Nottingham Royalty, of the sporting kind, featured on the recent episode of ITVs DNA Journey (Tuesday 26 April 2022) as Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, better known as the Olympic gold medal pairing, ice dancers, Torvill & Dean, took their trip into what became, for both, a heart-warming, and ultimately interesting, past.
Clifton-born Jayne, and Calverton’s Christopher, ensured their ‘royalty’ status in the Midlands city when they won Olympic gold in 1984, in the old Yugoslavia (Sarajevo), following that up, a decade later, with bronze at the 1994 Games, in Norway (Lillehammer), becoming the oldest recipients in the process.
Now, with the pair in the early sixties, they embarked upon an endearing trip down memory, to learn more about their family history, and surprised themselves in doing so, with Jayne, who initially thought she was the only member of her family to have a sporting background, adding so much more to that stock.
As Jayne found a couple of sporting lines in her family history, Christopher, found much to his surprise, and delight, a whole new family across the Atlantic, in Utah, America, a place that, coincidentally, is where is his son is currently straying, at Salt Lake’s university.
Alongside Christopher’s ‘American Connection,’ and that of the Mormon’s, his family line would also play a big part in the change to the working rights of coal miners, in the second half of the 1800s, his 3x Great Grandfather, William Breakwell, imprisoned for three months for inciting miners strikes; Breakwell stood up for what he believed was right, and continued to do so after his release.
But it’s with Jayne Torvill where, and especially for ourselves at the Nottingham Sport, showed particular interest, and her increasing, sporting lineage, a championship-winning one at that, and a few of them as well.
First, and during a visit to Marcellus Baz’s Nottingham School of Boxing, Ms. Torvill, 64, would find out about her connection to the famed, Bicknell family, historians having gone back some five generations before turning their attention to Ernest ‘Ernie’ Bicknell, he being her second cousin, twice removed.
Briefly, Ernie was born in Derbyshire, in 1905, and, although a miner himself, was encouraged at a young age, to take up the sport of boxing; he would embark upon a seventeen-year career, between 1920 and 1937, and would partake in some 228 contests.
The Pitmen’s featherweight title was won in April 1927 (KO5 vs. Sam Acton), the Lincolnshire featherweight in July 1927 (KO6 vs. Moss Tuplin), the Crystal Palace featherweight competition in October 1928, whilst contesting the Yorkshire lightweight title in late 1929, early 1930.
By the time Bicknell wrapped up his fight career, in 1937, he’d posted a fight ledger of 101-82-45 (23) – and yes, he fought in Nottinghamshire.
“This is where the sporting side comes from, it’s in the DNA somewhere,” stated Jayne, during the episode of DNA Journey.
“That’s so great to hear, and such a similar story to where we are now because we’re patrons of the Nottingham School of Boxing.”
Of the trips made to the Nottingham Ice Arena during the recording of the programme, Jayne would be introduced to another relative, also named Jane (Gregory), who states that her eldest sister was the first in the UK to gain a black belt in Taekwondo in the 1970s, going on to teach the sport for a number of years, and that her brother, who was in the Army, was a Pentathlete; the connections to Jayne, and Christopher, didn’t stop there either, with conversation going to the Ice Cubs, where the relations did cross paths, as well as to Basford, and the newsagents, which Jayne’s parents owned, and subsequently the flat above.
With Mr Dean, 64, taking his journey stateside, and to the lands of Utah, courtesy of a distant relation, in the 1800s, Jeremiah Stokes, who was a chimney sweep, became part of the Mormon explosion and was allocated 160 acres of farmland when the family sapped England for America.
Christopher would go on to meet relatives, on his mother’s side of the family, for the first time.
In Jayne though, her sporting endeavours were far from complete, and she would be shocked, and delighted, to learn that, alongside Ernie Bicknell’s boxing success, there was another, famous Bicknell, in her family line – Charlie Bicknell.
Her journey, coincidentally, would begin in her Nottingham home, and finish, at the Olympic Stadium London, and the home of English Premier League club, West Ham United.
“They should give me a season ticket, shouldn’t they?” laughed Jayne.
“It’s an amazing story,” continued Christopher, in response to the news, “you woke up this morning not knowing you’ve got a footballer in the family, not only a footballer, but a captain of West Ham, in the War Cup final, and winning.”
So, who is Jayne’s other, sporting cousin, Charlie Bicknell?
As with Ernie, a little background on the other sporting connection in Jayne Torvill’s family line; born in Chesterfield, also in 1905, was a policeman who served London’s East End, during the Blitz, of World War Two.
Bicknell moved to London to progress his footballing career, having started at Chesterfield in the late twenties, prior to a spell with Bradford City in the first half of the thirties; London, in the mid-thirties, would see Bicknell at West Ham United, as war broke out.
The Football League War Cup was installed during this period, and Bicknell created history when leading the Hammers to what was their first piece of silverware, winning the 1940 competition, 1-0, against Blackburn Rovers, at Wembley Stadium – watch highlights here.
Bicknell would stay at West Ham until 1947, and is lauded in the same breath of two other Hammers legends, Billy Bonds, and the legendary Bobby Moore, points which delighted both Torvill, and Dean.
“I was just completely shocked, but I love it,” added Jayne.
“I love the idea that my cousin was the captain of West Ham, and the fact that I’ve got sporting cousins.
“My dad would have been so chuffed, and proud.
“He never, didn’t express a lot, but I know that, underneath he would have been so proud to have a football legend in the family.”
“I’m just proud to be associated with you,” gushed Christopher, “I used to be the blonde prince, now I’m the younger brother.”
It was to be a journey, a DNA Journey, in which both ice dancers, were nervous, but excited about what they would find out, neither of whom would be disappointed with the final outcome.
Series Three of DNA Journey has featured that of Shaun Wallace and Anne Hegerty, Maureen Lipman and Rula Lenska, and, most recently, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean – catch up on the episodes, and watch the Torvill & Dean Special again, here.
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @Nat_Ice_Centre Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean in the 1984 Winter Olympics.