Monday, January 25, 2016

Robert Burns and Curling

Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759. This may have been his curling stone ... but probably not. It certainly dates from the eighteenth century, but the date carved into the stone does not make much sense. Burns died in 1796. However, the Bard would have played with a stone like this one, single-soled, roughly shaped, with an iron handle. The stone in the photograph remains something of an enigma.

Yes, Burns WAS a curler, despite what it might say in older books, and some respected websites that have not been updated.

It had long been suspected that Burns played the game. His works include two mentions. Firstly, the opening lines of The Vision read:

The sun had clos’d the winter day,
The Curlers quat their roaring play…

Then, in Tam Samson’s Elegy, the poet shows that he knew the game well, when he writes:

When Winter muffles up his cloak,
And binds the mire like a rock;
When to the loughs the curlers flock,
Wi' gleesome speed,
Wha will they station at the cock?
Tam Samson's dead!

He was the king o' a' the core,
To guard, or draw, or wick a bore,
Or up the rink like Jehu roar,
In time o' need;
But now he lags on Death's hog-score,
Tam Samson's dead!

The evidence that Burns had played curling was brought to the public's attention in April 2006, when David Smith wrote an article for the Scottish Curler magazine entitled, 'The Evidence that the Bard was a Curler'. Later that year the story was retold in the Burns Chronicle of Autumn 2006 (a publication of the Robert Burns World Federation, see here). And we put the information online in July 2008, here, one of the early stories in that first year of the Curling History Blog.

The evidence that Burns curled comes from the Burns Chronicle of 1934 which included letters between two friends of Burns, John Syme and Alexander Cunningham. In a letter dated from Barcailzie, Kirkcudbrightshire, dated January 5, 1789, Syme writes, "I have been once or twice in company with Burns, and admire him much…   I missed a meeting with him last Friday at Dumfries, where he played a Bonespeel with the Curlers there, and enlivened their Beef and Kail and Tody till the small hours of Saturday morning. I was engaged in that Bonespeel, but an unlooked for occurrence called me out of Town, to my great mortification…"

So, Robbie Burns had played in a curling bonespeel (bonspiel) early in the year 1789.

January 5, 1789, was a Monday, so if Syme's reference to 'last Friday' refers to that day in the previous week, the bonspiel in Dumfries must have been held on January 2, 1789. At that time Burns was living at Ellisland Farm, some six miles to the north west of Dumfries (see here). But I wonder where the bonspiel took place?

The Vision was completed in 1785, and Tam Samson's Elegy in 1786. Both these poems then were written before Burns had been seen curling. It is not too big an assumption that he had been a curler long before 1789.

Read more about Tam Samson's Elegy here, and listen to it being read by Eileen McCallum. There's more about The Vision here.

Several aspiring curling 'poets' have parodied Robbie Burns works. This is from the Douglas CC website here:

Ours is a game for Duke or Lord
Lairds, tenants, kinds and a’ that
Oor Pastors too, wha’ preach the word
Whiles ply the broom for a’ that.

The village of Beith in Ayrshire had three curling clubs in the middle of the nineteenth century. One of these was the 'Beith Robert Burns Curling Club', formed in 1855 and admitted to the Royal Club the following year. It would be interesting to know why this group of curlers chose to name their club after the Bard. By 1866 they had a patron, John Fullarton Patrick of Grangehill, and played on a pond on his estate. A list of the club's members appears in each Annual until that of 1884-85, when it seems the club folded. I wonder why. However, in 1890, a new club called the 'Beith Rabbie Burns Curling Club' was established, with some of the same members. At this time Beith had four curling clubs! The Rabbie Burns club continued to be listed in the Annuals up to 1913, although the name reverted back to the 'Beith Robert Burns Curling Club' in 1901. Like many of Scotland's curling clubs it did not survive the Great War.

Today many groups of curlers throughout the world celebrate Burns' birthday. The Ayr Curling Club, which acts as an umbrella club for the more than 50 clubs which use the Ayr rink in Scotland, traditionally holds a Burns Supper. Go here to see photos of the 2014 event at which David Smith addressed the haggis.

From Ayr, Scotland, to Ayr, Ontario, Canada. The latter club, here, held a 'Robbie Burns Senior Men's Bonspiel' last Thursday. This was advertised as 'Two 8-end games, with the traditional Scottish trimmings'! 

This was the sign-up sheet! I trust that the event went off successfully and that all involved had a great time.

Above: The publishers of the Burns Chronicle commissioned from Colin Hunter McQueen, a cover illustration celebrating the sport, for the Autumn 2006 issue.

Top image is of a stone in the David B Smith collection, now in the care of the Scottish Curling Trust.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Escape Curling Cup

Over the years David Smith wrote many articles about curling history. Many of these appeared in printed publications, predating the Web. It is my intention to resurrect some of them for the Curling History Blog, as they deserve a wider readership, and hopefully through publication online, new information might be unearthed.

This article was first published in the January 1996 issue of the Scottish Curler magazine, entitled 'Wartime Curling for the Colditz Cup'. Its author: Sheriff David Smith.

"On 30th November 1993, the Imperial War Museum in London received a most unusual donation, a curling trophy in the form of a cup. The donor was Mrs Jane Reid, widow of the soldier who, inter alia, wrote The Colditz Story, the saga of escapes from that supposedly escape-proof German fortress.

Correspondence with the Museum produced a photocopy of the cup's discovery from a Swiss newspaper, Anseiger von Saanen. According to the newspaper, the cup had been knocked up in four hours by two articifers from the Royal Navy, Tubby Lister and Wally Hammond, as a trophy for play between some local Swiss curlers from Saanenmoser and some Colditz escapers who had reached Switzerland on their way home to 'Blighty'.

The report continued, 'After the war the cup remained, along with other trophies, in a showcase in one of the village's hotels, but it was lost sight of when the hotel was demolished and rebuilt in 1984.'

The mother of the present owner of the hotel found it in a barn, and, putting two and two together, got in touch with Mrs Reid, who now lives in Zurich.

Through the good offices of the Imperial War Museum, I eventually got in touch with Lt. Commander Billie Stephens, one of the curling-escapers. This is what he wrote. 'I am sorry not to have replied more quickly to your letter re the curling cup made for the competition in February '43 between Saanenmoser team and the 'ex-Colditz lub'. Tubby and Wally were (although not officers) in Colditz for a short time and when the Germans found out their mistake they were returned to their Stalag Camp - from which - armed with all the sophisticated escape 'know-how' learnt in Colditz - they arrived in Switzerland without much trouble, and were waiting with my three companions and myself who had been lucky enough to get out of Colditz on 14/10/42, for a suitable French Resistance group to help us through France and across the frontier into Spain.'

Tubby and Wally volunteered to make a suitable cup out of old tin cans thus proving the skills they had learned in prison - which also I may add included lock-picking! The Saanen people were too good for us but as far as I can remember a very good time was had by all. Alas, I am now the only one of our party still alive."

The above was what David wrote in the 1996 Scottish Curler article. Some new information can now be added. The trophy described in the article above remains in the care of the Imperial War Museum, see here.

It has been re-photographed well.

But the surprising find is that it was actually called 'The Escape Curling Cup'. The notes accompanying the photos in the Imperial War Museum's online collection simply say that it was 'Made by escaped POWs while awaiting repatriation'.

It is described, 'Handmade trophy cup inscribed THE ESCAPE CURLING CUP. Red, white and blue ribbons are tied to each handle and there is a gold-coloured cutout of a figure curling on the reverse. Appears to be made from food tins.'

Billie Stephens died in 1997, aged 86. His obituary is online here. Some of his wartime memorabilia was sold at auction in 2012, and there are a number of articles online about the sale, see here, and here. I was excited to find that a photo of the 'Colditz Team' on the ice in Switzerland has survived and has been used in these articles!

L-R: Lieutenant-Commander 'Billie' Stephens, Captain Pat Reid, Flight Lieutenant 'Hank' Wardle, and Lietenant-Colonel 'Ronnie' Littledale.

What a remarkable photograph!

Pat Reid, who appears in the photo above and whose wife donated the Colditz Cup to the Imperial War Museum, wrote The Colditz Story in 1952, and The Latter Days in 1953. A third book, Colditz: The Full Story, was published in 1984, is still in print, above, and also available in digital form as an ebook. It can be purchased here. More about Pat Reid's life can be found here.

Hank Wardle was a Canadian pilot in the Royal Air Force. Read about him here.

Ronnie Littledale is described here,  After his escape, he returned to the front line but was killed in action in France on September 1, 1944, whilst in command of the 2nd Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, see here.

Who were Tubby Lister and Wally Hammond who made the Escape Curling Cup, and what happened to them? They had both been submariners and were taken prisoner in 1940. Part of their story can be found in this newsletter here, and there's more here

For another WW2 curling story, see here.

The photo of the Colditz Cup graced the cover of the Scottish Curler in January 1996. The photographer or source is not stated in the magazine. I assume that the original of the photo of the Colditz Team on the ice in Switzerland was among the documents sold at auction in 2012. I found it here. The original photographer and source is not stated.

The photos of the trophy from the Imperial War Museum are shared under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Largest Fragment

by Bob Cowan

I have this little book in my curling library. 'Robbie of the Kirkhaven Team' was written by Florence Wightman Rowland, and illustrated by Brian David. It was published in 1973 by Ginn and Company and is a primary school book - Magic Circle Books Reading 360 series, Level 9, Unit 2 - written in a way to appeal to, say, an eight year old.

It looks as if my copy originated from the O'Hara Catholic School in Eugene Oregon, and came to Scotland by way of a bookshop in Reno, Nevada.

"Snow had fallen in the Scottish Highlands during the night. As soon as he awoke, Robbie jumped out of bed and ran to the window to look out. The moors and hills in the distance were white with snow. Above them, the sky was the color of a bluebell - not a cloud in sight. Robbie grinned. What a perfect day for a curling game!"

So reads the first paragraph. Did I say it was a fictional story?

Nine year old Robbie tells his Canadian cousin Katy, 7, all about curling, and he goes off to compete in a match on outside ice against a team from 'Glencove'.

The story has a happy ending!

Spoiler Alert! An important twist in the story involves the breakage of a curling stone, as pictured above by Brian David, whose illustrations make this little book such a treasure.

That got me thinking. How old is the rule which governs a stone breaking during play?

The above is from 'An Account of the Game of Curling', published in 1811. This book contains the first printed reference to curling's rules, as practised at the time by the Duddingston Curling Society of Edinburgh. There are only twelve rules written down, and these had 'received the approbation and sanction' of the club at a meeting on January 6, 1804. The second sentence of Rule 5 illustrates what should be done if a stone broke. If, after breakage, parts of the stone were still 'in play', then the 'largest fragment' should count when it came to assessing the score at the end of the end. And another stone could be used thereafter.

The inclusion of the rule, in the earliest printed set of rules, does suggest that breakage was not uncommon. How often did the rule have to be invoked, I wonder?

Of course, the stones being played with at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were not of Ailsa or Trefor granite, but were mostly of whinstone, that term used to describe any hard dark-coloured rock commonly found in many places in Scotland.

When the Grand Caledonian Curling Club was formed in 1838, it adopted the Duddingston rules. The first Annual for 1838-39 has this as Rule 9, "All Curling Stones shall be of a circular shape. No stone must be changed throughout the game, unless it happen to be broken, and then the largest fragment to count, without any necessity of playing with it more. If a stone rolls and stops upon its side or top, it shall not be counted, but put off the ice. Should the handle quit the stone in the delivery, the player must keep hold of it, otherwise he will not be entitled to replay the shot."

Although the wording is just a little different, the sense is the same.

There was a minor change from 1854, "No stone, or side of a stone, shall be changed after a game has been begun, nor during its continuance, unless it happen to be broken, and then the largest fragment to count, without any necessity for playing with it more."

Twenty years later, in 1874, the Constitution of the Royal Club and the Rules of Play underwent a considerable revision. The occurrence of a stone breaking now had its own separate entry in the Rules, "Should a Stone happen to be broken, the largest fragment shall be considered in the Game for that end — the player being entitled to use another Stone, or another pair, during the remainder of the Game."

The sense of this rule, and the reference to the 'largest fragment', has continued right up to the present day. For the 2015-16 season, the rules can be found on the Royal Club website here, and you can read at R2 (c), "If a stone is broken in play a replacement stone shall be placed where the largest fragment came to rest. The end in play, and the game, shall be completed using the replacement stone."

Curling Canada's Rules of Curling for General Play 2014-18 (see here) contain, "4. (4) If a stone is broken in play, a replacement stone shall be placed where the largest  fragment comes to rest. The inside edge of the replacement stone shall be placed in the same position as the inside edge of the largest fragment with the assistance of a measuring stick."

For many years, the World Curling Federation had a similarly worded rule in place should a stone break during an international event.

But fragments are no more! The World Federation now eschews any mention of 'fragments'! The most recent WCF Rules of Curling can be found here. WCF rule R2 (c) reads, "If a stone is broken in play, the teams use the 'Spirit of Curling' to decide where the stone(s) should be placed. If agreement cannot be reached, the end will be replayed." This wording can also be found in the Rules of Curling: Club and Bonspiel Use, from the USA Curling website here.

This double soled stone will be at least 100 years old, and remarkably still has the remains of a handle. Broken stones like this may find a use as garden 'ornaments', as above.

No-one likes to see modern curling stones in pieces, least of all the manufacturer. But breakages do occasionally happen. Norway's Torger Nergard with a big and a small 'fragment'!

But the biggest danger to curling stones is heat! The Fife Herald in 1856 ran a story about an expensive lesson learned by Selkirk CC members back in 1856. Don't put your stones on the fire.

Sadly, vandalism has been the ruin of many stones. I know of two examples where a club's curling hut has been set ablaze, with the stones (and other contents) destroyed as a consequence. The photo above is the aftermath of vandalism at the Vale of Alford CC's curling house last year. It really is sad to see. The good news is that there is every hope that the house will be rebuilt, see here.

No discussion of breaking stones would be complete without mention of this advert for the Benson and Hedges Championship at Aberdeen in 1985. 'Exploding rocks' was certainly a novel idea for a promotional image. Back in 1985, pre-Photoshop, it would not have been easy to create such an image. I wonder how it was done.

Happy New Year, and may all your stones remain intact!

Robbie and the Kirkhaven Team photos are scans from the original book. The Duddingston rule is a scan from an original copy of 'An Account of the Game of Curling'.

The Fife Herald clipping is reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive. The image is © The British Library Board. All Rights Reserved.
Thomas Nergard's photo was found here.

The Vale of Alford's photo is from the club's Facebook page here. The Benson and Hedges advert is from the author's archive. Other photos are © the author.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Curling at Hogmanay

The British Newspaper Archive is the project to digitise some 40 million pages from the British Library's large collection of newspapers. It launched in November 2011 with 4 million pages, and four years later over 12 million pages from over 540 individual titles are now online.

The BNA is a wonderful resource for those interested in social history. It is proving invaluable to the curling historian too. News clippings with evidence for those places where outside curling was played in years past now grace the subsidiary pages of many of the entries in the Historical Curling Places website.

Aside from using the BNA specifically for 'pond hunting', there are many, many entries therein which give a glimpse of what it was like to have been a member of a curling club in Victorian times.

This being Hogmanay, 2015, with no sign of sufficiently cold weather here in Scotland, all one can do is dream of curling outside. So perhaps an article from the Dundee Courier of January 8, 1869, will serve as a prompt!

Curling by moonlight at Braemar! How wonderful. With candles burning at the end of each rink.

The story continues:
Note that play carried on until 01.30, but with a break at midnight to celebrate the incoming year, with suitable refreshment!

A Happy New Year to all curlers everywhere.

Bob Cowan

The images are screenshots from the online paper and are reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive. The images are © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

David Chalmers: The Curling Butler at Fingask

by Bob Cowan

In the centre of the photo above is Fingask Castle, near Rait in Perthshire. The castle dates from 1594. It remains a family home and is a romantic venue these days for weddings, see here. You can read about the castle's history here and here.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Fingask was home to Sir Patrick Murray Threipland, the fifth baronet. Sir Peter, as he was called, was head of the household with three older sisters, Jessie, Eliza and Catherine, all unmarried, and their mother, Lady Murray Threipland.

The census in March 1851 shows that the Threipland family had a staff of seven: a housekeeper (Jean Oswald); a ladies maid (Mary Gray); a cook (Margaret Stewart); Sir Peter's own housemaid (Mary McLagan); a butler (David Chalmers); a footman (John Bertram); and a coachman (Andrew David).

The Fingask Curling Club was founded in 1843 and admitted to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club the same year. Sir Peter was the driving force. The club's membership, as at November 1, 1849, is recorded in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1849-50. Sir Peter was the President, and his mother, Lady Murray Threipland, was the 'Patroness'. David Chalmers, a regular member since 1844, was also on the club's management committee. There were nineteen regular members, and six occasional members. The club even had an 'Extraordinary Member', James Young, 'Civil Engineer to the Club'.

David Chalmers was Sir Peter's butler. In 1851 Sir Peter was fifty years old, and David thirty years of age. David kept a record of his activities at the castle and this has survived. A booklet, The Butler's Day Book 1849 - 1855, is the source of the information here. It's subtitled 'Everyday Life in a Scottish Castle'. It is a collection of short diary entries and was privately published by Andrew Threipland  in 1999.

This my own copy of The Butler's Day Book, with its image of Fingask Castle on the somewhat faded front cover.

Curling gets many mentions and the entries clearly show that the sport played a significant role in everyday life at Fingask in the winter months. Over five winters from 1849 to 1855, David records playing on the Fingask pond(s) on over one hundred occasions. The winter of 1850-51 was poor, with only six days play that he mentions. But in the other years, it seems that ice could be found regularly from December through February, and occasionally in November and March.

Typical entries are that of December 24, 1849, "Sir P. and I curling all day," or January 5, 1850, "Sir P. and I went to the curling and had a fine game." Two days later there was, "A fine turn out of curlers and fine ice."

The pond was inspected often in the hope that play would be possible, for example, on December 4, 1852, "Sir P., Robertson and I went to the pond but the ice would not do." So David went shooting pigeons that day. Four days later, "I and Charlie went up to the curling pond and had a fine game."

January 19, 1853, "Sir P., Robertson and I curling. Ice very watery today." The following day, "Ice all gone."

March 10, 1855. "Began curling this morning at 6 o'clock and gave it up at 10 o'clock. Came on a heavy fall of snow."

Curling went on even if conditions were not perfect.  January 21, 1854, "Sir P. and I curling. Came on rain. Sir P. left us and went home for the wet. I stopped and had a fine game."

It was not uncommon to play all day. But perhaps March 4, 1852, was exceptional, "Sir P. went to the curling after breakfast, the rest of us started early in the morning. Fine ice till 10 o'clock pm."

Where were these games taking place?

At the time that David was recording his curling exploits, the Fingask curlers had two ponds, both to the north west of Fingask Castle itself. These are clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map published in 1867, although surveyed several years earlier. Play on the 'upper pond' is recorded occasionally in The Butler's Day Book. But mostly play was on the 'lower pond', that shown in the bottom of the image above, nearer the castle than the other.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1853-54 records the following in an article about artificial ponds. "The Fingask Pond, which was made by that distinguished landlord and keen Curler, Sir P. M. Threipland, is in many respects similar, with this advantage, however, that it is 6 or 700 feet above the level of the sea, which will insure ice at an earlier and much later season of the year than in any other Curling Pond in the kingdom."

This refers to the 'lower pond'. We know from The Butler's Day Book that there was a curling house beside the pond, for example, January 1, 1854, "The curling lodge broke into last night and some Aqua taken out of it." Evidently, it was used for post-game refreshments! It was also big enough to host meetings of the club, for example, August 28, 1855, "Sir P. at a meeting at the curling bothy of the curlers. A good turn out."

Indeed, a building is evident on the old maps. The curling house (or lodge, or bothy) is the pink square on the north side of the pond in this clipping from the OS 25 inch map of 1867.

The pond had to be maintained. On August 30, 1852, David records, "Thomas Mitchell repairing it." On December 7, 1853, "A new rope put on the flag staff at the curling pond."

February 17, 1853, was a special day on the Fingask pond. "Sir P. curling. Lady Threipland's medal played for today. Gained by the secretary Mr. Morrison, took it at 7 points. The Miss Threiplands all up and a fine turn out of ladies. Had a splendid luncheon sent up to the pond from the castle. Everyone very happy and all had a fine dancing on the green after luncheon in which the ladies and onlookers took great delight in. But the curlers set to work again to play for other two prizes and very sorry they were that Mr. John Frost would not allow them to get their feet shaken. The Misses Threipland gave a very handsome curling vest to be played for. It was all wrought over with curling stones and besoms all though it. Everyone eager to get it and especially the bachelors. And Sir P. gave a pair of curling stones to be played for at the same time and after the points was all played and the books added up Mr. Sprunt counted 7 points, and Mr. Scott 6 points, the two highest. Mr. Sprunt got the vest and Mr. Scott the stones, both married men. Bachelors far back."

Lady Treipland's medal was the Fingask Club's premier competition for singles play 'at points'.

That day in February 1853 was the subject of an article about curling which appeared in the Illustrated London News on January 7, 1854. This was accompanied by an engraving of the scene - it would be fifty years before photographs of curling appeared in newspapers. The image shows the curling house, with smoke coming from the chimney, and the hills behind. There are people dancing outside. A coach is drawn up at the door. A group of three ladies is seen standing on the ice. The play looks odd - but the artist is trying to show that it is not team vs team curling that is going on, but points play. The odd looking handles on the stones perhaps suggest that the engraver, in copying an artist's sketch, had not himself ever seen an actual curling stone!

Whatever the flaws, the newspaper image conveys the excitement of the occasion and brings the day to life. One can only imagine though just what the prize 'curling vest' was like.

The Fingask Club competed against neighbouring clubs, sometimes on their own pond, and sometimes elsewhere. The Fingask pond was used as a neutral venue when neighbouring clubs competed for a Royal Club District Medal. And Fingask Curling Club was represented by three rinks at the 1853 Grand Match, the first to be held at the Royal Club's new pond at Carsebreck. All these events were recorded by David Chalmers in The Butler's Day Book.

On December 31, 1852, he records the purchase of baskets for his curling stones. "Paid 8/6d for them."  (That would be around £40 today.)

There are many entries that leave the reader wanting more information! On March 10, 1849, David writes "Me and Willie went up to the curling pond about 2 o'clock but got no curling. Mr Souter and two or three more there drinking toddy. Mr Souter and some of the rest fell out and had a regular sprawl. I kept free of them."

One has to wonder what the stramash was about. The 'Mr Souter' is undoubtedly Andrew Souter, who had been a regular member since the Fingask club was formed. Indeed, he had even been on the management committee in 1846. For whatever reason, Souter is not listed as a member of the club after 1849, nor is he mentioned again by David Chalmers in The Butler's Day Book.

On August 1849, David records, "Sir P and I went up to the curling pond and brought down our curling stones to get polished. Willie went into Perth to the Court about a ferret and gained the day." What was the story about the ferret, I wonder?

The last mention of curling in The Butler's Day Book is dated December 31, 1855. This says, "A very dull day and very fresh. There has been a great deal of curling this year but the Fingask Club, I am sorry to say, has been very unlucky in all their matches, always beat, very bad."

Sir Peter died in 1882 aged 81, but not before he had constructed an artificial pond within the castle's grounds. The ponds on the hill fell into disuse. David Chalmers remained as Sir Peter's butler. He was sixty years old at the 1881 census, and presumably was at Sir Peter's side when he died. He continued to be a member of the Fingask CC long after the records in The Butler's Day Book finished. He even won Lady Murray Streipland's medal in 1867, as recorded in the Dundee Courier on February 1 that year. His name is listed on the Fingask club's roster of members as at October 1891, although just as an 'occasional member'. In fact, he died in November of that year, aged 70.

The Fingask Curling Club is still in existence today.

There is one last curling connection which can be made from entries in The Butler's Day Book. On August 14, 1850, David records, "Mr Rees, portrait painter, arrived here to take Sir Peter's likeness for a painting he is painting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club." The 'Mr Rees' was in fact Charles Lees, well known for his painting of 'The Golfers' (see here) from 1847. Lees was now working on a painting to commemorate the Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch. He stayed at Fingask until August 16.

The Linlithgow Grand Match had taken place on January 25, 1848. Thirty-five northern rinks played an equal number of southern rinks, with a further hundred southern rinks playing matches amongst themselves. Charles Lees's large painting includes images of various notable curling personalities of the time, even those who were not present at the Grand Match. It is believed that Lees travelled to the homes of curlers to sketch those to be included. The Butler's Day Book contains the evidence that he did.

After years in private hands, the painting was bought by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1898 and has belonged to the curlers of Scotland since then. It's a long story but, happy to say, the painting has recently been restored and is now on loan to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and is on display in Edinburgh, see here. Sir Peter is highlighted in the detail from the painting above.

Lastly, it should be said that The Butler's Day Book contains much of interest other than curling! There are copies in the National Library of Scotland if you want to read it for yourself.

Top photo: Fingask Castle from the air, taken from a hot air balloon just east of Rait. The image is © Mike Pennington and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. It is from the Geograph website here.

The map images are courtesy of the National Library of Scotland, and are screenshots from maps on the library's maps website here. If you want to find out more about historical curling places, go here.

The image from the Illustrated London News has been widely reproduced and can be easily found on the Web.

The detail from Grand Match at Linlithgow is from an old reproduction of the painting in my collection of memorabilia. As noted above the original is owned by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and is currently on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street, Edinburgh.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The Sheriff

David B Smith, my friend and mentor, died on November 30, 2015, at a nursing home in Ayr. He had many interests in life, but I got to know him because of curling. That was in the 1970s, and we were taking part in the 'Under-35s' at the Haymarket rink in Edinburgh. In the years that followed, his interest in the sport's history became one that I shared. He taught me, and he encouraged me. We shared adventures together, one of which is described in this post.

David wrote extensively about the history of curling, and about collecting curling memorabilia. In the seven years I edited the Scottish Curler magazine, he was the most reliable contributor, ensuring that each issue contained a suitable article. When he faced a hospital admission, and was unsure how quickly he would recover from his operation, he even made sure I had an extra article in hand!

His book, Curling: an illustrated history, published in 1981, remains the best source for information on the sport's early history, even now.

He wrote several 'academic' articles, for example this one in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the premier journal covering all aspects of Scotland’s archaeology and history.

Together we set up this blog as an outlet for his writings about curling. Recently he didn't feel able to write much, but has encouraged me to write articles for the blog myself. Here are some photos of David taken over the years for you to remember him by. His funeral was on Friday, December 11, 2pm, at Masonhill Crematorium, Ayr.

There cannot be many photos of David without his beard! He's on the left of the group above, when he organised an experiment in 1968 to see how old stones would perform on the ice of the Haymarket rink in Edinburgh. There's a story about a similar experiment here.

I am not sure when this photo was taken, but I'm sure David is doing what he most enjoyed - talking about curling, with several old stones as his 'props'.

David's home rink was Ayr. He was a great supporter of the Eglinton Jug competition. The trophy, which David is presenting here, is the most prestigious trophy contended for by Ayrshire curlers.

David wrote regularly for the Scottish Curler magazine for more than thirty years. Robin Crearie, when he was the magazine's editor, used this photo of David on the cover of the October 1998 issue.

David often helped out by umpiring... in his own inimitable style, as can be seen in this photo taken at the Greenacres rink!

David organised many exhibitions celebrating curling's history. Most recently, in 2012, he put on a display of artifacts from his own collection on the occasion of the World Curling Federation's inaugural annual congress at Turnberry.

David had a passion for curling outdoors. He infected others with his enthusiasm. Here he is demonstrating a classic crampit delivery at Coodham in 2010, which was, I suspect, the last time he played outside. Story and more pix here.

David was always willing to talk!

Playing for Scotland: The Making of Modern Sport is an ongoing exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street, Edinburgh. You can still listen to David on the video Scotland: A Sporting History accompanying the exhibition. Watch that online here. (The curling content starts at just over five minutes in, after a chapter on golf.)

A favourite photo, this one, taken at the Lagoon Centre, Paisley, when David was there as a fan at the World Women's Championship in 2005.

My life is richer for having known 'The Sheriff'.

Bob Cowan

Photos are from my archives. Apologies if photographer credits are not included.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Curling Minutes Online

Review by Bob Cowan

Ethnology is 'The study of the characteristics of different peoples and the differences and relationships between them'. A short video, here, from the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore explores 'What is European Ethnology?' The European Ethnological Research Centre, based at the University of Edinburgh, is engaged in a study of the ethnology of Dumfries and Galloway, the south west region of Scotland, see here. The Edinburgh group is transcribing diaries, memoirs, account books and journals for their research, as well as recording the spoken memories of people alive today.

The reason for this article is that the Centre has published online the full text of The Minute Book of Lochmaben Curling Society 1823-1863.

In times past, particularly in the late eighteenth and in the nineteenth centuries, the sport of curling was an important social activity during the winter months. Curling club minute books contain a fascinating record, not just of matches won and lost, but of interactions between members and the club's patrons, the difficulties of maintaining a place to play, the interactions with other clubs, and the costs involved in playing the sport. Curling club minute books can contain much information about everyday life.

But early minute books are not easy to access. Some, from clubs long defunct, have found their way into national and local archives. Others may still be in the hands of clubs that have survived and have long histories. Many others have just disappeared. Depending on the hand of the club secretary, they may not be easy to read. Some club historians have gathered material from old minute books to publish within club histories, usually to celebrate significant anniversaries. Cameron McKiddie's 'Celebrating Curling - The Roarin' Game', published to commemorate the bicentenary of Kirriemuir Curling Club, is a good example, see here.

But, until now, no complete curling club minute book has gone online, to become a readily accessible resource for researchers of the future. That it has happened is all due to the diligence and perseverance of Lynne Longmore.

Lynne had used club minute books when researching her MPhil in Decorative Art and Design History at the University of Glasgow. Her dissertation was on the subject of silver curling medals including those still held by the Lochmaben Castle Curling Club. At the time (2004) she realised just how significant were these minute books which provided first hand accounts of the historic Scottish sport. At a personal level it was all the more fascinating for Lynne as she had grown up in Lochmaben. After completing her masters degree, she made it her mission to transcribe the earliest minute book, covering the period from 1823 to 1863. This took four months over the winter of 2004-2005. Lynne says, "I worked away slowly deciphering the various styles of flourishing handwriting combined with the fading ink, unfamiliar old Scots terminology and often Latin phrase used, but enjoying every moment of it."

Having completed this task, Lynne presented the Lochmaben curlers with their own copy for any member to read, as a thank you for allowing access to the minute books.

Lynne then began to think that a summary of the more notable minutes would make easier reading. This led to the publication in 2012 of 'Minutes of Note', above, and reviewed in the Curling History blog here.

Alison Burgess, the Dumfries and Galloway Local Studies and Information Officer at the Ewart Library in Dumfries, suggested that Lynne contact Mark Mulhern of the European Ethnological Research Centre about the Sources of Local History project which was in its infancy. From that approach, Lynne was put in contact with Dr Kenneth Veitch. A meeting was arranged in Edinburgh, and the effort to put the Lochmaben minutes online was underway.

Lynne notes how important it was to obtain permission from the current Lochmaben Castle Curling Club committee and members, and the proposal was discussed at the club's AGM in 2013. Lynne says, "The club has been very supportive in all my work regarding the club’s history and this was no exception. They conveyed great pride at being the first to lead the way in the new online Local Studies Written Word series and full permission was granted."

Lynne and Kenneth worked through several drafts over a two year period, checking and rechecking details, and then they worked together on a Foreword and Editorial.

The Foreward shows what can be uncovered in the fully transcribed minutes: "The book will naturally be of interest to historians of curling. The carefully set out minutes and regulations in themselves show the extent to which societies organised and formalised the local game in the early nineteenth century, and so ensured not only its continuance, but also its development. Details, such as the decision of the Lochmaben curlers to incorporate their rules with those of the Duddingston Curling Society, highlight how societies also helped to create both an awareness among their members of curling as a national game, and the organisational framework for it. The move towards standard rules and equipment was also encouraged by their promotion of local and, in particular, inter-parish spiels (the latter aided by ever-improving transport and communications). The minutes are replete with records of such matches, including a proposed inter-province spiel between Dumfriesshire and the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright."


"That the curlers of Lochmaben repeatedly voted against adopting the two stone rule is a reminder that the creation of a uniform, national game was nonetheless a gradual process, with regional variations persisting even after the founding of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club in 1838. Indeed, it is revealed here that at the beginning of the 1860s the rinks from the neighbouring parishes of Lochmaben and Dryfesdale were playing different forms of the game."

The full publication can be downloaded from this page.

The front cover for the online minute book was a collaboration between Lynne and designers at Edinburgh University!

Congratulations go to Lynne Longmore and Kenneth Veitch on all their efforts to date. And there's more to come. The European Ethnological Research Centre Written Word project is keen to continue with the transcript of the second Lochmaben minute book 1863 to 1891, so this may be the next to go online.

Lynne has also completed the full transcript of the other Lochmaben curling club, the Royal Bruce Curling Club. These minutes begin in 1831 and continue through to 1897.
The top photo of the original Lochmaben minute book is used courtesy of Lynne Longmore. The Lochmaben Castle CC has a Facebook page here.

Thanks to Lynne for her help with this article. Some of her MPhil dissertation research has been published: 'Curling Medals in Nineteenth Century Scotland: Their Historical, Social and Cultural Significance within Rural Parishes of Dumfries and Galloway' by Lynne J M Longmore, Review of Scottish Culture, Volume 26, 2014, pp87-108.