Tuesday, March 08, 2016

When World Junior Curling Came to Glasgow in 1991

by Bob Cowan

In 1991 these eight young curlers had just won the Scottish Junior Curling Championships and were getting ready to represent their country at the Worlds. They were (back, left-right) James Dryburgh, Fraser MacGregor, Alan MacDougall (skip), Colin Beckett, and (front) Anne Laird, Gillian Barr (skip), Claire Milne and Janice Watt.

I found myself thinking of them on Sunday as the World Curling Federation's VoIP Defender World Junior Curling Championships 2016 got underway at the Taarnby Curling Club in Denmark. Back in 1991, our Scottish representatives didn't have too far to travel. The event was held in Glasgow. It took place March 9-17, 1991, at the Summit Centre. Twenty-five years ago - how time flies! Sadly the Summit Centre is no more. The rink had a short life, opening in 1986 and closing in 1998.

You can find all the statistics from the 1991 World Juniors on the World Curling Federation's Historical Results pages, here. I wonder why the sponsor, the Royal Bank of Scotland, doesn't get a mention thereon?

Rather than talk just about the event, I want to say a bit about the programme, above. As most collectors of international curling programmes know well, they often contain little more than the draw, the team names, and a number of 'welcome messages'. The 1991 programme contained much more than that. It included magazine-style articles, and hopefully was considered to be value for its £2 cover price. The forty pages plus covers were printed by Brown, Son and Ferguson Ltd.

The Executive Editor was Christine Stewart. She recruited me to help put the programme together. This was my first foray as the 'editor' of anything. I had no inclination back then that ten years later I would become the Editor of the Scottish Curler magazine.

Christine also involved Rod McLeod to design the programme, and he did a wonderful job. For me it was a great privilege to work with such a talented, fun and enthusiastic person. Rod McLeod was one of Scotland's foremost cartoonists, producing daily his 'take' on whatever was happening in the sporting world. This was football mostly, but he could also draw perceptive cartoons on the important news stories of the day. His cartoons, simply signed Rod, had a big following. He was a curler too, a member of the Nondes club. Rod died in 2004 and is still greatly missed.

Rod drew this cartoon to illustrate page 5 of the programme, which had a 'who's who' of the local host committee. Leslie Ingram-Brown was the chairman, and his team included Ian Addison, Michelle Cunningham, Graham Davidson, George Gibb, Bruce Lindsay, Robin Shand, Bob Smith and Christine Stewart.

The event programme included six welcome messages. These were from George Younger, Chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the main sponsor; Councillor David M Sanderson JP, Convenor of Strathclyde Region; Susan Baird OStJ JP, The Rt Hon The Lord Provost of Glasgow; RC Miquel CBE, Chairman of the Scottish Sports Council; Gunther Hummelt, the President of the International Curling Federation; and from Leslie Ingram-Brown, Chairman of the Host Committee.

The programme included four pages on the history of the Uniroyal and Goodrich-sponsored championships. The year 1991 marked the end of that sponsorship. The first Uniroyal World Junior Mens Championship had been held in 1975, although the origins of the event went back much further, see here. The first official Goodrich World Junior Women's Championship had been held in 1988, growing from a European Junior Championship that dated from 1983. That 1988 competition in Chamonix was the only time that the junior women's event was staged separately. Both men's and women's events had been staged together since 1989 in Markham, and still are together today. Of course, no history of the Uniroyal would be complete without considerable mention of a certain Paul Gowsell, and his photo spanned pages 6 and 7 of the programme.

Elizabeth Paterson-Brown wrote about the International Curling Federation (as the WCF was called then) and junior curling, in an article titled 'The Way Forward'. Jane Sanderson wrote about 'Little Rockers and Mini-swingers'.

Doug Gillon penned three pages 'I Was There' recounting highlights of curling history. I wrote about 'Collecting'. Robin Welsh wrote about 'The Murray Trophy', the trophy still awarded to the winners of the Scottish Junior Men's Championship.

Gordon Fenton recounted the Royal Bank of Scotland's involvement with the sponsorship of curling. Back in 1991, the banks were much respected organisations, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Bank of Scotland, and the Clydesdale Bank, had all sponsored major curling competitions.

Then there was a 'Spotlight on the Umpires'. Roy Sinclair was chief umpire and his team included Alex Torrance, Isobel Torrance and Marjorie Kidd.

David B Smith's article on decorated curling stones had the title 'Flower Power'!

John Brown submitted some 28 quiz questions about the World Junior Championships and curling history in general. In the days before Google these were not easy. But John did provide the answers!

Page 40 of the programme had 'Acknowledgements and Thanks' and a space for autographs. I wonder if anyone collected the autographs of all the players?

Here are the first group of the junior men's teams.

Ten countries competed in 1991.

This page illustrates one of the problems facing the host committee back then. In the days before the internet and email, and before digital cameras, it was not easy for national organisations to transmit team photographs in time to be included in the programme. The space was there for the Italian women's team details, but the programme had to go to print before these were received. Fortunately, the WCF Historical Results database has this information, see below.

The draw occupied the centre double page spread. You can find the results of every junior men's game here, and the junior women's results here.

As far as I am aware there is no video footage or film of the event, but I would be pleased to be proved wrong! (Added later: Apparently video DOES exist. BBC television covered the finals. Perhaps I can post clips of this in a future article. Watch this space!)

I have kept the various reports of the event which appeared in the local newspapers, and these make interesting reading. I had forgotten that the teams were accommodated in the homes of local volunteers. Visiting fans complained about the over-use of air horns by the home supporters, some of whom were banned from beating drums as the chielf umpire was unable to hear his hogline umpires' calls on his walkie-talkie radio. And it is recorded that the Scottish Sports Council's anti-doping team were on hand for the first time at an international curling event.

Who won? Eva Eriksson's Swedish team defeated Nicole Strausak's Swiss side 5-4 in the women's final. Gillian Barr's team had lost to Strausak in the semifinal. On the men's side MacDougall's Scotland beat Noel Herron's Canadians 6-4 in the title match.

If anyone has photos of the winning teams with the trophies, I would be pleased to include these here.

Off the ice, pin collectors had two event pins to add to their collection. This was the 'official' pin, an early example of a plastic coated badge which has disoloured somewhat with age.

And we liked this one!

So, why don't I wrap up this nostalgic look back at the young curlers who competed in 1991 with a John Brown style quiz. Have a look at the list of competitors in 1991, below, taken from the WCF records, as well as the programme. Who went on to further international success in the years that followed? Can you spot the future World and Olympic Champions on the list? How many are still competing at top level?

Scotland's fifth player Graham McIntyre played in the last round robin game but does not appear in the records. So, are other names missing? Any other mistakes?

Scotland: Alan MacDougall, James Dryburgh, Fraser MacGregor, Colin Beckett
Canada: Noel Herron, Rob Brewer, Steve Small, Richard Polk, Peter Henderson
Switzerland: Dominic Andres, Michael Schupbach, Marc Steiner, Mathias Hugh, Stefan Heilman
USA: Eric Fenson, Shawn Rojeski, Kevin Bergstrom, Ted McCann, Mike Peplinski
Denmark: Torkil Svensgaard, Ulrik Damm, Kenny Tordrup, Lasse Damm, Peter Bull
Germany: Markus Herberg, Marcus Räderer, Felix Ogger, Martin Beiser, Markus Messenzehl
Sweden: Tomas Nordin, Örjan Jonsson, Stefan Timan, Jan Wallin, Peter Lindholm
Norway: Thomas Due, Torger Nergård, Mads Rygg, Johan Høstmælingen, Krister Aanesen
France: Jan Henri Ducroz, Spencer Mugnier (skip), Sylvain Ducroz, Thomas Dufour, Philippe Caux
Italy: Marco Alberti, Alessandro Lettieri, Rolando Cavallo, Gianni Nardon, Stefano Gottardi

Sweden: Eva Eriksson, Maria Söderkvist, Åsa Eriksson, Elisabeth de Brito, Cathrine Norberg
Switzerland: Nicole Strausak, Ursula Ziegler, Katja Matties, Claudia Affolter, Helga Oswald 
Canada: Atina Ford, Darlene Kidd, Lesley Beck, Cindy Ford, Danita Michalski
Scotland: Gillian Barr, Claire Milne, Janice Watt, Anne Laird 
USA: Erika Brown, Jill Jones, Shellie Holerud, Debbie Henry, Heather Baumgardt
Denmark: Dorthe Holm, June Simonsen, Margit Pörtner, Helene Jensen, Angelina Jensen
France: Karine Caux, Christel Fournier, Géraldine Girod, Tania Ducroz, Helene Ducroz
Norway: Cecilie Torhaug, Darcie Skjerpen, Anna Moe, Marianne Vestnes, Gøril Bye 
Italy: Daniela Zandegiacomo, Carla Zandegiacomo, Giulia Lacedelli, Violetta Caldart 
Germany: Katrin Mayer, Julia Eckert, Steffi Gabler, Anja Messenzehl, Monica Imminger

In the women's event I've listed the players' names as they were in 1991, and of course some have changed in the intervening years. The WCF database lists the players with their married names. Personally, I think that is wrong. In the records of an event, the players should be identified by their names at the time.

The top photo is from the front cover of the February 1991 Scottish Curler. Other images are from the programme.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The first curling songs

The earliest printed booklet specifically about curling is from the eighteenth century. It is a collection of songs.

Songs for the Curling Club, held at Canon-Mills, was published in Edinburgh in 1792. The author, or compiler of the songs, is not known. Edinburgh was home to the Canonmills curling club. The location of Canonmills Loch, where the club played, is described here. It was drained in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The original publication is extremely rare. I've cheated a little. The above frontispiece is not from an original 1792 book, but is from a reprint, this one:

This I am very happy to have in my curling 'library'. It is one of only 250 copies printed in 1882 and, as well as Songs for the Curling Club, contains another rare curling work, An Account of the Game of Curling, dating from 1811.

The preface to this reprint of the two earlier books states, "As works relating to Curling or any way connected to it are scarce, and not readily procurable, two of the scarcest of their kind have been selected for re-publication with the view of bringing them within reach of the numerous admirers of this agreeable and exhilarating pastime." J M, Edinburgh, February, 1882. 'J M' was Captain John Macnair, who, in the following years, put together the four volumes of The Channel-Stane or Sweepings frae the Rinks.

In 2016 the content of the volumes is readily available to everyone, as facsimiles can be purchased online from a number of different sites.

There are six songs in Songs for the Curling Club: The Curlers March; The Blast; The Origin of Edinburgh Castle; The Three Open Winters; The Welcome Hame; and The Choise. I recently asked myself the question, "What, if anything, do these songs tell us about the sport in the eighteenth century?" Here are a few thoughts. 

The first printed song is 'The Curlers March' and begins ...

Tho' Sol now looks shyly, and Flora is gone
To Mother Root's lodgings, of turf, mud, and stone,
When they two together,
Throughout the hard weather, 
Unsocial as Vestals, keep house quite unknown.
Unlike are the Curlers, now more social grown,
Unlike to recluses who winter alone,
With mutual friendship glowing, to action prone,
Forth come they
Brisk and gay
All in flocks like sons of the spray,
Inspired by the sound of the curling stone!

There are four more verses, in a similar vein, the last referring to post-game traditions of having a meal for 'beef and greens', and drink - a toast 'To all Curlers keen'.

Perhaps someone reading this can help with what is puzzling me about this song. It is apparently to be sung to the tune 'Princess Royal'. This is a popular piece, which you can find online here, here, and in lots of other places on a variety of instruments. But I cannot fit the words to this tune. Can you? Is there other music called 'Princess Royal', or has it just been wrongly ascribed? And if so, what tune might 'The Curlers March' have been sung to?

The tune 'Princess Royal' can also be danced to, as seen here. This may be the first ever connection, however tenuous, between curling and morris dancing!

This page suggests that 'The Curlers March' was played (and sung, perhaps) during the ceremonial procession of Edinburgh magistrates and councillors on the way to Canonmills Loch.

Returning to Songs for the Curling Club ...

In 'The Blast', the second song in the book, we find the lines

As we mark our gog,
And measure off our hog ...

'Gog' is another word for the tee, and the 'hog' of course is the hogline, both key in setting out ice for a game of curling in the days long before circles were inscribed on the surface. This poem has the line, seen in context above ...

With our nimble brooms ...

which shows that sweeping was a part of the game in the eighteenth century.

Besoms (brooms) are also mentioned is 'The Origin of Edinburgh Castle', which alludes to the games evolution and equipment improving. Three verses end as follows ...

When curling was in infancy
An' stones war no fine.

When curling was in infancy
An' handles no fine.

When curling was in infancy,
And besoms no fine.

In 'The Three Open Winters' the author bemoans the mild conditions that prevented curling from taking place. The chorus reads ...

Alake my walie curling-stanes
Ha'e no been budg'd thir winters three,
'Tween the rains plish plash an' a fireside's fash,
They have dreary winters been to me. 

('Walie', or 'wallie', in Scots, is used here, I believe, to mean 'fine' or 'excellent'. I rather like the concept of 'wallie curling stones', not to be confused with 'wallie dugs'.)

In 'The Choise', part of the last verse reads ...

But Curlers chase upon the rink, 
An learn dead stanes wi' art to jink,
When tir'd wi' that gae in an' drink,
An' please them wi' the skinking o't.

To 'skink' is to pour drinks. I think this shows that some things haven't changed in the traditions of curling since 1792!

Singing may not be such an important aspect of curling these days as it once was, although I trust that at the Henderson Bishop dinner next week at Lockerbie, the ladies will, as usual, be in fine voice.

Bob Cowan

Monday, February 08, 2016

Pondhunting 'Cairnie ponds' and 'Sprinkle rinks'

It's been a while since I wrote about the project to map the 'Historical Curling Places'. See that post here. The project continues to thrive, and I enjoy the small part I play in it. Although begun by David Smith, nowadays Lindsay Scotland and Harold Forrester take the lead, and contributions from others are always welcome. Perhaps there is an old curling pond near where you live. You could become a 'pondhunter'! What does 'your' pond look like today?

It is exciting that the project has no finite 'end'. Yes, perhaps one day all the places where curling has taken place will be mapped. But for each place, other questions arise. Who played there? What significant games were played there? If the place was a curling pond, was it constructed by a local club? If so, when? How long did it last? What costs were involved in its construction and maintenance? When and why did it fall into disuse? Are there newspaper reports of play there? Are there photographs of the venue in use?

In trying to answer even some of these questions, we stray away from just a mapping exercise, and enter the realms of social history, and a way of life long past.

There's one question that I've not posed above, that is, what type of curling place does each entry in the database, or dot on the map, represent? It is apparent when studying the maps, see here, that there is great variety in the places that curlers in the past found to pursue their sport.

It is possible to classify these places into a number of different categories. In past times curlers found themselves on ice of the following types: natural water, managed water, maintained curling club ponds, Cairnie-style shallow ponds, and tarmac rinks.

I've set out my attempt at a classification below. I've tried not to use the term 'artificial'. That's because it is just too general and 'artificial' can apply to a deep water pond with sluices to regulate the water depth, to a Cairnie-style shallow pond, or to a tarmac rink. 

Let's expand on these a bit further.

Curling will have begun on ice that formed over 'natural water'.  Everyone is familiar with the outdoor 'Grand Match', the last of which was held in 1979 on the Lake of Menteith. But there are many references to venues that are somewhat smaller, or even to frozen rivers. Probably a safer option was the frozen surface of a flooded field, and my first outdoor experience was on such a venue near Gateside, Beith. I remember it well.

1. Natural Water
1a. Loch or lake
1b. Lochan or tarn
1c. River
1d. Flooded field

2. Managed Water
2a. Canal
2b. Mill pond
2c. Fish pond
2d. Reservoir
2e. Ornamental pond in estate grounds
2f. Ornamental pond in public park

3. Maintained curling club ponds
3a. Natural shape club curling pond, with managed water intake and sluice or drain
3b. Regular shape constructed club curling pond, with water intake and sluice, perhaps with an embankment or dam

4. Cairnie-style shallow ponds
4a. Clay floor
4b. Concrete/cement floor
4c. Wood floor
4d. Bitumen/asphalt/tarmacadam floor
4e. Metal floor

5. Tarmac rinks
These are also known as 'sprinkle rinks', and were constructed in the early twentieth century. More on these below.

Aside from these five categories, there are also 'packed snow' rinks. These were (and are still) found in Switzerland and New Zealand, but rarely, if ever, in Scotland. There are instances where tennis courts and bowling greens have been flooded in winter time. And of course there have been outdoor rinks with artificial refrigeration, usually of a temporary nature around Christmas time, for skating and curling.

In the classification scheme above, the difference between categories 4 and 5 can cause confusion.

Cairnie-style ponds are shallow ponds with a small border to retain water to a depth of a few centimetres. They are named after John Cairnie of Largs. In 1833 he published a book, Essay on Curling and Artificial Pond Making, in which he describes fully his efforts to provide an ice surface which would allow him to curl when natural lochs or deep water ponds were not bearing. Some pages of his book, facsimile copies of which are readily available, refute claims by the Reverend John Somerville of Currie who sought credit for the invention. I resist the temptation to lay out the arguments here! However, Cairnie made his pond work, and there are many reports of play on it, for example:

This clipping from the Edinburgh Evening Courant of January 17, 1829, predates by some four years the publication of Cairnie's book, and shows that the importance of his invention was being recognised even then. 

You can see what Cairnie's pond in Largs looked like, in a painting which belongs to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, here. John Cairnie of course became the Club's first president on its formation in 1838.

The bottom of Cairnie-style ponds had to be be of a material which would retain water. Cairnie himself experimented with a number of materials, but over the years others successfully constructed ponds with floors of clay, cement, concrete, tarry materials, wood, or even iron plates. The water depth of a Cairnie-style pond is usually only 3-4 cm. The floor does not need to be perfectly flat as the water finds its own level. Given a sharp frost, the water freezes completely, providing complete safety, compared with the dangers of curling on insufficiently strong ice floating above several feet of water. However, Cairnie-style ponds did not give the characteristic sound of the stones travelling across ice on 'deep water' places, which gives rise to curling being referred to as the 'Roaring Game'.

This is a photo taken recently of a Cairnie-style pond at Tarfside, in Glen Esk, Angus. Although dating from the end of the nineteenth century, it was renovated a few years ago. See play on the pond here and here.

Nowadays it is a wooden edge that keeps the water in place, and the pond appears to have a concrete base. Sadly, there has been no play on the Tarfside pond so far this winter.

But another Cairnie-style pond has seen considerable activity. The Highland Curling Club's pond at Kingsmills, Inverness, has four sheets, with a clay base. See photos on the club's Facebook pages here.

Now to category 5. 'Tarmac', short for tarmacadam, is mentioned frequently in reports of curling in the early twentieth century. What is tarmac, exactly? Defining the word's meaning is not so simple, see here.

The word is associated with John McAdam, who was born in Ayr in 1756 and died in Moffat in 1836. He is credited with inventing the 'macadam' road surface, namely that roads should be higher than their surroundings to achieve drainage and constructed with a base of large rocks, then with smaller stones, the layers tied together with fine gravel. You can read McAdam's 1819 paper Practical Essay on the Scientific Repair and Preservation of Roads online here.

It was in 1901 that Edgar Purnell Hooley patented a method for mixing tar and aggregate to go on top of a macadamised surface, compacting the lot with a roller. The various recipes for 'tarmac' date from this time.

The material was certainly used as a base for Cairnie-style ponds, but gave its name to a new type of curling place - the 'tarmac' or 'sprinkle' rink.

The Complete Curler by J Gordon Grant, published in 1914, suggests that the first tarmac curling rink was made in 1903, and between then until the book was written 'hundreds of tarmac rinks have been constructed throughout Scotland and the northern half of England'. He describes the depth of the ice on a tarmac rink, as 'only the mere skin of about the thickness of a sixpence, and this is obtained by spraying water lightly over the rink, which instantly freezes'.

So a Cairnie-style pond has a few centimetres of ice, whereas the thickness of ice on a tarmac rink is only one to two millimetres.

As there is no depth of water on a tarmac rink to allow it to find its own level, it follows that the stretch of tarmac on the base of a tarmac rink had to be perfectly flat.

An early reference to 'tar macadam' in the construction of a curling rink can be found in the Scotsman of November 22, 1904. This says, "The first game of the season, and the first game on Mr Stoddart's new private artificial pond at Howden, was played yesterday forenoon between rinks skipped by Mr James Wyllie, New Calder, and Mr Robert Maconachie, Mooralmond. After a keenly contested game which lasted two and a half hours, the score stood fifteen each when, on account of the fall of snow, the order to cease play was given. The ice was in splendid condition, and the new pond in every respect gave evidence that the tar macadam system of artificial curling ponds is a success."

James Edward Stoddart was in his early fifties, the head of the household at Howden, and living there with his wife Agnes, his daughter, Agnes Young, and three servants. He had been President of the Mid-Calder curling club since 1896. His wife was a 'Patroness' of the club. James Stoddart must have been a really keen curler to have gone to the trouble and expense of constructing a tarmac rink on his property, one of the first to do so. He deserves to be remembered as a curling 'pioneer'!

On November 28, 1904, the Scotsman reported, "Mid-Calder. Members of this club had splendid play every day last week on Mr Stoddart's private artificial pond at Howden. This pond has proved in every way the advantages of the tar macadam system of artificial curling ponds. On Tuesday, after two and a half hours play in the forenoon, the ice became somewhat 'bauch' and after lunch the curlers engaged in a game of bowls on one part of the pond while the other part, which had been sprayed, gained time to freeze. Curling was then resumed the same afternoon."

The reference to playing bowls on the same surface as the curling rink is interesting. A tarmac surface that could have a use for other sports in the summer months would have been a sound investment. 

The Ordnance Survey 6 inch to the mile map published in 1908 shows the house, and a feature, highlighted, which is likely to be the tarmac curling rink. Howden House still exists, see here, and is surrounded now by Livingston new town.

As luck would have it, we may even know who constructed the rink at Howden. Andrew Scott, whose letterhead is above, was based at Watson's College Pavilion, Myreside, Edinburgh. He wrote in November 1905 to a prospective client, although it is not clear who this client was. Scott's letter says, "Your committee has visited the pond at Mid Calder belonging to Mr Stoddart. If the directors were satisfied it was suitable for those games (curling and bowls), I willingly guarantee you a pond even better than that."

This could mean that he had constructed the rink at Howden himself, or it could mean that he knew all about that rink but thought he could do an even better job in constructing a similar one. 

Scott's business seems to have flourished. The Arbroath Herald and Advertiser for the Montrose Burghs on November 19, 1909, describes how the Arbroath curling club's Cairnie-style pond had deteriorated and been converted to a tarmac rink, the work carried out to everyone's satisfaction by Andrew Scott. 

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1908-09 reprinted a letter, previously published in the Scotsman, written by John Anderson of Hillside, Moffat. Anderson had documented the occasions on which curling on the 'tarmac' had been possible over the winters of 1906-07 and 1907-08, and had compared the frequency of play with that possible on deep water ponds. He concluded that tarmac rinks had been a great success, offering three to five times the opportunity to play each winter than on deep water ponds. He also discussed the costs involved in constructing a tarmac rink.

The construction and costs of a tarmac rink were also detailed in the Royal Club Annual for 1909-10, in a letter to the Secretary containing the specification and cost of the three-sheet tarmac rink which had been laid down at Dyce, Aberdeen, in the summer of 1907. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century then, all of Scotland's curlers knew about tarmac rinks, and many more such sprinkle rinks were to be constructed, perhaps in consequence of the publication of information in the Royal Club Annuals.

Gordon Grant, in the Complete Curler, describes one way of constructing a tarmac rink. "The levelled space for the rink is first covered with a thick layer (about nine inches) of broken stones or brick, on top of which is spread a layer of ashes. This is levelled and consolidated by rolling. Another layer of rough ashes is spread over this, and it is again rolled level. An inch of sand is then placed on the top of this, and again it is rolled; then an inch of fine ashes, and more rolling. Lastly tar is run on evenly, sprinkled with fine sand, and rolled once more. The tar sinks into the ashes, and binds the mass together, thus providing the surface for spraying."

There was one disadvantage to such rinks - the sun! The ice on top of the tarmac was only a few mm thick, at most. So tarmac rinks were often constructed with artificial lighting, and games played at night!

And there was another more serious problem. As anyone who drives around Scotland knows well, even modern road surfaces have a habit of breaking up with constant wear, and the effect of winter weather! James Smith, the keenest of curlers, already had a natural loch and a Cairnie-style rink at Craigielands, near Moffat. To maximise his opportunities for play, he constructed a tarmac rink so he would be able to play after even a light frost. Denis Forman, in his own autobiography Son of Adam, recalls curling on the Craigielands tarmac. "When frost was forecast two gardeners would water the tarmac at nightfall and return to do the same at dawn. The sprinkling of water froze immediately even in a mild frost, and James Smith would not be slow to summon eight players to join him for a game. These would be 'friendlies' between members of the family and estate workers. Lunch was taken (a 'piece' and Camp coffee) at the little pavilion James had built by the rinkside to hold the stones for the tarmac game. As the day warmed up bits of tarmac stuck through the film of ice and scratched the stones' underside, so James provided at his own expense sixteen stones of various weights and with varying degrees of keenness to meet the taste of each player."

So, there was a possibility of damaging your stones if you played on the tarmac!

Keeping the tarmac surface level, and in good condition, from one season to the next would have been difficult. Yes, the top surface could be repaired, or completely relaid. If things got too bad there was an obvious solution. By building a small retaining 'wall' around a tarmac rink, it could readily be turned into a Cairnie-style pond, and I believe that is what happened with many.

J Gordon Grant, writing in 1914, refers to the introduction of the tarmac rinks as signifying 'a new era for the sport'. Of course two things intervened to change that prediction. One was the opening of Crossmyloof and then Haymarket to provide indoor curling on artificially frozen ice, and the other of course was the Great War.

Where were Scotland's sprinkle tarmac rinks? Good question. They don't often show up named as such on old maps. After all, would a surveyor immediately recognise a strip of tarmac, with no water in evidence, as a curling place? Sometimes, when a tarmac rink was constructed alongside an existing deep water, or Cairnie-style, pond, the outline of the tarmac can be seen on a twentieth century map. Lindsay Scotland has found several news reports from the Scotsman which describe the opening of new tarmac ponds, but often the location is vague. I know of two. There was one in Lochmaben, beside the Kirk Loch, known as the 'Coronation Rinks'. This dates from 1911, although the original surface has been replaced and the area is now a car and caravan park. The photo above shows what remains of the tarmac rink at Wanlockhead which was opened in 1923. If you know of other examples, please let Lindsay Scotland know. Become a 'pondhunter'! Lindsay's contact details are here.

But beware. Not all curling places that are described as 'tarmac rinks' are Category 5 sprinkle rinks. The Partick curling club pond, see here and here, may originally have been constructed as a Cairnie-style pond, and refloored at some point with tarmac. 

Bob Cowan

Thanks to Lindsay Scotland and Harold Forrester for help and encouragement with this article. Photos of the Tarfside pond and the Wanlockhead tarmac are by the author, as is the scan of Andrew Scott's letterhead. Scott's letters are in the author's collection of curling memorabilia. The news clipping image is © The British Library Board and reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive. The map clipping is a screenshot from an online map at the National Library of Scotland's maps website here. The top image is a screenshot from the Historical Curling Places website.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Robert Burns and Curling

Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759. This may have been his curling stone ... but probably not. It certainly dates from the eighteenth century, but the date carved into the stone does not make much sense. Burns died in 1796. However, the Bard would have played with a stone like this one, single-soled, roughly shaped, with an iron handle. The stone in the photograph remains something of an enigma.

Yes, Burns WAS a curler, despite what it might say in older books, and some respected websites that have not been updated.

It had long been suspected that Burns played the game. His works include two mentions. Firstly, the opening lines of The Vision read:

The sun had clos’d the winter day,
The Curlers quat their roaring play…

Then, in Tam Samson’s Elegy, the poet shows that he knew the game well, when he writes:

When Winter muffles up his cloak,
And binds the mire like a rock;
When to the loughs the curlers flock,
Wi' gleesome speed,
Wha will they station at the cock?
Tam Samson's dead!

He was the king o' a' the core,
To guard, or draw, or wick a bore,
Or up the rink like Jehu roar,
In time o' need;
But now he lags on Death's hog-score,
Tam Samson's dead!

The evidence that Burns had played curling was brought to the public's attention in April 2006, when David Smith wrote an article for the Scottish Curler magazine entitled, 'The Evidence that the Bard was a Curler'. Later that year the story was retold in the Burns Chronicle of Autumn 2006 (a publication of the Robert Burns World Federation, see here). And we put the information online in July 2008, here, one of the early stories in that first year of the Curling History Blog.

The evidence that Burns curled comes from the Burns Chronicle of 1934 which included letters between two friends of Burns, John Syme and Alexander Cunningham. In a letter dated from Barcailzie, Kirkcudbrightshire, dated January 5, 1789, Syme writes, "I have been once or twice in company with Burns, and admire him much…   I missed a meeting with him last Friday at Dumfries, where he played a Bonespeel with the Curlers there, and enlivened their Beef and Kail and Tody till the small hours of Saturday morning. I was engaged in that Bonespeel, but an unlooked for occurrence called me out of Town, to my great mortification…"

So, Robbie Burns had played in a curling bonespeel (bonspiel) early in the year 1789.

January 5, 1789, was a Monday, so if Syme's reference to 'last Friday' refers to that day in the previous week, the bonspiel in Dumfries must have been held on January 2, 1789. At that time Burns was living at Ellisland Farm, some six miles to the north west of Dumfries (see here). But I wonder where the bonspiel took place?

The Vision was completed in 1785, and Tam Samson's Elegy in 1786. Both these poems then were written before Burns had been seen curling. It is not too big an assumption that he had been a curler long before 1789.

Read more about Tam Samson's Elegy here, and listen to it being read by Eileen McCallum. There's more about The Vision here.

Several aspiring curling 'poets' have parodied Robbie Burns works. This is from the Douglas CC website here:

Ours is a game for Duke or Lord
Lairds, tenants, kinds and a’ that
Oor Pastors too, wha’ preach the word
Whiles ply the broom for a’ that.

The village of Beith in Ayrshire had three curling clubs in the middle of the nineteenth century. One of these was the 'Beith Robert Burns Curling Club', formed in 1855 and admitted to the Royal Club the following year. It would be interesting to know why this group of curlers chose to name their club after the Bard. By 1866 they had a patron, John Fullarton Patrick of Grangehill, and played on a pond on his estate. A list of the club's members appears in each Annual until that of 1884-85, when it seems the club folded. I wonder why. However, in 1890, a new club called the 'Beith Rabbie Burns Curling Club' was established, with some of the same members. At this time Beith had four curling clubs! The Rabbie Burns club continued to be listed in the Annuals up to 1913, although the name reverted back to the 'Beith Robert Burns Curling Club' in 1901. Like many of Scotland's curling clubs it did not survive the Great War.

Today many groups of curlers throughout the world celebrate Burns' birthday. The Ayr Curling Club, which acts as an umbrella club for the more than 50 clubs which use the Ayr rink in Scotland, traditionally holds a Burns Supper. Go here to see photos of the 2014 event at which David Smith addressed the haggis.

From Ayr, Scotland, to Ayr, Ontario, Canada. The latter club, here, held a 'Robbie Burns Senior Men's Bonspiel' last Thursday. This was advertised as 'Two 8-end games, with the traditional Scottish trimmings'! 

This was the sign-up sheet! I trust that the event went off successfully and that all involved had a great time.

Above: The publishers of the Burns Chronicle commissioned from Colin Hunter McQueen, a cover illustration celebrating the sport, for the Autumn 2006 issue.

Top image is of a stone in the David B Smith collection, now in the care of the Scottish Curling Trust.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Escape Curling Cup

Over the years David Smith wrote many articles about curling history. Many of these appeared in printed publications, predating the Web. It is my intention to resurrect some of them for the Curling History Blog, as they deserve a wider readership, and hopefully through publication online, new information might be unearthed.

This article was first published in the January 1996 issue of the Scottish Curler magazine, entitled 'Wartime Curling for the Colditz Cup'. Its author: Sheriff David Smith.

"On 30th November 1993, the Imperial War Museum in London received a most unusual donation, a curling trophy in the form of a cup. The donor was Mrs Jane Reid, widow of the soldier who, inter alia, wrote The Colditz Story, the saga of escapes from that supposedly escape-proof German fortress.

Correspondence with the Museum produced a photocopy of the cup's discovery from a Swiss newspaper, Anseiger von Saanen. According to the newspaper, the cup had been knocked up in four hours by two articifers from the Royal Navy, Tubby Lister and Wally Hammond, as a trophy for play between some local Swiss curlers from Saanenmoser and some Colditz escapers who had reached Switzerland on their way home to 'Blighty'.

The report continued, 'After the war the cup remained, along with other trophies, in a showcase in one of the village's hotels, but it was lost sight of when the hotel was demolished and rebuilt in 1984.'

The mother of the present owner of the hotel found it in a barn, and, putting two and two together, got in touch with Mrs Reid, who now lives in Zurich.

Through the good offices of the Imperial War Museum, I eventually got in touch with Lt. Commander Billie Stephens, one of the curling-escapers. This is what he wrote. 'I am sorry not to have replied more quickly to your letter re the curling cup made for the competition in February '43 between Saanenmoser team and the 'ex-Colditz lub'. Tubby and Wally were (although not officers) in Colditz for a short time and when the Germans found out their mistake they were returned to their Stalag Camp - from which - armed with all the sophisticated escape 'know-how' learnt in Colditz - they arrived in Switzerland without much trouble, and were waiting with my three companions and myself who had been lucky enough to get out of Colditz on 14/10/42, for a suitable French Resistance group to help us through France and across the frontier into Spain.'

Tubby and Wally volunteered to make a suitable cup out of old tin cans thus proving the skills they had learned in prison - which also I may add included lock-picking! The Saanen people were too good for us but as far as I can remember a very good time was had by all. Alas, I am now the only one of our party still alive."

The above was what David wrote in the 1996 Scottish Curler article. Some new information can now be added. The trophy described in the article above remains in the care of the Imperial War Museum, see here.

It has been re-photographed well.

But the surprising find is that it was actually called 'The Escape Curling Cup'. The notes accompanying the photos in the Imperial War Museum's online collection simply say that it was 'Made by escaped POWs while awaiting repatriation'.

It is described, 'Handmade trophy cup inscribed THE ESCAPE CURLING CUP. Red, white and blue ribbons are tied to each handle and there is a gold-coloured cutout of a figure curling on the reverse. Appears to be made from food tins.'

Billie Stephens died in 1997, aged 86. His obituary is online here. Some of his wartime memorabilia was sold at auction in 2012, and there are a number of articles online about the sale, see here, and here. I was excited to find that a photo of the 'Colditz Team' on the ice in Switzerland has survived and has been used in these articles!

L-R: Lieutenant-Commander 'Billie' Stephens, Captain Pat Reid, Flight Lieutenant 'Hank' Wardle, and Lietenant-Colonel 'Ronnie' Littledale.

What a remarkable photograph!

Pat Reid, who appears in the photo above and whose wife donated the Colditz Cup to the Imperial War Museum, wrote The Colditz Story in 1952, and The Latter Days in 1953. A third book, Colditz: The Full Story, was published in 1984, is still in print, above, and also available in digital form as an ebook. It can be purchased here. More about Pat Reid's life can be found here.

Hank Wardle was a Canadian pilot in the Royal Air Force. Read about him here.

Ronnie Littledale is described here,  After his escape, he returned to the front line but was killed in action in France on September 1, 1944, whilst in command of the 2nd Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, see here.

Who were Tubby Lister and Wally Hammond who made the Escape Curling Cup, and what happened to them? They had both been submariners and were taken prisoner in 1940. Part of their story can be found in this newsletter here, and there's more here

For another WW2 curling story, see here.

The photo of the Colditz Cup graced the cover of the Scottish Curler in January 1996. The photographer or source is not stated in the magazine. I assume that the original of the photo of the Colditz Team on the ice in Switzerland was among the documents sold at auction in 2012. I found it here. The original photographer and source is not stated.

The photos of the trophy from the Imperial War Museum are shared under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Largest Fragment

by Bob Cowan

I have this little book in my curling library. 'Robbie of the Kirkhaven Team' was written by Florence Wightman Rowland, and illustrated by Brian David. It was published in 1973 by Ginn and Company and is a primary school book - Magic Circle Books Reading 360 series, Level 9, Unit 2 - written in a way to appeal to, say, an eight year old.

It looks as if my copy originated from the O'Hara Catholic School in Eugene Oregon, and came to Scotland by way of a bookshop in Reno, Nevada.

"Snow had fallen in the Scottish Highlands during the night. As soon as he awoke, Robbie jumped out of bed and ran to the window to look out. The moors and hills in the distance were white with snow. Above them, the sky was the color of a bluebell - not a cloud in sight. Robbie grinned. What a perfect day for a curling game!"

So reads the first paragraph. Did I say it was a fictional story?

Nine year old Robbie tells his Canadian cousin Katy, 7, all about curling, and he goes off to compete in a match on outside ice against a team from 'Glencove'.

The story has a happy ending!

Spoiler Alert! An important twist in the story involves the breakage of a curling stone, as pictured above by Brian David, whose illustrations make this little book such a treasure.

That got me thinking. How old is the rule which governs a stone breaking during play?

The above is from 'An Account of the Game of Curling', published in 1811. This book contains the first printed reference to curling's rules, as practised at the time by the Duddingston Curling Society of Edinburgh. There are only twelve rules written down, and these had 'received the approbation and sanction' of the club at a meeting on January 6, 1804. The second sentence of Rule 5 illustrates what should be done if a stone broke. If, after breakage, parts of the stone were still 'in play', then the 'largest fragment' should count when it came to assessing the score at the end of the end. And another stone could be used thereafter.

The inclusion of the rule, in the earliest printed set of rules, does suggest that breakage was not uncommon. How often did the rule have to be invoked, I wonder?

Of course, the stones being played with at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were not of Ailsa or Trefor granite, but were mostly of whinstone, that term used to describe any hard dark-coloured rock commonly found in many places in Scotland.

When the Grand Caledonian Curling Club was formed in 1838, it adopted the Duddingston rules. The first Annual for 1838-39 has this as Rule 9, "All Curling Stones shall be of a circular shape. No stone must be changed throughout the game, unless it happen to be broken, and then the largest fragment to count, without any necessity of playing with it more. If a stone rolls and stops upon its side or top, it shall not be counted, but put off the ice. Should the handle quit the stone in the delivery, the player must keep hold of it, otherwise he will not be entitled to replay the shot."

Although the wording is just a little different, the sense is the same.

There was a minor change from 1854, "No stone, or side of a stone, shall be changed after a game has been begun, nor during its continuance, unless it happen to be broken, and then the largest fragment to count, without any necessity for playing with it more."

Twenty years later, in 1874, the Constitution of the Royal Club and the Rules of Play underwent a considerable revision. The occurrence of a stone breaking now had its own separate entry in the Rules, "Should a Stone happen to be broken, the largest fragment shall be considered in the Game for that end — the player being entitled to use another Stone, or another pair, during the remainder of the Game."

The sense of this rule, and the reference to the 'largest fragment', has continued right up to the present day. For the 2015-16 season, the rules can be found on the Royal Club website here, and you can read at R2 (c), "If a stone is broken in play a replacement stone shall be placed where the largest fragment came to rest. The end in play, and the game, shall be completed using the replacement stone."

Curling Canada's Rules of Curling for General Play 2014-18 (see here) contain, "4. (4) If a stone is broken in play, a replacement stone shall be placed where the largest  fragment comes to rest. The inside edge of the replacement stone shall be placed in the same position as the inside edge of the largest fragment with the assistance of a measuring stick."

For many years, the World Curling Federation had a similarly worded rule in place should a stone break during an international event.

But fragments are no more! The World Federation now eschews any mention of 'fragments'! The most recent WCF Rules of Curling can be found here. WCF rule R2 (c) reads, "If a stone is broken in play, the teams use the 'Spirit of Curling' to decide where the stone(s) should be placed. If agreement cannot be reached, the end will be replayed." This wording can also be found in the Rules of Curling: Club and Bonspiel Use, from the USA Curling website here.

This double soled stone will be at least 100 years old, and remarkably still has the remains of a handle. Broken stones like this may find a use as garden 'ornaments', as above.

No-one likes to see modern curling stones in pieces, least of all the manufacturer. But breakages do occasionally happen. Norway's Torger Nergard with a big and a small 'fragment'!

But the biggest danger to curling stones is heat! The Fife Herald in 1856 ran a story about an expensive lesson learned by Selkirk CC members back in 1856. Don't put your stones on the fire.

Sadly, vandalism has been the ruin of many stones. I know of two examples where a club's curling hut has been set ablaze, with the stones (and other contents) destroyed as a consequence. The photo above is the aftermath of vandalism at the Vale of Alford CC's curling house last year. It really is sad to see. The good news is that there is every hope that the house will be rebuilt, see here.

No discussion of breaking stones would be complete without mention of this advert for the Benson and Hedges Championship at Aberdeen in 1985. 'Exploding rocks' was certainly a novel idea for a promotional image. Back in 1985, pre-Photoshop, it would not have been easy to create such an image. I wonder how it was done.

Happy New Year, and may all your stones remain intact!

Robbie and the Kirkhaven Team photos are scans from the original book. The Duddingston rule is a scan from an original copy of 'An Account of the Game of Curling'.

The Fife Herald clipping is reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive. The image is © The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.
Thomas Nergard's photo was found here.

The Vale of Alford's photo is from the club's Facebook page here. The Benson and Hedges advert is from the author's archive. Other photos are © the author.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Curling at Hogmanay

The British Newspaper Archive is the project to digitise some 40 million pages from the British Library's large collection of newspapers. It launched in November 2011 with 4 million pages, and four years later over 12 million pages from over 540 individual titles are now online.

The BNA is a wonderful resource for those interested in social history. It is proving invaluable to the curling historian too. News clippings with evidence for those places where outside curling was played in years past now grace the subsidiary pages of many of the entries in the Historical Curling Places website.

Aside from using the BNA specifically for 'pond hunting', there are many, many entries therein which give a glimpse of what it was like to have been a member of a curling club in Victorian times.

This being Hogmanay, 2015, with no sign of sufficiently cold weather here in Scotland, all one can do is dream of curling outside. So perhaps an article from the Dundee Courier of January 8, 1869, will serve as a prompt!

Curling by moonlight at Braemar! How wonderful. With candles burning at the end of each rink.

The story continues:
Note that play carried on until 01.30, but with a break at midnight to celebrate the incoming year, with suitable refreshment!

A Happy New Year to all curlers everywhere.

Bob Cowan

The images are screenshots from the online paper and are reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive. The images are © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED