Friday, March 06, 2015

The WW1 internees who curled at Murren

by Bob Cowan

In the early years of the twentieth century, mountain resorts in Switzerland became popular as winter holiday destinations. There was as yet no downhill skiing, but cross country, skating and curling were much practised. British visitors flocked to the resorts, many of which established curling clubs. St Moritz and Davos had led the way in the late nineteenth century, but other places soon became destinations where keen curlers could be sure of finding excellent ice in January and February each year.

In 1905 Sir Henry Lunn established the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club to popularize winter sports. Enthusiasts travelled with Lunn's company to such resorts as Adelboden, Montana, Villars, Wengen, Murren, and Engelberg. 

By 1914, there were eighteen Swiss curling clubs listed in the Annual of the Royal Curling Club. The 1913-14 Annual contains reports of competitions held in Morgins, Grindelwald, Adelboden, Leukerbad, and Murren. The last mentioned features in the old postcard at the head of this article. The postcard is postally unused, and so is difficult to date, but is probably from the 1920s. There is a large sheet of ice in front of the Palace Hotel, part for skating and part for curling.

In the 1914-15 Annual lists the Murren CC with 46 regular and 13 occasional members. The office bearers are shown above.

When the war began, tourism to Switzerland, albeit a neutral country, was much affected. However, that country was to play an important role during the war years.

An agreement between the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government with the warring parties was signed in 1914. POWs who were too seriously wounded or sick to be able to continue in military service were to be repatriated through Switzerland, with the assistance of the Swiss Red Cross. By November 1916 some 8,700 French and 2,300 German soldiers had been returned home.

Further agreements were eventually signed concerning sick or badly wounded POWs who might still be capable of military work away from the front line if they were repatriated. If repatriation could not be countenanced, the agreements allowed for them to be interned in Switzerland, this aiding their recovery without furthering the enemy’s war effort. Groups of Swiss doctors visited POW camps to select potential internees. Once a POW had been selected, he would be brought before a board comprising two Swiss Army doctors, two doctors from the country holding him captive, and a representative of the prisoner’s own nation.

By the end of 1916, some 27,000 former POWs were interned in Switzerland, about half of whom were French, one third German and the remainder mostly British or Belgian. By the end of the war, nearly 68,000 men had been interned in Switzerland.

Much information about the British who were interned in Switzerland can be found in a book The British Interned in Switzerland by Lieutenant-Colonel H P Picot, published by Edward Arnold, London, 1919. It is available to download or to read online, here.

This website about Switzerland and the First World War is an excellent read.

One of the main centres for interned British was at Châteux d’Oex. The first interned British ex-POWs to reach Switzerland, about 300 officers and other ranks, arrived there on May 31, 1916. Some 700 British internees were eventually held in the vicinity. Leysin was used for British tuberculosis sufferers.

Another camp for British internees was at Murren, which held 600 men and 30-40 officers. This village was high up in the mountains, and difficult to reach for much of each year. Although the situation was beautiful, many of the internees were so badly ill or wounded that they were confined indoors when it snowed.

I was curious to find if the curling facilities, so prominent before the war, were used by the internees.

A first hand account of life at Murren was made by John Harvey Douglas, in a book published in 1918, entitled Captured: Sixteen months as a prisoner of war. This was serialised by a number of North American newspapers. Douglas was a Canadian officer who was captured after being wounded in June, 1916, during the Battle of Mount Sorrel (see here). His account of his experiences on the front line and as a POW is extremely interesting. He arrived in Murren with a party of nine officers and two hundred men. Although he was only to be there for a short time he does describe how the officers were all billetted in the Palace Hotel and the rest of the men in seven other hotels. They were all treated as guests, their board being paid for by the British Government. Although this was a small amount, apparently the hotel keepers were grateful for the income and it allowed them to keep their establishments operational during the lean war years. Douglas mentions that several of the officers had family members permanently with them. All the internees continued to receive medical treatment. Those needing operations were transferred to hospitals in the major cities, the expenses again being paid for by the British Government.

At Murren, a school was established, and several workshops, and a print shop. There were classes in foreign languages, and there were dances and dance lessons. Sport too played a part in keeping internees active. Douglas says, "Everything possible was done to entertain the men and make their lot more pleasant." Football was popular in the summer. In the winter a hockey team was organised from the fifty or so Canadians, even though all who played were handicapped by injury in some way or other. The internees got the local bob run back in operation. And skiing was enjoyed by those who were able. Douglas bought himself skis, and his first efforts resulted in broken ribs!

Tantalisingly, curling is mentioned just the once, before Douglas left Murren to go to Lausanne for further treatment on his arm injury. He writes, "Things were very pleasant in Murren; the skiing and curling were good, and I would have gladly stayed on til the snow left, but my arm was giving me trouble ..."

Douglas was eventually repatriated and his story of his journey back to Montreal and his family is moving indeed.

Recently I came across this photograph which purports to show 'English officers curling on the Palace rink'. This originated appeared in a publication of the Kandahar Ski Club in 2007, written by Andrew Gunz, but I have no other details of its provenance, or indeed when exactly it was taken.

But the very existence of this photograph suggests that there may be more evidence of internees curling at Murren still to be found. Perhaps, reading this, you can help? I would be interested to learn if there are further sources which elaborate on the activities of the Murren internees in the final years of WW1. Given recent efforts to make curling accessible to all, it would be interesting to know how severely injured soldiers coped with the sport and indeed, if this recreation helped in their recovery.

After the war, Murren again became a popular winter holiday resort. See here to read about its role in the development of downhill skiiing. And curling is still a feature of the resort in winter, here.

There is a useful timeline of British visitors to Switzerland here.

Photos from the author's archive. Thanks to Erwin Sautter for the extract from the Kandahar Ski Club Review.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Railway Station

by Bob Cowan

The possible advantages of railways in transporting curlers and their stones to compete in bonspiels had been recognised as early as 1846, as an article in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1846-47 shows. Just a few years later, by 1853, the Club had constructed its own pond at Carsebreck, served by a halt on the Scottish Central Railway at what was grandly called the 'Royal Curling Club Station'. Later it would become just 'Carsebreck Halt', but at this station many thousands of curlers would disembark trains from all over the country to compete in twenty-five Grand Matches in the years from 1853 to 1935.

What do we know of the origins of the Royal Club's pond at Carsebreck?

The Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club was held in Tait's New Royal Hotel, Edinburgh, on July 27, 1852. The previous year, Sir John Ogilvy had been appointed convener of a committee with the remit of obtaining a 'Grand Pond' for the Royal Club. At the 1852 Annual Meeting, Sir John reported the activities of that committee and indicated that they had found a possible site. The meeting was delighted with the progress. The committee was re-appointed with 'full powers to carry out and complete the proposed scheme of a Pond at Greenloaning, or in any other locality deemed most suitable and convenient by the Committee'. Sir John was to continue as Convener.

It was indicated that the cost and expenses of procuring the pond would be met by voluntary subscriptions from clubs and their members. At that time, the Royal Club listed more than 250 clubs in Scotland.

By the time the Annual for 1852-53 went to press a few months later, much had been achieved. The preface in the Annual says, "In the first place, then, it is with no ordinary pleasure that we direct the attention of the Members of the Royal Club to the statement of the proceedings of the Committee which was appointed to procure a Grand Curling Pond. From that statement it will be seen that the Committee have completed the duty assigned to them, and have realized the long-cherished wish of the Royal Club to have an arena for its hard contests, where the great Captain, 'John Frost', might summon his forces to combat on the shortest notice, and where they should have no dread of ambush in the depths below."

This last phrase shows that there was real concern about holding Grand Matches on natural bodies of water, with considerable depth below the ice. Prior to 1852 there had been three such bonspiels, at Penicuik in 1847, Linlithgow in 1848, and Lochwinnoch in 1850. A draw had been made for one to be held on Lindores Loch in 1851, but this did not go ahead.

The committee had investigated a number of possibilities for a location of the Royal Club's own pond. The site near Greenloaning, mentioned at the 1852 meeting, had looked promising and had been surveyed, but the 'claims of the tenants were so excessive as to prevent farther procedure upon their farms'. An area near Carstairs, served by the Caledonian Railway, was also looked at. That did not work out, and so another site not far from the rejected place at Greenloaning was investigated. The committee report tells the story, "A meeting was held at Carsebreck on 31st July, when the following Members attended, viz., the Convener, Lord Kinnaird, Major Henderson, Messrs Moubray, Smith, King, Stirling, Williamson, Sharp, C. E. Macritchie, Drummond, and the Secretary. Mr Drummond submitted a Plan of the grounds at Carsebreck, and the meeting having inspected the lands, they were of opinion that these were well adapted for a Pond, and that the proximity of the site to the Scottish Central Railway rendered it a most suitable and desirable place for the Pond. They then waited upon Mr Taylor, the tenant of the farm of Carsebreck, who agreed that they should have the site for the entire months of November, December, January, and February at a rental of £15 per annum."

Taylor was a tenant of Mrs Home Drummond Stirling Moray of Abercairny who gave her permission for the pond to be constructed.

The 'Mr Drummond' was Alexander Drummond, a land surveyor, who had his office at 7 Charlotte Street, Perth. He was instructed to complete his plan of the Pond, and to obtain estimates for the work. The Convener agreed 'to wait upon the Directors of the Scottish Central Railway, as to the fares to be paid by Curlers going to and returning from the Pond - and also as to the formation of a siding and ground for erecting a house for the use of the Royal Club'.

It was hoped that the pond would be ready for the coming winter, that of 1852-53. It was!

Estimates for carrying out the work were obtained. Above is the advert in the Perthshire Advertiser in August. The successful tender was made by 'Mr Falshaw, contractor, of Perth'. This is probably James Falshaw, Craigie Bank, who is listed in the Post Office Directory of 1852-53 as a 'contractor' and as a 'railway contractor' the following year. His company had done much of the work on the Stirling - Perth section of the Scottish Central Railway.

There was further negotiation with Robert Taylor of Carsebreck who had claimed for ground not included in the original negotiations, and this was solved by paying him £20. Agreements had to be made with another local farmer, Mr Ross of Westertoun, for the use of some of his ground, and to another, Mr Taylor of Netherton of Buttergask, for access to the pond. In terms of 'access' here, in the days before the invention of the motor car, or even of the bicycle, we are talking about travel on foot, or on horseback, or on a horsedrawn cart or coach. But it was access by the railway that was to ensure the success of the venture. The section of the Scottish Central Railway between Perth and Stirling had been formally opened on May 22, 1848.

The contractor experienced difficulty from 'the nature of the soil', but eventually the embankments and cuts were finished, and the pond was filled with water. The Committee met again at Carsebreck on November 24, 1852, and found the Pond covered with a splendid sheet of ice. The
Royal Club Secretary (Alex Cassels) was authorised to make an interim payment of £150 to Mr Falshaw. The 1853-54 Annual records a further payment of £200, and notes that the total cost of constructing the Grand Pond, with the surveys and rent, had amounted to just over £573 (equivalent to some £69,000 today). By a year after the pond was completed, donations from clubs and individuals amounted to £388, and the cost of the pond was well on the way to being covered.

The Ordnance Survey had not produced a map of the Carsebreck area by 1852. The area covered by the OS 6 inch to the mile and 25 inch to the mile maps was not surveyed until after that date, so we don't know exactly what things looked like prior to the pond's formation. Above is how it looked on the 25 inch map, surveyed in 1863 and published in 1866. And of course, there was no photography back then! How the area looks today can be seen here.

It does seem that the ground on which the pond was formed had been cut previously for peat for use as fuel, and the base of the pond was described as being of a retentive clay. The altitude of the pond was found to be 280 feet above sea level, and the site area was some sixty-one acres.

The depth of the pond when full varied from 6 inches to 5 feet 9 inches - the greatest depth being at the western corner, where the sluice was located. It was intended that the rinks for curling would be formed over the shallowest parts of the pond, it being noted that if the water level was reduced by one foot, none of the rinks need be upon water of more than three feet in depth.

The report in the 1852-53 Annual concludes, "It only remains to be observed that the Directors of the Scottish Central Railway have in the handsomest manner met all the desires of the Committee. Besides agreeing to reduce the fares to and from the Pond, they have constructed a siding and a station for the Pond, and they have allowed the Station to be called 'The Royal Curling Club Station'."

The first use of the station and the pond would come in February 1853. That will be the subject of another 'Carsebreck story'.

The map images are screenshots from the Ordnance Survey maps available on the National Library of Scotland maps website here. The image from the Perthshire Advertiser is © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, and reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Gilmour Trophies

by Bob Cowan

In a previous post (here) I wrote about Lady Henrietta Gilmour, a pioneer of women's curling in Scotland at the end of the nineteenth century. In this article we move forward to the season of 1912-13. Her husband, Sir John Gilmour, above, has just completed his year as President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Although suffering from rheumatism, he still curled at Montrave whenever he could.

Sir John had wished to present a trophy to commemorate his year as Royal Club President. It was suggested that he might consider presenting a trophy for women's play. Hence at the Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club on Thursday, July 24, 1913, in St Margaret's Lecture Hall, Dunfermline, the following was announced:

"Sir John Gilmour, as President, should present to the Royal Club a Trophy, value £25, open only to the Lady Members in Scotland and England. The Match to be played either in the open or in an Ice Rink. The Trophy if won three times by the same Club, not necessarily in succession, becomes the property of the Club. The further conditions of play are to be fixed by the Council of Management of the Royal Club."

In addition, "Lady Gilmour, wife of the present President, who is a Canadian lady and has always taken the greatest interest in the game of Curling, and especially in Canada, desires also to present a Trophy to the value of £25, to be played for by the Lady Members of the Royal Club in Canada. The terms to be the same as above. In presenting these Prizes both Sir John and Lady Gilmour have in view the hope that as a result, greater interest may be taken in the game by ladies."

Was £25 a large sum in 1913? Using the Bank of England's Historic Inflation Calculator, here, £25 back then would be the equivalent of approximately £2,500 today. Donating two such trophies was generous, certainly.

The first competition for the Sir John Gilmour Cup was played at the Haymarket Ice Rink in Edinburgh, January 21-23, 1914. Eight teams took part in a straight knockout format.

First round results:
Miss Baxter (Hercules Ladies) 15, Miss Jean Marshall (Balyarrow Ladies) 12
Miss Brander (Braid) 12, Miss Robertson (Scotscraig) 9
Miss Brodie (Balerno) 12, Miss Scott (Dundee West End) 10
Miss Ogilvy (Broughty Ferry) 21, Miss Curror (Raith and Abbotshall) 12

Provost Husband of Dunfermline presided at a luncheon for the competitors, recognising that it was the first time that a competition for the women had been played under the auspices of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

In the semifinals, Braid beat Hercules 12-9. Balerno beat Broughty Ferry 16-11.

In the final, the Balerno team (skipped by Miss Brodie, with Mrs Menzies, 3rd, Mrs Sang, 2nd, and Miss Bruce, lead), beat Braid (skipped by Miss Brander, with Mrs Armour, Miss Macintosh and Miss Taylor) 16-11.

The Reverend John Kerr presented the trophy.

Here is a photo of the winning Balerno team: (L-R) Mrs A L Menzies, Miss N Bruce, Mrs J H Sang, Miss Brodie (skip).

All those involved in curling in January 1914 could not have imagined the horrors of war that were to unfold in the years ahead. It was not until 1925 that the competition for the Sir John Gilmour trophy was held again at Haymarket. Balerno won again, the team skipped by Miss Brodie with Mrs Menzies, 3rd, Mrs Sang, 2nd, and Mrs C M Cowan, lead. Only three clubs took part - Balerno, Edinburgh Ladies, and Hercules Ladies.

Miss Brodie and her Balerno team returned in 1926 to try to win the trophy outright. Four clubs - Balerno, Hercules Ladies, Edinburgh Ladies, and Breadalbane Tummel Bridge - took part. Edinburgh Ladies beat Balerno 17-9 in the final. Mrs Crabbie was skip of the winning team.

In 1927 the same four clubs competed for the trophy, and again an Edinburgh Ladies team, skipped by Mrs Crabbie, was successful, defeating Miss Baxter's Hercules Ladies team 18-10 in the final. In 1928, eight teams entered the competition, although Balerno scratched before the first round tie. The other clubs were Edinburgh Ladies, Breadalbane Tummel Bridge, Holyrood, Waverley, Hercules Ladies, Bearsden, and Abington. Mrs Crabbie again skipped the Edinburgh Ladies team, defeated Holyrood 28-5 in the semifinal, and Hercules Ladies 19-5 in the final. The games were of sixteen ends.

By the regulations, that third win allowed the Edinburgh Ladies club to keep the trophy.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club had already considered what should be done if the Gilmour Trophy was won outright. At the Annual Meeting of the Club on Wednesday, August 3, 1927, in the Central Station Hotel, Glasgow, Andrew Henderson Bishop offered to present another trophy to encourage women's play. He carried through with this offer. The Ladies Challenge Trophy which he presented was first played for in 1929 (and won by Mrs Crabbie with her Edinburgh Ladies team) continues to be played for today as the premier ladies' event in Scotland, aside from the Scottish Championship.

What happened to the Sir John Gilmour trophy? In 1970, it was re-presented by the family of Mrs J E Crabbie to the Edinburgh Area of the Ladies Branch of the Royal Club for annual competition. It now goes, appropriately, to the winners of the Edinburgh area playdowns for the Henderson Bishop competition.

That's the trophy above. One side of the trophy has an image of Lundin Tower. The other says, "Presented by Sir John Gilmour Bart, President RCCC 1912-13. To be played for by all lady members of all local clubs connected to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in Scotland and England and to become the property of any such club winning it three times (not necessarily in succession)."  

This season it was won by Jenny Barr and her team. That's them above with the trophy, (L-R) Fran Stretton, Jenny Barr, Morna Aitken and Susan Kesley, on December 4 last year. They will now take part in the Henderson Bishop finals at Kelso in February.

But what happened to Lady Gilmour's trophy that went to encourage Canadian women's competition? It was played for in the 1913-14 season by eight clubs, with the Heather CC defeating Montreal in the final 18-11. The trophy is still played for ...  but as a mixed competition, see here on the Quebec curling website. One has to assume that it was won outright at some point, and then re-presented. Its history remains to be unravelled. Can you help?

The top photo of Sir John Gilmour is from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1912-13, by Lafayette, London. The photo of the first winners of the Sir John Gilmour trophy was by Balmain, Edinburgh. It was used on a greetings card published by the Edinburgh Curling Club on the occasion of the club's centenary in 2012 and entitled 'Early Haymarket Curling'. This image is what is reproduced here. The other photos are by the author. Thanks for help go to Robin Copland who first drew my attention to Balerno CC's success, see here. Also to Jenny Barr, Debbie Kerr and Iain Baxter at Murrayfield, and Barbara Watt.

Postscript. What happened to the Gilmour family? Sir John Gilmour died in 1920. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Lieutenant colonel John Gilmour DSO, who was MP for Pollok and became Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926. Lady Henrietta died on January 2, 1926, having outlived her son Harry only by some days. He had been wounded in the Boer War, and died on December 24, 1925. The Gilmour's youngest son, Douglas, was killed in WW1, at 26 years old, serving with the 7th Seaforth Highlanders. Netta Gilmour married Captain R W Purvis in 1904. Maud Gilmour married James Younger in February 1906.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Henrietta Gilmour: Pioneer Woman Curler

by Bob Cowan

The photo above can be found in the magazine Hearth and Home of March 14, 1895. It depicts four women on the ice, and is probably the earliest published photograph of women curling in Scotland. The skip is Henrietta Gilmour - that's her, second from the right.

Note the long handled brooms the women are using, with their crook tops. It cannot have been easy to curl wearing the dress of the time! It would appear that fashionable headgear was de rigueur. What shoes were they wearing? The stones are just a little lighter than used by the men, at 31 to 34 lbs, according to the Hearth and Home article. Note the wooden tee-marker at the centre of the rings scratched on the ice.

Hearth and Home was a weekly broadsheet magazine, for women, published in London from 1891-1914. A short article in the March 14, 1895, issue, on a page entitled 'The World of Sportswomen', explains that during the 1894-95 season, the Gilmour team had played ten matches, and won seven. Just who these matches were against is not stated in the article, but, thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, it has been possible to find details of two of these. The Dundee Courier of February 16, 1895, reports that the Gilmour rink took on a team of ladies from the Hercules club in a friendly on Kilconquhar Loch, and won 23-7. The skip of the Hercules team was Mrs Scott Davidson. Another game against Hercules was played out on Montrave Pond and is reported in the Dundee Courier of February 21, 1895. The Hercules team was skipped on this occasion by Mrs Palm, with Mrs Scott Davidson at third, but were again defeated. The Gilmour team won 42-5.

Incidentally, the Hercules women were to form their own club later that season, see David B Smith's article here.

During the nineteenth century women of the middle and upper classes were expected to be content with a life lived mainly in the home. Not all of these women were happy to do so, and, by the end of the century, many defied convention and began to participate in sports such as climbing, cycling, and curling, not always with the approval of their male counterparts. Although there are accounts of women curling earlier in the nineteenth century (see for example here), and even in the eighteenth century (see here), these occurrences were not common. Henrietta Gilmour was a pioneer of curling in Scotland, at a time when the sport was just becoming accepted as an activity in which women could compete, and she deserves to be better known. Who was she?

She was Canadian, born in 1852 in Quebec City. She married her first cousin, John Gilmour, in September, 1873. John was son of Allan Gilmour, one of Scotland’s principal shipowners and involved in the Canadian timber trade. The family business (Allan Gilmour and Company) took John, a young man in his twenties, to Canada, where he was to meet his future wife, a daughter of David Gilmour, his father's younger brother who had died in 1857. The couple returned to Scotland and set up home in Montrave House, on an estate owned by John's father and which he duly inherited.

They had seven children. Allan was born in 1874, but died when just four years old. John (also called Jack) was born in 1876, and Harry in 1878. Maud, the first of two daughters, was born in 1882. Henrietta (Netta) was born in 1884. Ronald was born in 1888, but survived only for three weeks. Douglas, the youngest child, was born in 1889.

It is not thought that Henrietta had curled as a youngster in Canada. She was at home on ice though, and was an accomplished skater.

Her husband John was certainly a keen curler, as his father had been. John founded a curling club based in and around his Fife estate. At the Annual Meeting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club held in the Bold Arms Hotel, Southport, England, on Friday, July 31, 1885, the Lundin and Montrave Curling Club applied for membership of the governing body, and, having been duly proposed and seconded, the club was admitted at that meeting. In the 1885-86 Annual, John Gilmour and 'Mrs Gilmour' are listed as patron and patroness. John Gilmour was also the club's president and was one of the sixteen regular members listed.

To have been admitted to the Royal Club, the Lundin and Montrave CC would have needed a sheet of ice on which to play. The curling pond, near to Montrave House, can be found easily on old maps, clearly marked on this 25 inch to the mile, from 1894.

The Hearth and Home photograph was taken on this pond. 

Henrietta's curling career likely began in earnest after the birth of her son Douglas in 1889. In 1895, when the photo was taken, she would have been around 43 years old. Her team was Isabella Gentle of Kilwhiss, at third, and Mary Martin of Priestfield at lead. The second player was a 'Miss Fortune'. Both Martin and Gentle are listed in the membership roster of the Lundin and Montrave club. Miss Fortune is not, and unlike her teammates I can find no mention of her in reports of curling games in the years following that first successful season. She was perhaps Mary Fortune of Pilmuir Farm. Her younger brother was head of the family there, according to the 1891 census, and lived with his widowed mother, and his two sisters Mary (28) and Jessie (22). George was a member of the Lundin and Montrave club until the 1895-96 season, and that might have been the connection which brought his sister to the ice.

The Lundin and Montrave club flourished, as did the estate, and so did the Gilmour family. John seems not to have been much involved in the family business. He joined the Fife Light Horse in 1874 as Second Lieutenant. He gained promotion to Captain in 1881, and was Lieutenant-Colonel in 1895. He was active in politics, contesting the East Fife constituency on three occasions. In 1897, John Gilmour was created a Baronet, and the Glasgow Herald of June 28, 1897, records scenes of great excitement when Sir John and Lady Gilmour arrived back at Leven station from London. They were undoubtedly popular landowners and held in high esteem.

The Gilmours were a curling family. The parents seem to have encouraged their children to play. By 1897-98, John and Harry were both regular members of the Lundin and Montrave club, and sixteen year old Maud was an occasional member. Two years later she was a regular member. In the 1900-01 Annual, four children, John, Harry, Maud, and Netta, are all listed as regular members of the curling club. Netta indeed may well have been the youngest women to become a 'made' curler. The Dundee Courier of February 18, 1899, reports the annual dinner of the Lundin and Montrave Club. During the evening a curlers' court was formed and a number of curlers, including Miss Netta Gilmour, were 'duly initiated into the mysteries of the brotherhood of the broom'. She would have been fifteen years old!

Lady Henrietta Gilmour continued to compete. For example, on February 15, 1901, the Dundee Courier records that she skipped an all ladies' rink against one from the Balyarrow CC, skipped by Mrs Johnstone, on 'spendid ice' at Montrave, winning 21-14.

The Lundin and Montrave women also played alongside the men. The Dundee Courier reports on February 3, 1902, that a friendly match took place between the Cupar curling club and the Lundin and Montrave club, on the former's pond on Thomaston Farm, four rinks aside. The report highlights the fact that three ladies took part and 'despite the unfavourable conditions, played a sterling game'. Lady Gilmour played lead for her husband. Miss Gentle played second stones for James Balfour, and Miss Martin played lead for T E Mudie. The Cupar teams were the stronger on the day.

Sir John Gilmour became a Vice-president of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1902, and in 1912 he became President. He and his wife left a curling legacy, donating trophies to promote women's curling, more about which in a future article.

But there are two additional important things to say about Henrietta Gilmour. She was one of only two women included in Charles Martin Hardie's famous painting of the Grand Match at Carsebreck, from 1898. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club owns the original of this which hangs in a room in Scone Palace. 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 is discussed by David B Smith in an article about the painting here.

But the discovery which excited me most in my research was that Henrietta Gilmour took up photography as an interest and hobby, probably after Douglas was born in 1889. She is important as the first identified woman photographer in Scotland! Much of her work has survived. Fifteen hundred of her negatives were deposited in St Andrews University Library by her grandson, Sir John Gilmour, 3rd Baronet of Lundin and Montrave, in 1978. These now comprise the Lady Henrietta Gilmour Photographic Collection, looked after and cared for by specialist staff at the University Library. Some of her photos have been exhibited in the past and more recently some of the collection has been digitised and can be seen online, here. A further six hundred negatives were given to the National Museums of Scotland, and these are in the Scottish Life Archive.

Many of Henrietta's photographs depict her husband, her children, and friends. Sir John leased sporting estates in the West of Scotland, and stalking, shooting, fishing, picnicking, bathing, and boating became subjects for Henrietta's camera. At home at Montrave Sir John bred prize livestock. His stud of Clydesdale horses gained national recognition, and horses, as well as prize-winning cattle and sheep, were the subjects of photographs by Lady Gilmour. There are many highland scenes, and photos of buildings. There are also a number of self portraits.

Rarely do we have the privilege of such an insight into what life was like for a landed family in the late Victorian era, Henrietta's photographs providing a fascinating record.

But, given her own interest in the sport, did she photograph curlers and curling? Indeed she did! I have discovered that several such photographs exist. There are two in the Lady Henrietta Gilmour Photographic Collection at St Andrews. And five are in the Scottish Life Archive at the National Museum of Scotland. Some of the latter are available to view as thumbnails on the SCRAN website, and at larger size if you have a subscription. One is (incorrectly) entitled 'Women curling on the Ladies' Curling Pond, Fife, 1896', see here. This is similar, but not identical, to one of those held at St Andrews. The photo is certainly of the Montrave pond, not a 'Ladies' Curling Pond'. The women in these photographs are not all the same as those in the photo that appeared in Hearth and Home, at the top of this article. These seem to be from a different season and are of a different team! But Henrietta Gilmour is herself in the photos. Presumably she had an assistant to operate the shutter of her camera, after setting up the composition of the photo herself.

Could it be that the Hearth and Home photo was also one of Henrietta's own photographs, and supplied to the magazine for its use? Could it be the first ever curling 'selfie'?

More to come about Sir John and Lady Gilmour in a future article.

My thanks go to the helpful staff at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, which holds a run of the Hearth and Home magazine. And to Rachel Nordstrom, Photographic Research and Preservation Officer, Special Collections Division, University of St Andrews, who went the extra mile to help me. The map clipping is from the 25inch to the mile, second edition OS map, from the NLS maps website here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Stone Collector

by Bob Cowan

Most involved in Scottish curling will have come across the name of Andrew Henderson Bishop. The trophy he presented and which bears his name is played for as the premier ladies' event in Scotland each season, aside from the Scottish Championship. That's him above, the rather grainy photograph from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual of 1911-12, at which time he was a Vice-president of the Royal Club.

Andrew Henderson Bishop was born on May 19, 1874, the son of Thomas George Bishop and Elizabeth Henderson. Young Andrew is described in the census return for 1890 as a 'science student'. He married Mary Gibb McAlpine, daughter of Sir Robert McAlpine, in 1897. In the Edinburgh Evening News of February 16, 1904, it is reported that his father, who had founded the successful grocery business, Cooper's, had purchased the estate of Thornton Hall, near Busby, and this was to become the home of Andrew and Mary.

At Thornton Hall, Andrew laid out gardens in which, according to this website, there was a floodlit curling rink. He extended the railway station platform and kept a private carriage which could be coupled to the Glasgow train. His involvement with the family business gained him considerable wealth, and allowed him the time to pursue an interest in archaeology. He collected extensively and amassed one of the largest prehistoric collections in Scotland. In 1951, Andrew Henderson Bishop gifted his collection of prehistoric artifacts to the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow, see here.

After his wife died in 1935, he moved to Switzerland and lived there until his own death in 1957.

The University of Glasgow has a painting of him from 1950 by Hermione Hammond, see here.

Andrew Henderson Bishop's curling career seems to have begun as an occasional member of Haremyres Curling Club in the 1905-06 season. Three years later he was a regular member and was on the Council of Management of that club. He was secretary of the Thornton Hall Curling Club when it was formed in 1907, and two years later, its president. He curled in Switzerland too, and in the 1910-11 season is listed as a Vice-president of the Villars Curling Club.

Off the ice, Andrew Henderson Bishop was an enthusiastic student of the history of curling, and amassed a large collection of artifacts. He was responsible for putting together the curling history display at the Scottish Exhibition of National History, Art and Industry, at Kelvingrove, Glasgow, in the summer of 1911, see here.

The Royal Club Annual for 1911-12 notes that "The Historical Exhibition in Glasgow has been very successful, and one of its most interesting features was the extensive collection of curling curios brought together by Mr Henderson-Bishop of Thornton Hall, who is known to the brotherhood as one of the keenest of keen curlers and is at present an active and useful Vice-President of the Royal Club."

The 'Sports and Pastimes' section of the catalogue of exhibits for this exhibition lists 146 items of curling interest, 65 of which are described as 'lent by A Henderson Bishop'.

Here is a photo of part of the South Gallery of the Palace of History at the 1911 Scottish Exhibition. You can see many curling stones lined up on the floor on the left of the picture. 

This old postcard shows what the outside of the building looked like. It contained six separate galleries, the South Gallery also having space in a balcony area. Exactly where the Palace of History was constructed on the exhibition site can be seen in the plan here.

Back in the 1970s, David B Smith had wondered what had happened to the various items that had belonged to Henderson Bishop, that had been exhibited in 1911. Writing in 1989, David recalled, "In 1978 I was discussing with Stuart Maxwell, then assistant keeper of the National Museum of Antiquities, when he told me that he seemed to remember coming across a large number of curling stones in the basement of the Highland Folk Museum at Kingussie. A telephone call to Ross Noble, the very helpful curator of that museum, confirmed that the stones were still there, and that it was thought that they had come in some way from Henderson Bishop."

Shortly afterwards, I received a very excited call from David about this 'find', and before too long David, Willie Jamieson and I were heading north in my wee Datsun Cherry!

This was the sight that greeted us when we were shown into the cellar of a building at the Folk History Museum at Kingussie. There were old curling stones everywhere. Exciting? You bet! The Henderson Bishop collection had indeed been found!

David and Willie examine the stones. A few were selected to be brought up from the cellar.

Here David is cleaning up one of the stones at a sink in the museum's kitchen!

Washed and dried, six of the stones were laid out on the grass to be photographed.

In the years since 1978, the stones have been safely cared for by the museum at Kingussie, although most were stored out of public view.

The story of how the Highland Folk Museum came into being, and of its founder Dr Isobel Grant, is fascinating and can be read here. Additional space to allow the museum to expand was purchased and a large site at Newtonmore opened in 1995. Among the many memorable features of this open air museum is a curling pond and replica curling hut (see here) in which a small number of artifacts from the Henderson Bishop collection are displayed.

You can find out more about the Highland Folk Museum on its website here.

Some years ago when I was still editor of the Scottish Curler magazine I enquired of the museum the status of the rest of the Henderson Bishop collection, particularly the large number of stones that we had seen back in 1978. These, I was reassured, were still safely in store, and that the museum had plans for a new building on the Newtonmore site, which would give more space for the museum to store and preserve its considerable collections. In this past year, this vision became a reality.

This is Am Fasgadh, at Newtonmore, the Highland Folk Museum's wonderful new facility, with space to store and conserve the various items in the collections, as well as offices, study areas, a conservation laboratory, a library, and meeting spaces. It's quite separate from that part of the museum which is usually open to the public in the summer months, currently closed for the winter.

Am Fasgadh's primary function is to house the Highland Folk Museum's core collections - 10,000 objects ranging from teaspoons to tractors! The name 'Am Fasgadh' is Gaelic for 'the Shelter', and comes from the original name given to the Highland Folk Museum by its founder, Isabel Grant, and reflects her philosophy that the Museum was a safe haven for her collection.

Rachel Chisholm is the present Curator, and here she is with some of the Henderson Bishop stones in the background. We counted 122 on the new shelves, and there are others in the replica stone hut, as already mentioned.

This channel stane jumped out as an 'old friend'. You can see it in the photo above of the six stones taken in 1978. Who 'DW' was is not known. Indeed, the notes that Henderson Bishop must surely have made on the provenance of all the items in his curling collection have been lost. It is to be hoped that one day these records might be found.

However, some of the stones can be identified from their descriptions in the catalogue from the 1911 exhibition. These two are numbers 106 and 107 in the group of 'Curling stones more or less circular in shape, used from about 1750'. Their descriptions say, 'Hammer-dressed curling stone, initialled 'R C' and dated 1781, from Cumbernauld' and 'Stone initialled 'R C'. This stone was probably made to match No 106 when pairs of stones came into use about 1840, and the screwed tubes to receive the handles may have been inserted at the same time.'  Both had been lent to the exhibition by Henderson Bishop himself.

No 121 in the 1911 exhibition catalogue is this 'circular, hammer-dressed stone, engraved 'THE PIRATE', JAs Orr, 1831. This stone, along with 118, 119 and 120, shows an endeavour to preserve the identity of the stone after they had lost the peculiarity of shape from which, in the days of the boulder stone, they often took their name'.

Interestingly, this stone had been 'lent by James Waldron'. Most of the items borrowed from various clubs and individuals would have been returned after the exhibition closed. We can assume that at some point after the 1911 exhibition 'the Pirate' became part of Henderson Bishop's own collection, in which it remains! We do not know exactly how and when the Henderson Bishop collection came into the possession of the Highland Folk Museum. Was it given to Dr Grant? Was it a bequest? The two must have known each other. More research to be done.

Not all of the collection was kept together. Some stones were presented by Henderson Bishop to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1938, an example here.

There is so much more research to be done on this collection of stones, and the various other curling items in the museum's care. The 130 or so stones make up the most significant collection of seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century curling stones in any museum collection anywhere in the world! I am extremely happy to have seen them at Am Fasgadh last week.

Thanks to Rachel Chisholm for allowing me to visit Am Fasgadh to view the Henderson Bishop collection. The Scottish Curler of October, 1989, published an article about the visit to Kingussie remembered above. The photos here are all by the author, or from his archive, except as indicated. The top pic is from the Royal Club Annual for 1911-12, and was by T and R Annan and Sons, Glasgow, and the photo of the inside of the South Gallery has been scanned from the Catalogue of Exhibits of the 1911 exhibition, which was published in two volumes by Dalross Ltd.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Scotland's Sporting Buildings

Book reviewed by David B Smith

One of the most remarkable - and least publicised - 'by-products' of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer was the publication by Historic Scotland of the book, Scotland's Sporting Buildings, by Nick Haynes.

The purpose of the book is 'to celebrate the divers range and outstanding quality of historic purpose-built sporting architecture that exists across the country'.

The book is not long at 108 pages, but it is crammed full of illustrations in colour and black and white. Its format is a general introduction on Scotland's sporting history followed by shorter sections on each of a list of sporting activities beginning with archery and ending with tennis, racquets, and squash.

The place of Scotland's two 'national games', golf and curling, is emphasised in the introduction, and each has its own chapter following.

The emphasis is on the buildings which accompanied each sport. Naturally there is more continuous history of, say, golf and bowling clubhouses, than there is of curling houses because the former sports have maintained their buildings whereas curling has more or less departed from its ancient outdoor ponds and rinks and become an indoor sport played in ice rinks.

Nonetheless, the rear cover of the book sports a fine picture in colour of the 'Thomson Tower' in Duddingston, as the ancient curling house designed in 1826 by Edinburgh's foremost architect of the day, William H Playfair, is nowadays improperly called. It is worth telling the story of the tower, which one looks for in vain in the book. It is that the Duddingston Curling Society whose favourite ice was that of Duddingston Loch, which bordered the manse glebe and garden, got the permission of the minister to have their curling house erected on the glebe. The minister, the Rev. John Thomson, who was a keen, keen landscape painter as well as a curler, gave permission on condition that the upper storey of the two storey curling house should be referred to always as 'Edinburgh' and used as the minister's studio, so that his family and staff could tell inquirers that the minister was 'in Edinburgh', when in fact he was indulging his artistic passion.

There is an early, nineteenth century photograph of the making of curling stones by hand in Kay's factory at Mauchline, and a wonderful picture of The Royal Patent Gymnasium at Canonmills, Edinburgh. This little known sporting structure was designed for 'the promotion of healthful and exhilarating exercise' and among its many machines and contraptions, contained a vast 'rotary boat' 471 feet in diameter, seated for 600 rowers. I mention the gymnasium for it also included a curling rink, very close to the site of the pond on which David Allan painted the curlers at the end of the eighteenth century in the water colour painting belonging to the Royal Club.

From the curler's point of view perhaps of most interest are the colour photographs of the curling houses of Abdie CC, Aberlady CC at Gosford, Banchory CC, Easter Balmoral CC (the Queen's), and Partick CC, all of them listed by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, and therefore likely to remain as icons of the earlier days of curling's history.

We are very grateful for Nick Haynes's permission to reproduce the photographs which follow.

The interior of the Abdie Curling Club House, Lindores Loch, Fife.

Aberlady Curling Club House, Gosford House.

Banchory Curling Club Hut, Burnett Park, Banchory.

Easter Balmoral Curling Pavilion.

Partick Curling Club Pavilion, Victoria Park, Glasgow. There are more photos of this here.

The book may be purchased online, see here, and at all good booksellers.

The images of the curling houses are © Nick Haynes

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Sculptured Relief by Rolf Brem

by David B Smith

On a recent surf of the internet seeking items of curling interest I was quite surprised to see in a Swiss auction house's catalogue a modest sculptured relief of a modern curling scene. The relief was said to be made of 'Englischzement' and it was signed by the sculptor Rolf Brem.

It did not take long to ascertain that the piece had been modelled by one of Switzerland's most famous, popular, and prolific sculptors, whose long life had centred on the Swiss city of Lucerne. He had died in 2014.

There was lots of material by him on display on the net but as far as my researches went this was the only depiction of curling.

I therefore resorted to my old and faithful friend, Max Triet, who was until his retirement director of the Swiss Sport Museum in Basel, and with whom I had collaborated in putting on several historical exhibitions in Switzerland, including one in the old Olympic Museum in Lausanne, and one in the new.

He was very excited by my news and told me more about Brem than I really needed to know. He thought the 'guide price' was low for the artist but he said he would go to Zofingen, where the auction house was. When I protested about the cost he explained that he would use the Swiss equivalent of the Scottish bus pass and travel free by train.

On his return his excitement was unabated, but he was still of the view that the guide price was low and that I should not expect to buy it for even the top estimate. We discussed the price and he said he would attend the sale, and bid on my behalf if that seemed prudent.

He did, and I was very pleased at the result.

A few days later my pleasure was complete with the arrival in a very large but light box of the latest addition to my collection. When it emerged from its copious bubblewrapping I was exceedingly pleased – the more so because it also pleased Hazel, my wife.

The relief is 41cm by 15cm. I have been informed that 'English cement' (Englischzement) is a mixture of plaster, ground white marble and cement. The look of it is very like stone.

The composition is of a curler – right – who has thrown his stone - left – to where his colleagues and the house are shown.

It is always difficult to decide where a new work of art should be shown. We managed to place it in the dining room below a painting of an elderly man whose place above the mantelpiece was sacrosanct. The children would never forgive us for moving 'the Old Man'.

Images © David B Smith.