Friday, July 27, 2018

Scotland's Indoor Curling Rinks: A Timeline

"When was the 'Golden Age' of curling in Scotland?" I was asked this question earlier this year. It can be answered in a number of ways. It could be argued that the 'Golden Age' was in the 1830s and 1840s when curling was the most popular winter sport in the country, and the first to have a national governing body. Or perhaps it was the beginning of the twentieth century, when the sport was played widely on outside ice, and the first Scottish team travelled to Canada and the USA and experienced how the sport had established itself in North America.

My own curling career encompassed a huge growth in the indoor game. I was aware that, at one point, the number of rinks providing curling facilities in Scotland had grown to more than thirty, from the handful that were available in the early 1960s when I threw my first stones. I set out to document the growth of the indoor rink in the second half of the twentieth century, but I found that information was not recorded in any one place, and that details on some of the rinks is sketchy at best. The timeline below is very much a 'first draft'. If you can add any information, particularly on when rinks closed, please contact me.


Crossmyloof, Glasgow. The Scottish Ice Rink at Crossmyloof opened on October 1, 1907. The rink survived through most of WW1, but closed in 1918, purchased by William Beardmore and Company Ltd, and used as a company store for the next ten years. The site was purchased by the Scottish Ice Rink Company (1929) Ltd, and the new rink opened for play in January 1929. Only some walls of the old rink were utilised in the new building. There was room for six sheets of ice (seven when the house size changed in 1938). An extension for curling (and for ice hockey practice) was added in 1938, and a four sheet annex added in 1961. Read here for more about the Crossmyloof rinks. Crossmyloof closed in February, 1986.


Haymarket, Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Ice Rink, at Haymarket, was opened on February 3, 1912, by Lord Balfour of Burleigh. The ice surface was 'upwards of 16,900 square feet' so could accommodate six curling rinks, with end ice for skating even when the curling was on. From 1919 to 1929 Haymarket was the only indoor curling rink in Scotland. It closed in 1979.

Lochrin, Edinburgh. The Lochrin Ice Pond, Tollcross, Edinburgh, was also opened in 1912. As far as I am aware, there are no photographs of the rink, although it seems to have had four sheets. It did not reopen after WW1.

Aberdeen Glaciarium. The Aberdeen Winter Recreation Institute, with its 'Glaciarium' of 18,400 square feet, was opened on September 30, 1912, with space for eight curling rinks. It closed in 1917.


Central Scotland Ice Rink, Perth. The rink was opened by the Duke of Atholl on October 1, 1936. The 1975 Air Canada Silver Broom World Curling Championship was held in this rink, as was the first Women's World Championship in 1979. The rink closed c1989.


Kirkcaldy Ice Rink. The multi-sports ice arena opened on 1st October 1938. The rink hosted the European Curling Championships in 1982.

Dundee-Angus Ice Rink. The Dundee Ice Rink opened on September 30, 1938. An annex just for curling with six sheets, was added to this building in 1984, before it closed in the early 1990s. The last curling in the annex was in 1989.

Falkirk. The Falkirk Ice Rink was opened by the Earl of Stair on November 30, 1938. Falkirk Ice Rink was the venue for the Annual Meeting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club on July 22, 1964, when HRH The Duke of Edinburgh became the Club's President, see here. The rink closed as an ice sports venue in 1977.

Dunfermline Ice Rink. The Dunfermline rink opened in the summer of 1939 and ceased operation circa 1954. There is video footage of skating and ice hockey on the rink here, but nothing of curling. Indeed, little seems to be known about curling there in the early years of the rink.


Ayr, Beresford Terrace. The Ayr Ice Rink opened on March 13, 1939, and was used for skating, ice hockey and curling. It hosted the first USA touring team in 1952, see here for the story, or go directly to a video, here. It closed in 1972 and was demolished to make way for a supermarket.

Donald's Ice Rink, Aberdeen. Donald's opened as a skating rink in 1939, and was used for curling after the war until 1982. It closed in 1983. 


Border Ice Rink, Kelso. The four sheet rink, for curling and skating, opened on October 1, 1964. The first stone was thrown by Major Allan Cameron, past president of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.


Aviemore Ice Rink. The ice rink, in the Aviemore Centre, was opened in December 1966. Bill Robertson Aikman, the Royal Club President, threw the opening stone. The ice surface covered 20,000 square feet with seven lanes for curling. There was end-ice skating, even when the main sheet was being used for curling. There was seating for 500. The rink was the venue for the 1976 Uniroyal World Curling Championship, and was demolished in the late 1990s.


South of Scotland Ice Rink, Lockerbie. The South of Scotland Ice Rink on Glasgow Road, Lockerbie, was opened on January 20, 1967. It has five sheets of curling ice and is also used for skating.

Lanarkshire Ice Rink, Hamilton. The six-sheet Hamilton rink opened on Friday, September 29, 1967. Bill Robertson Aikman threw the opening stone towards the broom held by Bob Dick. The stone was swept by Chuck Hay and Alex Torrance. The rink is also used for skating.


Inverness Ice Rink. The rink at Bught Park opened for skating in July, 1968. In September the curlers took to the ice, Lord Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, throwing the opening stone. The rink accommodates five sheets for curling.


Stranraer Ice Rink. The four sheet rink, part of the North West Castle Hotel complex, was officially opened in November 1970.


Ayr, Limekiln Road. The new multipurpose Ayr rink for curling and skating replaced the old arena at Beresford Terrace. The six sheet rink opened in October 1973, and there is a small practice annex for skating.


Magnum, Irvine. The multipurpose ice rink within the Magnum Leisure Centre in Irvine opened in September 18, 1976. The ice pad accommodated seven lanes of curling ice. Curling at the complex finished in 2011 when nearby Harvie's reopened after its refurbishment, and the whole leisure centre complex closed in 2016, and was demolished in 2017.


Kinross. The four sheet curling rink at the Green Hotel, Kinross, opened at the beginning of the 1977-78 season. The rink was fully refurbished by the Kinross Curling Trust in 2014 and improvements continue.


Gogar Park, Edinburgh. The Gogar Park Curling Club, with four sheets, opened on January 15, 1979. Gilbert McClung and Irene Cleland threw the first stones, with young curlers Susan McLean and David Aitken holding the brushes for them. They were both then involved in throwing the last stone at the closing ceremony on April 9, 2005.

Greenacres, Howwood. The four sheet Greenacres Ice Rink was opened in October 1979. A two sheet annex was added soon thereafter.


Stirling. The Stirling Ice Rink, Williamfield. The rink, used for both curling and skating, opened on September 29, 1980, and closed in 2009.

Murrayfield Curling Rink. The first curling on the seven sheet rink, built alongside the Murrayfield Ice Arena, had been going on since September 8, 1980, before the official opening on October 4. Philip Dawson, Royal Club President, threw the first stone, with Marjorie Broatch, Ladies Branch President, holding the broom. A new floor has been laid this summer (2018).


Atholl Curling Rink, Pitlochry. The four sheet rink in Pitlochry was constructed in the old Festival Theatre, which had moved to new premises in the town in 1981. A group of local enthusiasts purchased the vacant building on December 29, 1981 and the rink opened for play in October 1982. The rink closed in the summer of 2008.


Abeerdeen Curling Rink, Dyce. Her Majesty the Queen officially opened the Aberdeen Curling Rink on October 18, 1983. Dr Norman Cooper, Chairman of the Board, threw the opening stone. Fellow director Roy Gray held the broom, and the stone was swept by the Barton Henderson team, winners of the European Championship in 1980.


Forest Hills. Olympic gold medal athlete Sebastian Coe ran to the platform with a blazing torch which Scottish Tourist Board Chairman Alan Deveraux used to burn the ribbon to open the Barratt Forest Hills Trossachs Club, near Aberfoyle, on September 14, 1984. The complex included a four sheet curling rink. The last curling at Forest Hills was at the end of the 2005-2006 season.

Letham Grange. The four-sheet rink, partially built underground because of planning concerns, was officially opened in September 30, 1984 by Scottish rugby internationalist Jim Aitken. The rink was mothballed at the start of the 2004-05 season and has not re-opened.

Crystals Arena, Glenrothes. Included in the leisure complex at Glenrothes, opened on October 2, 1984, was an ice rink with six sheets of curling ice. The complex closed in 1993. When was the last curling played?


Brora. The four sheet rink at the Royal Marine Hotel, Brora, was officially opened on October 12, 1985, with Bill Muirhead throwing the first stone. The rink closed at the end of the 2005-2006 season.


Summit Centre, Glasgow. The rink was officially opened on February 13, 1986. The first stones were thrown by Glasgow's Lord Provost, Robert Gray, and Lord Marshall, Chairman of Municipal Mutual Insurance Ltd. There were six sheets of ice for curling on weekdays, and the ice pad was available for skating and ice hockey at the weekends. It had seating for 600 spectators. The Summit Centre hosted the Glayva World Women's Curling Championship in 1988, and the Royal Bank of Scotland World Junior Curling Championships in 1991. It closed in 1998.

Lochgoilhead. The Drimsynie House Ice Rink, Lochgoilhead, was a four sheet rink in the Drimsynie Estates Leisure Centre. It opened on December 27, 1986, when Douglas Currie, Convener of Argyll and Bute District Council, threw the first stone. The rink closed in 2011.


Galleon Centre, Kilmarnock. The Galleon Centre on Titchfield Street, Kilmarnock, opened to the public on May 15, 1987. The complex houses a swimming pool and other sports facilities. The first curling at the rink was in September, 1987. There are five sheets of curling ice, when the rink is not in use for other ice sports.

Icelandia Ice Rink, Livingston. Opened in September 1987. I do not know exactly when this rink closed. (Anyone?)


Harvies, Stevenston. The Auchenharvie Leisure Centre opened for curling (four sheets) and skating in 1988. The original ice surface was on two levels. The rink closed in August 2009 for a major refurbishment, opening again in July 2011, with the first curling in September of that year. The new ice pad can accommodate six rinks.


Forfar. The Forfar Indoor Sports complex was opened in 1989. Curling is mostly on a dedicated four-sheet rink where the opening stone was played by Royal Club President Roy Sinclair on September 30, 1989. The complex contains an indoor bowling rink, and a skating rink, which can accommodate three curling sheets when required.

East Kilbride. The Olympia Ice Bowl, a multipurpose ice sheet for skating and curling, was in use by October 1989 although the official opening was not until February 1990, when Mr J Allan Denholm, Chairman of East Kilbride Development Corporation, presented two crystal curling stones to the rink for annual competition. Located in a large shopping mall, the ice rink, with five curling sheets, has been refurbished and it re-opened at the end of 2016 as part of a 'leisure hub'.


Dewar's Rinks, Perth. The Dewar's Rinks complex, which incorporates eight curling rinks and eight indoor bowling rinks, was built on the site of the former Dewar's Scotch Whisky blending and bottling plant at Glover Street, Perth. Sir Norman Macfarlane, Chairman of United Distillers, threw the traditional first stone on October 9, 1990.

The Ice House, Cumbernauld. The Ice House at Cumbernauld became available for skating on October 1, 1990, then the official opening of the facility took place on October 15 when David Mitchell, Chairman of Cumbernauld Development Corporation, threw the first stone. The opening bonspiel was won by a Reform Curling Club team of Alistair Govan, Alison Cron, Jim Jamieson and Liz Jamieson. The rink did not have a long life, closing later in the 1990s. (When exactly, anyone?) (Note - this one missed the list when first posted)


Lagoon Centre, Paisley. The Lagoon Leisure Centre was officially opened on June 19, 1992, by Princess Diana. The complex included a multi-purpose ice rink for skating and curling. Six sheets for curling were available on two days each week. The venue hosted the World Women's Curling Championship in 2005, but shortly thereafter the ice rink was found to have a significant floor heave, affecting the building's walls, and the rink closed for good, although the rest of the centre remains open.

Dumfries Ice Bowl. The Ice Bowl complex, when it opened in September, 1992, had an ice arena for skating, ice hockey and curling, as well as a six lane indoor bowling rink. In 2010, the bowling rink was converted into a dedicated curling rink, with six sheets. Both ice surfaces were in use when the World Seniors and World Mixed Doubles Championships were held in Dumfries in 2014.


Moray Leisure Centre, Elgin. The centre, with a 1,125 square metre ice rink, providing five sheets of ice for curling, opened in July 1993.


The Waterfront, Greenock. The Waterfront Leisure Complex opened in 1997, and includes four sheets of curling ice, the ice pad also used by skaters.


Braehead. The curling rink at intu Braehead, attached to the shopping mall, has eight sheets, and was opened in September 1999, Hammy McMillan throwing the first stone. The World Seniors Championships were held in the rink in 2000, alongside the World Championships in the nearby arena. When the European Championships were staged in the arena in 2016, the curling rink hosted the B division. 


Dundee, Kingsway. The Dundee Ice Arena is a multi ice sports facility for curling, skating and ice hockey, with seating for 2,300. It can accommodate six sheets of ice for curling.


Curl Aberdeen. The first stones were thrown in the six sheet curling rink on January 4, 2005 by two young members, Kirsty Lockhart and Stuart Henderson. On October 4, 2005, the rink was visited by Her Majesty the Queen. She unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion. The games in the B Division of the European Championships were held in the rink in 2009, and the World Junior Curling Championships were held there in 2018.


The PEAK, Stirling. The PEAK is an indoor sports and leisure complex containing an ice rink, which can accommodate six sheets of curling. The complex was opened in 2009. The National Curling Academy, with four sheets of ice, opened on July 30, 2017, and is a separate facility attached to The Peak.

In addition to the above, the following rinks have hosted curling for a short period, or because of a special competition: Paisley (East Lane), the Lynx (Aberdeen), the Braehead Arena, the Murrayfield Ice Arena, and the Kelvin Hall (Glasgow), where a rink was constructed to host the 1985 Air Canada Silver Broom World Curling Championship.

So when was 'the Golden Age' where there were the most curling rinks in Scotland? That would be in season 1993-94, when 31 rinks were in operation: Aberdeen (Dyce), Atholl (Pitlochry), Aviemore, Ayr (Limekiln Road), Border (Kelso), Brora, Crystals Arena (Glenrothes), Dumfries Ice Bowl, East Kilbride, Forest Hills (Aberfoyle), Forfar Indoor Sports, Galleon Centre (Kilmarnock), Gogar Park (Edinburgh), Greenacres, Green Hotel (Kinross), Harvies (Stevenston), The Ice House (Cumbernauld), Icelandia (Livingston), Inverness, Kircaldy, Lagoon (Paisley), Lanarkshire (Hamilton), Letham Grange, Lochgoilhead, Magnum (Irvine), Murrayfield (Edinburgh), Dewars, (Perth), South of Scotland (Lockerbie), Stirling (Williamfield), Stranraer, and the Summit Centre (Glasgow).

Since then the following fifteen have closed: Aberdeen (Dyce), Atholl, Aviemore, Brora, Crystals Arena (Glenrothes), Forest Hills, Gogar Park, the Ice House (Cumbernauld), Icelandia (Livingston), Lagoon (Paisley), Letham Grange, Lochgoilhead, Magnum (Irvine), Stirling (Williamfield), and the Summit Centre. But in certain areas new rinks have appeared replacing the losses above, eg Braehead has replaced the Summit, The Peak has replaced Stirling (Williamfield), and Curl Aberdeen has replaced Aberdeen (Dyce) on the list above, and the Moray Leisure Centre (Elgin), Dundee Ice Arena, and the Waterfront (Greenock) have opened. So the number of rinks in Scotland offering curling facilities currently stands at 22 (or 23 if one considers the National Curling Academy as a separate facility from the main rink at The Peak). Find the list, with contact information, here.

It is of course incorrect to say that the change in numbers of curling facilities is the defining marker of any decline in the sport in the recent years. A calculation of number of sheets lost, and their usage per day and per week, would need to be carried out, and compared with what exists today. Comparing curling facilities is not a like for like calculation, as some rinks offer six or more sheets seven days a week, and some of those which have gone only offered curling on certain days of the week.

For more information on all of Scotland's indoor curling rinks, note that they are on the Historical Curling Places map, see here, with information (and photos) on the subsidiary pages.

Please let me know if you find anything on the timeline in error, and if you have any information that you would like to see added about any of the rinks. My email address is on the sidebar.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Blankets from Canada

During the second world war, curling continued in Scotland, although naturally to a limited extent. The Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club continued to be published during the war years, but as a slimmed down publication, no longer including the memberships lists of all the affiliated clubs. In looking at these Annuals to try to understand how much the war affected the sport, I came across examples of the generosity of curlers, not just at home, but from overseas as well.

The Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club was to have been held at Ayr, but, because of the war, it was (again) held within the North British Station Hotel in Edinburgh, on July 30, 1941. David Hutchison of Kinross, one of the Vice-Presidents, was in the chair in the absence of Sir Donald Cameron of Locheil, the President, who was unable to attend. Thirty-seven clubs were represented.

In his opening remarks, David Hutchison made a point of acknowledging a gift of blankets 'which the Canadian Branch sent to us to distribute as we wished among sufferers from the war'. Blankets? I had to find out more about this.

In the Annual for 1941-42 the Royal Club Secretary, Andrew Hamilton, is recorded as saying:

"Presentation of Blankets from Canadian Branch.

It is with great pleasure that I inform you of a most generous gift from our old friends, the members of the Canadian Branch of the Royal Club. During the winter a letter was received by the Secretary of the Royal Club from Mr H R Cockfield of Montreal, a Vice-President of the Royal Club and a member of the Special Committee appointed by the Canadian Branch to raise a fund with which to purchase equipment or materials which could be used to help to alleviate the distress of citizens suffering from the results of air raids. Mr Cockfield stated that his Branch desired that the President of the Royal Club should have the disposal of these gifts.

The President, Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel, KT, approved of Lord Kinnaird, President of the Scottish Branch of the Red Cross Society, being consulted as to the form the gift should take, and he suggested blankets. With that suggestion the President, President-Elect and the Vice-Presidents in this country agreed.

In the course of a few months 1700 blankets of the finest quality have been received from the Canadian Branch, the whole consignment having safely reached Scotland.

The blankets were on 29th April last formally presented to the Scottish Branch of the Red Cross Society by the Earl of Stair, KT, President-Elect of the Royal Club, and were acknowledged by Lord Kinnaird.

The Canadian Branch has been most gratefully thanked for this generous and patriotic gift, and the Council desire particularly to refer to the great services rendered by Lieut-Colonel Vivian Graham, a former Vice-President of the Royal Club, Chairman of the War Subscription Fund Committee, and by Mr Cockfield, to whom the Royal Club also tender their most grateful thanks."

These blankets had arrived not long after the Clydebank Blitz when in the nights of March 13-14 and 14-15, 1941, several industrial centres along the River Clyde were bombed by the Luftwaffe. In proportion to its population, Clydebank suffered the worst. According to an official count in 1942 (see here), the Clydebank raids killed 528 people and seriously injured 617, compared to totals of 1,200 people, and 1,100 in the whole of Clydeside. And of course many were left homeless. The Canadian blankets would certainly have been put to good use by the Scottish Branch of the Red Cross. Although the raids of March 1941 are the best remembered, other places in Scotland suffered too, all recorded in Les Taylor's recent book Luftwaffe over Scotland, see here.

The Annuals in 1942-43, 1943-44, and 1944-45, recorded that the Canadian Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club sent, in total, 6420 blankets, as well as 3000 flannelette sheets. Aside from the cost, there had been problems when wool had become scarce, and finding space on ships crossing the Atlantic was not always easy. The blankets that were sent were of top quality from Ayers Mills of Lachute, Quebec, see here, and from the Kenwood Mills of Arnprior, Ontario, see here.

Most of the blankets sent from Canada were not immediately put to use in Scotland. It is a reflection of the uncertainty of the war years that they were kept in store by the Scottish Branch of the Red Cross Society. At the end of the war, the Society's President, Lord Kinnaird, reported in the 1945-46 Annual, "May I just say how grateful we are to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for the blankets? We kept some in reserve to the end of the war in case of bombing accidents, and now some have gone up to Norway. 4000 of those you have given have been despatched to Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France to help these countries."

The Annual Report of the Executive Committee of the Canadian Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for the season 1945-46 records the following, "During the year we have received many letters of appreciation from people in Great Britain, Holland and France, for the gifts of blankets they have received from us. Some of these letters are very touching and make us feel that what we have done has been a great comfort to the war sufferers."

I wonder if any of these blankets have survived. I suspect this is unlikely. Were they colourful? Or just functional?

It was not only blankets that came across from Canada. There were many donations of cash from individuals and clubs. I noticed something else. In 1943, the Royal Club Secretary Andrew Hamilton, after recording the gift of blankets and sheets, noted, "In addition, the Ladies' Curling Association of the Canadian Branch are busy packing half a ton of hard boiled, clear candies in 1/2 lb cellophane bags. These have been shipped to the Women's Voluntary Service for distribution among the children of Britain. The Royal Club acknowledge with high appreciation this kindly action."

Sweets were a special delicacy during the war years, and for several years thereafter. General rationing started on January 8, 1940, just a few months after war broke out. Sweet and chocolate rationing started on July 26, 1942, only finishing in February 1953.  WW2 was over when I was born, but, as a wee boy in the 1950s, I can remember rationing, and receiving parcels from family in North America. Eating sweets was a rare occurrence, but very much enjoyed when the opportunity arose!

This was brought to mind when I came across something in the 1952-53 Annual. This is from the President's address, "At our last annual meeting a reference was made to a consignment of sweets provided by the Ladies' Curling Association, Canada, with the suggestion that they be distributed amongst the poorer children of Scotland. I am very happy to state that these sweets have now been distributed, and I have been informed by our Secretary here today that he has just received another cheque for the same purpose from the Canadian Ladies' Curling Association. (Hear, Hear and Applause.) The donations are much appreciated by the Royal Club."

Blankets and sweeties - curling connections with Canada that should not be forgotten! It's a small uplifting story of a time which we now remember for the horrors and atrocities of WW2. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Yet More Royal Connections

I have written recently about how the Royal Caledonian Curling Club gained its Royal Patronage here, and about other Royal connections during Victorian times, here.

One of the most surprising locations where curling was played south of the border is Buckingham Palace. Yes, the Historical Curling Places website has tantalising evidence from 1895 that the Prince of Wales played curling on the pond at the palace, see here. This is certainly possible as the winter of 1895 was a severe one. It would be great to find out more.

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, Edward VII succeeded to the throne. As Prince of Wales he had been the Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Patron since 1861, so it was a straightforward matter that he continue to hold that office when he became King.

The Annual for 1901-02 noted that this was the first time 'that the Patron of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club has actually been found seated on the throne, and it has in these unique circumstances seemed appropriate to give a portrait of His Majesty as a frontispiece to the Annual'. That's the image, above.

When Edward died in 1910, George V became King, and he also became the Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Patron.

The Royal Club's Annual each year simply noted that the Patron was 'HM the King', and one has to read further at times of succession to clarify which monarch is being referred to. In 1936, for example, Edward VIII was confirmed as Patron, even though he abdicated before the year ended.

George VI became the Club's next Patron. He died in 1952, and that's when Queen Elizabeth became our Patron.

This is the preface from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1952-53. This Annual contains the following letter to Lord John Hope, Royal Club President, from the Keeper of the Privy Purse, Ulich Alexander.

"Dear Sir,
I am commanded by The Queen to inform you that Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to grant Her Patronage to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.
It will be in order for the words 'Patron—Her Majesty the Queen' to appear in future under the name of your Club on all correspondence.
Yours truly,
Ulich Alexander,
Keeper of the Privy Purse."

At the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Club each year, a short message from the Queen is usually read out, and all the members present stand for this.

In 1964, something rather unusual happened, in that HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, became President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Above is part of a page from the Royal Club Annual for 1964-65. Her Majesty the Queen was Patron, and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was President!

The Annual for 1963-64 records the background to it all in Major Cameron's speech at the AGM, "Now, we come to the election of the President-Elect. When Gilbert (McClung) and I were discussing this some time ago we felt that it would be your unanimous wish that we should ask His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh, if he would consider becoming our President. I wrote him a personal letter and he replied that he would be very pleased to become President in the year following my presidency. The Duke of Edinburgh, as you all know, is a great sportsman himself. He takes great interest in anything to do with sport. He is, as you know, President of the National Playing Fields Association. He has taken a great deal of interest in the Olympic Games and the Empire Games, and I do not think there is any shadow of doubt that he will show the same enthusiasm for curling as he has shown in all the other forms of sport that he is interested in. I hope we may see him partaking in the Grand Match. I gather that he is an Honorary Member of a Curling Club in Canada. As yet, his name does not appear in the Annual, and I hope that any club who considers that they have the highest priority for his membership will rake him in and get his 4/-! For myself, I am extremely honoured that Prince Philip should follow me as President and I have great pleasure in nominating him as President-Elect. (Loud Applause.)"

Falkirk Ice Rink was the venue for the Annual Meeting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club on July 22, 1964. The Duke of Edinburgh piloted his own helicopter to the meeting, and was met by Major Allan Cameron, the outgoing President.

Major Allan Cameron with Prince Philip.

Some 1600 curlers, and members of the press, awaited Prince Philip inside the Falkirk Ice Rink.

And if you look very closely, amongst those on the main floor are four teenagers wearing dark coloured blazers.

Yes, that's Bill Horton, David Horton, Robert Cowan and Martin Bryden in the middle of this pic. That season we had won the TB Murray Trophy, for young curlers of 25 years and under. Although the trophy had already been presented to us by Chuck Hay at Perth a couple of months earlier, we were invited to Falkirk to receive the trophy again from the hands of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Here's Bill Horton (skip) on the platform with Prince Philip. His brother David is behind, and Martin and I are awaiting our turn out of sight! (Actually, the large TB Murray Trophy is obscured too, by the Grand Match Trophy, but it is there!)

It was the proudest day of my life, at just sixteen years old!

The Duke of Edinburgh's year as President was a real public relations coup for the Royal Club. As far as I know he never took to the ice, although he did say in his speech, "I don't see why there shouldn't be non-playing Presidents - and I suppose I could always do something about the non-playing part!"

At the lunch after the meeting, attended by the Council, Past-Presidents, and overseas personalities, Major Allan Cameron 'presented the Duke of Edinburgh with a beautiful pair of Kay's red hone stones, suitably inscribed'. I wonder where these are now?

Queen Elizabeth has twice been associated with Aberdeen's curling rinks.

On October 18, 1983, this is HM Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Dr Norman Cooper, Chairman of the Board, at the official opening of the new Aberdeen rink, at Stoneywood Road, Dyce. She is about to speak to Anne Parker, North East Province President, with members of Grampian Ladies CC behind.

Her Majesty seems to be enjoying a joke with Norman Cooper and Philip Dawson, a Past-President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

Jane Gray, a local young curler, presented Her Majesty with a glass curling stone.

Her Majesty in conversation with Royal Club Past-President Alan Johnston.

Springing forward twenty-two years to 2005, Her Majesty was again back in Aberdeen, on October 4, visiting the new Curl Aberdeen!

Here she is, again talking to Alan Johnston. She presented him with a certificate as an Honorary Member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

Escorted by George Esson, Curl Aberdeen's first chairman, Her Majesty met Carolyn Morris and her team, then the World Senior Champions.

With rink manager Tom Brewster, Her Majesty received an explanation about pebbling from George! Graham Smith is doing the work.

Finally, here's another member of the Royal Family, at the Braehead Rink in 2005.

Angie Malone presents Anne, Princess Royal, with a posy of flowers when she visited the World Wheelchair Curling Championship at Braehead in January 2005. Kirsty Letton, the event chairman, is on the right.

Have I missed any other Royal connections?

The image of Edward VII is from the 1901-02 Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The photo of Princess Anne, and of the Queen at Curl Aberdeen are © Bob Cowan. Those from the opening of the Aberdeen Rink in Dyce were taken by Studio Morgan of Aberdeen for Robin Welsh. Those of the Duke of Edinburgh at Falkirk are by various news photographers, for Robin Welsh, Editor of the Scottish Curler, now in my archive.

More Royal Connections

Prince Albert died in December 1861, just 42 years old. There's no doubt that his marriage to Queen Victoria was a loving one. I was thrilled to discover recently that Queen Victoria had given him a gift of an inkstand, in the form of a curling stone, in 1860, not long before his death. That's it above, reproduced from its page in the Royal Collection online here. It is an unusual item, perhaps unique and no doubt specially made. It's described as, "An inkwell of grey and pink granite, in the form of a curling stone with a silver handle and silver plate engraved with date; upper section swivels to reveal inkwell. Provenance: Given to the Prince Consort by Queen Victoria in 1860."

Other than the date of the gift, and the mention of Balmoral on the silver plate, there's nothing to indicate who made it, or the reason for the gift being made at the time. Apparently it's currently in Prince Consort's Dressing Room and Writing Room, in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

Albert had been Patron of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club since 1842, see here. Queen Victoria's gift shows that the sport was not something that had been forgotten about, and with their connections to Balmoral, it seems to provide just another reminder of their fondness for all things Scottish.

The Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, held within the Trades Hall, Glasgow, on Friday, July 25, 1862, was the first formal meeting of the Club since their Patron's death. James Ogilvy Dalgleish moved that "before proceeding to any business, the Meeting enter upon the Minutes, the Royal Club's most respectful and deep sympathy with Her Most Gracious Majesty, the Queen, on the very sad bereavement she has suffered by the death of His Royal Highness, the Prince Consort, and the deep sense of the great loss which the Royal Club has sustained by the death of its Royal Patron." This motion was unanimously and 'very cordially' agreed to.

It transpired that the Club's President, the Earl of Mansfield had already been working 'behind the scenes' to secure another Royal Patron. In July, 1862, Alex Cassels, Secretary of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, had written to Lord Mansfield requesting him to approach His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and "That by the sad event which befell the nation in the death of the illustrious Prince, the Royal Club lost its Patron, and it would now most humbly solicit His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to allow himself to be proposed as Patron of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Further, that by the Laws of the Royal Club, its only stated Annual General Meeting is held on the 25th of July and at the Meeting to be held on 25th inst., the vacancy in the Patronage will be recorded on the Minutes, in all due and respectful terms, and that if His Royal Highness graciously condescends to signify his willingness to become Patron of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, a motion to have His Royal Highness elected Patron will be made and adopted by the General Meeting."

In 1842 the Royal Club had less than 100 affiliated Clubs, but by 1861 it had nearly 400 in its membership.

A reply was received from Colonel Baddulph, "Osborne, July 21, 1862. My dear Lord, I am commanded to acquaint you, and to request you to signify to the Members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, that HRH the Prince of Wales will with great pleasure accept the office of Patron, according to the desire of the Members, as expressed in your letter."

Needless to say, all this was warmly accepted by the representative members present on July 25.

A further motion was made, "that the Club present His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales with a pair of Curling Stones, and that it should be remitted to the Secretary, with full power to provide and get the same presented to His Royal Highness, the Patron, in such way and manner as the Secretary shall ascertain to be most appropriate."

In 2009, David Smith wrote about the stones that were presented to the new Patron, see here.

The Scotsman of February 7, 1863, had the following article:

"The Prince of Wales and the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. At the Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the R C Curling Club, held in Glasgow last July, it was announced that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had signified, through the Earl of Mansfield, his acceptance of the office of Patron of the Club, formerly held by his illustrious and lamented father the Prince-Consort. At the same meeting it was resolved to present His Royal Highness with a pair of curling stones, and it was remitted to the Secretary, Mr Cassels, to take steps accordingly. The stones will be forwarded in a few days, and are at present lying at the shop of Messrs Mackay, Cunningham, and Co, goldsmiths to the Queen, Princes’ Street. They are made of green serpentine, found near Crieff, Perthshire, and generally known to curlers by the name of Muthill stone. The handles, the wood of which is of oak from Linlithgow Palace, are richly mounted in silver. The plates which screw on to the stones are elaborately chased with thistles, forming shields in the centres which bear the following inscription, 'Presented by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club to HRH the Prince of Wales, Patron, 1863'. The handles are wreathed with thistles, engraved, and the mountings on each end of the wooden part have a wreath of oak-leaves and acorns executed in the same style. They have been beautifully designed and executed by Mackay, Cunningham, and Co."

This is the image of the Prince of Wales's stones which appeared in the Illustrated London News on April 18, 1863. Comparing them to the stones that were presented to his father, one can see that curling stone design had moved on apace in just twenty years. David Smith discussed what they might have cost here. David found them at Balmoral. I assume that is where they are still.

In January 1876, it was widely reported that Queen Victoria had ordered that curling should not be played on the estate at Balmoral. It is rather odd to read the following in newspapers under the byline of an anonymous 'correspondent', "Royal Prohibition. The Balmoral Curling Club which only played its maiden game last winter, has cased to exist, orders having been sent to all the members of the club on the Royal estates to discontinue the game. Her Majesty is understood to have said that she did not see much amusement in the game of curling, but that she was afraid it tended to encourage a love for the national liquor."

Of course, the press loved this and the gist of this article was reported in papers throughout the country, and you can find it in the pages of the Pall Mall Gazette (above), the Bury and Norwich Post, the Cambridge Independent, the Western Morning News, the Lancaster Gazette, the Berkshire Chronicle and many others.

Not all saw the story to be true. The Inverness Courier's Editor wrote, somewhat ironically, "The London papers are much exercised with a paragraph to the effect that her Majesty has forbidden curling at Balmoral, because the 'roaring game' is devoid of amusement, and conduces to drinking. Surely the story is a canard. If ever there was game that truly delighted people with excitement, and kindled the true glow of pleasure, it is certainly curling. As for the drinking part, I suppose the Balmoral folks, like Scotch folks generally, can get on with this even without the curling. I am inclined to think, indeed, that frozen up with nothing to do, the whisky has better chance in the farmhouse or bothy than on the rink."

"Surely the story is a canard!" In other words, the story might well be 'fake news', as we might say these days.

Some English papers also thought the story to be false. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph had doubts and we can find these in the edition of January 25, "Surely some enemy hath said this. The Queen cannot have ordered everybody on her Highland estates to cease from curling! It would be so ungracious, so churlish, so dour an act that one refuses to credit the rumour. Curling—the sport upon which Scotchmen are keenest! As well put down the beef and greens which are the traditional fare of curlers. What! Put down that honest, manly game - involving no gambling, no cheating, no sharp practices, no cruelty to animals - a healthy, invigorating, innocent amusement, which unites all classes, and has a zest for all. Why, the Presbyterian ministers enjoy the game almost a man, and see only good in it. You remember the story of the worthy and Rev Curler who, before dismissing his parishioners with the blessing, thus delivered himself from the pulpit, 'My brethren, there is no more harm in saying it than thinking it. If the frost holds, I'll be on the ice tomorrow morning at nine'. And then for the Queen to prohibit it to her tenants and servants because she did not see much amusement in the game and feared that it 'encouraged a love for malt liquor'! What hearty out-door game may not be subjected to the same dreadful impeachment? But no! The story is not credible."

What a wonderful supportive description of our sport of curling to appear in this English newspaper!

In February 1876, damage limitation was in place. Many newspapers reprinted the text of a letter sent by Lord Kinnaird to Sir John Ogilvy, "CURLING AT BALMORAL, Lord Kinnard has sent the following letter to Sir John Ogilvy, 'My dear Ogilvy,—You and all curlers will, I am sure, be glad to hear that the statement in the public papers regarding her Majesty's opinion of curling is entirely without foundation. I felt sure from the first that this was the case, but had not the authority till now to authenticate the statement,— Yours truly, KINNAIRD."

Lord Kinnaird was Lord Lieutenant of Perthshire from 1866 to 1878. Sir John Ogilvy had been a Scottish Liberal Party politician in Dundee. He was Patron of the Dundee Curling Club in 1876.

This simple rebuttal of the story was apparently sent directly to various newspapers, as the above shows.

There was no mention of the issue in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1876-77.

However, if one subscribes to the proverb 'no smoke without fire', perhaps there was something about the establishment of a local curling club that had upset the Queen, given that she mourned Albert's loss for many years, especially at Balmoral. I can find no record of curling at Balmoral until after Queen Victoria's death. It was in 1904 when the Balmoral Curling Club became affiliated to the Royal Club, having been instituted in the same year, with HM the King (Edward VII), as its Patron.

I have one more image which links Queen Victoria to our sport of curling. This again I have reproduced from the Royal Collection online, here. It is described as 'A gold chain with charms in the form of a croquet mallet, agate curling stone, arabic coin and medallion commemorating the recovery of the Prince of Wales." Its provenance is given as 'Chain always worn by Queen Victoria', and is dated c1872.

The Prince of Wales became very ill with an infectious disease in 1872, when he was 31. He fortunately survived, or the country would have lost its next King, and the Royal Caledonian Curling Club its Patron. But he did recover. I just think it is very touching that Queen Victoria wore a chain with a small reminder of the sport of curling from that date on!

'How the Royal Caledonian Curling Club got its name' is here. Even more Royal connections to come.

Images are as credited in the text. The British Newspaper Archive continues to be a wonderful research source.

Monday, May 28, 2018

How the Royal Caledonian Curling Club got its name

Queen Victoria was just eighteen years old on her accession to the throne on June 20, 1837. She married Prince Albert, of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in 1840. The young couple first visited Scotland in 1842, leaving behind their two children, Princess Victoria and Prince Albert Edward. They travelled by sea to Edinburgh, arriving at Granton on HMY The Royal George (here) on September 1. Their visit attracted huge attention, and was reported in great detail in newspapers of the time. A few days later the couple crossed the Forth and began a trip north via Kinross and Perth, with thousands lining the route. At Perth on September 6 they received the keys of the city from the Lord Provost. The correspondent of the Morning Post on September 9, 1842 writes, "Her Majesty was most enthusiastically received all through her progress in the fair city of Perth, and she appeared much gratified with the enthusiasm of her subjects. The crowd was incalculable; the streets were crammed with human beings, and all were eager to express their love and loyalty in their best fashion."

The Royal party spent the night of Tuesday, September 6 at Scone Palace. It was at Scone where the Earl of Mansfield is said to have demonstrated the sport of curling to the Royal couple, in the Long Gallery, and Royal patronage was duly sought and given. Nothing about this curling demonstration appears in newspapers, as far as I have been able to find. So what is the evidence?

Lord Mansfield had been elected President of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club at the 'Meeting of Representatives of Clubs' held within the Waterloo Hotel, on Tuesday, July 26, 1842. The Grand Club had been formed just a few years before, in 1838.

On August 31, 1842, a 'Special Meeting' of the Club was held in Edinburgh, to discuss the upcoming visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Scotland. In the absence of the Lord Mansfield, William Gibson-Craig, Esq, younger of Riccarton, MP, the President-Elect of the Grand Club, was in the chair. The minutes of this meeting note that it was 'for the purpose of expressing to her most gracious Majesty the Queen, and his Royal Highness Prince Albert, their sincere congratulations on the auspicious event of their visit to Scotland'.

The minutes as printed in the Annual for 1842-43 state, "The opinion of the Meeting was in heartfelt and joyous accordance with the sentiments of loyalty and attachment entertained by all classes of her Majesty's subjects throughout this her ancient kingdom. The Meeting resolved, that it would be a distinguished favour if his Royal Highness Prince Albert would honour them by becoming Patron of the Club. They accordingly instructed the Secretary to transmit a copy of this Minute to the President, the Right Honourable the Earl of Mansfield, with a request that his Lordship would use his influence, during the Royal visit, to procure for them the honour which they were so desirous to obtain."

The Secretary, George Ritchie, was instructed to write a letter to Lord Mansfield.

Ritchie writes to Lord Mansfield, on the same day as the 'special meeting', with these words, "My Lord, I am instructed by a Meeting of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, held here this day, to transmit to your Lordship, as President, a Pair of Curling Stones, and a copy of the Curling Annual for 1842, which they have resolved to present to his Royal Highness Prince Albert, and to request that your Lordship will do them the very great favour to present them, in name of the Club, to his Royal Highness, during his visit to the Palace of Scone. The Meeting are desirous to testify to his Royal Highness the respect and attachment felt towards him by the Curlers of Scotland, and know of no more appropriate mode of expressing their esteem, than by thus enabling his Royal Highness to practise their ancient national game. The Meeting consider themselves peculiarly fortunate in having as their President a Nobleman whose rank and character will guarantee the respectability of the Association, while his zeal and enthusiasm as a Curler cannot fail to recommend it to the favourable notice of his Royal Highness."

The Earl of Mansfield was indeed a keen curler. He was President of the Scone and Perth Curling Club, which was one of the first to join the Grand Caledonian Curling Club in 1838. 

It is interesting to speculate whether those attending the 'special meeting' knew that the Royal couple would be staying overnight at Scone, but they knew that Lord Mansfield would have access to them during their visit to Scotland. As the letter already mentions the stones that were to be presented to Prince Albert, it would seem that the decision to make such a presentation had been made well before the August 31 'special meeting'.

In a letter to the Secretary on September 19, Lord Mansfield replies officially that he had indeed presented the stones to Prince Albert, "I beg leave to inform you that, agreeably to the request of the Grand Caledonian Club, I had the honour of presenting to his Royal Highness the Prince Albert the Pair of Curling Stones which were confided to my care, and which his Royal Highness was graciously pleased to accept. I have it in command from his Royal Highness to express to the Club his Royal Highness' gratification at this mark of their respectful attention to him; and I have also to inform you that his Royal Highness has been so kind as to consent to become the Patron of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club. I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient humble Servant,

This is the title page of the 1842-43 Annual, published in the autumn of 1842, which shows that the Grand Caledonian Curling Club now had a royal patron in Prince Albert.

The 1842-43 Annual also contains the following account of the presentation of the stones, and the demonstration of curling which followed. Just who wrote this is a matter of conjecture, but it is the information presented therein that has become the accepted account of what happened at Scone Palace.

"An Account of the interesting ceremony of the Presentation of the Curling Stones to PRINCE ALBERT.

ON Wednesday, the 7th September, the Earl of Mansfield, President of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, and as the Representative of the Society, in presence of the Queen, her Majesty's Ministers, and the guests assembled in the Palace of Scone, presented to his Royal Highness Prince Albert a splendid pair of Curling Stones, made of the finest Ailsa Craig granite, most beautifully finished and ornamented, the handles being formed of silver, and bearing an appropriate inscription. The Stones were most graciously accepted by the Prince, who expressed a determination to put them, at a fitting time, to a practical test, and gave directions for their immediate transmission to Windsor.

The noble Earl replied, that he hoped he might enjoy an early opportunity of initiating his Royal Highness into all the mysteries of the 'rink'. Her Majesty inquired particularly respecting the game of Curling, and, with a view to illustrate the explanations that were given to her Majesty by Lord Mansfield, the polished oaken floor of the room was summarily converted into 'a rink', and the Stones were sent 'roaring' along its smooth and even surface.

And we have reason to know that her Majesty herself 'tried her hand' at throwing the Stones, although they proved to be too heavy for her delicate arm. Both her Majesty and the Prince expressed surprise when informed as to the usual length of a 'rink', and appeared to imagine that it must require a very great degree of strength to propel the stones to such a distance.

The Noble Lord, also, at the request of the Club, solicited his Royal Highness to honour the Club by becoming its Patron, to which request the Prince, with ready condescension, consented. His Royal Highness is therefore now Patron of this great association of Curlers, who have done so much to revive and extend one of the most ancient and delightful games that belong to Scotland; and we may hope that by the influence and example of his Royal Highness the 'roaring game' will also speedily become a fashionable and popular pastime on the other side of the Tweed."

It is not my intention to belittle this account of what happened at Scone Palace, but, having tried to slide a curling stone over a polished wooden floor, my experiences tell me that this is in fact very difficult to do, and the stones do not travel far. So I suspect the description above contains some exaggeration.

Unfortunately, Queen Victoria's own journals (here) say nothing about the curling demonstration. She records dining at Scone in the evening of Tuesday, September 6, "The dinner lasted very long. Lord Mansfield sat next to me. The Drawingroom is a pretty room, and so is the Gallery, only, too narrow. I was very glad to get to bed." (Not surprising, it had been a long day.) The following morning she records, "Slept very well, and breakfasted at 9, after which we walked out, and saw the mound on which the ancient Scottish Kings were always crowned ..." The party left Scone at 11.00, bound for Taymouth Castle.

But there's not a word about the presentation of curling stones to Prince Albert, nor that she herself tried to throw a stone, and found it too heavy.

When did the presentation of the stones take place, and when was the demonstration? I had always assumed that this must have been on the evening of Tuesday, September 6, perhaps after the dinner. But the account of the presentation does not confirm this. It is dated Wednesday, September 7, and if this is correct, then the presentation of the stones, and the demonstration, must have taken place in the morning, perhaps after breakfast and before the Royal party left Scone Palace. 

Here is one of the stones that were presented to Prince Albert.

The silver handles are engraved, "Presented to His Royal Highness Prince Albert. By the Grand Caledonian Curling Club on the occasion of His Royal Highness' First Visit to Scotland. Edinburgh, 1st. Septr. 1842."

The stones are now in the Royal Collection at Frogmore House and can be seen online here. They are single-soled stones, the style of stone in use at the time, before the general introduction of the goose-neck handle with a centred pin, and even later, reversible stones. It is interesting to learn that they are made from Ailsa Craig granite. Stones made of similar rock are recorded being sent to Canada as early as 1829, according to Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia, which was published in 1830. And John Cairnie, in his Essay on Curling, and Artificial Pond Making, from 1833, includes an image of his yacht 'coming to her moorings with a few selected pieces of granite for curling sport, taken from the shore of Ailsa Craig'.

It does look as if the Prince's stones were of Common (Green) Ailsa, rather than of Blue Hone, but it is difficult to say much about them, given the photographs that are available. I wonder who made them? David Smith believed that the Prince's stones were indeed played with, see his 2011 article here.

So, the Grand Caledonian Curling Club now had a Royal Patron, but it had not yet added the 'Royal' to its name.

A special committee was appointed following the Annual Meeting in July, 1843, to prepare a petition to the Queen. A brief minute of this meeting appears in the Annual for 1843-44.

This reads, "At a Meeting of the Committee appointed by the last General Meeting of the Grand Club to prepare a Petition to the Queen, held on the 31st July, 1843, in 8, North St. David Street, Edinburgh; Present—William Gibson-Graig, Esq MP President, in the Chair; and Dr John Renton. Messrs Alexander Cassels, George Ferguson, and George Ritchie.

The Meeting unanimously agreed upon the Petition, a copy of which follows, and requested the Secretary to write Lord Mansfield that Mr Craig, the President, had that day transmitted the same to Sir George Clerk for presentation, in the event of his Lordship having left London."

Here is how the petition was worded:


Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the President, President-Elect, Vice-Presidents, Office-Bearers, and Members of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, beg leave with all humility to approach your Majesty, and to submit to your Majesty the following Petition, which humbly sheweth:

That the Grand Caledonian Curling Club was instituted for the purpose of promoting the ancient and peculiarly national Scottish Game of Curling, which in its character is at once innocent, healthful, and moral, and in which all ranks and orders of your Majesty's subjects keenly participate:

That the Grand Caledonian Curling Club is the General Association of the District Curling Clubs of Scotland, about one hundred and twenty of which, comprising above five thousand Members, are now affiliated with it:

That the Grand Caledonian Curling Club publishes an Annual of all its proceedings, a copy of which is herewith humbly submitted to your Majesty:

That recently the Grand Caledonian Curling Club received the distinguished honour of his Royal Highness Prince Albert becoming its Patron, and now it begs leave to approach your Majesty, and to solicit your Majesty's Royal sanction that the Grand Caledonian Curling Club may henceforth be allowed to assume the designation of The Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club.

May it therefore please your most gracious Majesty to grant the humble request of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, and your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

Signed in name and by authority of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, this 31st day of July, 1843. WILLIAM GIBSON-CRAIG, President.

A few days later the President received this letter:

"WHITEHALL, August 12, 1843.

Sir—I am directed by Secretary Sir James Graham to inform you, that he has laid before the Queen the Petition of the 'Grand Caledonian Curling Club', praying that they may be permitted to assume the designation of 'The Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club'.

And I am to acquaint you that her Majesty has been graciously pleased to grant the prayer of the Petition.—I have the honour to be, etc.

So, "Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to grant the prayer of the Petition!" Curling's governing body was to have a Royal patron and a Royal title!

Yet another special meeting of the Grand Club was convened, and the text of a response was agreed to, and the following letter was sent to Sir James Graham by the President.

"Sir—I have laid before a Special Meeting of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, held this day, your letter of 12th August, intimating that her Majesty had been graciously pleased to permit that it be henceforth designated 'The Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club' and l am desired by the meeting to request you to convey to her Majesty their grateful sense of the distinguished honour conferred upon their association."

Curling's governing body was now the 'Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club'. The 'Grand' was soon felt to be superfluous, and in following year, the Annual had this brief minute, "At the Annual General Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, held within the Royal Exchange Coffee-house, Edinburgh, 25th July, 1844, the Secretary read a letter from Mr Gibson-Craig regarding the proposed change in the designation of the Club, - and thereupon the motion by the Secretary, 'That the Designation of The Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club shall, from and after 25th July 1844, be THE ROYAL CALEDONIAN CURLING CLUB,' was unanimously carried."

This from the Annual for 1844-45.

More on Royal connections to follow in a future article.

The images above are taken from the digitised Annuals as indicated.  The photograph of one of the Prince’s stones is by courtesy of The Royal Collection, copyright 2003, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The trains to the loch

Back in 2012, Andrew Wood, who knew of my interest both in curling and railways, contacted me with the information that volunteers at the Keith and Dufftown heritage railway had uncovered the remains of a 'curlers' platform' on the line, near to Loch Park. The volunteers had been clearing vegetation lineside and uncovered the remains. My interest was immediately aroused, as I had never considered such places before, where a temporary halt was made on a railway line near to a curling venue.

The importance of railway travel generally to curling in the nineteenth century cannot be overestimated. Travelling to meet the curlers of another club, for example to play for a district medal awarded by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, was only possible because of the railways. It was either that or travelling great distances by horse-drawn coach. Railway stations covered the country, and rail travel took curlers close to where they wished to play.

Often there was a station near to where the curlers wanted to play. But there were special places too. For example Carsebreck, where many Grand Matches were played, had its very own railway station, and Carsebreck was chosen to be the Royal Club's pond because of the closeness of a railway line, see here.

Here's the Royal Club station in 1929, with curlers awaiting transport home after a Grand Match. The up and down main lines are in the middle of the picture, and there are two loops alongside substantial platforms. Although only one is shown I am assuming that the photographer is on the other where different images seem to show that there was a small building. The building in the distance is the Royal Club's headquarters hut, with the loch behind.

But there were other bonspiels on outside ice which were also served by the railway. These may not have been as large as a Grand Match, but they often involved hundreds of curlers. There were the International Matches. The first at Talkin Tarn, near Brampton, saw many hundreds of curlers arrive at Brampton Station, and it transpired that the arrangements for the transport of stones from the station to the lakeside relied on carts being pulled by horses, about which we might know little had it not been for the demise of the station master's horse, which was reported in newspapers of the time (the story is in this article).

Other International Matches and the Waterloo Cup bonspiels in the early 1900s required the construction of a special platform alongside the Castle Loch in Lochmaben. I have walked part of the old railway line and have a good idea where this platform might have been, but no trace of it remains as far as I can see, and the railway that ran from Lockerbie to Lochmaben is long gone.

There was a curlers' platform on the Great Northern Railway line at the Loch of Aboyne, and the Aberdeen Free Press advertised a special train from Aberdeen to the loch on February 9, 1891, for a bonspiel the following day between curlers from the north and south of the River Don.

The following year, the same bonspiel was held at Pitfour, the Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser of Tuesday, January 26, 1892, recording, "A special train was run from Aberdeen, conveying the Deeside and north curlers, and arriving at a special platform erected by the Pitfour Club at Cartlehaugh, exactly opposite the lake." The local curlers had constructed at platform at Cartlehaugh in 1888, for a match that never took place owing to a thaw, but it is good to see that their efforts were rewarded some years later.

The RAILSCOT website suggests that there was a 'curler's platform' beside Loch Leven (see here). This makes great sense, as the railway runs close to the loch just south of Kinross. Initially I could find no evidence of this ever being used, nor could I find any evidence of exactly where it might have been.

Local clubs curled on the loch, and there is lots of evidence for this. Large bonspiels were held too, these relying on the railway to bring in competitors and their stones.

An inter-county bonspiel that matched up teams from Perthshire against those from Fife and Kinross was held on Loch Leven in 1912. The Dundee Courier of February 7, 1912, contains a report of the match, 82 teams representing each side. There was no mention of how the curlers travelled to the match. Apparently the ice conditions weren't the best. The report states, "No sooner had play started than snow began, and, the weather freshening, the ice became druggy, and those with dull, 'sooking' stones could not get near the parish. Something like a record was established Mr Thomas Buchanan, of Dunkeld No 2 (D) rink, defeating Mr John Wallace, Lundin Links, by 51 shots to 0. Mr Wallace and his men were hopelessly at sea among the slush, and none them could get their stones in the inner circles." That decisive victory no doubt contributed to Perthshire winning by 305 shots!

Early in 1929, the match had been played indoors at Edinburgh Ice Rink, Haymarket, over a number of days, there having been insufficient ice on Loch Leven to hold the bonspiel on natural ice. On November 30, 1929, the Scotsman newspaper reported that the draw for this inter-county match had again been made.

The bonspiel did go ahead in February 20, 1930. Here's a few words from the Dundee Evening Telegraph on the evening of the match. "Loch Leven was in her winter garb, and followers of the roaring game entered with vigour into the popular winter pastime. The trek to the loch began in the early forenoon, and the players arrived by bus, motor car, motor cycle, and special train. They came bedecked gaily-coloured berets, glengarries, balmorals and kilts, and as they trekked merrily over the ice to their respective rinks, greetings and good humoured banter were exchanged. Fully ninety rinks were engaged and the players numbered fully 800."

I was especially interested in the mention of how the curlers got to the match. No, not the mention of getting there by motor cycle, although just how a pair of curling stones could be accommodated on a bike deserves some thought, but the mention of 'special train'!

Recently, a very rare item of curling 'paper ephemera' came up for auction. I may have been the only bidder who really appreciated its significance, and as luck would have it, I won the auction.

The document is just three pages, and is a private communication issued from the Superintendent's Office of the London and North Eastern Railway (Southern Scottish Area). It provides the details of the railway's arrangements for the upcoming inter-county match two days ahead. One special would run from Elie in Fife, bringing that county's curlers to Loch Leven. One special would run from Dundee, and another from Perth, bringing curlers from the north. Additional capacity would be available on connecting lines. For example, a third class carriage and a 'brake compo' was to be attached at Stirling to a train from Glasgow.

A spare engine and guard was to be provided at Kinross Junction from 10.00 to work 'as required'.

And of course, the leaflet contained details of the trains returning from the loch.

The above shows the special from Fife, and return. Departure was from Elie, at 8.30 am. The left column shows the number of curlers expected at each station. The train's arrival point on the loch is shown as No 3 Level Crossing. The curling stones were to be carried on two 'trucks' attached to this train, and the document states that 'low-sided' or 'fish trucks' should be used for conveying the curling stones.

The arrival and departure point for the trains coming from the north were at a different place from that of the train from Fife. This was to facilitate handling of curling stones, particularly on departure from the loch. The care of curling stones was important. An assistant guard was to be provided on each special train 'to assist with the loading and unloading of the Curling Stones'!

There was no extra cost to each curler for transporting their pair of stones. The cost of the rail travel was discounted too, as "Curlers and Spectators will be conveyed to Loch Leven and back at a Single Journey Fare (plus fractional parts of a penny, minimum 2s, First Class, and 1s Third Class)" on the special trains. And if, like me, you happened to wonder if there were special tickets, the document states that "The Station-masters at the various stations will issue 'Pleasure Party' or 'Blank Card' return tickets to Loch Leven."

The LNER document was signed by C H Stemp, Superintendent. He was Major Charles Hubert Stemp CBE, who was to retire five years later after a railway career of more than 50 years. I suspect that all his experience was needed when, just after his instructions had been issued to his staff for dealing with everything involved in the rail transport of the bonspiel, nature played a wild card. The ice near the railway line was found not to be strong enough, and the rinks for the bonspiel were prepared in the vicinity of the Factor's Pier, further to the north.

The Dundee Courier reported on the day of the match, "The grand match between Perthshire and Fife and Kinross-shire is usually played at a point in the vicinity of the railway, but it is deemed advisable to transfer the venue because the ice at that point is none too secure. The change will cause much inconvenience, because at the original venue the curlers were able to remove their paraphernalia from the train immediately adjoining the loch. Today, however, arrangements have been made for motor lorries being placed at the disposal of the competitors, and they will be conveyed from Kinross Junction the Factors Pier in vehicles."

So, the travel hub for the special trains was now Kinross Junction Station (to the west of Kinross where the M90 exit for the town now is). One wonders how arrangements there worked out. Interesting too, that motorised transport was to play a part in the arrangements for this big bonspiel, already anticipating the decline of the railway in transporting curlers around the country.

As it turned out, the competition went ahead and was well reported. The Dundee Courier on Friday, February 21, even had a photo of play on the Loch, above, captioned, "CURLERS INVADE ANGLERS' HAUNT - Loch Leven, whereon in season anglers move 'with bated breath and whispering humbleness', was yesterday invaded by devotees of the roarin' game from Perthshire, Fife, and Kinross for the inter-county bonspiel, played for the first time since 1912. A view of some of the rinks during play."

This photo was in the Dundee Evening Telegraph and was captioned, "A general view on the ice on Loch Leven yesterday during the bonspiel between curlers Perthshire, Fifeshire and Kinross-shire, which Perthshire won by 72 shots. There were 88 rinks, over 700 curlers taking part."

Here is the match report, published in the Dundee Courier of February 21, 1930:

Fife and Kinross Beaten by 72 Shots

Yesterday Loch Leven was the Mecca of the followers of the roarin' game in Perthshire, Fifeshire, and Kinross-shire, when representatives the Big County engaged in friendly rivalry with their brother curlers of Fife and Kinross.

After a splendid three hours' curling, Perthshire emerged victors by 72 shots; their total being 1361, compared with their opponents' 1289.

The last meeting of the sides on Loch Leven was in 1912, when Perthshire were 305 shots up.

The conditions yesterday were ideal for the sport, and play was engaged in at 88 rinks, over 700 curlers taking part.

It was the opinion of many of the older curlers, who had taken part in the 1912 bonspiel, that the ice was the finest they had seen on the loch.

Those who have admired Loch Leven in her summer serenity, the rowing craft drifted to and fro on her gentry rippling surface while Waltonians deftly plied their rods, would have been just exultant in their praise if they had seen her in her winter splendour as she was robed yesterday.

In the early forenoon the contestants began to wend their way to the loch, and arrived by bus, motor car, motor cycle, and special train.

Braw lads from the Highlands of Perthshire contributed to the picturesque scene as they arrived arrayed in their glengarries and balmorals, their kilts, red-cuffed jackets, and tartan trousers. the curlers trekked over the ice to their various rinks greetings and good-humoured banter were exchanged.

It took some time before everyone had got to his place; but when the gun was fired announcing the commencement of play, a thunderous cheer rang out, and brooms were waved vigorously in the air.

While play was progress an animated scene was presented, but the great gathering seemed a mere handful in a shallow corner of the loch when one glanced over the great stretch of ice, which was so strong that skaters were permitted to skim over the deep waters and approach the historic castle on the island.

Babble of Sound

In moments of stress pipes were puffed furiously. Skips, Napoleons for the moment, directed play with commands as terse and to the point as those of a sergeant-major. "Soop it up" resounded keenly in the crisp air as the players flashed their brooms front of the sullen stone.

"Dra' a wee bit, Tam," would be the advice proffered by a skip, while, as the stone sped its way, he would further ejaculate, "Watch him, boys; canny though!"

Veterans played with the accuracy acquired through many winters, while young lads, and not few ladies, took part in their first eventful match. So play proceeded, and the strip wood which came down to the edge of the loch echoed to the babble sounds peculiar to curlers."

The news article then went on to record the results of all the games.

The Dundee Courier had this triptych of photos of competitors. From left, these are captioned, 'Mr Smith, Pitlochry, makes his way to his rink at the Loch Leven bonspiel. He is carrying his lunch bag with him'; 'Captain Angus Buchanan, the Sahara explorer, about to play a shot on Loch Leven yesterday'; 'The oldest curler. Mr A Jack, Dunkeld, (on left), the oldest curler playing in the Loch Leven bonspiel. He is 75 years of age. With him is Major Murray Stewart, hon secretary of the Perthshire Curling Association.'

So, the possible 'curlers' platform' at Loch Leven was not used in 1930. Was there ever such a construction? I'll continue to hunt for evidence!


The Perthshire versus Fife and Kinross bonspiel took place on Loch Leven again in January 1933. The National Library of Scotland's Moving Image Archive has a short newsreel clip from this match, see here.  It cannot be viewed remotely, but it is well worth the visit to the Kelvin Hall facility to watch the eighty-five seconds of footage. It's a rare treasure. The catalogue describes the item, "The Newsreel item from US newsreel re-issued with Dutch intertitles on curling at Loch Leven c1932. Copied from surviving nitrate pos in Netherlands Audiovisual Archive."

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Grand Match was held on Loch Leven in 1959, for the first, and only, time.

Thanks to Andrew Wood for stimulating my interest in 'curlers' platforms', and to Lynne Longmore, a curling historian from Lochmaben, for discussions on where the Castle Loch platform might have been. The photo of the Royal Club station comes from an old Scottish Curler magazine. Unfortunately there is no credit for the original photograph. Other photos were sourced from old newspapers as indicated, thanks to the British Newspaper Archive. The 1938 map clipping is from the National Library of Scotland's maps website, here. Thanks to the staff at the Kinross (Marshall) Museum for showing me their files and photos of curling on Loch Leven. I am grateful to the staff of Historic Environment Scotland at Loch Leven who pointed me in the direction of the 'Factor's Pier' and to where the 1930 bonspiel had been played. By following the Loch Leven Heritage Trail north from the boathouse area, I was able to find the spot where one of the newspaper photographs (above) had been taken, and took the photo, below. It was easy to imagine the winter scene with all the games in progress!

Loch Leven, April, 2018