JOHN "Icy" Smith was the son of a blacksmith who thought that working at his father's fiery furnace would be like skating on thin ice and so made a name for himself at the opposite end of the temperature spectrum.

In fact, he must have been the polar opposite to his father because he left an icy legacy that the region still skates on to this day.

The Northern Echo: Durham City ice rink and related archive.

Icy (above) was born in Barnard Castle in 1889, one of the 13 children of a blacksmith. He, though, loved skating on frozen ponds, so he went into the ice-making business.

He had a factory near Darlington’s Stonebridge in which he made slabs of ice which, in those pre-refrigerator days, he sold daily to butchers, fishmongers and Italian ice cream-makers. In 1929, he expanded to Durham, buying the derelict Bishop’s Mill beside the Wear. As in Darlington, he used waterpower to drive his ice-making machinery.

However, in 1930, Frigidaire created Freon, a synthetic refrigerant, and refrigerators quickly became popular – the centre spread in Memories 581 featured an Echo Women’s page from 1932 about the “modern way to keep food cool without ice”.

The Northern Echo: Durham City ice rink and related archive.

The Durham Ice Rink, shortly before its demolition in 2013

Icy saw the writing on the wall and diversified: he built an open-air ice rink next to the old mill.

The Northern Echo: Durham City ice rink and related archive.

Inside the Durham rink

During the Second World War, with Canadian airmen based in the region, Icy bought the largest circus tent in Europe and slung it over his rink so they could play their favourite sport: ice hockey. They formed the Canadian Bomber Group League at the rink, and those who stayed on afterwards, formed the Durham Wasps in 1947.

The Northern Echo: Earl Carlson (left) with a figure skater during the mid-1950's......

The Wasps star player was airman Earl Carlson (above, with a figure skater in the Durham rink), who had married a girl he met at Darlington’s Majestic ballroom. Now there is a street in Darlington named after him.

The Northern Echo: THE QUEUE FOR WHITLEY BAY ICE RINK on FA Vase fourth round day.

In 1955, Icy expanded his empire by opening the Whitley Bay ice rink (above) and then, in 1967, his family ran the new rink at Billingham Forum which the Queen opened.

The Northern Echo: The Queen in the "space age town" of Billingham in 1967 - watch out for that pram ramp, ma'am!

The Queen visiting in the "space age town" of Billingham in 1967 when she opened the Forum, which included the skating rink

The Northern Echo: Paul Smith, right, with Mike O'Connor and Councillor Ivy Humphries parading their trophies on the balcony of Durham Town Hall in 1988

Paul Smith, right, with Mike O'Connor and Councillor Ivy Humphries parading their trophies on the balcony of Durham Town Hall in 1988

Indeed, Icy’s family have been immersed in ice. His great-grandson, Paul, was the captain and player-coach of Durham Wasps during its all-conquering decade from 1982 to 1992, and although the Durham rink closed in 1996, his family are still involved in Whitley Bay.