A pair of the world's oldest surviving roller skates were unveiled at a British museum today - bizarre and cumbersome boots on wire pram-style wheels.
The 100-year-old skates are a rare example of 'Road Rollers', which were hugely popular with London businessmen in Victorian times - who skated to and from work wearing the contraptions.
Each boot features two five-inch high spoked wheels, placed one behind the other - like modern in-line skates - and skilled users could reach speeds of up to 16mph along smooth surfaces.
High rollers: these awkward looking boots on wheels are the world's first roller skates. 'Road Rollers' were popular in the 1920s with London businessmen, who skated to work in contraptions
They were fastened to the wearer's legs by straps attached to stilt-like pieces of yellow wood, and weighed more than 40lb each.
Experts say the boots, which were first made in 1897, sparked a nationwide craze and were affordable fun for the Victorians.
The surviving roller skates are part of a new exhibition at Lynn museum, King's Lynn, Norfolk, after they were donated to the centre.
Victorian craze: a newspaper advert from the 1890s show the growing love for 'Road Rollers'. Ladies and their attendants are encouraged to practise their skill
Tim Thorpe, curator for the museum for more than a decade, said the surviving boots were of 'great historical importance' and were around 100 years old.
He said: 'They are bizarre-looking objects but were actually part of a huge craze in London, where businessmen were seen skating to work along the roads.
'I have never seen anything like them at either our museum or any others that I've visited, and they are one of the earliest forms of roller skates.
'Nobody here has tried to use them, partly due to preserving them but also because of health and safety - as I'm sure it's hard to keep your balance on them.
'They are certainly an interesting contribution to history, and very rare. Although they were common at the time there are very few left now.'
The skates were the brainchild of Swiss inventor Mr Ritter, who was a foreman at the original Napier works in London, where the first Napier motor cars were made.
They were sold in London by the Road Skate Co of Oxford Street after their invention in 1897, and were advertised as being 'ankle-friendly' due to a hinged splint on either side of the boot.
Experts believe the skates were designed after the bicycle craze of the mid-1890s.
Several well known cyclists of the time, including MS Napier, Walter Munn and A Hoffman, formed a club and skated on the London roads every weekend.
The first pair of roller skates were invented by Joseph Merlin of Huy, Belgium, in 1759. Merlin introduced the invention by skating into a ballroom playing a violin.
Unfortunately, he did not know how to stop and crashed into a full-length mirror, almost killing himself and smashing his violin in the process.
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 12:27 PM on 23rd April 2010