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 in 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 'chieftan, 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.

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.

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


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.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Day in China, 1913

I was searching in the British Newspaper Archive last week for articles about curling on Christmas Day in times past, and my search took me to this page of the Daily Record of January 14, 1914. There was a photo of a group of curlers on the page. The header was, 'Curling in North China Reminds Exiled Britons of Home'. I was intrigued!

The photo was captioned, "The new curling rink in the Russian Park at Tientsin drew a large number spectators Christmas Day, when a curling match was played between two teams, captained by Mr Cunningham and Major Pringle respectively. Mr Cunningham’s team won in the morning and Major Pringle's in the afternoon. It is many years since curling was played in Tientsin. (Central News.)"

Who were Mr Cunningham and Major Pringle? And who are the others in the photograph? The sweeping implements look like traditional broom kowes!

But, these questions aside, I realised immediately that the Christmas day match was not simply a one-off occasion organised by homesick Scots, as the romantic headline would imply. From where had the curling stones been obtained, for a start? And the caption had the intriguing information that curling had been played in Tientsin before 1913. I set out to find more! 

Tientsin is Tianjin, a port city some 150 kilometers south east of Beijing. Read about it here. The city became a 'treaty port' in 1860, one of many as China opened to foreign trade in the middle of the nineteenth century (see here). Tientsin had two concession areas at first, for Britain, and for France. This number increased to nine, and by 1913, when the Christmas curling match took place, the United States, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia, also had a presence in the city (here).  Read about the British concession here. A flavour of what the concession areas of Tianjin were like can be seen in this collection of old postcards.

Where was the 'Russian Park' in Tientsin? I cannot be sure, but old maps of the city do show a park in the Russian concession just across the river from the British Bund. Perhaps the new rink in 1913 was here.

We have to jump forward a few years to find that there was a Tientsin Curling Club which became affiliated to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1932. It was active before that date though, as the Berwickshire News and General Advertiser reported on December 2, 1930. The article was headed, 'Greenlaw Native In Tientsin'. This referred to the 'Captain' (presumably the President of the Tientsin Curling Club), Mr Sligh, who had headed up a delegation from the curling club to be entertained in  the officers' mess and receive a trophy from the Royal Scots, who had been stationed in the city. 

The article read, "On Sunday evening, November 9, Colonel Romanes and officers of the Royal Scots invited the officers and members of Tientsin Curling Club to a reception, at the Officers’ Mess, at which trophy was presented by the officers of the regiment to the Club in the form of a silver curling stone. In the course of very happily-worded speech, Colonel Romanes said they had enjoyed their curling in Tientsin very much indeed, and very greatly appreciated the help the Curling Club, in the provision of the requisite facilities, such as the loaning of stones, etc. Consequently they would be happy if the Club would accept the challenge trophy to be played for annually by the members. The Captain of the Curling Club (Mr Sligh, who is a native of Greenlaw), thanked the Colonel and officers of the regiment for their very fine present, and said they had thoroughly enjoyed their many pleasant games with the officers, who had given great support to the game during their sojourn here. All the members of the Club were genuinely sorry they were going away. The Club delegation were thereafter hospitably entertained at the Mess."

I find it interesting and somewhat heartening that Scottish officers had had time to play curling when stationed at Tientsin. The background for the military presence of the Royal Scots in Tientsin is hereThey were in the city for around two years before being relieved by a company of The Queen's Royal Regiment. Being English, the new officers may not have been so enthusiastic about the sport of curling as the officers of the Royal Scots had been!

So we know then that the Tientsin curlers had at least one trophy to play for in the following years after they became affiliated with the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. And that at least one of the club's members during that time was a Scot - J Sligh, from Greenlaw. He's pictured below. Looking at the names it would appear that the curling club membership was not exclusively Scottish, and certainly included expats from other nations.  

This is the Tientsin club's membership as published in the Royal Club Annual for 1932-33. Note that this entry suggests that formalised curling in Tientsin dated from 1890. However, curling may well have been played in the city as early as 1874. Such a suggestion can be found in a speech by the President of the Tientsin CC, a Mr. S. L. Briault, as reported in the Royal Caledonian Annual of 1939-40: "Curling in Tientsin commenced about 1874 and it may be interesting to you to know that the first rink was on the river in front of the Taku Tug and Lighter Co's premises."

Briault goes on to say that in 1910 a club was formed and curling took place on the pond in the Russian Park. That would be consistent with the report of the Christmas curling at that venue in 1913.

In the 1930s the Tientsin Curling Club's home was at the Race Club, just to the south of the British Concession. Read about the Race Club here and here. There were certainly ponds on the grounds at the race track, and one such may well have been for curling.

The club had a large and active membership in the 1930s. We have photos of some of the members from season 1936-37.

This photo, from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1937-38 is captioned 'TIENTSIN CURLING CLUB The members of the Tientsin Curling Club at Mr J C Taylor's residence.'

From left to right, back row: Messrs J Sligh, HF Barnes, LH Twyford Thomas, SL Briault, J Irvine, A McKechnie, JA Mouat and WN Bentinck.

Middle row: Messrs LCM Ouwerkerk, R Geyling, LW Jenner, JE Cloke, JWCameron, JM Bandinel, J Allan, WH Evans Thomas, GE Hansen, H Laidlaw and HH Faulkner.

Front row: Messrs A Istl, H Nielsen, GB Carruthers, A MacArthur, JC Taylor (President), HG McKenzie (Hon Secretary), PW Jones, A Burgess and R Bauer.

And here is a photo of the skips in season 1936-37:
(L-R) JM Bandinel, SL Briault, J Allan, J Sligh, JC Taylor (President), HH Faulkner, R Geyling, JS Jones.

It looks like the players are standing on an artificial 'Cairnie-style' rink, presumably the rink at the Race Club. And the brooms in use now are more modern than in the 1913 photo!

The 1938-39 Annual has ten rinks playing regularly. With World War 2 on the horizon, I wonder how the lives of those shown in the photographs above unfolded in the years that followed.

Curling did not resume after the war, and of course the political system in China changed dramatically then. However, Robin Welsh, in his book International Guide to Curling (Pelham Books, published in 1985) records "in 1966, Ernst Debrunner, Treasurer of the Swiss Curling Association, was astonished to find curling stones in Tientsin (they were used by members of the Tientsin Club, which, founded by Scots in 1890, was active until the Second World War)."

According to TM Devine and Angela McCarthy in their introduction to The Scottish Experience in Asia c1700 to the Present: Settlers and Sojourners (published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2017) between 1815 and the WW2 more than 2.3 million people left Scotland for overseas destinations. Scotland had a population of less than 4.5 million at the census of 1901. The Christmas curling story from 1913 would seem to be yet another example of Scots emigrants taking the sport of curling with them! Not all those mentioned in this article were Scots, but certainly many were. It would be interesting to learn more about them, and what took them to China. And I'm sure I've only scratched the surface of the history of the Tientsin Curling Club and its members.

Read more about Tianjin today here. And of course the Chinese themselves now curl! The Chinese Curling Association became a member of the World Curling Federation in 2002. Beijing has hosted both the World Men's and World Women's Curling Championship in recent years, and a Chinese women's team will compete in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone!

The image from the Daily Record is ©Trinity Mirror, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive. The other images are from Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annuals in the author's archive.

Friday, December 01, 2017

The Third Grand Match

Driving today into Lochwinnoch from the south, you pass between two large expanses of water, the Barr Loch, and Castle Semple Loch, both now part of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Lochwinnoch Reserve. Both lochs have a curling history!

This is a recent autumn photograph of the Barr Loch. This was the site of the third Grand Match in January, 1850.

The first thing to say is that back in 1850 Barr Loch wasn't a permanent body of water. It may have been such at one point, but the earliest Ordnance Survey maps note that Barr Loch was 'Drained but liable to Winter Floods'. It wasn't until the twentieth century that the Barr Loch became permanent. In the nineteenth century the area was often referred to as 'Barr Meadow'.

The first Grand Match of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club had been successfully held in January 1847 at Penicuik, matching twelve rinks from north of the River Forth against the same number from south of the river (although it should be noted that another 22 games were played, alongside the North v South match). The second Grand Match took place on Linlithgow Loch on Tuesday, January 25, 1848. Such was the success of that occasion, described here, that a third Grand Match was scheduled for the following year, 1849, again at Linlithgow, but this did not take place.

Through these years the membership of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club was increasing. The Club was formed in 1838, and in the first season 28 clubs were members. By season 1850-51 the membership had grown to 243 clubs. 

In the Royal Club Annual for the season 1849-50, the following paragraph has been inserted almost as a postscript.

"NOTE.—We have great pleasure in stating, that Colonel Macdowall of Garthland, has in the most handsome and liberal manner consented that about 200 acres of land adjoining the Lochwinnoch Station of the Glasgow and Ayr Railway, shall be flooded with water, to the depth of one or two feet, in order that the Members of the Royal Club may have an opportunity to play the Grand Match this Winter, in the event of there being sufficient Ice."

Alex Cassels, the Secretary of the Royal Club, put out a press release on Tuesday, January 10, 1850, calling the Match for the Friday following, and this was printed in Wednesday's Scotsman, and in the Stirling Observer on the following day, above. More parochially, the Falkirk Herald just printed, "The Royal Caledonian Curling match has been fixed to take place this year at Lochwinnoch, upon Friday next. The Falkirk players intend to muster in great force upon the occasion, and we have no doubt will support the honour of the town."

It would be wrong to assume that the arrangements for the Lochwinnoch Grand Match had gone ahead without problems. The decision to consider Lochwinnoch as the venue had been made at a joint Meeting of the Annual and Finance Committees, on December 8, 1849. It wasn't just a Grand Match venue that had to be decided, there had to be accommodation for an adjourned meeting of the Royal Club. It was agreed that the West of Scotland would be a good venue, it was also resolved that the Grand Match should be, on this occasion, between the North and South sides of the Clyde, rather than having the River Forth as the dividing line as it had been in the past. The Secretary (Alex Cassels), Mr J. Callender, Secretary to the 12th Province, and Mr Robert Love, Secretary to the Lochwinnoch Club, were established as a sub-committee to attend to the arrangements.

Alex Cassels then wrote to Mr Harvey, Castlesemple, whose estate included the the main loch (now known as Castle Semple loch) requesting that he might be good enough to allow the members of the Royal Club to meet and play the Match on the Loch of Lochwinnoch, during January or February. Mr Harvey declined to give permission. The reasons for this and the resulting fall out, which involved matters being heard in court, will be the subject of a future article!

Having had this refusal, the location of the Grand Match was very much in doubt. However, as the Annual reported, "Mr Cassels attended a meeting of the sub-committee at Lochwinnoch, when they had their attention directed to the lands of Colonel Macdowall of Garthland, adjoining the Loch. Part of these lands, called Barr Meadow, extending to about 200 acres, was well adapted for being flooded, and this having been represented to Colonel Macdowall, he at once, and in the handsomest manner, granted the free use of the land referred to, in order that it might be flooded, to afford Ice for the Grand Match."

The press release sent out before the match had this additional note clarifying the situation!

Colonel Macdowall's generosity was to stand him in good stead in the future, as he was made a Vice-President of the Royal Club later in the year!

The Lochwinnoch Graand Match was eagerly anticipated. The venue was easily accessible by train, as the above advert shows. I find it interesting that curlers participating in the match could chose to travel First, Second, or Third Class! The fares quoted were half the price of a normal return. The special trains were in addition to regular services which called at Lochwinnoch, leaving Glasgow at 7.30 and 10.30 am. This Lochwinnoch station had opened in 1840.

This is part of a sketch of the Barr Meadow, from the Annual for 1850-51, accompanying the report of the Grand Match. It shows where the 'admin centre', aka the Secretary's Tent, was set up on the ice, and also just how convenient the venue was for Lochwinnoch Station, most players arriving at the loch by train.

The following report of the match was printed in the Royal Club Annual for 1850-51, and in the absence of any paintings of the scene, words much suffice to describe the occasion! That said, the report in the Annual is identical to that published at the time in the Scotsman of January 16, 1850! So, who wrote the report is uncertain.

"At Lochwinnoch, on Friday the 11th January, 1850, the greatest gathering of the lovers of this manly and truly national game that ever was held in Scotland, took place. For a considerable time it had been known to the public, that in the event of the weather proving favourable for a sufficiently lengthened period, this great bonspiel, or grand match, would be played at the above place during that winter. Accordingly when John Frost had raised his icy sceptre, and loch, stream, and fountain had owned his stern supremacy in bonds of gelid cold, the curlers far and wide began to cut their besoms off the broom, and make all ready to obey the call of their noble president.

It may be called' The Grand Match' of the Royal Club; for of all the previous meetings, it was by far the most numerous, both as regards the Curling brotherhood, and spectators. At the Grand Matches which took place at Linlithgow in 1848, 85 Rinks aside were engaged; but on the present occasion, the Clyde was the boundary of separation between the combatants, and there were no fewer than 127 Rinks from the north, matched against the same number from the south side of that River; besides, the president and president-elect had each a party of 10 rinks a side. As the appointed day approached, the excitement became intense, and every shadow of change in the weather was scanned with anxious eyes by the eager and expectant sons of the 'channel-stane'. In spite of several attempts at a thaw, however, the Frost-king kept the grip; and, on the eventful morning, the ice was in first-rate condition, presenting a fair field for the efforts of the numerous enthusiastic votaries of the sport.

At an early hour on the appointed day, the various conveyances to the scene were crowded. East, west, north, and south, they came in laughing bands, accompanied in some instances with flags and music. There were loopy lawyers from Edinburgh - longheaded merchants from Glasgow - farmers from the Carse of Gowrie and the 'Kingdom of Fife', ploughmen from the Mearns, with ministers and schoolmasters from many a landward parish; in short, few districts omitted to send their picked men to uphold their local credit on the slippery field of honour. It is gratifying to add, that several members of the aristocratic circles were also there, besom in hand, engaged with as much enthusiasm as the lowliest peasant, in the exciting mysteries of the game. Curling is proverbially a levelling amusement, in the pursuit of which high and low familiarly rub shoulders with each other, yet are we certain that nothing save mutual love and respect ever spring from the friendly contact.

Having been prevented from meeting on Lochwinnoch Loch, in consequence of a refusal on the part of Mr Harvey of Castlesemple, the bonspiel was held at Barr Meadow, on a splendid sheet of ice, about a mile or so in length, by rather more than a quarter in breadth, kindly furnished (by flooding the land) for the occasion, by the proprietor, Colonel Macdowall, of Garthland. This afforded the highest satisfaction; as it relieved the mind from any anxiety of danger - the depth in no part exceeded two or three feet. The situation was central and convenient - being close by the Lochwinnoch Station of the Ayrshire Railway, and only fifteen miles westward from the great City of Glasgow. It was also beautifully picturesque, being surrounded nearly on all sides by gentle slopes and belts of planting. The old Castle of Barr, too, was to be seen as if overlooking the scene, and beyond there was the elevated ridge of hills, which has the sombre Mistylaw for its chief. On the present occasion, covered as it was with countless groups of men and women (for numerous fair curlers were on the ice), besides children, it presented such an extraordinary yet beautiful appearance, that we believe none who gazed upon it will soon let it depart from their memory.

Upwards of eleven hundred persons were engaged in this magnificent game, and the spectators must have amounted to nearly as many thousands. Every city, town, and hamlet, sent forth its votaries and admirers of the game; and if numbers afford any approval of the pastime, certainly there was no lack of encouragement. Curlers from all corners of Scotland were to be seen engaged; not only many Rinks from the 'Kingdom of Fife', and the 'Lothians' but - more distant still - even from the 'Hill of Birnam', in the 'far North'.

Snow having fallen thickly about nine o'clock a.m. the previously cleared ice was covered; but at half-past 12, the players having been arranged into 137 rinks, a signal gun was fired, and immediately thereafter the roaring play commenced.

Such a flourishing of brooms, waving of caps, sweeping of the ice, eager watching of moving stones, accompanied with shouts of laughter, directions for playing, cries of disappointment, or commendations of success, created altogether such a joyous scene of apparent confusion, that the pencils of a hundred Harveys, or the pens of a hundred Dickens's, would have been totally ineffective in conveying the faintest idea of what was going on. Suffice it to say that mirth and good-humour were observable on every hand; and although a wee drap of the dew was occasionally observed circling round the tee, nothing approaching to indecorum or ill nature ever crossed the hog-score.

The ice was not only the best and truest, but in the best condition, from the 'cauld, cauld, frosty weather' which prevailed. Every one admitted this; but more especially those who were successful. Severe frost continuing throughout the day, the ice was extremely keen and slippery. Stones, by the slightest touch - as if by magic - ran any distance, requiring gentle and cautious playing. The rink which attracted the greatest number of spectators throughout the course of the day, was that skipped by the Earl of Eglinton and Mr Palmer; but from the excessive crowding along both sides of the rink, the ice was greatly biased, and the science of the players in consequence very much impeded.

Three hours after the commencement of the play, and, indeed, while the enthusiasm was still gathering, another boom was heard from the signal. gun, and immediately the contest ceased; and the skips of each Rink repaired to the Secretary's Tent, to report the result of the game; and here, assuredly, the Secretary's Office was no sinecure. His patience and forbearance were largely taxed, and but for his experience and energy, there must have been great confusion. Every one would be first; and it was long before the state of the game, on all the Rinks, could be noted down. After a while, however, this was done, and a summation effected, and it was found that the 'Northmen' were ahead of their competitors 233 shots - and that the President's party was victorious over that of the President Elect, to the extent of 13.

The crowd then began rapidly to disperse, some to take their 'beef and greens', the curler's favourite food from time immemorial, at the club dinner-party in Lochwinnoch, others to fight their battles o'er again, and have a friendly dram for 'auld acquaintance sake' in the tents that fringed the loch; while not a few wended their various ways homewards, joking and laughing over the events of the day."

The North beat the South on the day by 233 shots (2295 to 2062), over 127 games. An additional eleven games were played in the President's v President-elect match. The individual results are shown in the tables in the appendix, below.

The Annual for 1850-51 contains the financial details involved in holding the third Grand Match. On the income side, £27/14/6 was collected from the skips. £14/10/0 came from renting tents - presumably these housed those selling food and beverages to players and spectators. On the debit side there was considerable amounts involved in paying those workmen who prepared the ground before it was flooded, and to those involved in clearing the ice.

One pound ten shillings was the cost of the carriage of the cannon, and its powder, and to pay the men in charge of this!

There was a band too, apparently, and reporters got their dinner paid for, all of which came to £4/10/0. When the books were balanced, the accounts were just over one pound in the red!

A curling song was written to celebrate the occasion:

January 11th, 1850.

Keen and snell is the weather, ye Curlers, come gather,
Scotland summons her best, frae the Tweed to the Tay,
It's the north o' the Clyde 'gainst the southern side,
And Lochwinnoch the tryst for our Bonspiel to-day.

Ilk parish the've summoned, baith landward and borough,
Far and near troop the lads wi' the stanes and the broom,
The ploughs o' the Lothians stand stiff i' the furrow,
And the weavers o' Beith for the loch leave the loom.

The blithe shepherd blades are here in their plaids,
Their hirsels they've left on the Tweedside their lane,
Grey carles frae the moorlands wi' gleg e'e and sure hands,
The bannet o' blue, and the auld farren stane.

And the Loudons three, they forgather in glee
Wi' townsfolk frae Ayr, and wi' farmers on Doon,
"But over the Forth" come the lads frae the north
Frae far Carse o' Gowrie, and palace o' Scone.

Auld Reekie's top sawyers, the lang headed lawyers,
And crouse Glasgow merchants are loud i' the play,
There are lairds frae the east, there are lords frae the west,
For the peer and the ploughman are marrows to-day.

See the rinks are a' marshalled, how cheerly they mingle,
Blithe callants, stout chields, and auld grey-headed men,
Till their loud roaring stanes gar the snowy heights tingle
As they ne'er did before, and may never again.

Some lie at hog score, some oure a' ice roar,
'Here's the tee', 'there's the winner', 'chap and lift him twa yards',
'Lay a guard',' fill the port', 'now lads! there's nought for't
But a canny inwick, or a rub at the guards'.

It is done—we maun part—but fair fa' each kind heart!
Wi' the auld Scottish blood beating warm in the veins;
Curlers! aye we've been leal, to our country's weal,
Though our broadswords are besoms, our targets are stanes.

We are sons o' the true hearts, that died wi' the Wallace,
And conquered at brave Bannockburn wi' the Bruce,
These wild days are gone, but their memories call us,
So we'll stand by langsyne, and the gude ancient use.

And we'll hie to the spiel, as our fathers before us,
Ye sons o' the men whom foe never could tame!
And at nicht round the ingle we'll join the blithe chorus,
To the land we loe weel, and our auld Scottish game.

The song is simply credited 'Uphall'.

What of Lochwinnoch after the Grand Match of 1850? Barr Meadow was used for the Twelfth Province Bonspiel on January 15, thirty games being played in the same stretch of ice that had seen the Grand Match just a few days before. Despite the Royal Club having its own pond at Carsebreck by 1853, the Grand Match returned to Lochwinnoch in 1864 and 1878, to the Castle Semple Loch on both these occasions.

Appendix: Clubs taking part in the Grand Match of 1850, with results.

Top image is © Bob Cowan. Other images are screenshots from the digitised Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1850-51, or from the National Library of Scotland's Maps website (here), or from the British Newspaper Archive (here).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A look back at the European Championships 1997

The European Championships twenty years ago were held in Fussen, Germany, December 6-13, 1997. That's the winners, above. The women's champions were (L-R) Elisabet Gustafson (skip), Katarina Nyberg, Louise Marmont, Margaretha Lindahl and Elisabeth Persson from Sweden. Germany won the men's championship: (L-R) Andy Kapp (skip), Uli Kapp, Oliver Axnick, Holger Hohne and Michael Schaffer.

Twenty years may not seem a long time to some, but the intervening years have seen curling change dramatically, that evolution being driven by the sport's inclusion in the Olympic Winter Games. And 1997 was the year before the re-inclusion of curling in the Games as a full medal sport. Many of the teams competing at the European Championships in 1997 would be playing at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Japan.

In 1997, there were places for twelve countries in the main European Championship event in both the men's and women's competitions. Each event had two sections of six, the top four from which would combine to play in quarterfinals.

In the Men's Group A1 were Scotland, Germany, Denmark, England, Austria and the Netherlands. In Group A2 were Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Italy and Luxembourg.

In the Women's Group a1 were Switzerland, Scotland, Norway, France, Italy and Luxembourg. In Group a2 were Sweden, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Austria.

There were five countries in what we would now call the men's B Division, trying to make promotion to the A Division for the following year: France, Bulgaria, Wales, Czech Republic and Russia. There were only three women's teams: England, Russia and the Netherlands. More on the B games, below.

The Scottish Men's squad at Fussen is shown above (L-R): James Dryburgh (5th), Douglas Dryburgh (skip), Peter Wilson, Philip Wilson, Ronnie Napier and Alex F Torrance (coach).

All the results can be found here. The Scots beat Netherlands, Denmark, England and Austria, losing only to Andy Kapp's German side in their section games. In the quarters, they played Norway, skipped by Thomas Ulsrud, who had needed a tiebreaker to finish fourth in the other section. According to Leslie Ingram-Brown in his report of the game in the Scottish Curler, Dryburgh played the 'shot of the championships' in the ninth end - an angled triple raise - to count four, whereupon the Norwegians conceded. With that win to reach the semifinals, Scotland was assured a place in the 1998 World Championships in Kamloops.

Scotland lost to Germany 4-2 in the semifinal, Andy Kapp's side going on to win the championship. Dryburgh's side faced Peter Lindholm's Sweden for the bronze medals, and won this game 6-5 with a hit and stay on last stone.

There are no linescores on the World Curling Federation's historical records web pages for this event (here), but the final scores show that Andy Kapp's team, the local favourites, beat Ulrich Schmidt's Denmark 10-5 in the championship match.

This is the Scottish Women's squad. Back L-R: Fiona Bayne (5th), Katie Loudon, Edith Loudon, Jackie Lockhart and Kirsty Hay (skip). In front are Nanette Mutrie (sports psychologist) and Jane Sanderson (coach).

The women came through their section games with wins against Italy, France, Luxembourg, and Norway (skipped by Dordi Nordby), but lost their final section game against Switzerland, despite leading 5-2 at the fifth end. They then faced Sweden's Elisabet Gustafson in the quarterfinals and lost this one to the eventual winners of the tournament.

Although out of the main event, the Scots still had to play two more matches, a ranking game against Joan Reed's England, which only went for six ends, and than a further game to decide 5th/6th place in the rankings. Kirsty's team lost out to Switzerland, skipped by Graziella Grichting, for the second time in the competition. However, sixth in the rankings ensured that a Scottish team would be taking part in the 1998 World Championships.

Sweden beat Germany, skipped by Andrea Schopp, in the semifinal and contested the championship game against Helena Blach-Larvsen's Danes. Gustafson had a three shot lead coming home and duly won her third European title.

In the Men's B Division Wales won four, lost none. France finished with a 3-1 win-loss record, Russian with 2-2, Czech Republic 1-3, and Bulgaria 0-4. These last three countries would take no further part on the competition, but Wales and France still had games to play!

Now, the format of the European Championships changed many times over the years. Back in 1997 it was possible for a B Division team to win the European title that same year. Wales, skipped by John Hunt with Adrian Meikle playing last stones, was able to challenge England, skipped by Martyn Deakin, who had finished their section games fourth in the ranking having won two and and lost three. Wales won this game 7-6, and that gave them the opportunity to play in the quarterfinals. There they met Peter Lindholm's Swedish side, top of the other section, and lost 6-5.

However, I'm sure you will agree that the Welsh team photograph in the official programme shows an elegant squad! L-R: John Hunt (skip and 2nd), Adrian Meikle (4th), Jamie Meikle, Hugh Meikle, Chris Wells.

France too had the opportunity to reach the quarterfinals, but needed to beat Norway to get there. Thomas Ulsrud's team, having already survived a tiebreaker for fourth place in their section, fought off the challenge from Jan Henri Ducroz.

Aside from the semifinals, final and bronze games, further games were played to decide the final rankings of the men's teams in the competition. This was important as the European Championships served then as the qualifying competition for the Worlds, as they still do today. In 1997 the top seven countries in both men's and women's competitions would qualify for the World Championships in Kamloops, Canada.

The results of the games, contested by the losing quarterfinalists, to decide 5th to 8th places were:

Ranking round 1 (which is called, somewhat confusingly on the WCF Historical Results pages, as the 'Relegation game'):
Finland 8 Norway 7
Switzerland 6 Wales 4

5/6 th place:
Switzerland 8 Finland 5

7/8 th place:
Norway 10 Wales 1

So Wales, in eighth place, just missed out on going to Kamloops.

On the women's side, the three countries involved in the B Division finished with the following win-loss records, having played a double round robin: England 3-1, Netherlands 2-2, Russia 1-3. Joan Reed's side then defeated Luxembourg to progress to the quarterfinals.

That's the English ladies above. L-R: Joan Moody (shown here as 5th player, although it was Jacqueline Ambridge, not pictured, who went to Fussen as 5th), Moira Davison, Glynnice Lauder, June Swan, and Joan Reed (skip).

In the quarterfinals they went down 8-2 to Andrea Schopp's German team. Two further losses, to Scotland and Norway, saw them finish eighth in the rankings, just missing out on a place in the 1998 Worlds.

Some Euro trivia from 1997:

1. The local Fussen organising committee comprised Peter Schaffer (President), Charlie Kapp (Vice-president), Christiane Jentsch (General Secretary), Beate Grimm, Roland Jentsch, Rudi Ibald, K-D Schafer and Andy Kapp. 

2. The championships were held in the Bundesleistungszentrum, Fussen.

3. The 1997 European championships were run under the auspices of the European Curling Federation. They are today run by the World Curling Federation, and have been so for some six years now. The history of the ECF, and its demise, is a story still to be written. Not though by me, as I'm not a fan of curling politics!

4. The main sponsor was Augsburger Aktienbank. It would not be until 2002 that Le Gruyere became the title sponsor of the European Curling Championships, an association which continues to this day. 

5. This was the official programme, much of it in German. There were Welcome Messages from Bavarian Prime Minister Dr Edmund Stoiber; the Patron, Dr Irene Epple-Waigel; the Mayor, Dr Paul Wengert; the President of the European Curling Federation, Roy Sinclair; the President of the German Curling Federation Charles Heckman; and from Peter Schaffer, President of the Organising Committee.There were twenty-two and a half pages of adverts in the forty-four page publication.

6. In the days before digital cameras, mobile phones with cameras, and the Internet, it was not as easy as it is today to get team photos to the local organising committee in time for inclusion in the programme. Unfortunately, the 1997 programme does not have photos of Denmark, Finland and Italy men, nor Denmark, Italy and Austria women. However, the French team photo (above) included their mascot, a white cat called 'Puce' ('Chip' in English)!

7. The competition had its own currency, the 'Curling-Euro' which could be used in most of the shops in Fussen.

8. The Finnish women's team had travelled to the North West Castle rink in Stranraer, Scotland, to get some pre-European practice. They asked Gail McMillan if she would coach them in Sweden. Gail, at her own expense, travelled by car and ferry, and collected the team at Munich Airport to finish the journey to Fussen. The Finnish women, skipped by Jaana Jokela, with Anne Eerikainen (aka Malmi) playing last stones, Nina Pollanen and Laura Tsutsunen, with Gail as their coach, reached the semifinals!

Thanks go to John Brown for his help with this article. The photo of the winning teams is by Leslie Ingram-Brown and appeared in the January 1998 Scottish Curler magazine. The photos of the Scottish teams appeared uncredited in the January 1998 Scottish Curler. The images of the Welsh and French men, and the English women are from the official programme, from my archive.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

In search of the red stones

Not all old curling stones are made from Ailsa Craig granite. When David Smith wrote 'Some facts about old stones' back in 2008, see here, he listed many of the different types of stone that had been used to make curling stones, that he had found mentioned in books and adverts from the late nineteenth century. Aside from the various forms from Ailsa Craig (still used today by Kays in Mauchline, see here) there were Burnock Water, Tinkernhill, Carsphairn Red, Crawfordjohn, Silver Grey, Muthill, Giells, Earnock Moor, Blantyre Black, Blantyre Silver Grey, and Douglas Water. There were also Crieff Serpentine, Furnace, and Tinto. In more recent years we can add two types of Welsh Trefor to the list, as used by the Canada Curling Stone Company, see here. And today curling stones are made from Chinese stone by the Tiano Company, see here.

Some of these stone types, old and new, can be identified easily. David's 2008 article contained images to assist such identification, although the detail and source of many of these older types of stone has now been lost.

There's lots to be said about some of them. I've written, here, about 'Crawfordjohns' whose source is the Craighead Quarry, near Abington. But I've become curious about red stones, such as those made, apparently, from stone found near Carsphairn in Dumfries and Galloway, and described as 'Carsphairn Reds'.

These are my own red stones. I thought they were probably Carsphairn Reds, but I couldn't be sure. This past summer I resolved to try find out where this stone came from, and who made them.

The first reference that I can find in the old literature is in the book 'Curling', by James Taylor, published in 1884. In a chapter entitled 'Curling Stones' he quotes extensively from James Brown's 'History of the Sanquhar Curling Society' which had been published in 1874 to mark the centenary of the Society. Brown describes the different material from which curling stones have been made by Sanquhar curlers at different times over the years and writes, "A few from Muirbrack, in the Parish of Carsphairn, have also been made. They are of a peculiar reddish colour, light in proportion to their size, and run well."

The Reverend John Kerr's book, 'History of Curling and Fifty Years of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club', published in 1890, has lots to say about curling stones. In a chapter entitled 'The Science of Curling' he asks an expert, Professor Forster Heddle, for his opinions. According to the National Museum of Scotland's website (here), Professor Heddle was a larger than life character, a renowned academic and one of Scotland's most famous mineralogists.

We learn from Kerr's book that six varieties of curling stone (Ailsa Blue Hone, Ailsa Red Hone, Common Ailsa, Crawfordjohn, Burnock Water and Crieff) accounted for two thirds of all curling stones in use at that time. Carsphairn Reds were not common, but are certainly mentioned. Professor Heddle writes, "Carsphairn. This is a stone the first inspection of which is not in its favour, but which increases in apparent excellence the more it is examined. The rock is a quartz porphyry, and that which is unpromising is the large amount of quartz, bringing in lightness and brittleness. And, secondly, that it is a porphyry, which, in a certain sense, implies absence of uniformity.

A porphyry has a structure in which crystals are embedded in a paste, in the same manner as raisins are embedded in a dumpling. Here is absence of uniformity. As the raisins may be picked out of the dumpling, so might the crystals be knocked out of the paste; and though it might be held that the raisins were the best part of the dumpling, yet it is not so if the 'raisins' bring in lightness and brittleness, and if their removal left a number of holes.

An examination of sections of the rock, however, shows that the surfaces of the quartz crystals are rough, enabling the the paste firmly to grip them; and as that paste is itself of remarkable uniformity - as is the general structure of that stone, there being an absolute freedom from holes - this stone, apart from its lightness, probably is one of great excellence. Never having seen it in mass, I cannot speak to freedom from flaws."

One can tell that Heddle was a good teacher. I won't ever look at a red curling stone again without thinking of his analogy of a dumpling containing raisins!

But where was this Carsphairn stone obtained? I wondered if the 'Muirbrack' mentioned in Taylor's book might be the Marbrack Farm that lies to the east of Carsphairn village. Local knowledge was required, so I visited the Carsphairn Heritage Centre (see here). There I was fortunate to find Anna Campbell on duty, and she had the answer to my question. She knew exactly from where the stone had been obtained - on Furmiston farm, just to the east of Marbrack. She recalled, "Many years ago I walked on the hill face at Furmiston between the B7000 and the farm house. I was looking for evidence of the stones. At several of the rocky outcrops I found evidence of stones which had been roughly hewn as curling stones and then discarded."

This evidence sent me to Furmiston, and the area in question.

There is no large quarry - the stone was obtained from surface boulders, or outcrops of rock over a large area.

 This is the road in to Furmiston.

And used to make this farm road were obvious fragments of a red stone. The current holders of Furmiston knew that stone to make curling stones had in the past been taken from the farm, and were able to confirm there was no single quarry from where the stone was obtained.

No major quarry, but the Ordnance Survey map from 1853 does indicate evidence of some stone extraction in the area, but this of course might just have been for making roads.

There is no doubt in my mind now that my own red stones, above, are indeed 'Carsphairn Reds'.

Here's a block of rough stone obtained at Furmiston.

Presumably the blocks of stone, perhaps roughly fashioned into 'cheeses', were taken to be finished at one of the curling stone manufactories that were established at that time. Who was obtaining the stone at source, and sending it forward? This I have been unable to find out, as yet. There does not seem to have been one family doing this, such as the Milligans at Craighead whose name is synonymous with Crawfordjohn stones. Further research is needed here.

As to where the rough blocks were fashioned into actual curling stones, I have two places where this was carried out. The oldest (named) curling stone manufacturer is Andrew Cowan of Barbieston. Cowan's business ledger, which extends from 1865 to 1889, has survived. Most of the stones Cowan made and sold in the earliest years recorded were Ailsas and Burnocks. But on February 1, 1875, he records in his ledger the sale of 12 pairs of 'Red Carsphairn Granite' at 28 shillings a pair. The buyer's name is somewhat indistinct but looks like 'John Hunter Esq' of Dalmellington. (If this is correct it could be the John Hunter who was manager of the Dalmellington Iron Works at that time.) The total bill came to £16 and 16 shillings, with handles still to be sourced and fitted. I cannot find in the ledger how much Cowan paid for the rough Carsphairn blocks.

A second entry from Cowan's ledger, from November 24, 1875, records the sale of 'one pair of Red Carsphairn stones. Extra finish. Checked round the belt' at 30 shillings. (A checkered marking was inscribed on the striking band.) Cowan seems to have supplied a pair of nickel silver handles for these stones at an additional 28 shillings. So, handles could cost almost as much as the stones! It is interesting to compare the cost of other stone types from the same period. On the same page of the ledger, a pair of Common Ailsas cost 32 shillings, whereas a pair of Burnocks was 27 shillings. A pair of brass handles for the latter was 13 shillings. 

There's a reference too from the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald of January 30, 1891, in an article which described a visit to 'The Curling Stone Manufactory at The Haugh, Mauchline'. This was the company set up by Andrew Kay, and in 1891 was being run by his widow.

Of the various 'metals' described as being used to make curling stones there is the briefest of mentions of 'Carsphairn stone - a deep red'.

There were a number of curling stone makers at the end of the nineteenth century and it is certainly possible that they used Carsphairn stone too.

This advert appeared in the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1888, and 'Carsphairn Red' stones appear prominently. P and R Fleming were a large firm of manufacturing ironmongers, see here, with headquarters on Argyle Street in Glasgow. Selling curling stones and other curling paraphernalia was apparently just a sideline to their main business. Adverts such as that above appeared well into the twentieth century. P and R Fleming did not make the stones. They were simply the retailer.

'The Complete Curler' by John Gordon Grant, published in 1914, mentions Carsphairn stone in passing. In discussing the question, "Which is the best kind of stone?" Grant writes about Ailsas, Burnock Waters and Crawfordjohns, then says, "Besides the Ailsa, Burnocks, and Crawfordjohns there are several other varieties of stone - Blantyres, Tinkernhills, Carsphairns and Crieffs - to be seen occasionally on the pond (and in the makers' establishments)."

Carsphairn curling stones have their place in the sport's history. They may not have the fame of Ailsas but survivors, still in good condition to be played on outside ice, are rare indeed.

A well polished Carsphairn stone, from the collection of the late David Smith. I wonder who made this one, and who made my pair?

Photos are by Bob Cowan. Thanks to Anna Campbell for all her help. The map clipping is from the NLS maps website here. The P and R Fleming advert is from a Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual.

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Women on Rothie Pond

I've written already about some of the pioneering women who took to the curling ice at the end of the nineteenth, and beginning of the twentieth, centuries, see here and here. When an old postcard came up for sale on eBay earlier this year, I realised that it was of considerable significance. That's it above as I was fortunate to win it at auction. The image provides early photographic evidence of 'mixed' or, more accurately, 'open' curling in Scotland, with women playing alongside the men. I had previously written about the women curlers of Buxton, England, playing in mixed rinks, see here, and I had been on the look out for similar evidence of this in Scotland.

The postcard is captioned 'The Roaring Game. Insch v Rothie, on the Rothie Pond'. The photo is by 'G.L.C.'  It is not a high quality image, and the card is rather well worn, partly because it has been sent through the mail, from Aberdeen to an address in France. There are two postmarks on the reverse of the card, both showing the date of February 7, 1905. This means of course that the photograph of the curlers on Rothie pond must have been taken before this date. The latest that the action depicted could have been recorded is in the winter of 1904-05, or perhaps even before then. To my knowledge there are no earlier photos which show women curling alongside the men on Scottish ice.

There are two women in the photo. The first is clearly taking part in one of the games, above. 

The other woman, on the right in this enlargement of the image, could be playing and awaiting her turn to sweep, or perhaps she is just watching the action. There are seven men involved, so there is every chance she is the eighth curler on that rink and is one of the players.

The significance of finding an early image of women involved in a game between two different clubs is exciting in itself, but I wondered if I could find out who they might be.

The Insch and Garrioch Curling Club was formed in 1889 and admitted to the Royal Club in 1892. Their membership lists in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annuals in the early years of the twentieth century do not include any women's names.

Were the women members of the Rothienorman Curling Club? Information in old Annuals suggests that the club was founded in 1905 and admitted to the Royal Club that same year. The postcard dates from before the club's admittance to the Royal Club. Rothienorman's application for membership came up at the AGM of the Royal Club held in the Royal Hotel on Princes Street, Edinburgh, on July 26, 1905. The 'Rothie-Norman (Aberdeenshire)' club was proposed by JW Learmonth, representing Merchiston and Davos, and seconded by WA Peterkin of Caberfeidh and Forres.

This is the club's office bearers as recorded in the Annual for 1905-06

And here are the members. There are nine women listed as 'occasional members' of the club! These are: Mrs Crawford Leslie, Miss DJ Crawford, Mrs SW Bethell, Mrs R Gordon, Miss K Crawford, Mrs Allan Gray, Mrs Low, Miss Low and Mrs Black.

There are 647 Scottish curling clubs listed in the Annual for 1905-06. Five are women only clubs (Balyarrow, Boarhills, Cambo, Boghead and Hercules). In addition, some clubs listed lady members separately, for example Balerno (with 11 names), Braid (also with 11) and Broughty Ferry (with 31). Others listed their women curlers as 'extraordinary members', for example Edinchip had seven such. Compared with five years previously, an increasing number of clubs had one or two women members. I was interested to note that one club, Cloanden, had a female Secretary and Treasurer - Miss Nellie Cairns. But the majority of Scottish curling clubs remained exclusively male preserves in 1905.

As already mentioned, the old Annuals show the formation of the Rothienorman Curling Club to be 1905. But that date would seem to be incorrect, the Rothienorman Curling Club, and the 'Rothie Pond' being mentioned in local newspapers well before that date. Indeed, the Aberdeen Journal of Tuesday, February 21, 1893, records a meeting in the Rothie Inn 'with a view of forming a curling club'. The site for the pond had been given free, by Mrs Crawford Leslie, and she was appointed Patroness. A working committee was appointed and and over 40 members were enrolled. The Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser of February 14, 1893, had also reported on the proposal to form a Rothienorman Curling Club, noting that the site of the pond was 'within a short distance from the railway station which, to other clubs, would be a strong recommendation'.

The curling pond, beside the Fordoun Burn, is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1901, providing evidence that the club was in existence before 1905.

A close-up of the 25 inch map shows that there is another pond just to the north of the curling pond. Newspaper reports record fundraising efforts to provide a skating pond near the curling pond, and this likely is what is shown on the map. Indeed, this second pond can be seen in the rear of the postcard image. Rothie House lies to the north of these ponds.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal of February 14, 1902, had this report of curling on the Rothie Pond. Note the brief mention of a game involving two female skips, a Miss Crawford and a Miss Low.

Some family history research is relevant here. Isabella Forbes Crawford Leslie had inherited the estate of Rothie and Badenscoth in 1877 when her father, Colonel Forbes Leslie of Rothie, died. She was married to Lieutenant Colonel James Henry Graham Crawford of the Royal Engineers. He had died in 1860. Isabella Forbes Crawford Leslie ran the estate from 1877 for the next twenty-seven years until her death in 1904, and it is this 'Mrs Crawford Leslie' who donated the land for the curling pond and was the club's first patroness. Her eldest son was Colonel Henry Crawford Leslie. He married in 1872 Susan Hunter, and the couple had three daughters and four sons. He died in 1898, predeceasing his mother.

The eldest of the grandsons, Reginald William Henry Crawford Leslie, married Janet Macfie Blaikie in Edinburgh on July 2, 1902. He was 29 years old, she was 22. Whilst the guests in Edinburgh celebrated, back on the estate in Rothienorman, there was much celebration too, with a grand dinner and speeches, and a bonfire on Gordonstown Hill, all reported in great detail in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of July 3, 1902. The grandmother's obituary appears in the Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser of April 26, 1904. The obituary indicates that she had been in 'delicate health' for some time. Reginald Crawford Henry had spent much of his life in Australia, returning to Scotland only in October 1901 from sevice with the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa, and presumably was involved in running the Rothienorman estate from then, inheriting it in 1904 when his grandmother died, aged 77. The census of 1901 shows Isabella living at Rothienorman House with her widowed sister and nine servants.

It is Janet Blaikie, now Mrs Crawford Leslie, who appears as the Patroness of the Rothienorman Curling Club and is listed amongst the members when the club was admitted to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1905. She would have been 25 years old then. She seems to have been a keen curler, her name appearing amongst the club's members right up to the beginning of WW1. Reginald Crawford Henry died in 1916, and Janet remarried, to Alexander Gordon Duff, in London in 1917.

Two of the other women who were members of the Rothienorman club in 1905 were Reginald Crawford Leslie's sisters, who must also have been resident at Rothienorman House, or on the estate, at this time.

One of these sisters, Dorothy Isabel Crawford, married Alexander Forbes Irvine of Drum in July 1905. A deputation (Dr Gray and James Durno) from the curling club met with the bride to hand over a carriage clock as a wedding present. This is recorded in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of July 19, 1905, which says, "The deputation expressed their pleasure at her frequent visits to the curling pond. Her appearance there had always been much appreciated by the members. They asked her to accept the gift as a mark of respect and esteem, accompanied with hearty best wishes for herself and Mr Irvine. Miss Crawford, in reply, cordially thanked the deputation for their kindness and desired them to convey an expression of her thanks to all the other members of the club. She had always taken a great interest in the club, and hoped to remain a member of it. She would never forget the many happy days she had spent with them, and she hoped to spend many more."

It is interesting to speculate if Dorothy was able to continue her interest in curling as a married lady.

It is hard to imagine anything of the lives of curlers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, least of all the pioneering women. The discovery of an old postcard has provided just a small insight. The two women shown on the ice were members of the Rothienorman club. Which of the nine women in the club's membership were they? We know now that three of these nine were young women, in their twenties, and that was a surprising find. There's much more to be uncovered of course. Who were the other six women listed in the 1905-06 Annual? Would that the minutes of the Rothienorman Curling Club had survived!

By 1905 women were making inroads on curling ice in other countries too. This wonderful photograph of the St Lawrence Ladies' Curling Club in Montreal appears in the 1905-06 Annual and illustrates just how big a foothold the women there had on the sport, and how they were keen to publicise their efforts. And in Switzerland too, where more and more British people began to take winter holidays. The men could play curling, and it would be unsurprising if wives and daughters did not also take to the ice. This they did ... more about which in a future article.

The postcard images are scanned from the original card in the author's possession. Map images are from the NLS Maps website here. The extract of the Aberdeen Press and Journal is © the British Library Board via the British Newspaper Archive. Scans of entries in the 1905-06 Annual, are from the author's copy. The photo of the St Lawrence Ladies is by Knox, Montreal.