Monday, February 08, 2016

Pondhunting 'Cairnie ponds' and 'Sprinkle rinks'

It's been a while since I wrote about the project to map the 'Historical Curling Places'. See that post here. The project continues to thrive, and I enjoy the small part I play in it. Although begun by David Smith, nowadays Lindsay Scotland and Harold Forrester take the lead, and contributions from others are always welcome. Perhaps there is an old curling pond near where you live. You could become a 'pondhunter'! What does 'your' pond look like today?

It is exciting that the project has no finite 'end'. Yes, perhaps one day all the places where curling has taken place will be mapped. But for each place, other questions arise. Who played there? What significant games were played there? If the place was a curling pond, was it constructed by a local club? If so, when? How long did it last? What costs were involved in its construction and maintenance? When and why did it fall into disuse? Are there newspaper reports of play there? Are there photographs of the venue in use?

In trying to answer even some of these questions, we stray away from just a mapping exercise, and enter the realms of social history, and a way of life long past.

There's one question that I've not posed above, that is, what type of curling place does each entry in the database, or dot on the map, represent? It is apparent when studying the maps, see here, that there is great variety in the places that curlers in the past found to pursue their sport.

It is possible to classify these places into a number of different categories. In past times curlers found themselves on ice of the following types: natural water, managed water, maintained curling club ponds, Cairnie-style shallow ponds, and tarmac rinks.

I've set out my attempt at a classification below. I've tried not to use the term 'artificial'. That's because it is just too general and 'artificial' can apply to a deep water pond with sluices to regulate the water depth, to a Cairnie-style shallow pond, or to a tarmac rink. 

Let's expand on these a bit further.

Curling will have begun on ice that formed over 'natural water'.  Everyone is familiar with the outdoor 'Grand Match', the last of which was held in 1979 on the Lake of Menteith. But there are many references to venues that are somewhat smaller, or even to frozen rivers. Probably a safer option was the frozen surface of a flooded field, and my first outdoor experience was on such a venue near Gateside, Beith. I remember it well.

1. Natural Water
1a. Loch or lake
1b. Lochan or tarn
1c. River
1d. Flooded field

2. Managed Water
2a. Canal
2b. Mill pond
2c. Fish pond
2d. Reservoir
2e. Ornamental pond in estate grounds
2f. Ornamental pond in public park

3. Maintained curling club ponds
3a. Natural shape club curling pond, with managed water intake and sluice or drain
3b. Regular shape constructed club curling pond, with water intake and sluice, perhaps with an embankment or dam

4. Cairnie-style shallow ponds
4a. Clay floor
4b. Concrete/cement floor
4c. Wood floor
4d. Bitumen/asphalt/tarmacadam floor
4e. Metal floor

5. Tarmac rinks
These are also known as 'sprinkle rinks', and were constructed in the early twentieth century. More on these below.

Aside from these five categories, there are also 'packed snow' rinks. These were (and are still) found in Switzerland and New Zealand, but rarely, if ever, in Scotland. There are instances where tennis courts and bowling greens have been flooded in winter time. And of course there have been outdoor rinks with artificial refrigeration, usually of a temporary nature around Christmas time, for skating and curling.

In the classification scheme above, the difference between categories 4 and 5 can cause confusion.

Cairnie-style ponds are shallow ponds with a small border to retain water to a depth of a few centimetres. They are named after John Cairnie of Largs. In 1833 he published a book, Essay on Curling and Artificial Pond Making, in which he describes fully his efforts to provide an ice surface which would allow him to curl when natural lochs or deep water ponds were not bearing. Some pages of his book, facsimile copies of which are readily available, refute claims by the Reverend John Somerville of Currie who sought credit for the invention. I resist the temptation to lay out the arguments here! However, Cairnie made his pond work, and there are many reports of play on it, for example:

This clipping from the Edinburgh Evening Courant of January 17, 1829, predates by some four years the publication of Cairnie's book, and shows that the importance of his invention was being recognised even then. 

You can see what Cairnie's pond in Largs looked like, in a painting which belongs to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, here. John Cairnie of course became the Club's first president on its formation in 1838.

The bottom of Cairnie-style ponds had to be be of a material which would retain water. Cairnie himself experimented with a number of materials, but over the years others successfully constructed ponds with floors of clay, cement, concrete, tarry materials, wood, or even iron plates. The water depth of a Cairnie-style pond is usually only 3-4 cm. The floor does not need to be perfectly flat as the water finds its own level. Given a sharp frost, the water freezes completely, providing complete safety, compared with the dangers of curling on insufficiently strong ice floating above several feet of water. However, Cairnie-style ponds did not give the characteristic sound of the stones travelling across ice on 'deep water' places, which gives rise to curling being referred to as the 'Roaring Game'.

This is a photo taken recently of a Cairnie-style pond at Tarfside, in Glen Esk, Angus. Although dating from the end of the nineteenth century, it was renovated a few years ago. See play on the pond here and here.

Nowadays it is a wooden edge that keeps the water in place, and the pond appears to have a concrete base. Sadly, there has been no play on the Tarfside pond so far this winter.

But another Cairnie-style pond has seen considerable activity. The Highland Curling Club's pond at Kingsmills, Inverness, has four sheets, with a clay base. See photos on the club's Facebook pages here.

Now to category 5. 'Tarmac', short for tarmacadam, is mentioned frequently in reports of curling in the early twentieth century. What is tarmac, exactly? Defining the word's meaning is not so simple, see here.

The word is associated with John McAdam, who was born in Ayr in 1756 and died in Moffat in 1836. He is credited with inventing the 'macadam' road surface, namely that roads should be higher than their surroundings to achieve drainage and constructed with a base of large rocks, then with smaller stones, the layers tied together with fine gravel. You can read McAdam's 1819 paper Practical Essay on the Scientific Repair and Preservation of Roads online here.

It was in 1901 that Edgar Purnell Hooley patented a method for mixing tar and aggregate to go on top of a macadamised surface, compacting the lot with a roller. The various recipes for 'tarmac' date from this time.

The material was certainly used as a base for Cairnie-style ponds, but gave its name to a new type of curling place - the 'tarmac' or 'sprinkle' rink.

The Complete Curler by J Gordon Grant, published in 1914, suggests that the first tarmac curling rink was made in 1903, and between then until the book was written 'hundreds of tarmac rinks have been constructed throughout Scotland and the northern half of England'. He describes the depth of the ice on a tarmac rink, as 'only the mere skin of about the thickness of a sixpence, and this is obtained by spraying water lightly over the rink, which instantly freezes'.

So a Cairnie-style pond has a few centimetres of ice, whereas the thickness of ice on a tarmac rink is only one to two millimetres.

As there is no depth of water on a tarmac rink to allow it to find its own level, it follows that the stretch of tarmac on the base of a tarmac rink had to be perfectly flat.

An early reference to 'tar macadam' in the construction of a curling rink can be found in the Scotsman of November 22, 1904. This says, "The first game of the season, and the first game on Mr Stoddart's new private artificial pond at Howden, was played yesterday forenoon between rinks skipped by Mr James Wyllie, New Calder, and Mr Robert Maconachie, Mooralmond. After a keenly contested game which lasted two and a half hours, the score stood fifteen each when, on account of the fall of snow, the order to cease play was given. The ice was in splendid condition, and the new pond in every respect gave evidence that the tar macadam system of artificial curling ponds is a success."

James Edward Stoddart was in his early fifties, the head of the household at Howden, and living there with his wife Agnes, his daughter, Agnes Young, and three servants. He had been President of the Mid-Calder curling club since 1896. His wife was a 'Patroness' of the club. James Stoddart must have been a really keen curler to have gone to the trouble and expense of constructing a tarmac rink on his property, one of the first to do so. He deserves to be remembered as a curling 'pioneer'!

On November 28, 1904, the Scotsman reported, "Mid-Calder. Members of this club had splendid play every day last week on Mr Stoddart's private artificial pond at Howden. This pond has proved in every way the advantages of the tar macadam system of artificial curling ponds. On Tuesday, after two and a half hours play in the forenoon, the ice became somewhat 'bauch' and after lunch the curlers engaged in a game of bowls on one part of the pond while the other part, which had been sprayed, gained time to freeze. Curling was then resumed the same afternoon."

The reference to playing bowls on the same surface as the curling rink is interesting. A tarmac surface that could have a use for other sports in the summer months would have been a sound investment. 

The Ordnance Survey 6 inch to the mile map published in 1908 shows the house, and a feature, highlighted, which is likely to be the tarmac curling rink. Howden House still exists, see here, and is surrounded now by Livingston new town.

As luck would have it, we may even know who constructed the rink at Howden. Andrew Scott, whose letterhead is above, was based at Watson's College Pavilion, Myreside, Edinburgh. He wrote in November 1905 to a prospective client, although it is not clear who this client was. Scott's letter says, "Your committee has visited the pond at Mid Calder belonging to Mr Stoddart. If the directors were satisfied it was suitable for those games (curling and bowls), I willingly guarantee you a pond even better than that."

This could mean that he had constructed the rink at Howden himself, or it could mean that he knew all about that rink but thought he could do an even better job in constructing a similar one. 

Scott's business seems to have flourished. The Arbroath Herald and Advertiser for the Montrose Burghs on November 19, 1909, describes how the Arbroath curling club's Cairnie-style pond had deteriorated and been converted to a tarmac rink, the work carried out to everyone's satisfaction by Andrew Scott. 

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1908-09 reprinted a letter, previously published in the Scotsman, written by John Anderson of Hillside, Moffat. Anderson had documented the occasions on which curling on the 'tarmac' had been possible over the winters of 1906-07 and 1907-08, and had compared the frequency of play with that possible on deep water ponds. He concluded that tarmac rinks had been a great success, offering three to five times the opportunity to play each winter than on deep water ponds. He also discussed the costs involved in constructing a tarmac rink.

The construction and costs of a tarmac rink were also detailed in the Royal Club Annual for 1909-10, in a letter to the Secretary containing the specification and cost of the three-sheet tarmac rink which had been laid down at Dyce, Aberdeen, in the summer of 1907. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century then, all of Scotland's curlers knew about tarmac rinks, and many more such sprinkle rinks were to be constructed, perhaps in consequence of the publication of information in the Royal Club Annuals.

Gordon Grant, in the Complete Curler, describes one way of constructing a tarmac rink. "The levelled space for the rink is first covered with a thick layer (about nine inches) of broken stones or brick, on top of which is spread a layer of ashes. This is levelled and consolidated by rolling. Another layer of rough ashes is spread over this, and it is again rolled level. An inch of sand is then placed on the top of this, and again it is rolled; then an inch of fine ashes, and more rolling. Lastly tar is run on evenly, sprinkled with fine sand, and rolled once more. The tar sinks into the ashes, and binds the mass together, thus providing the surface for spraying."

There was one disadvantage to such rinks - the sun! The ice on top of the tarmac was only a few mm thick, at most. So tarmac rinks were often constructed with artificial lighting, and games played at night!

And there was another more serious problem. As anyone who drives around Scotland knows well, even modern road surfaces have a habit of breaking up with constant wear, and the effect of winter weather! James Smith, the keenest of curlers, already had a natural loch and a Cairnie-style rink at Craigielands, near Moffat. To maximise his opportunities for play, he constructed a tarmac rink so he would be able to play after even a light frost. Denis Forman, in his own autobiography Son of Adam, recalls curling on the Craigielands tarmac. "When frost was forecast two gardeners would water the tarmac at nightfall and return to do the same at dawn. The sprinkling of water froze immediately even in a mild frost, and James Smith would not be slow to summon eight players to join him for a game. These would be 'friendlies' between members of the family and estate workers. Lunch was taken (a 'piece' and Camp coffee) at the little pavilion James had built by the rinkside to hold the stones for the tarmac game. As the day warmed up bits of tarmac stuck through the film of ice and scratched the stones' underside, so James provided at his own expense sixteen stones of various weights and with varying degrees of keenness to meet the taste of each player."

So, there was a possibility of damaging your stones if you played on the tarmac!

Keeping the tarmac surface level, and in good condition, from one season to the next would have been difficult. Yes, the top surface could be repaired, or completely relaid. If things got too bad there was an obvious solution. By building a small retaining 'wall' around a tarmac rink, it could readily be turned into a Cairnie-style pond, and I believe that is what happened with many.

J Gordon Grant, writing in 1914, refers to the introduction of the tarmac rinks as signifying 'a new era for the sport'. Of course two things intervened to change that prediction. One was the opening of Crossmyloof and then Haymarket to provide indoor curling on artificially frozen ice, and the other of course was the Great War.

Where were Scotland's sprinkle tarmac rinks? Good question. They don't often show up named as such on old maps. After all, would a surveyor immediately recognise a strip of tarmac, with no water in evidence, as a curling place? Sometimes, when a tarmac rink was constructed alongside an existing deep water, or Cairnie-style, pond, the outline of the tarmac can be seen on a twentieth century map. Lindsay Scotland has found several news reports from the Scotsman which describe the opening of new tarmac ponds, but often the location is vague. I know of two. There was one in Lochmaben, beside the Kirk Loch, known as the 'Coronation Rinks'. This dates from 1911, although the original surface has been replaced and the area is now a car and caravan park. The photo above shows what remains of the tarmac rink at Wanlockhead which was opened in 1923. If you know of other examples, please let Lindsay Scotland know. Become a 'pondhunter'! Lindsay's contact details are here.

But beware. Not all curling places that are described as 'tarmac rinks' are Category 5 sprinkle rinks. The Partick curling club pond, see here and here, may originally have been constructed as a Cairnie-style pond, and refloored at some point with tarmac. 

Bob Cowan

Thanks to Lindsay Scotland and Harold Forrester for help and encouragement with this article. Photos of the Tarfside pond and the Wanlockhead tarmac are by the author, as is the scan of Andrew Scott's letterhead. Scott's letters are in the author's collection of curling memorabilia. The news clipping image is © The British Library Board and reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive. The map clipping is a screenshot from an online map at the National Library of Scotland's maps website here. The top image is a screenshot from the Historical Curling Places website.

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.