Thursday, June 26, 2008

Some facts about old stones

This article was written by David Smith and was published in the March 2008 Scottish Curler.

The manufacture of curling stones on an industrial scale has never been common, perhaps because the product is so durable. Particularly when the game was almost solely played outdoors, stones hardly ever wore out - though some were broken in play - and were handed down from grandfather to son and grandson.

Noo, Dave, a preasant I’m to gie ye -
Tak’ may aul’ favourite stanes doon wi’ ye;
Tho’ chippit sair they aye rin soond;
An’ maybe as the years rin roond
They’ll lie as aften near the tee
Wi’ you, as they hae done wi’ me.

from An Auld Curler’s Advice to his Son, by W.S.F.

The years around 1900 seem to have been the high point in the proliferation of curling stone factories: there were seven then: Thomas Thorburn in Beith; T & A Kay in Haugh near Mauchline; Andrew Kay & Co. in Mauchline; John Keanie & Sons in Lochwinnoch; Donald & McPherson in Stair; David Beveridge in Perth; and J & W Muir in Beith. For ten or eleven years before 1892, Provost Gordon of Bathgate, himself a keen curler, was involved in making stones.

All of these firms, it appears, not only sold by retail, and repaired and repolished stones, but also sold by wholesale, for some of the big Glasgow and Edinburgh ironmongers and sports warehouses, like P & R Fleming & Co., Argyle Street, Glasgow, and R Anderson & Sons, Princes Street, Edinburgh, regularly advertised large stocks of curling stones ‘by the best makers’.

It is in the adverts that one comes across the great variety of stone types used in the manufacture. For instance, in 1882 Fleming advertised Burnocks, Tinkernhills, Ailsas - Grey and Red Hones, Carsphairn Red and Crawfordjohns; in 1890 Donald & McPherson added to these Silver Greys, Muthills, and Giells; and in 1892 Anderson advertised Grey Ailsa Craigs, Red Ailsa Hones, Grey Ailsa Hones, Crawfordjohns, Burnock Waters, Earnock Moor; to which in the same year Redpath, Brown & Co. added Blantyre Blacks, Blantyre Silver Greys, and Douglas Water.

Since almost nobody within living memory has bought for personal use a new pair of stones, most of these names mean little or nothing to the curling population. We all know - or do we? - what Common Ailsa looks like, and some of us know that the insert in an Ailsert stone is crafted from Blue/grey hone Ailsa, but how many would be able to tell a Crawfordjohn or a Burnock, far less a Tinkernhill or a Carsphairn Red? I personally couldn’t recognise a Blantyre, whether black or silver grey, and although I know where Muthill and Earnock are I have no idea what a stone bearing the name of these places looks like. As for Giells, is this a place or a person?

The main difference between stones of that distant period and the present is that they were made with two running surfaces: there was a more highly polished side for drug ice, and a less highly polished one for keen. The configuration of each sole was also different. The result was that the curler needed only a single pair of stones to answer to the many sorts of ice he encountered outdoors, whereas in former times it was necessary, if it could be afforded, for the keen curler to go to the ice with more than one pair of stones.

Top: Advert in the 1879-80 Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual.

Most curlers will recognise Common Ailsa, also called these days Green Ailsa (there being nothing ‘common’ at all about curling stone metal!)

Blue Hone Ailsa. This is commonly used nowadays for the running band of new and reconditioned stones.

This is a closeup of Crawfordjohn which came from Craighead quarry near Abington.

This is Carsphairn Red.

This is Tinkernhill.

This beautiful pair are Burnock Water stones from around 1900.

The photographs are by David B Smith and Bob Cowan.

Please comment if you can contribute further information about the subject matter of this article.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Seigniory Club

I added this post card to my collection recently. It's a real photograph, published by Photo Services Limited of Montreal, showing curling at the Seigniory Club, Quebec, Canada. It predates 1959 when the card was sent in the mail.

But look closely at the content. The ladies on the rink nearest the camera are playing with irons. By the look of these they are the smaller of the two sizes of irons played with in the middle of last century and, as I recall, weighed about the same as a curling stone. The men in the background are playing with stones.

Bonspiel (the History of curling in Canada, an on line resource from the Library and Archives Canada) says this about irons: "Quebec has had a long tradition of using iron curling stones as a substitute for granite. This came about because there were problems getting granite stones from Scotland. The iron stones were made at a forge in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. John Kerr, in his History of Curling, says that these stones were shaped like huge teakettles, weighed 46 to 65 pounds each and were owned by the clubs.

Quebec and the Ottawa Valley used iron stones in regular play up until about 1955, when they were replaced by granite stones, thus putting Quebec in step with other parts of Canada and the rest of the world. The use of iron rather than granite was a sore point and caused problems in organizing games and bonspiels (tournaments) for Quebec teams. The Ladies Curling Association of the Canadian Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club held annual competitions for the Lady Tweedsmuir Trophy, and irons continued to be used in this competition up until and including 1953."

Did you notice the 'leaves' in the ice?

From the minute book of the Largs Thistle Club

Thanks to Sarah Goldie of the Largs Thistle Curling Club for contributing this extract from an old club minute book. She says, "I thought it too interesting to have hidden away."

From the Minute Book of the Largs Thistle Curling Club, March 15, 1886.

On the evening of March 15th and morning of the 16th A Grand Moonlight Bonspiel took place on the Hill Pond. The game was got up by a few of our younger and more active members, among whom were Messrs John Orr, John Hills, Malcolm Jnr, and Alex Houston, who began and carried out one of the most rare and successful curling bonspiels ever played on the Hill Pond. The game was announced to begin at half past eight o'clock, but before the players (some of whom came from Glasgow) were all up, and drawings and other arrangements made, it was some time after nine o'clock.

A fine moonlight night, with occasional clouds. A slight fall of snow for a time, after the game commenced. It kept on freezing during the entire game. The ice was pretty keen, and on the whole fairly good, only a little biased.

The game was one of 17 ends. After playing 8 or 9 ends we adjourned to the curling house to partake of a really sumptuous supper. Prepared by our worthy and able steward, George Tyre (Than whom I no of no one more able to cook or serve a supper). After doing full justice to the good things set before us, which consisted of several courses, we again repaired to the ice and finished our game. Shortly before one o'clock on the morning of Tuesday 16th March, 1886, thus finished one of the most ensociable and certainly the most memorable games at curling which we have on record all arriving home between one and two o'clock. Tired and in good humour.

I may mention here that there was a large turnout of spectators, between one and two hundred of both sexes, old and young.

Partly on account of the match being a Moonlight (and Lantern) one but chiefly on account of the advance of time of the Season, I have thought it right to take special notice of it in the Minute Book of the Club.

3 rinks, 24 players, 17 ends

No 1 Alexander Hill (16) played against No 2 George Barclay (12)
No 3 Alexander Houston (10) played against No 4 William Moodie (17)
No 5 John Morris (15) played against No 6 John Orr (13)

John Orr, Secy

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

About this blog

This is the first post of the Curling History blog! It's been set up by curling historian David B Smith and Bob Cowan, Editor of the Scottish Curler magazine and the Curling Today blog. We both enjoy the sport as played today, and are both passionately interested in the history of the game.

David is the author of Curling: an Illustrated History which was published in 1981, by John Donald Publishers, Edinburgh. The book is out of print but can often be found to buy on line, for example through AbeBooks.

We hope that in the months (years?) ahead the blog will bring together others who are interested in the history of this great sport. Your comments are welcome!