The Durham Wasps was an ice hockey team located in Durham and was one of England's most well-known names in ice hockey. The team was bought by Sir John Hall and moved to the neighbouring city of Newcastle Upon Tyne in August 1996. The Newcastle team, after several changes, is now known as the Newcastle Vipers.
The rink opened sometime around 1940, and Icy relied on skaters to help out with the maintenance and protection of the rink. During wartime, men around Durham City were scarce, but there was an airbase nearby, Middleton St. George, and Canadian Airmen often came to the rink as ice hockey was very popular in Canada at that time, as it still is, and competition was a good way to boost morale.
The hockey at the rink became an attraction and there were other shows such as figure skating.
A mix of contemporary NHL superstars who were, at the time, in service with the Canadian Air Force, came to the rink. These included players such as Bobby Bauer, Woody Dumart, and Milt Schmidt.
The rink had a number of wooden beams running across the middle of the roof to serve as support. Incidentally this structure was an old circus tent, and at the time was the largest big top in Europe. This caused a number of problems for the players, though they were eventually able to adapt. Many people crowded in or around the rink, but Icy was not able to advertise the hockey due to laws by the War Office, which stated that no movement of military personnel was allowed to be advertised.
When World War II ended, many of the Canadians went home, but some remained and Durham's enthusiasm for ice hockey continued. A new rink had to be built for Durham's skaters.
The rink, when it was completed with a permanent roof on the site of the old one cost just over £64,000. Money was saved by buying in a surplus of war coffins and bought many for the rinks seating and stands.
The nails going into the coffins would suggest the beginning and not the end, for the future to come.
The Durham Wasps began their prosperous start to hockey just after the war, and was started by Michael Davey of Ottawa, Canada, along with a few other Canadians, who after the war made their homes in Durham.
In the 1950s, Icy, inspired by the Wasps and the Riverside, started another Ice rink at Whitley Bay, their hockey team called the Bees to start with, then the Braves, and then the Warriors, the name which still survives to this day.
The opening at Whitley Bay started a long lasting rivalry between the two places, and Icy arranged to have games across the border with Scotland on weekends.
Ice hockey remained popular in the sixties and seventies, but it exploded with popularity between the eighties and nineties, and the period from around 1982 to 1992 was one to remember for the Wasps. In this Period alone they won the Heineken Championship 4 times, the league championship 6 times, the Norwich Cup 3 times, and many other trophies like the Autumn and Castle Eden Cups' on many other occasions. The Durham Wasps dominated the British League for over 10 years.
In a few years of their greatest era, the Wasps fell into financial difficulties, and the Rink as well as the Wasps were bought by John Hall, then owner of Newcastle United Football Club, in a plan to have a sporting excellency, and moved the Wasps to Sunderland, while the new Rink was being built in Newcastle. A replacement team was established in Durham called the Durham City Wasps who played in the English League and attracted crowds of between 600 and 1200 to the new cheap and cheerful brand of Durham hockey. After a season of playing out of the Crowtree Leisure Centre, the Newcastle United owned Wasps were taken to Newcastle to the New Telewest Arena. The Wasps were then re-named the Newcastle Cobras, and in the next few years changed hands and owners from the Cobras, to the Riverkings, to the Jesters, and now the Vipers. Despite the fact that they now have nothing to do with the old club many Wasps fans still shun ice hockey in Newcastle.
The Riverside Rink closed on the 8th of July 1996, and re-opened as a bowling alley around a year later. The Wasps' era had finally ended. The building is now earmarked for demolition following the closure of health club situated in the former rink in early 2006. The bowling alley remains open. Since 1996, a campaign for the construction of a new ice rink in County Durham has been spearheaded by the County Durham Ice Foundation, a pressure group made up of ice skaters, ice hockey fans and players.
A one-off game also took place between the Wasps and former local rivals Whitley Warriors on Sunday May 4th 2008 at Whitley Bay Ice Rink commemmorating what would gave been the 60th anniversary of the club, and in support of the ongoing campaign to bring back an ice rink. Over 2,300 fans turned up to witness this one-night-only encounter which saw Wasps players icing once again including the Johnson brothers, Mario Belanger, Ivor Bennett, Stephen Foster, John Hutley and Karl Walker. The reformed Wasps team won the game 8-4.
Heineken British Championship Winners
Autumn Cup Winners