Since the foundation of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club in 1839 there has been published every year an Annual. Even during the years of war 1916 to 1919 and 1939 to 1946 the Annual tradition was so strong that a truncated form of annual was printed.
There have, therefore, been 172 issues. As might be expected the earliest annuals are small in size and in content. Not only that, only 300 of each of the first three were printed.
When the Grand Club grew into the Royal Club there were many more member clubs and the requirement upon member clubs to purchase numbers of annual according to the size of their membership meant that the editions were much larger.
The foregoing means that the earlier issues are much rarer than the later ones. Because clubs, like curlers, come and go, there are lots of partial runs of annuals. In fact, complete runs of all 172 issues are exceedingly rare. The Royal Club owns three. Two of these have always been in the office. The third was lent to me as an 'incomplete set' some years ago. I have managed to fill the gaps in this set so that it too is now complete.
Over many years I have tried – from nothing – to put together a complete set of my own. Recently I bought at auction one of these small runs that had belonged to a club, Sliosgarbh, that existed only from 1850 to 1865. Slios garbh is the Gaelic name for the 'rough' (garbh) south side of Loch Rannoch. The club was centred on the western end of the loch, the very location where our worthy RCCC President, Robbie Scott and his wife Kathleen, both Orcadians, first came across this weird Lowland pastime of curling.
The run extended from 1851 to 1875, and was not only quite a handsome group, bound in half calf with marbled boards, but it enabled me to fill all but three gaps in my collection. The President of the Royal Club and I indulged in a swap so that now only two years are lacking in my run. They are the years 1845-6 and 1846-7. I wonder if anyone reading this blog might have duplicates for one or other or both of these years.
The first Annual was a small pamphlet of only 48 pages. As the Club grew in numbers so did the size of the annual. By the Jubilee of the Royal Club in 1888, the Annual contained 426 pages. In the preface to this volume the editor remarks that since it had been decided to celebrate the jubilee with the publication of the club’s history in 'a special volume' (which turned out to be Kerr’s History of Curling, 1890) he would just restrict the opening remarks 'to the usual limits'. Nonetheless he managed to comment on the new rules for points, and the Jubilee Medal in bronze, which each club received, "to be preserved or played for as they may see fit."
One can but read with a wry smile that "the Committee also hope that the adoption of a proposal to form a collection of old stones, implements, etc., illustrating the history of the game, will lead to the formation of a small museum of antiquities, interesting to all Curlers…” We still await - 123 years later - the realisation of this dream.
The title page of vol. 1 was embellished by a design for a club button, for the adoption of which the “Committee were most desirous.”
The first appearance of Sir George Harvey’s famous painting as the decoration of the title page was in the Annual of the Grand Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1843; and it has appeared every year since.
From 1888 the Annual blossomed. In 1900 photographs were incorporated into the text. In that year there were ccxii and 493 pages: a curler buying such a publication got a lot for his One Shilling (one twentieth of a pound).
A favourite feature of Annuals until 1939 was the poetry of curling. Most songs, or verses, appeared but once: others became favourites and were printed as often as three or four times over the years. The most popular song of all, if one judges by the number of appearances, is The Music of the Year is Hushed by the Rev. Henry Duncan of Ruthwell. This song, to the air Killiecrankie, first appeared in Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia in 1830, was printed in the Annual for 1842, and reprinted other four times, making its swansong in 1939.
Here it is:
The music of the year is hushed
In bonny glen and shaw, man,
An’ winter spreads, o’er nature dead,
A winding-sheet o’ snaw, man;
O’er burn and loch the warlock, frost,
A crystal brig has laid, man;
The wild geese, screaming wi’ surprise,
The ice-bound wave hae fled, man.
Up, Curler! Leave your bed sae warm,
And leave your coaxing wife, man,
Gae, get your besoms, trickers, stanes,
And join the friendly strife, man.
For on the water’s face are met’
Wi’ mony a merry joke, man,
The tenant and his jolly laird,
The pastor and his flock, man.
The rink is swept, the tees are marked,
The bonspiel is begun, man;
The ice is true, the stanes are keen;
Huzza! for glorious fun, man.
The skips are standing on the tee
To guide the eager game, man;
Hush! No a word – but mark the broom,
And take a steady aim, man.
Here draw a shot – there lay a guard,
And here beside him lie, man,
Now let him feel a gamester’s hand,
Now in his bosom lie, man.
There fill the port, and block the ice,
We sit upon the tee, man;
Now tak’ this inring sharp and neat,
And mak’ the winner flee, man.
How stands the game? It’s eight and eight:
Now for the winning shot, man;
Draw slow and sure, the ice is keen,
I’ll sweep you to the spot, man.
The stane is thrown, it glides alang,
The besoms ply it in, man,
Wi’ twisting back the players stand,
And eager, breathless grin, man.
A moment’s silence, still as death,
Pervades the anxious thrang, man,
Then sudden bursts the victor’s shout,
Wi’ hollas, loud and lang, man;
Triumphant besoms wave in air,
And friendly banters fly, man,
Whilst, cauld and hungry, to the inn,
Wi’ eager steps, they hie, man.
Now fill ae bumper – fill but ane,
And drink wi’ social glee, man;
May Curlers on life’s slippery rink
Frae cruel rubs be free, man;
Or should a treacherous bias lead
Their erring steps a-jee, man,
Some friendly inring may they meet
To guide them to the tee, man.
The few statistics which I have mentioned are clear indications of the importance given to the Annual over the years. The Royal Club has already taken one large step towards its abolition in the decision that it should no longer be necessary for clubs to take some copies compulsorily. That must have seriously upset its financial viability. Let us hope that that unfortunate resolution does not lead to the decision to abolish the Annual in print form.
Trickers: crampets, worn on the foot.
David B Smith.