Thursday, October 20, 2016

Transporting your stones

The construction of the railways in the nineteenth century facilitated curling matches, especially those between clubs for District Medals, promoted by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. And large bonspiels could take place, with curlers travelling by train from all over the country. The Royal Club had its own station platform beside its pond at Carsebreck to allow the Grand Matches to take place, see here

The image above shows part of an advert placed in the Fife Herald of Wednesday, January 20, 1886, to show players intending to take part in a bonspiel on Lindores Loch how they might reach the venue by special train. 

In the 'small print' of the advert there is the caution to players that they have the responsibility of looking after their own stones if they change trains at any point! It says, "The Company will provide the means of conveying the Curling-Stones by Railway; but they do not undertake any responsibility for their safe conveyance; and Curlers are therefore requested to look after their Curling-Stones at the respective Junctions where any change may take place, both in going and returning, as well as on arrival at, and return from, Lindores Loch."

This shows that the railway companies went to some effort to accommodate curlers travelling with their stones, and hints at the problems that might arise when a large number of players were making their way to and from a bonspiel venue.

Curlers occasionally used other means of transport to reach their match. For example, in 1895, teams from Oban travelled to Fort William by ship, see above!

How were stones transported? Were they protected in any way?

I had always assumed that boxes like this were used primarily for storage at home, or perhaps in a curling house near the pond. A box containing two stones is a heavy weight to carry on to the ice. But I've seen a couple of examples with metal runners on the bottom, turning the box into a sled, suggesting that they could have been used to slide stones over the ice itself.

But boxes containing two stones were heavy to lift, and although in theory they could be taken by train, they would have been cumbersome to manipulate, especially from train to loch. I suspect that such boxes were used primarily for summer storage.

The most common 'protection' for curling stones when travelling was wicker baskets. These examples were tall enough to enclose stones with handles still attached.

This image, from an auction some years ago, shows a variety of baskets, of different styles, all with leather straps as reinforcement, stones not being light in weight! Close examination showed considerable damage to the wicker.

The photo also shows three leather 'baskets', these to protect just the stones with handles removed.

Here is a pair of wicker baskets, just for stones, with no space for handles, that have been well looked after for more than 100 years, in all probability.

Wicker baskets succumb readily to woodworm, and that probably is the reason that so few have survived to the twenty-first century.

These leather 'containers' would protect stones, whose handles had been removed.

Here is an even simpler leather construction, really just to facilitate carrying the stones.

Handles, stone bolts and washers would have been carried separately, perhaps just in a pocket, or occasionally in a special pouch, see here.

Here is a 'top of the range' curling basket in full leather.

And here is a beautiful pair of leather baskets, designed to protect stones with handles attached. These would have been expensive items at the time. But again, so were curling stones!

Retailers of curling stones often sold accessories. This advert from an Edinburgh shop in 1907 advertises 'Baskets - either plain, or lined and strapped'. But note that an alternative was available. I wonder if any examples of the 'New Caledonian Curling Bag' have survived. These bags apparently enabled 'the stones to be carried more easily than in the baskets'! I don't know what these bags were like. Do get in touch if you know of any that have survived.

Now, how exciting is this! This is a photo of a new curling stone basket from Hastingwood Baskets in West Kilbride, Scotland, commissioned by Californian curler Alice Mansell. This is for a stone called 'Big Bertha' - a Blue Hone Ailsa Craig weighing 47 lbs.

Here's 'Big Bertha' tucked into her basket being toasted by Alice and Big Bertha's owner, Richard Lazarowich, with bourbon from nearby Sonoma County. (What? Not with Scotch whisky?)

Alice has commissioned a further two baskets from the Scottish supplier. She says, "Many Californians are starting to own their own stones to revive the outdoor curling game on our seasonal outdoor rinks in urban areas and natural ice up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  We've curled at Yosemite National Park, under Mount Shasta, near Donner Summit, and downtown San Francisco and San Jose so far.  The curling stone baskets will be well used."



Alice Mansell has emailed to remind me of this photo I took when visiting the Partick Curling Club's curling house back in 2009, see here. She wonders if these could be examples of the 'New Caledonian Curling Bag' in the advert above. I think she could well be correct!


Lindsay Scotland has found this advert in the Dundee Courier from 1861, which would suggest that there was a market for curling stone baskets even at this early date. Thanks Lindsay.

I am especially grateful to Gail Munro who supplied many of the images above of baskets in her collection. Thanks Gail. And to Alice Mansell for the photos and story of sourcing her new baskets. and for reminding me of the Partick photo. (Good to know that others have better memories than I do.) The newspaper images are © The British Library Board, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive. The Anderson and Sons advert is from a 1907-08 Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual. Other photos are by the author.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Muses Threnodie, and Scotland's First Curlers

"When was the sport of curling first played?" is a question that is often asked. "Sixteenth century Scotland", is probably the best response, but that answer needs qualification.

What can be said with certainty is that the sport was being played in and around the town of Perth, Scotland, at the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century. We know this because the first printed references to 'curling' and 'curling stones' occur in a publication which dates from 1638, and was probably written some years before in 1620.

The publication, whose title page is shown above, is called 'The Muses Threnodie, or, Mirthful Mournings on the Death of Master Gall. Containing varietie of pleasant poeticall descriptions, morall instructions, historiall narrations, and divine observations, with the most remarkable antiquities of Scotland, especially at Perth'. The author was Henry Adamson, and it was printed at Edinburgh in King James College by George Anderson, 1638.

It comprises two poems written by Henry Adamson, occasioned by the untimely death, from tuberculosis, of a Perth merchant called James Gall. Rather than mourn Gall himself, Adamson makes George Ruthven the chief mourner. Ruthven was a respected physician and surgeon in Perth, and was 92 years old when the poems were published. Both Gall and Ruthven were real people, well known to the author of the poems.

The author, Henry Adamson, calls himself 'a student in Divine, and Humane Learning'. Born in 1581, he trained as a priest, but became a school teacher in Perth. It seems that he wrote the poems for his own amusement, not intending for them to be published, and at first resisted suggestions from friends to do so. Eventually, William Drummond of Hawthornden, Scotland's most respected poet at the time, see here, persuaded Adamson to have them printed. Indeed, a letter from Drummond, signed 'W.D.', is included as a preliminary page of 'The Muses Threnodie'. Adamson died the year after his poems were published, aged 58.

Adamson's works were reprinted in the eighteenth century, under the same title, but with the following on the title page: 'To this new edition is added explanatory notes and observations by James Cant'. Cant calls himself 'the Editor'. This two volume work was 'printed by George Johnston for the Editor and Robert Morrison, Bookseller, 1774'.

There are a number of significant differences in the two editions. I shall call the 1638 volume 'the original 1638 book', and the later book, 'Cant's 1774 edition'.

Adamson sets the scene in his first poem 'The Inventarie of the Gabions in M George, his Cabinet'. Adamson seems to have made up the word 'gabions' himself at the time (it was not used back then with the meaning that it has today). We might say 'curiosities' nowadays to explain what Adamson was describing. This is a (relatively) short piece, and can be read in full online here. Here's one passage from it:

I've highlighted where 'curling stones' are mentioned:

'His hats, his hoods, his bels, his bones,
His allay bowles, and curling stones,
The sacred games to celebrat ....'

It can be concluded from this that Georve Ruthven, the doctor, had played both bowls and curling. As noted before, if he was 92 in 1638, then his sporting days would have been when he was a younger man - and that puts the sport being played in Perth back into the sixteenth century!

Adamson's main poem 'The Muses Threnodie' itself, is in nine parts, or 'muses'. You can find all online, in a readable form, on the website.

The curling reference is in the First Muse, transcribed here, from where the above is extracted.

I must admit I don't find either poem an easy read, but the device Adamson uses is to have the various 'curiosities' of George Ruthven's closet mourn for the deceased James Gall. In the passage above, golf clubs get a mention (the poems are an early reference to this sport too), as do curling stones:

'And ye, my loadstones, of Lednochian lakes,
Collected from the loughs, where watrie snakes
Do much abound, take unto you a part,
And mourn for Gall, who lov'd you with his heart'

Now, Adamson realised that his reference to 'loadstones, of Lednochian lakes' might not be understood, so in the margin of the original 1638 book, opposite to the 'loadstones' reference, is printed the two words 'Curling Stones'! In the digitised versions of the poem online this is missing in most cases.

As Gall had apparently loved his curling stones, we can assume that he also loved the sport itself. The evidence suggests then that James Gall was a curler!

In Cant's 1774 edition, the editor removes the reference to 'curling stones' from the margin, but adds an explanatory footnote:

'Lednoch is situated about four computed miles north from Perth, on the banks of the Almond River; about this place the best curling stones were found. The gentlemen of Perth, fond of this athletic winter diversion on a frozen river, sent and brought from Lednoch their curling stones.'

This fits in with what we assume about early curling, that the players obtained their stones from the beds of rivers where they had been shaped and smoothed by the action of the water. However, Cant was writing perhaps 150 years after Adamson had penned the original poems, so just how much he knew about curling and the curlers of Perth at the beginning of the seventeenth century is questionable. But the association with Lednoch does seem secure enough.

So, we have two references to curling stones in Adamson's poems, and later writers were aware of these.  In The Channel-Stane or Sweepings Frae the Rinks, First Series, published in 1883, the two references to curling stones in Adamson's poems, are described. Given that the author of the work (John MacNair) describes the original 1638 book as 'practically extinct', and that he includes the Lednoch footnote, it would seem that he had used Cant's 1774 edition as his reference.

The Reverend John Kerr in The History of Curling and Fifty Years of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, published in 1898, writes extensively about Adamson's poems. He records that James Gall died in 1620, perhaps only twenty-five years of age, and that Adamson wrote the poems in that year.

Kerr might have had access to the original 1638 book, as well as to Cant's 1774 edition. I say this as the publisher of the History of Curling has typeset the First Muse to show how the words 'Curling Stones' had been placed in the margin of the original 1638 book, as explanation of 'Loadstones of Lidnochian Lakes' (sic), above.

The two references to 'curling stones' described above appear in The Complete Curler by John Gordon Grant, published in 1914. In Beginner's Guide to Curling, by Robin Welsh, published in 1969, the author records just the 'curling stones' mentioned in Adamson's 'The Inventarie of the Gabions in M George, his Cabinet'.

But all these writers missed something very important! It took a young(ish) lecturer at Glasgow University in 1980 to have the idea of looking at the original 1638 book, of which that University had a copy in its Special Collections, and so discover another key reference. The original book actually says that James Gall was a curler! 

In a preface to his poems, Adamson has written the above about James Gall. He was 'a citizen of Perth, and a gentleman of goodly stature, and pregnant wit, much given to pastime, as golf, archery, curling, and jovial company.'

It could not be clearer that here was someone who loved his sport - both golf and curling, and enjoyed fun company. Nearly four hundred years later we probably all know friends who fit this description.

Why hadn't this obvious reference been noted sooner? I suspect that the rarity of the original volume was the reason. Cant's 1774 edition does not include the preface. This important reference to curling - the first time the sport is mentioned in print - must have been overlooked because no-one had studied the original book in detail, relying only on Cant's 1774 edition. How important it is, especially in these days when information is communicated widely online, to check back and confirm the original source material!

The whole preface which shows that James Gall was a curler, appears in this digitised version online of 'The Inventarie of the Gabions in M George, his Cabinet'. 

Two more thoughts. Why did George Ruthven have more than one curling stone in his closet? As far as we are aware, the sport was played in the sixteenth, seventeenth and much of the eighteenth century with one stone for each curler, and the earliest of these stones were 'loofies', without handles. Did Ruthven have stones for different occasions, or did he have spares, to allow friends to play?

Adamson's poems, as well as providing the earliest dated reference to curling and curling stones, give us the names of two Perth curlers - George Ruthven and James Gall. The names should be better known than they are. It is likely that the poems' author Henry Adamson played too - he certainly knew about the sport to have included the mentions described here. 

I am most grateful to the helpful staff of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, and at the University of Glasgow Library. Both places hold copies of the original 1638 book and Cant's 1774 edition. The images from the original 1638 book are from the National Library's copy. The other images are screenshots from online digitised copies or scans from books in the author's library. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The 'Boulder Age': When Your Curling Stone Had a Name!

Curling's history can be traced by studying old stones. The earliest curling stones are called 'loofies', and were without handles. In the photo above, David Smith is demonstrating how he thought a loofie from his collection might have been thrown. No ice on this occasion back in 2003, the discussion taking place in the back garden of his home in Troon!

Most loofies that have survived to this day are not as large as David's. They have indentations for thumb and fingers, as above, and were usually light enough to be easily held in the hand. Exactly how they were thrown, or indeed how the sport was played, remains unknown.

But this article is not about loofies, but is about what followed as the sport of curling evolved.

The introduction of a handle heralded the second era of curling in Scotland, probably in the seventeenth century, the game then being played with rough blocks with handles attached, such as in the image above. If the first era in curling history might be called the 'Age of the Loofie', then the next stage in the sport's evolution could be termed, 'The Boulder Age'.

These old stones varied considerably in size and weight. Each player threw one stone, often in teams of eight players aside. Rough though they were, curling stones were prized objects. Some even had names! These reflected their characteristics, or identified them with their owner.

By the time curling clubs were being formed in the early nineteenth century, most were playing with round, dressed stones. Some treasured their old curling stones, even though they were no longer played with. The Reverend John Kerr's book The History of Curling and Fifty Years of the Royal Caledonian Crling Club was published in 1898. Kerr included the names of several clubs who still looked after old stones from the 'Boulder Era', with names. For example, Alyth CC had 'Rookie', 'The Goose', and 'The Deuk'. Blairgowrie had 'The Soo', 'The Baron', 'The Egg', 'The Fluke', and 'Robbie Dow'. Coupar-Angus had 'Suwaroff', 'Cog', 'Fluke', 'Black Meg', and 'The Saut Backet'.

'The Provost' and 'The Baillie' were in the care of the Dunblane CC. The Duns CC had 'Rob Roy', and another called 'The Egg' (presumably different from Blairgowrie's stone of the same name). It was recorded that 'The Guse' and 'Bluebeard' had gone missing. 'The Whaup' and 'The Town Clerk' belonged to Hawick CC, and 'The Girdle' and 'The Grey Hen' to Jedburgh.

Lochmaben had 'Tutor', 'Skelbyland', 'The Craig', 'Wallace', 'Steelcap', 'Bonaparte', 'Hughie', 'Redcap', and 'The Skipper'. Muthill CC had 'The Bible', 'The Goose', and 'The Hen'. Markinch CC had 'The Doctor'. Newtyle CC had 'The Prince' and 'The Kebbuck'.

The table above lists the five Blairgowrie stones.

Kerr's book includes images of what these stones looked like. Top left is 'The Soo', and top right, 'The Baron'. 'The Egg' is in the middle. Bottom left is 'The Fluke' and 'Robbie Dow' is bottom right. All have looped, or double, handles.

The stone in the photo above, beside a modern stone for comparison, is now part of the Scottish Curling Trust's collection, see here. It is called 'The Egg' and is certainly the stone of that name which once belonged to the Blairgowrie CC.

The last stone that Kerr describes in his book is shown above. It was presented to the Royal Club in 1888 by John Wilson of Chapelhill, Cockburnspath, and we can assume that it had been used in that part of the country in years past. It may have had a name before 1888, but, as it was exhibited at the 50th Anniversary meeting of the Royal Club, it became known as 'The Jubilee Stone'. It weighs 117 lbs.

The stone had belonged to John Hood who had died at Townhead in January 1888. Kerr explains, "Mr Hood, it appears, had often seen his father play the stone, and he himself had played it occasionally before dressed stones were introduced. It was sent by Mr Wilson to be preserved in the archives of the Royal Club; and we are sure that generations of curlers will look upon it with interest and astonishment, if not with dismay."

It remains a prized possession of the Royal Club and has been brought out of retirement on occasion and played as the ceremonial 'opening stone' of major championships. 

If I had to pick my favourite named stone, it would be this one. It is undoubtedly from the Boulder Age, although it has been worked on by a mason to give it a triangular shape. Triangular shaped stones were not uncommon, although usually they were not as large as this, which weighs around 110 lbs. They were called 'whirlies', as because of their shape, when hit with another stone, they often just revolved on the spot rather than being driven out of the house! This one is in the care of the Scottish Curling Trust and has been catalogued here, where it is described as "A triangular hammer-dressed stone, weight 110 lbs, presented to the RCCC by Mr A Henderson Bishop in 1938. It was one of the Meigle Grannies and its neighbour was sent to the Montreal Curling Club by Mr Bishop."

This stone is described as 'one of the Meigle Grannies'. I was intrigued. Where had they come from? How had Henderson Bishop acquired them? Were the two 'Grannies' identical? They would not have been a pair, as at the time when they were in use it was 'one curler - one stone'. But if they had been used by members of the same team, they would have been serious weapons on the ice!

Andrew Henderson Bishop was a curling enthusiast, and an enthusiastic collector. I wrote about him here. He put together a collection of curling memorabilia which was exhibited in the Palace of History at the 1911 Scottish Exhibition in Glasgow. In the exhibition catalogue I found 'The Grannies'. They are listed in a collection of 'Curling Stones or Channel Stanes of the Boulder Type' and were desplayed on a platform along the North Wall. They are catalogued separately:

'No 84 Hammer-dressed Triangular curling stone from Meigle, known as 'Grannie'. Weight 101 lbs.

No 85 Hammer-dressed Triangular curling stone from Meigle, known as 'Grannie'. Weight 110 lbs. Nos 84 and 85 were called 'The Grannies'.'

Both stones were 'Lent by A Henderson Bishop'. From this we learn that the two stones were similar enough be be described together as 'The Grannies', although they were not identical, one being somewhat lighter than the other. The catlogue entries give no clue to how Henderson Bishop came to own the stones, other than they had come from Meigle, a village in Perthshire.

Which one went to Canada? And when and why did Henderson Bishop decide to give one away? And where is it now? I don't have the answer to these questions yet, but I am hopeful that the answers will be found!

Other named stones I've come across in books and articles are, 'The Old Cobbler', 'Sleeping Maggie',  'Creche', 'Tom Scott', 'Wellington', 'The Horse,' 'The Kirk', 'The Saddle', 'President', 'Soo', 'The Scone', and 'The Bannock'. No doubt there are others.

Such stones were last used in anger in the early years of the nineteenth century. By then, the size and shape of curling stones was being regulated, first by certain curling clubs themselves, and, from 1838, by the Grand (later Royal) Caledonian Curling Club, the sport's governing body. Rule V, shown above, was adopted by the Duddingston Curling Society in 1804. The introduction of 'circular curling stones' heralded the sport's 'Modern Era'.

The photo of David is from my archive, as is the photo of my hand with a loofie from the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. Other images are from 35mm slides which date from 1979, when the stones photographed were in a display case at the Central Scotland Ice Rink, Perth. The table is from the History of Blairgowrie, online here. Images of the Blairgowrie stones from the History of Curling are scanned from page 41 of the large format edition. The Duddingston rule V is from An Account of the Game of Curling, by a member of the Duddington Curling Society, 1811. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Bonspiel at Lochwinnoch: Fact or Fiction?

The photo above is from 2010, when I paid a visit to Lochwinnoch to see the Erskine Curling Club on outside ice on Castle Semple Loch. The loch has seen many bonspiels over the years.

The old Annuals of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club contain much information about the game as played in years past. The editor of the 1895-96 volume thought fit to reprint a rather unusual story from the Winnipeg Daily Tribune, of February 17, 1894. I've set this out below. True, or a piece of romantic fiction? You decide.

Here's the story:

THE BONSPIEL AND BRIDAL. Reminiscences of a Great Game at Lochwinnoch in Olden Times. How a Gallant Curler Won the County Match and the Skip's Daughter.

It was the 25th of January 1892, the anniversary of the birth of the immortal Burns, that a large concourse of curlers, skaters and onlookers, met on the icy bosom of Lochwinnoch. The occasion was the annual bonspiel of the counties of Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. The excellent condition of the ice and weather brought many lovers of winter sport from adjacent towns by rail.

The contest by the chosen rinks, to uphold the honour of their counties, was the centre of attraction. The Renfrewshire rink was skipped by John Ogilvie, better known as the Laird o' Bonnyrig, his opponent being Stuart o' Langholm. For many years these two old chiels had met in friendly contest, with varying success, but, of late years, it had been in favour of Langholm. He was younger than Bonnyrig, and, at this time, had a rink who had never been beaten, and who called themselves the 'Invincibles'. So they prepared for this contest with all the assurance of success.

When everything was ready for play, word was brought to Bonnyrig that his third man, Donald Grant, the blacksmith, had fallen and hurt himself, and could not play. Bonnyrig was dumfounded. Play without Grant was sure defeat, and the old man had intended to retire from the county contests at the end of this game, and was the more anxious to win on that account, that he might retire a victor.

Langholm's men were impatient, and some not very complimentary remarks were made, which stung Bonnyrig to the quick. Just then Dr Graham took Bonnyrig aside and told him of a stranger who would take Grant's place, assuring him that he was a native of the county and a member of the C. C. club, 'and', says Graham, 'I'll guarantee that he'll fill Grant's place to your satisfaction.'

The stranger was introduced to Bonnyrig, and was found to be a likely and determined-looking young fellow. The arrangement being accepted by all parties, the play began. Langholm's rink played as if confident of easy victory, but soon found out that, if they would win, they must play for all that was in them. From the start the stranger showed a knowledge of the game superior to anything they had ever dreamed of; his cool selfpossession, his ability to play the shot that was required, and, above all, his faculty of inspiring confidence in others were such that his rink played a wonderful game.

But Langholm's men were stalwarts, and fought for every shot. Sometimes it was Bonnyrig, sometimes it was Langholm, while the excitement around was intense, and every point gained by either party, was the signal for a noisy demonstration by their supporters. The game was wearing to a close. The last end had come and the last stone at that. The stranger had invariably left the end in good shape for his skip, and now at the last end they were ties, with Bonnyrig with one stone to play.

If he could count one, the game was his. But how to get it was the question. To get it he would have to draw a port with hardly an inch to spare, wick a stone gently, and curl in. 'I'm fear'd o 't,' says the Laird. 'You can do it,' says the stranger. 'Play to that broom, tee weight, and no more. Steady!'

The calm confident tone and influence of the stranger had the desired effect on the Laird, so, with steady nerve and clear eye, he laid the stone as directed. The stranger met it at the sweeping score, and began to sweep it up, watching its every move. He swept accordingly. 'Will it make the port?' is heard on every side. It seems a little slow. And now the stranger gets in his work. His broom is moving so fast you hardly see it. The stone is following, and almost seems to gather speed. The port is reached, and passed. The stone is wick'd just right, and the Laird's stone is on the 'pat lid'. The game is won, and many a time since has the Laird's draw been spoken off as the most wonderful shot ever seen on Lochwinnoch.

And now the fun and noise began. 'Renfrewshire for ever!' Shout after shout went up from the excited crowd, echoed by the Renfrewshire hills, and faintly re-echoed by the distant Ayrshires, as if in mockery. The Laird was carried by his supporters, shoulder high, off the ice, and so would the stranger have been, but he could not be found. He had disappeared in the confusion at the end of the game.

The Laird invited a number of his friends to his house to celebrate his victory, where we will take the liberty of looking at what is going on, a little before he arrives. Out in the kitchen sits Dr Graham with a contented look on his face, enjoying his pipe, while, in the parlour, we find the stranger and the Laird's beautiful and accomplished daughter. This is her birthday, and, just five years ago, when sixteen years of age, the Laird had come home, after being defeated in the county contest by Langholm, and, finding young Gavin Davison, one of the Laird's tenants' sons, in company with his daughter, he ordered the young man off the place, and told him never to come on it again or he would set the dogs on him. Shortly afterwards the youth disappeared, and had not been heard of since. Itwas rumoured he had gone to the North-west.

The young lady did not pine and die, as some love-sick maidens are said to have done in such circumstances, but grew better and prettier than ever. The Laird got her the best education the county could give, and now, it was said, she was the most accomplished and beautiful woman in the county. Many suitors had sought her hand, but she appeared to be in no hurry to marry, and the Laird, who was a kind-hearted, just man, and especially attached to her, seemed to dread the day when she would be taken from his home to adorn that of some one else.

The Laird is heard coming, and the stranger joins the doctor, who has gone out to meet him, who is greatly pleased to see him again.

To tell of the enjoyment that night would take a long time. The Laird's hospitality was unbounded and free to all, being carried out in the good old style. Josh Strathnairn, the best fiddler in the west of Scotland, was there, and never did his old Cremona send out the reels, strathspeys, and jigs with more vim than on that night.

While the enjoyment was at its height, the Laird said to Graham, who was sitting beside him, 'I say, doctor, that 's a fine, smairt-lookin' lad, that, an' a guid curler; I ha'e forgotten his name. What is it, noo?'

'Laird,' says the doctor, 'him an' Maggie's a fine-lookin couple. Jist see how they go through that reel togither.'

'That's a fac', Doctor,' says the Laird, 'but what's his name?'

'Before I tell ye his name, Laird, tak' a guid look at him, an' tell me if ever ye ha'e seen him before?'

'Na, na, Doctor, I dinna think it.'

'Did ever ye order him aff your place, an' threaten to set your dogs on him, if ever he came on't again?'

'Lord preserve me, Doctor, is that Gavin Davison ? Whaur has he been since?'

'He has been in the North-west since he went away. I've watched him ever since. He has behaved well. He has done well, and, after five years' absence, he has come back, on your daughter's birthday, to marry her. She's twenty-one to-day, Laird.'

The Laird's face turned white for a minute. At first something seemed to sting him about the heart. Then, turning slowly to Graham, he said: 'It's fate. Sae bit it be. Graham, is he worthy o' her?'

'Laird,' said Graham, 'if I was not sure that he is worthy o' her I would do all I could to prevent it.'

'Bring them here, Graham.'

Graham brought them to the Laird, who, rising, took Davison's hand, saying, 'Graham has told me who you are and what you are here for. I have his assurance that you are worthy of my daughter, and I consent and ask pardon for my harshness to you five years ago, and only impose one condition, and that is, that you get married tonight when we are celebrating anyway, and that you stay here and take my place in the bonspiel.'

Davison consented, and the guests, when they found out what was going on, took a hand in, and the business was finally arranged. The Rev Mr Douglas, chaplain of the club, was sent for, and told what was expected of him.

'But the banns have not been proclaimed according to law,' said the cautious parson. 'This will do,' said Davison, pulling out a document. 'Here is a special licence.'

All preliminaries being arranged, a man worked his way through the crowd, and the burly form of Donald Grant, the blacksmith, stood before the Laird. 'Laird,' says Donald, I got masel' hurt, an' lost a guid game o' curling through this business, an' I think I should be best man.'

Grant an' Graham,' says the Laird, 'ye ha'e laid a plot to bring a' this about, I can see it a' noo.'

'We did, Laird, and it's a' richt. Ye beat Langholm. That's something, an', as for the rest, we are a' satisfied.'

They were married, and the rest of the night was spent in the enjoyment usual on such occasions, and neither the Laird nor any one concerned has any reason to regret the trick played upon him to bring about the marriage of the Laird's daughter.

The Winnipeg Daily Tribune was published from 1890 to 1980. It would be interesting to know who was the author of the tale above - presumably an expat Scot who had fond memories of curling back in Scotland, and was a romantic at heart! The top photo is © Bob Cowan. 

ADDED LATER: David M Sgriccia has been in touch with the answer to my question. 'Timothy Hayseed' was the pen name of WW McMillan of Treherne, Manitoba. His writings in the Manitoba Tribune began in 1890 as 'letters to the editor', but it seems he soon became a regular correspondent on matters 'curling'. McMillan himself was a keen curler. He was President of the Winnipeg Granite Club in the 1890-91 season. He was also elected an Honorary Member of the Manitoba Thistle Club and was very active in the local St Andrew's Society.

The last article by Hayseed was in 1902, according to David Sgriccia, who incidentally also has a pen name - Angus MacTavish! Many thanks to both!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Abdie Curling House

One of the opportunities at the recent Fife 'Doors Open Days' was the chance to visit the Abdie Curling Club's house, beside Lindores Loch.

Now somewhat obscured by trees, it is a 'hidden gem'. Since 2014, it has been 'B listed' by Historic Environment Scotland and is well described on this web page.

Abdie CC's house is one of the few remaining curling club buildings. It was included in the recently published 'Scotland's Sporting Buildings', that book being reviewed by David Smith, here.

The house was constructed in the mid-1860s, on the site of a older structure. Originally it may have had a thatched roof, before that was replaced by corrugated iron.

Abdie Curling Club has a long history. It was founded in 1831, although curling was played in Abdie Parish long before that date. 

The first President of the Abdie Club was Admiral Sir Frederick Lewis Maitland of Lindores. I was fascinated to learn that whilst in command of HMS Bellerophon, Captain Maitland received the surrender of Napoleon in June 1815 after Waterloo, and transported him to England. That story can be found here

The Abdie CC was one of the original clubs listed in the first Annual of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club (as it was called then) in 1838.

This is a list of Abdie's members in 1838. One of them, James Ogilvy Dalgleish, was elected as one of two Vice-presidents of the Grand Caledonian Club.

The Rev John Kerr in 'The History of Curling, and Fifty Years of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club', records James Ogilvy Dalgleish's contributions. He says, "It was, however, to James Ogilvy Dalgleish, above all others, that the Grand Club was indebted for the framework of its first constitution." That's his image above from Kerr's book.

The Abdie club plays regularly these days at the Dewar's Centre in Perth. Many of its members were on duty at their old house for the Open Day. I was warmly welcomed by the current President, Alistair Robinson, above, in his club fleece. I enjoyed a welcome cup of coffee, and admired the various trophies on display.

The inside of the hut has many original features. The walls are lined with open shelves for storing pairs of curling stones. It was interesting to look at these and to try to identify where they were from - mostly Ailsa Blue Hone, and Common (Green) Ailsa, but some Crawfordjohns. Some years ago the hut was broken into, and the original brass handles stolen. These were replaced with more modern chrome/plastic handles as can be seen in the photo.

Other paraphernalia associated with the sport was all there. Here old crampits sit in a pile on a top shelf.

And here were four wooden tee markers, or 'dollies' (see here), wonderful, rare reminders of play on outside ice.

Club historian Gerry Watson had brought along the original minute books of the club, dating back to 1831. It was exciting to be able to look at these in such surroundings!

The earliest minute book contains this sketch, presented to the club by Lady Maitland, which shows curlers on Lindores Loch in front of Lindores House. What a wonderful image!

It was not uncommon for curling clubs to move from pond to pond over their years in existence. Abdie is a rare example of a club which has always had the same home ice - Lindores Loch.

The curling house, circled in red, sits at the base of a little promontory at the west end of the loch, called 'Lecturer's Inch'.

From the markings on this 1895 map, this end of the big loch was shallow. The oldest members of the club recall curling on the area marked by the 'X'.

This area is now very overgrown.

A report in the Dundee Courier on December 24, 1896, noted that "Lindores Loch is now entirely covered over with ice, the frost of Tuesday having registered 12 degrees. The Abdie curling club played another friendly game yesterday in the vicinity of the Curling house. The ice was strong, but rough."

'Pond hunters' will be asking the question whether the Abdie club manipulated the area to create a natural water pond. Indeed, the Historic Environment Scotland description says, "A man-made curling pond area to the north east of the pavilion is currently overgrown with loch-side vegetation." This is in a different area to that remembered as being curled on recently. More research and survey of the site, and study of the minute books, will be necessary to resolve exactly where the members played over a hundred year period.

The wider expanse of Lindores Loch has often been used for major bonspiels.

This photo is of a match between Cupar and District Province and East of Fife Province. The newspaper clipping in the Abdie club's collection of memorabilia is undated, but I have been able to find that it is from the Dundee Courier of February 4, 1952.

The Abdie Curling Club celebrated its 150 year anniversary by publishing a booklet in 1981, Fair and Keen: A Brief History of Abdie Curling Club. That's a great read.

Thanks to Gerry Watson and Alistair Robinson, and other club members, for their warm welcome and stories about the Abdie CC. Original photos are © Bob Cowan. Lady Maitland's sketch is from the Abdie CC's minute book, and reproduced here with permission. The image of Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland was found here. It is from an engraving by Henry Mayer after Samuel Woodforde, and was the frontispiece of the 1904 edition of Frederick Lewis Maitland's 1826 book, The Surrender of Napoleon. The image of Captain James Ogilvy Dalgleish is from The History of Curling, and Fifty Years of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, by John Kerr, David Douglas, Edinburgh, 1890. The map image is from the National Library of Scotland maps site, here.

Monday, September 05, 2016

The Women in the Painting: Scottish Curling Pioneers

Charles Martin Hardie's painting, 'Curling at Carsebreck', dates from 1898. The image above is just part of the full painting which hangs in a room at Scone Palace, Perthshire. It belongs to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The National Galleries of Scotland have a smaller version, thought to be a preliminary sketch, and this can be seen online, here.

Hardie included likenesses of many curlers of the time, and this was discussed by David B Smith in an article about the painting here. I wondered just what contributions the two women in the painting had made to the sport, that they had been selected to be included in it. I have written already about one of the two women in the painting, Henrietta Gilmour, see here. Research on the other, Mrs Maxwell Durham, has led me to realise the uphill battle that the early pioneers of women's curling in Scotland had in becoming accepted within the male dominated curling fraternity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

This detail is from the engraving of the painting published by Doig, Wilson and Wheatley, 90 George Street, Edinburgh, in 1900. The photogravure process had been carried out by the Groupil company in Paris.

Mrs Maxwell Durham is the woman on the left. As Janetta Sprot Stewart McCulloch of Barholm, Kirkcudbrightshire, she had married Thomas Maxwell Durham in Biarritz, France, in 1880. The couple's home was Boghead, near Bathgate. Thomas was a keen curler, a member of the Bathgate Curling Club, and was President of the club when it joined the Royal Club in 1880 (and indeed remained as its President until his death in 1899). Mrs Maxwell Durham became the club's patroness in 1882. She does not appear at first as a member of the Bathgate CC, but it is reasonable to presume she did learn to play on the Bathgate pond.

Then, in the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1896-97, Mrs Maxwell Durham is listed as an occasional member of the Bathgate club alongside twelve other ladies. These were: Miss Allan, Miss Gordon, Miss M Allan, Mrs Gentleman, Mrs Macnab, Mrs Halliday, Miss Meldrum, Mrs Sloan, Mrs Austin, Mrs Graham, Mrs Cameron and Mrs Kirk.

But by the following year, most of these these ladies, with some others, had formed their own club, the Boghead Ladies Curling Club, which became affiliated to the Royal Club at the AGM on July 8, 1897, election to club membership being 'unanimous'.

As you can see from the club's entry in the 1897-98 Annual, Mrs Maxwell Durham was its President. That Annual also suggests that the club had actually been first constituted in 1895. Janetta Maxwell Durham headed up the Boghead Ladies as its President for five years. Thomas Maxwell Durham died on September 19, 1899, and his obituary is in the Annual for 1899-1900. Janetta did not long survive her husband and died in Bath, England, on January 8, 1902, aged 66. However, the club continued to prosper. Mrs Robert Kirk took over as President in 1902, when it had eleven regular and five occasional members.

The sixteen strong Boghead Ladies Curling Club was the second women's club to join the Royal Club, Hercules Ladies having become affiliated in 1895. David Smith wrote about the Hercules Ladies here. That article has a photograph of eighteen members in front of their new clubhouse in 1899.

Balyarrow Ladies CC became affiliated to the Royal Club in 1898 with eleven regular members, and Cambo Ladies the following year, with fourteen members.

So, by the close of the nineteenth century, Scotland had four women's curling clubs. The inclusion of Mrs Maxwell Durham in the Charles Martin Hardie painting was, I believe, an acknowledgement of the establishment of these clubs.

It is interesting to speculate on the reasons for the formation of these women's clubs. It can be argued that the men did not want to share their activity with the women. Equality on the ice was still a long way off. Even though the four women's clubs were accepted into the roster of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, they did not, at first, compete against the men's clubs. District Medals were awarded, but these only matched up one women's club against another. One reason for that may have been the fact that the women played with different stones than did the men.

Writing in the 1898-99 Annual, an anonymous author notes, "... there is no doubt the national game has recently made great strides in popularity. The ladies have taken it up, and there are now several ladies' clubs, while a good many clubs admit ladies to membership. The weight of the curling stones for ladies' clubs varies from 25 to 33 lbs."

The author says 'a good many clubs admit ladies to membership', but is that enthusiasm backed up by hard facts? If you take the time to go through the list of clubs and members in a Royal Club Annual of the time, you can indeed find other women who were club members.

One of these clubs was Lundin and Montrave CC, and the reason that women came to prominence there, as we have seen (here), was thanks to Henrietta Gilmour, the other woman in the painting. But what other curling clubs had women members?

In the Royal Club Annual for 1900-1901, the membership of 539 Scottish clubs is recorded, as at September 15, 1900. As noted above, there were four women-only clubs: Hercules Ladies, Boghead Ladies, Balyarrow Ladies and Cambo Ladies. In addition, the Broughty Ferry CC had what appears to be a 'ladies section'. Indeed, the Dundee Evening Telegraph of December 9, 1897, records a meeting of that club where the proposal to admit lady members to the club was considered. After discussion, it was unanimously agreed that they should be admitted and eight ladies were placed on the roll of members. By 1900, this number had increased to 20.

The Balerno CC listed three 'Lady Members' as a category separate from 'Regular' and 'Occasional', as did the Raith and Abbotshall CC with thirteen.

Other clubs listed women as 'Extraordinary Members'. Callendar CC had two such, Couper-Angus and Kettins CC had three, as did Snaigow CC, and Edinchip CC had four.

The Affleck CC (whose secretary lived in Monikie, near Dundee) lists Jessie Walker, Julie D Taylor, Annie M Boase, L Margaret Cox, Jenny I Fraser, Nellie McIntyre and Jane Walker among its occasional members. The Pitlessie CC has Ruth de Pree, Althea Haig, Annie Gilroy, Jane Gilroy, Annie Macdonald and Meg Macdonald as occasional members too.

Family connections were perhaps the reason some women took to the ice. Dunnikier CC listed a Miss Oswald, a Miss Mary Oswald and a Miss Lena Oswald as occasional members. John Oswald, who was likely their father, was the club's President.

Women's names appear very occasionally amongst a club's regular members. The Bowden CC has a Mrs Maxwell Tress listed thus. Her husband was the club's Vice-president. Incidentally, she was also one of the club's Patronesses. The other was a Mrs Laidlaw, who also took part in games as an occasional member of the club. These names are rare examples of Patronesses who were actually curlers themselves.

Patroness of the Penninghame CC was Mrs Lloyd Anstruther who was also a regular member of the club. Another women in that club's roster of more than 80 men was a Miss Williams. There's a story to be uncovered here, I suspect! 

The above list is not intended to be exhaustive, but does illustrate that by 1900 women were on the ice in their own clubs, in their own teams, and also playing with the men, although not in large numbers.

Club membership returns in old Annuals do not tell the whole story. The report, above, from the Dundee Courier of February 13, 1897, records in detail a match between two teams of women from Lindertis and Glamis. These women's names do not appear in the Annual returns of these two clubs in 1897, although the surnames do appear, most likely fathers or husbands.

Women's participation as full members of the sport's governing body faced one more hurdle. At the AGM of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club on Wednesday, July 24, 1901, in the Windsor Hotel, Glasgow, John Jackson, the President of the Glasgow Lilybank CC, proposed the following motion, "That ladies be not eligible to compete in any matches held under the auspices of the Royal Club, unless by arrangement, and against rinks composed entirely of their own sex." The motion was seconded by John Kinloch of Kilmacolm. The success of this motion would have restricted women to only playing against other women's teams in curling's great bonspiels such as the Grand Match, the International Match, and in Province Matches.

It is to the credit of James Gardner (Bathgate CC), the Rev R Menzies Fergusson (the Secretary of Airthey Castle CC), R Scott (Vice-president of Bonhill CC) and Captain R McKill (Blackburn, West Lothian, CC) who all spoke against the motion, that it was not carried. The way then was clear for women to take to the ice alongside the men, and against them, on equal terms, with the full backing of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. That this did happen as the twentieth century progressed, in Scotland and elsewhere, we shall see in future posts.

We know very little about these women curlers whose names appear in Royal Club Annuals and newspaper reports from more than a hundred years ago. They were curling pioneers, in the male dominated society of the time. I'm wondering if any of their descendents are aware of their curling ancestors, and can provide further information?  

The detail from 'Curling at Carsebreck' is from a photograph of the painting in the author's archive, and the detail from the engraving was found online here. The Boghead Ladies membership is from a Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual, and the newspaper clipping is from the British Newspaper Archive.

Monday, August 29, 2016

David's Wall

When the new season begins at Ayr Ice Rink in a couple of weeks, curlers arriving to play will be met by this new construction on Limekiln Road, at the car park entrance. It is a wall of curling stones, and a small cairn of stones, in memory of 'The Sheriff', David B Smith!

Some 100 stones were found in the garden of David and Hazel's home in Troon when the task of relocating David's bequest of his curling memorabilia to the Scottish Curling Trust was undertaken on his death last year. These were in addition to the 300 or so stones that were inside the house, which are now safely in store at Stirling.

Andrew Kerr, a Director of Ayrshire Curlers Ltd and David's friend, was one of those who helped in moving the collection to Stirling, a mammoth task. Andrew, and fellow Director, Gemmill Jack, are those who came up with the idea for the wall at David's home curling rink at Ayr, using the stones from the garden.

David's knowledge of curling's history was unmatched. I miss him very much. Hardly a day goes by when I come up with a question to which David would immediately have had the answer. Andrew says, "I too miss David. Many is the night I would bring him home and have a dram together talking about curling matters."

Whereas rare and important curling stones found a place inside their house in Troon, David and Hazel's garden was a 'sanctuary' for old curling stones. No matter how unloved in their previous existence, they found a home at Troon, and, on a sunny day outside, they were a worthy topic of conversation.

And they can continue to be discussed over! Forget for the moment that these stones have no handles, they all have stories to tell. One can ask two questions right off: how old are they, and what type of stone are they made from?

Take, as an example, the three stones on the top tier of the wall in the photo above. All are single-soled stones, and that dates them from before the middle of the nineteenth century. (I use a date of 1850 as roughly when reversible double soled stones were first manufactured.) The stone on the left is the earliest example - the hole in which the handle was seated is off to the side, the handle itself being L-shaped. The earliest of this type of stone would have had an iron handle, as on the stone that adorns the little pyramid of stones accompanying the wall, see above, permanently fixed in place. It may even have been made in the eighteenth century.

The other two are later. The one on the right (of Common Ailsa) and that in the middle (Carsphairn?) are single soled stones, but with the attachment for the handle in the centre of the stone. This was a small threaded iron bolt, the remains still in place in these two examples, onto which the handle would have been screwed. These handles were the earliest with a 'goose-neck' shape, and were removable.

We can date curling stones by reference to the great curling paintings of the nineteenth century. If you haven't already done so, take a trip to the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh where the beautifully restored painting of the Grand Match at Linlithgow by Charles Lees now hangs, see here.

The painting depicts the 1848 Grand Match. We can safely assume that the artist painted what he saw. In the detail above, most of the stones are single-soled, with offset handles. But one stands out as different, as I've highlighted. This is a single-soled stone with a centred handle. Such stones may be considered as a fairly short lived phase in curling stone evolution!

If you study closely the earlier famous painting of The Curlers by George Harvey, from 1835, see here, you will also see one odd stone which looks to be of this type.

Here's another from the wall. What stories could it tell of matches played many years ago? Where, I wonder? And who was AW, its proud owner who saw that his initials were inscribed onto it?

David's Wall is a wonderful reminder of a great man. I am sure he would appreciate it if you consider it as more than a wall of 'old stones', but as a reminder of games played, and enjoyed, on outside ice many years ago.

A vote of thanks must go to Andrew Kerr, Billy Howat, Gemmill Jack, Jim Miller, Gavin Morton and Jamie Mason who made it happen. Although Gemmill built the wall, a considerable amount of time and effort was put in by everyone, particularly in moving all the stones!

Photos © Skip Cottage, and my own thanks to Kirsty Letton.