Monday, January 22, 2018

The Battle of Carthula: Was this the first international curling match?

There is a rather odd reference to a bonspiel between Scottish and English curlers, said to have occurred in 1795 at Kirtlebridge. I wondered if this actually took place, so I set out to examine the evidence.

The match is referred to in History of Curling and Fifty Years of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club by the Reverend John Kerr, published in 1890. But it appeared in print much earlier than that.

An account of 'The Battle of Carthula' can be found in Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia, published anonymously in 1830 but now known to have been written by Richard Broun. Broun was born in Lochmaben in 1801, so he would have been in his twenties when writing 'Memorabilia'. In 1829-30 he was Secretary of the Lochmaben Curling Society. His father Sir James Broun was the Seventh Baronet of Colstoun, and at the time the President of the Lochmaben Curling Society.

The reference to the Scotland v England encounter can be found in Chapter 12, 'Poetical'. This states,
"The following Ossianic description of a celebrated Bonspiel, played at Kirtle Bridge, in the year 1795, is by Dr Clapperton, of antiquarian memory, Lochmaben; and was found among the MSS of the late WDWH Somerville, Esq of Whitecroft."

This is how part of the text looks in Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia.

Ossianic simply means that Clapperton's work is in the style of the of epic poems published by the Scottish poet James Macpherson from 1760. Dr Clapperton was probably the Robert Clapperton who studied medicine at Edinburgh and Paris, and married Elizabeth Campbell at Elgin. The couple eventually settled in Lochmaben. Robert Clapperton was the grandfather of Hugh Clapperton, the African explorer. In A Sailor in the Sahara: The Life and Travels in Africa of Hugh Clapperton, Commander RN, published in 2007, Jamie Bruce Lockhart writes abouts Hugh's grandfather, "A highly respected doctor, family patriarch, and prominent member of the local well-to-do gentry, Robert Clapperton was a man of parts - amateur expert in minerology, compulsive collector of objects of natural history, and tireless investigator of Roman remains and early churches in the district, with a passion for local history and traditional ballads."

A 'passion for traditional ballads' sits well with Dr Clapperton having collected, or even written himself, the 'Battle of Carthula'. There is no evidence that I can see that Robert was a curler, but other members of the Clapperton family were - Hugh Clapperton became a member of the Lochmaben Curling Society in 1780, and Alex Clapperton in 1876, according to the minute book of the society, as transcribed by Lynne Longmore in Minutes of Note, 2012.

It remains conjecture how the poem ended up in the possession of William David Wightman Henderson Somerville, the Deputy Lieutenant of Dumfries and Galloway. He died in the 1820s, with considerable debts, these being subject to legal actions still unresolved in 1841. Just where these manuscripts are now, I do not know.

Here's the full text of the poem.

"Terrible was the day when we met on the face of the deep - when the sons of the Arctic pole glided along, like the vernal bird, when he skims the surface and dips his pinions in the slow-running river.

We passed over CARTHULA with a stride - the waters congealed under us, and the rocks trembled at our approach. Criffel and Burnswark fled before us, like the ship from the distant land before the blast of the boisterous west. The Tennis-hill leaped, like the bounding roe, over Whita, that lay as lies the hill of the mole under the belly of the wing-footed greyhound.

The Hart stood aghast, the spectators were wrapped in silence when the leaders advanced, like the roar of the mountain stream. Great was the strife of the heroes, and loud the clang of their arms, until the gloomy south dropped apace, and covered us with the mist of the Solway. Then it was that we spoke the words of peace, and retired to the Den of the Lion where the feast was spread - the feast of joy and mirth. The Druid of Patrick's-cell sat by the flame of the Flow, whilst the car-borne Knight of Springkell accosts the Chief of Tarras. 'The actions of my youthful years' (says he) recoil on my memory with joy; when I tossed the flying ball against the sons of mighty England, my hand returned victorious, and gladness dwelt on the face of my father. 'I too (says the chief) have been in battle against the sons of the south. Three days we fought on the face of the deep. On the fourth, the Sassenachs fled, the banks of Esk rang with joy, and we too had our fame.'

The King of the Ice sat by the exhilarating bowl, and pushed round the sparkling glass, whilst a chieftain hoary with years recounts the tales of other times. 'Often have I been famed in the fight' (says he), and my arm was strong in the battle; but my years have rushed upon me like a torrent, and I'm now numbered with the aged.' The grey-headed bard touched the tuneful string, and sent the melody of other times to our ears.

Great were your actions, O ye heroes! and mighty the deeds of the days of old. Here shall your sons meet; here, shall they say, met our fathers. O that our actions were as theirs - and that our deeds were recorded in the song, and should our grey-hairs go with joy to the house of silence.

Where art thou fled, O north-wind? Return and dispel the clouds of the gloomy south - art thou sporting with the whales of Greenland? Or liest thou dormant in the snowy caverns of Zembla? Return, O salutiferous north-wind and dispel the clouds of the gloomy south.

We feasted, we drank, and we sang, and spent the night in joy."

The poem is accompanied by several explanatory footnotes. These could have been added by the poet, although perhaps they were inserted by the author of Memorabilia. These state that:

(1) 'Carthula - The river of Kirtle, then frozen; it rises at the troch of Kirtle and falls into the Solway Firth at Lochmaben Stone.'

(2) Criffel, Burnswark, Tennis-hill, Whita and the Hart were all names of channel-stones (early curling stones)

(3) The Den of the Lion was a public house in Kirtlebridge. 

(4) The 'Druid of Patrick's-cell' was the Reverend Craig, minister of Kirkpatrick-Fleming.

(5) The 'car-borne Knight of Sprinkell' was Sir William Maxwell of Springkell, 'who, when young, about the year 1747, with some others from the Scotch side, won a cricket match near the Greenbed or Roslin Nurse, betwixt Esk and Sark, where the best players in the north of England were beat.'

(6) the 'Chief of Tarras' was 'John Maxwell, Esq, of Broomholm, who was one of a bonspiel played by the borderers of both nations for three days at Liddlefoot, where, if the English had gained, bonfires were to have been lighted all over Cumberland.'

(7) The 'King of the Ice' was Patrick Smith of Craigshaws.

(8) The 'chieftain, hoary with years' was William Irving of Allerbeck.

(9) The 'grey-headed bard' was (Old) Robin Elliot, the fiddler.

The location of Kirtlebridge makes good sense for a curling match between players from both sides of the border from which it is but a few miles distant. It was on the main route north into Scotland from Carlisle. Today, the A74(M) runs to the east of the village, and the West Coast Main Line takes the railway just to the west.

Curling was certainly being played with 'channel-stones' in the eighteenth century, and it was not unusual for these to have names, see here.

The names mentioned in the story are those of real people, but whether they actually ever curled is a good question.

The Kirtlebridge match was said to have taken place in 1795. That there is mention of an even earlier Scotland v England bonspiel at 'Liddle-foot', over three days, makes me wonder if the whole thing is a fiction, and a made-up story. It is implied that there was a population of curlers just over the border in England, in Cumberland, at the time. I'm unaware of any evidence for this.

There are doubts about other information in the poem. Yes, William Maxwell of Springkell was real enough, but did he actually take part in a cricket match in 1747? The earliest recorded cricket in Scotland was in September 1785, according to the Cricket Scotland website here.

I remain sceptical of the story. But the fact that the participants of the Kirtlebridge match in 1795 are said to have feasted, drank, sang, and 'spent the night in joy' in a local hostelry, perhaps even the one in the village today (above), has a resonance with what I know of the history of our sport. It would be great to have corroborating evidence that this early 'international' match really did take place!

So, was Kirtlebridge the location of an international match between Scottish and English curlers? Fact or fiction? YOU decide!

Postscript: The English men beat Scotland at the Four Nations at the North West Castle rink, Stranraer, January 20-21, 2018. No bonfires were lit to celebrate this victory, as far as I am aware! 

Photos © Bob Cowan

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thank You For The Music: Curling Songs 1792 - 2018

Curlers have always liked to sing. Not necessarily on the ice of course, but at post-match festivities, and club dinners. Or on friendship tours, and at international competitions. At the 2004 Ford World Curling Championships in Gavle, Sweden, alternative lyrics to ABBA's 'Thank You For The Music' made an appearance:

Thank you for the curling, indeed! Beware the ear worm, but the ABBA original is here, and a karaoke track is here, if you want to sing the curling lyrics, above!

Yes, curlers have always like to sing. If proof were needed of this statement, one only has to consult the Curlers' Library, where the very first printed publication about the sport is Songs for the Curling-Club held at Canonmills. By a Member. This little 16-page booklet was published in Edinburgh in 1792. So, the history of curling songs spans more than 200 years!

In the days before the Internet, and the various social media platforms, the spread of curling songs was on the printed page, and the best vehicle for this was the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual. In the 1845-46 Annual, for example, one finds, under Miscellaneous, a section containing six curling songs, where lyrics have been written to accompany well known tunes of the time.

Here's just the first verse (of four) from one song submitted by 'A Keen, Keen Curler' from Chryston.

Fifty years on, the Annual for 1895-96 has a large selection of curling songs, now spread over 15 pages. The above is the first of three verses of 'Patlid: The Stane Upon the Tee'.

Curling songs regularly appeared in Royal Club Annuals each year.

In the month (January 2018) that a Canadian side has arrived in Scotland to contest the Strathcona Cup, it would seem to be appropriate to reprint verses written by R Menzies Fergusson, the Chaplain of the Airthrey Castle Curling Club, recording the first such Tour, when Scots curlers visited Canada and the USA in the winter of 1902-03. D Bentley Murray, a member of the Airthey Castle CC, had been one of the tour party.

Here are Fergusson's verses on 'The Curlin' Scots in Canada', from the Royal Club Annual of 1903-04:

Twa dizzen men a-curlin',
We sent across the sea,
To set their stanes a-birlin'
'Gainst chiels o' Canadie.

Chorus:
A-curlin', a-curlin',
A-curlin' they did go;
Their cowes a' a-twirlin'
To soop Canadian snow.

Upon the broad Atlantic
They got an awfu' blast.
It sent them nearly frantic
To reach the land at last.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

And when they got transported
Frae boat to Halifax,
Their faces were contorted,
Their knees seemed made o' wax.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

But sleep and aqua vitae
Soon put them on their. feet,
And a' were keen to meet ae
Wee rink that they micht beat.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

When on the ice they planted
Their feet and threw a stane,
They fain would ha'e levanted,
And left the game alane.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin, etc.

They got an awfu' dressin'
Frae Nova Scotian men,
But lickin' wadna lessen,
Their hopes to win again.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

Then Captain Kerr uprisin',
Declared they'd no be beat,
Though this was maist surprisin',
And so resumed his seat.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

They chose their skips, selectin'
With caution and wi' care,
Resolved that by reflectin'
They'd try the game ance mair.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

They drew, they wick'd, they curled in,
They cracked an egg to lie;
But aye the foe cam' birlin',
And counted shots forbye.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

Wi practice and wi' patience
They managed whiles to score;
Enjoyed the handsome rations,
And drank the best, galore.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

But when the leddies sported
Their cowes upon the rink,
The lads seemed a' transported
Wi' love, instead o' drink.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

And up the howe cam' jumpin'
Each Tam o' Shanter'd loon,
And oot the hoose gaed bumpin'
The shots they had sent down.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

They lost their heids, and endin',
The game was lost as weel ;
Maybe their hearts need mendin',
For hame they canna steal.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

The hack was gey confusin',
As crampit men aloo',
But by and by tho' losin',
They won a game or two.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

The ice was keen and brittle,
Far keener than at hame;
The play was unco kittle,
'Twas hard to win a game.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

Guid men they were and michty,
The twal' stane bank they'd turn ;
At soopin' they were michty,
And played each rink a kurn.

Churus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

Wi Doctor Kirk and Gibson,
Twa Provosts and a Prain,
Murray, Husband, Henderson,
And ithers in their train.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

Braid Scots was what they shouted,
'Ca' cannie, up the howe,'
And then the foe was routed
At soopin' wi' the cowe.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

At nicht wi sang and clatter,
They spent the time in glee;
Their friends across the watter
They drank in brews o' tea (?)

Chorus - A-curlin' a-curlin,' etc.

'Whit wey,' speers wee MacGreegor,
'Did oor chaps no' win a',
When playin' wi' sic veegor
On ice without the snaw?'

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin , etc.

'Wheesht ! Wheesht ! Ye little deevil;
Yer better no' to ken
They just were far over ceevil
To thae Canadian men.'

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

'They gaed a'e Sabbath jauntin',
To see a waterfa',
When they'd been better chantin'
A Psalm, or maybe twa.'

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

The Scots were always feted
Where'er they chanced to be,
And some were nearly mated
Wi' leedies at the tee.

Chorus - A-curlin', a-curlin', etc.

Now since their trip is ended,
And hame they've come ance mair,
We hope their play has 'tended
Good fellowship to share.

Chorus.
A-curlin', a-curlin',
A-curlin', they have been;
Their cowes a' a-twirlin' -
Sic play was never seen.

Note that the games against the Canadian women do get a mention (verses eleven to thirteen). More about these games here. And the team's controversial visit to see the Niagara Falls on a Sunday is not ignored!

The practice of printing curling songs, and poems, in Royal Club Annuals had died away by the 1950s. But, for the researcher, the collection of such material (many hundreds of songs) over more than a hundred years, must surely be worth academic study, if only for showing how the vocabulary associated with the sport has changed over the years.

Original songs about curling can be found online today, and in many cases are now accompanied by video. My favourites? The Number 1 best curling song of all time, in my opinion, is 'Tournament of Hearts' by The Weakerthans. Listen to that, with the video, here. From the 'Reunion Tour' album, released in 2007, John K Samson on vocals.

Number 2 of my favourites, because of the curling connection, is 'Silver Road' by Sarah Harmer and the Tragically Hip, from the soundtrack of the wonderful Men With Brooms film. This dates from 2002, and is online here.

Rounding off my top three is Alexander Morrison's renditions of 'The Silver Broom' and 'The Grand Bonspiel', composed by Alan Cairney, Kelty Records, 1985. The description of the 7" vinyl recording is here. No longer available to listen to online, as far as I am aware.

Other curling songs to note are Andrew Murdison's 'The Curling Song' (here); Bowser and Blue's 'The Curling Song' (here); 'The Sweep Song' by Laura Melnick (here); Satch Summerland's 'The Real Curling Song' (here); and 'That Curling Song' (here). There will be others. Do let me know of other favourite curling songs that should be listed here.

Added later: 'Curl' by Jonathan Coulton (here); 'It's a shore thing', produced by Rod Palson for the 2003 Nokia Brier (listen here). The Douglas Curling Club apparently has its own song (thanks Robin Scott). The ice rink at Lockerbie has a number of curling songs (thanks to Andrew Dalgleish for passing these on), and Airleywight Ladies CC has a booklet of songs (thanks to Dot Moran for the info).

And what about The Zambonis, with 'Sweep Me Over The Hogline', 'Curling Girl', and Vista Blue, with 'Curling Round the USA' and 'Girl Who Can Curl' (all four here). And there's now (15/1/18) a video to go with Vista Blue's 'Girl Who Can Curl' here!

But coming right up to date is the music video 'Teach Me How To Curl', here, where Cheetos snacks, a Frito-Lay North America product, promotes the US Olympic curling teams in the run up to the 2018 Games. That's Chester Cheetah explaining things in the screenshot from the video above!

Just wonderful, and great fun! Thank you for the music (video)! #DoTheCurl

POSTSCRIPT:

The visiting Canadian Strathcona Cup team with their version of 'We will rock you', January 12, 2018, at the Lanarkshire Ice Rink, listen here!

Thanks to Christine and Hugh Stewart for the Gavle lyrics to Abba's 'Thank you for the music', which provided the seed for this article. I do not know the provenance of these alternative lyrics, as yet. Other images are scans of Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annuals in my archive, or are screenshots of online videos. And thanks to those who have forwarded links to other curling songs, see 'Added later' above.