope behind the caravans and the clubhouse.

By a Bedfordshire Times reporter

Skis without Freeze - They've No Currency Problems at this Plastic St. Moritz
FEELING Winter Sportish? Do you fancy slithering down the slopes on those dancing slivers of wood without feeling the fifty-pound crunch at the bottom? Try the Skewbridge Ski Club near Higham Ferrers. Only 14 miles from Bedford. The artificial Alps there are the freezeless variety....both financially and meteorologically.

You can bruise your tyro's dignity there without denting your fifty-pound foreign allowance, or freezing to death while you are lying breathless after attempting a dexterous change-direction-right.

The plastic St. Moritz was dreamed up last summer by 44-year-old John Wills, of "Templecroft", Sharnbrook, and his 40-year-old wife Mary. John was a gravel merchant, who became converted to PVC.

He adorned a 70-foot high hill at Higham Ferrers with the stuff. Yards and yards of mats, made of diamond-shaped plastic bristles, were laid down the hillside. After £15,000 worth of enthusiasm had been expended, a 300-foot ski slope reflected the anaemic sun.

How Austrian?
The ski run was shaped in two stages, with a break in the middle for people to adjust balance; take breath, or fall down—according to temperament.

I visited the artificial Alps to talk to John and Mary Wills. "How Austrian and Alpish is it here?" I asked John.

"Somewhat," he said. "There's the usual equipment hut and shelter at the foot of the ski run. Skiers using the slope say that when it's wet or frosty, the going is as fast as on snow."

"What about the traditional club atmosphere when you are not stretching the tendons?" I asked Mary.

"We're planning an Austrian bar and restaurant when we extend the club premises," she said. "Now we have a gaily converted Nissen-style clubhouse."

"How currency-denting is this perennial winter sport?" I asked.

John smiled. "Not very. Five shillings to join the club for the day. For a swooping session down the ski slope the charge is 12s. 6d., including the hire of boots, skis, and special ski-sticks to use on the bristle mats.''

"You can get special instruction in the evenings," Mary added, "for an extra half-crown. The slope is floodlit at night. Incidentally, the Crystal Palace ski-slope is about half as long as this one."

Skis are not new to Higham Ferrers. The Skewbridge water ski club have operated on a lake just by the hill for five or six years. Three boats are used in the March to October season.

"When I sold my gravel interests last year," John told me, "I planned to extend the water ski club by adding squash courts. Instead, I decided to invest in the artificial ski slope, which can be used all the year round."

An attraction
"Has the idea caught on?" I asked John.

"Oh, yes," he said. "More and more people are rolling up to try it out. When we get our Austrian restaurant and get more Continental atmosphere into the place, I reckon that folk will come from all over the Midlands, Home Counties, and Anglia."

I reckon, too.

The Rushden Echo, 16th April 1965, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Water shortage: a pump plan

The lake
The lake at Skew Bridge Ski Club
A scheme which is being considered by Rushden and Higham Ferrers Water Board would not only help to beat any water shortage this summer, it would also make sure that the British National Water Ski Championships can take place as planned.

This year the championships will be held at the Rushden Skew Bridge Ski Club. This is the first time that these championships – the most important water ski event in this country – have been held outside the London area.

Yesterday the club’s Press officer, Mr. John Humphrey, told the “Echo” that they were very concerned about the water level.

“At the moment it is all right in the deep parts, but we cannot use the shallow ends,” he said.


A spokesman for the Water Board said at the moment Ferrersand Aggregates Ltd., were pumping water from an area they were working into the River Nene.

“We do have a scheme afoot to pump this water into the Ski Club pit and then to pump from the Ski Club to Ditchford.

“If this scheme was introduced we would pump 60,000gallons of water an hour into the Ski Club, and pump out 20,000 gallons an hour,” the spokesman said.

If adopted, the scheme would be used mainly for the benefit of domestic supplies, he said, but this was a case where the board and the Ski Club could help each other.

Generally speaking, the water position in this area does not seem to be as bad as in neighbouring towns. The water level at Sywell has increased slightly, but the board’s restriction on hoses for cars and gardens still applies.

Assuming the water levels are high enough in July, this year’s championships look like being better than the English Native Championships, which were held at the club for the first time last year.

The dry ski slope under construction, and in use
Underconstruction The dry ski slope
The Rushden Echo, 23rd December 1966, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Rushden is world’s newest ski resort

Rushden has sprouted another landmark – a 60ft high miniature mountain with an artificial snow ski slope over 200 feet long which can be used all the year round.

The slope, which cost something like £12,000, is the brain child of Mr. John Wills, proprietor of Rushden Skew Bridge Water Ski Club, and he thinks it makes the club unique.

“I think it is the only club in the world where you can water ski and snow ski on the one club premises,” he said.

The slope, which is covered in a plastic bristle, almost like thousands and thousands of toothbrushes, is the largest of its kind in the country, except for one in Scotland which has been built on the side of a natural mountain.

Although you would never guess it now, the slope was at one time just a large mound of earth. To knock into shape he has used something like 2,000 tons of top soil, 3,500 square yards of turf and hundreds of trees and bulbs.

There is a bump, called the nursery, half way down the slope where the inexperienced and children can ski from.


At the moment, Mr. Wills has a professional ski instructor, Mr. Joe Hohl, who was born in Switzerland, taking special coaching sessions on Saturdays and Sundays.

“Because of the terrific demand I have not been able to open the slope to the general public. One person who uses the slope covers a 200 mile round trip to do so. Because of the demand and from a safety point of view I can only allow members of the public who have experience in skiing to use the slope,” Mr. Wills said. “Eventually I hope to have a full-time ski instructor, and then we will probably be able to cope with complete novices.”

Is it an expensive sport? Mr. Wills said it was possible to hire all the ski equipment for 2s 6d a session from the club. The cost of each run works out at about 10s. There is also a 5s charge per day for temporary members.

The slope is fitted with floodlighting for night skiing and there is even piped music.

But seriously, other than the obvious advantage of having any additional sporting amenity in the area, there are other not so obvious advantages.

Mrs. Mary Wills said she had been told by an experienced ski enthusiast that one could be taught to ski on an artificial slope between three and ten days quicker than on snow.

“People who go on ski holidays find that half their time is taken up learning how to control and stand up,” she said.

“If people have experience of skiing on an artificial slope it only takes them a matter of days to get used to snow, and they can spend the rest of their holiday skiing,” he said.

Although it is an artificial slope all the thrills of genuine skiing can be found. The expert can reach speeds of 20 to 30 miles an hour down the 200 foot slope.

The fact that Rushden should have one of the best artificial ski slopes in the country – there are only three or four – could put Rushden on the snow ski map.

Anglia Television plan to show a 12 minute film of people using the slope on Boxing Day.

Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire Life Magazine May 1972, transcribed by Susan Manton

The Mid-Anglian Boat Show to be held at the Skew Bridge Ski and Country Club, Rushden on June 10th and 11th.

From time to time the Rushden Round Table has organised major funding-raising events and contributed the money to many local charities as well as international concerns. The Mid-Anglian Boatshow at Rushden is their biggest challenge yet, and the aim is to raise as much money as possible whilst ensuring that all who attend this two day event have an enjoyable time and that both visitors and exhibitors receive good value for their money.

The setting is that of the Skew Bridge Ski and Country Club whose facilities include one of the longest artificial dry ski slopes in the country, in addition to a sheltered 20 acre lake for water ski-ing and other water sports. It is this 20 acre lake which provides the venue for the Rushden Boat Show and although the theme of the show is boats and water originated activities, a very wide range of events have been planned in order to include something of interest and enjoyment for everyone. In fact the intention of the organisers is to make it a real family outing with side shows and trade stands in addition to the displays by professional sportsmen and others.

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