Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The trains to the loch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fife and Kinross Beaten by 72 Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Babble of Sound

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Loch Leven, April, 2018

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Falkirk Ice Rink and the British Open Competition

It is good to see that the old 'British Open' trophy is being played for next weekend at the Peak, Stirling. The trophy's history is worthy of mention. It was first played for at the Falkirk Ice Rink in 1945. That rink had opened on Wednesday, November 30, 1938, the Earl of Stair doing the honours, as shown in the image above.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1939-40 records, "Indoor Curling in Scotland has been gaining ground rapidly, last season closing with artificial ice available at Crossmyloof (Glasgow), Haymarket (Edinburgh), Perth, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Falkirk and Ayr, whilst new rinks have been built during the close season at Paisley and Dunfermline. It is right to say that the development of ice hockey has been mainly responsible for the rapid increase of the artificial ice rinks in Scotland, but our game of curling stands a good second and provides a steady groundwork of support to the Ice Rinks."

The Falkirk rink had six sheets of ice for curling, but only on certain days of the week. In season 1939-40, the curling days were every Tuesday and Thursday, with three sessions each day: 10 am - 1, 2 - 5 pm, and 6.30 - 9.30 pm. But in the 1940-41 season, just two three-hour sessions on each of these days were advertised, from 4.15 - 7.15 pm, and 7.30 - 10.30 pm.

Of course, there was a war on. The Falkirk Herald of Saturday, August 24, 1940, had the following report:

"The bombers may threaten, but dancing continues merrily at the Falkirk Ice Rink every evening except Sunday. The patrons continue to be enamoured of the hot music purveyed by Joe Gibson and his London Band. Every Thursday evening there is a departure from syncopation, and patrons, young and old, engage in the traditional dances of Scotland. It’s a great night for all. Patrons are requested to take note of the big charity concert to be held at the Ice Rink on Sunday, 1st September. For further particulars, see our advertising columns."

Throughout the war, the Falkirk ice rink proved to be a popular entertainment venue, despite the blackout restrictions. Skaters, dancers and curlers all patronised the facility. There was even an ice hockey match between the Royal Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy in December, 1942.

In April 1943 the Falkirk Ice Rink Curling Club organised a competition in aid of the Scottish Branch of the British Red Cross Society. 

The war was still ongoing when the Falkirk Herald ran this promotional article of interest to the country's curlers on Saturday, December 2, 1944:

Arrangements have been made to hold the British Open Curling Championship at the Falkirk Ice Rink in the week commencing 5th February, 1945. It is anticipated that entries will be received from all over Great Britain. Most of the leading British players have already played over the Falkirk Ice and have congratulated the management on its quality. It is a fitting reward for all the work which has been done to obtain this standard, that the British championship is to be staged on the Falkirk Rink. Mr Festus Moffat, who is acting as secretary of the tournament, informs us that the championship trophy is open for competition to any four curlers. The winners, in addition to retaining the trophy for a year, are made the recipients of individual prizes, and the runners-up also receive individual prizes. During the championship week, a curlers’ dinner is to be held on the Tuesday, and an ice hockey match is being staged for the Wednesday, and on Thursday a dance, which will consist largely of old-fashioned dances, with Harold M'Ardle and William Hannah and his band, will help to make the championship week of greater interest."

The Falkirk Herald on February 3, 1945, had a photo of the trophy which was to be played for. The caption stated, "The photograph reproduced above is of the British Open Curling Championship Trophy to be competed for within the Falkirk Ice Rink next week. It is a 15-in diameter solid silver bowl of Queen Anne design, fluted pattern, on an ebony plinth. During the present week it has been exhibited, along with the other rink trophies, in the shop window of Mr W Callander, jeweller, 130 High Street, Falkirk, the whole making a most attractive display, in which a keen public interest has been evinced, the handsome championship trophy being generally admired. It is to be presented to the winning rink by the Right Hon. Thomas Johnston, PC, MP, at the final session next Saturday afternoon, when the ceremony is to be recorded for broadcasting." 

The competition duly went ahead with seventy rinks taking part. There were three sessions each day, and each evening had 'special attractions' for the entertainment of visitors and the general public. The participants included a Canadian side. The Falkirk Herald on February 7, 1945, reported that the Canadian Sports Service had sent a rink, representing the Maple Leaf Club. "Many of the players from the Dominion had never been in Scotland before, and to them, at least, their visit to Falkirk was full of interest. None of the Canadians had met previously, but they soon teamed-up as a rink determined to make a bid for the honours of the tournament. The arrival of the Canadians was marked by an interesting incident. The visitors were rather crestfallen to find that the old-fashioned broom used in Canada seemed no longer to find favour in Scottish curling, brushes now being substituted for the handy broom. The disappointment of the Canadians did not last long, however, for their needs were attended to almost at once. Mr Alexander and Mr Waddell, Dollar, procured a supply of the necessary brooms, and the Canadians were thus enabled to play the game with their favoured equipment."

The Daily Record had the results of the final game.

The Falkirk Herald made much more of the event as an article in the edition of Wednesday, February 14, 1945, shows. Here it is in its entirety. The report gives an insight into what curling was like in 1945, how it was perceived generally, and also the significance of the British Open competition.

 "The British Open Curling Championship, play in which was conducted at the Falkirk Ice Rink throughout the whole of last week, was undoubtedly one of the best organised and most successful competitive events of the kind ever held in Scotland. At the final tie, for instance, on Saturday afternoon, there were fully 1500 spectators, probably the largest crowd ever to have witnessed a single rink curling game in this country. It was evident at least, that the indoor curling game on artificial ice is increasing in popularity in Scotland, and the directors and management of Falkirk Ice Rink, by their enterprise and initiative in organising and carrying through so successfully the British Open Championship, have played an important part in creating public interest in this social but skillful recreation.

The final tie was between rink teams skipped by Mr J Wardlaw, Laurieston, Falkirk, and Mr William Scobie, Corstorphine. To reach the final both clubs had overcome some formidable opposition from all over Scotland, and even further afield. Play in the final was over 16 ends, and although the time occupied in the contest was three and a half hours, so keen was the interest manifested that the crowd waited until the end of play, and the presentation of the prizes by Mr Thomas Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland.

PLAY DESCRIBED. Both teams gave a capital display, and the many good stones sent down brought out loud and prolonged applause. The personnel of the respective rinks were: Laurieston— George Strang (lead), A Baird (2), D Maxwell (3), and J Wardlaw (skip). Corstorphine—J A Aitken (lead), A Davies (2), G. M'Clung (3) and W. Scobie (skip).

There was a cautiousness on the part of both skips at the start. The first six ends were generally in favour of Wardlaw, the score at this stage being five shots to one in favour of the Laurieston skip. From a local point of view, this was indeed promising, but the seventh end saw a transformation that was startling when compared with the previous ends. By skillful play and exceedingly meritorious placing of their stones, Scobie’s rink gained half a dozen shots, to take the lead by 7-5. This seemed to be the crux of the whole game, for Scobie always endeavoured to build up a strong well-guarded end, and when in the tenth end his tactics brought a collection of five shots, his rink never looked back. After that it was a battle royal between the two skips, but superior generalship told.

Wardlaw at times was splendid, but could not, nor would not, knock out his opponent's guards. At the 12th end, Wardlaw pulled up with three shots, and from then on until practically the end, Scobie never appeared to be really anxious about the outcome, and the game ended in victory for Scobie by 17 shots to 13 for Wardlaw. Both teams are undoubtedly in the championship class, but on the day’s showing Scobie's rink had just that something extra that carried them through."

The newspaper recorded that the individual members of the winning rink had each received silver salvers, and the runners-up, brandy flasks. A speech by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Thomas Johnston, was reported in full. He had presented the prizes, and the Falkirk Herald noted that "He did not take a gloomy view of the future. He was one of those who believed that a nation which could face up to the perils of Dunkirk, a nation that could face up to Hitler's Wehrmacht with a Home Guard armed with sporting rifles and walking-sticks, was a nation that was not going to go down in discordance. If we maintained among ourselves a modicum of goodwill resembling the ice team rink spirit, we need have no fear of the future of our country."

The Scottish Curler magazine was first published in 1954, by which time the British Open at Falkirk was well established as a major curling competition.

This photograph was on the front cover of the March 1954 issue of the Scottish Curler. It is captioned, "A Full House ... and Willie Young and his rink look for a way in. In this grand head, the 6th end in the 'British' final, 14 stones are grouped round the tee and Willie Young has the last stone. Note the spectator pointing out the shot to play. It's always easy from the bank!" 

Here we see the trophy, filled with whisky (as once was a common tradition) and passed around. John Miller is drinking from the cup, and looking on are John Pearson, Willie Young, John Robertson, George Lindsay, J Scott, J Gilchrist and Bob Young. The tenth British Open competition had been won by John Robertson's Glasgow rink who beat Willie Young's side 17-9 after fourteen ends.

In 1955 Jimmy Sellar was the winning skip, with his wife Rena as the lead on the team, the first woman to have her name on the trophy.

Falkirk Ice Rink rink closed as an ice sports venue in 1977, the British Open then being played at the old Stirling rink thereafter, before that rink also closed, and it moved to the Peak, Stirling.

I suspect this must have been one of the last times the trophy was competed for, in 2011. I reported on this here in the Skip Cottage Curling blog. The photo of the winners, above, was courtesy of Tony Flisch. L-R: Annie Laird, Lorna Vevers, Anna Sloan, Kelly Wood.

Here's to a great future ahead for the trophy, see here.

Other images are from the British Newspaper Archive, as indicated, or from Scottish Curler magazines.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The search for the earliest curling photograph

It is easy to ask a question, but often rather more difficult to find the answer. This I found out when, some time ago, I wondered, "When was the first photograph of curling taken?"

I knew there were some old photos of curling and curlers out there. But what was the earliest? I narrowed it down to two candidates. One, which showed curling on Smeaton Loch in East Lothian, had been printed in David Smith's book, Curling: an illustrated history, and the other of curling on Raith Lake, Kirkcaldy, was in The Curling Companion by W H Murray. Both these books were published in 1981, and the captions on both photographs suggested the original images had been taken circa 1860. I have been unable to find anything as yet to date these more precisely.

However, there is a third candidate - in fact two photos, different views but of the same occasion - on the ornamental pond(s) in the walled garden at Dunmore Park. Neither David Smith nor Bill Murray knew about these photos when they were writing their books. There is good evidence of exactly when they were taken, December 31, 1860! What is more, a passing reference in an old newspaper confirms that a photographer was present on the day.

Here is one of these photos, reproduced courtesy of Falkirk Archives. It shows curlers belonging to the Airth, Bruce Castle, and Dunmore curling club on the ornamental pond at Dunmore Park, near Airth.  The curlers in the photo are using broom 'cowes' rather than brushes, and the stones all seem to be of the modern type, with centre goose-neck handles. The ice appears somewhat wet! Two sheets are in use.

The photo's history is that the original was lent to Falkirk Museums by a private individual in 1989, where it was photographed, and a copy then found its way to Robin Welsh, the Editor of the Scottish Curler magazine, who printed it in the September 1990 magazine, with the heading 'The earliest curling photograph'. Discovering this reference in the magazine led me to the Falkirk Archives, now in Callendar House, and to The Pineapple, the National Trust for Scotland's property here.

Here is the pond today - it still exists, more than 150 years later in the walled garden at Dunmore, near the famous 'Pineapple'. It's not a curling venue anymore, but a wildlife pond, and much changed, with trees all around. But the little island in the curling photograph is still there!

Here's the background to the players and the curling club involved in 1860.

The Airth and Bruce Castle Curling Club was founded in 1841, and admitted to the Royal Club in 1842. Airth is a village on the south bank of the River Forth (near the Kincardine Bridge), and the 'Bruce Castle' references the nearby ruins, see here. It was one of the first clubs to join the Grand Caledonian Curling Club. Its joint presidents were William Graham and Patrick Maxwell Stewart MP. The secretary was Robert Towers, who would remain in that post until 1856. Forty-four regular members are listed in the Grand Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1842-43. Of particular note is that Dowager Lady Shaw Stewart, of Carnock, is the Patroness, and the Earl of Dunmore is listed as the Patron.

Incidentally, the Grand Caledonian Curling Club received its Royal patronage in 1843, to become the Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club for one year (1843-44), and then the Royal Caledonian Curling Club thereafter, the 'Grand' being dropped.

The inclusion of a Patron and/or Patroness in a club's membership return in old Annuals often, but not always, means that the club's pond was on the Patron's or Patroness's estate. For a club to be a member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club it had to have a place where they could play. Each club had to have 'a sheet of Ice for its operations', as stated in the General Regulations!

In the Annual for 1844-45, the following can be found, "On the 17th January 1843, our much-respected Patroness, Dowager Lady Shaw Stewart, presented to the Airth and Bruce Castle Curling Club a very handsome Silver Medal, to be annually competed for by our Members; which competition took place on Carnock Pond, on the 24th February 1844, when 20 Members appeared, and showed a dexterity in 'Scotia's ain game'."

So the curling pond on the lands of Carnock estate was used by the Airth and Bruce Castle Curling Club, and likely explains why Lady Shaw Stewart was the Patroness. It is in the Historical Curling Places database, as Place No 0548. This may well have been the club's home ice in the 1840s.

The Earl of Dunmore, the Airth and Bruce Castle CC Patron when it was founded, was Alexander Edward Murray, the 6th Earl. He died in 1845, and for the next three years (1845-48) the club only had Lady Shaw Stewart as a Patroness. She died in 1849. In the Annual for 1849-40, the Countess of Dunmore became the new Patroness of the Airth and Bruce Castle club. It was her husband who had died in 1845. They had four children. The third of these was born on March 24, 1841 - a son, Charles Adolphus Murray who would become the 7th Earl of Dunmore. He is the key to understanding the reason behind the old photograph, as we will see.

In 1853, John A Stewart Nicolson, the new owner of Carnock, became the club's Patron. The Countess of Dunmore continued to be Patroness alongside John Nicolson, until 1862.

But in 1859, the Earl of Dunmore became the club's President, and is listed as an 'Occasional Member'. Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore, had grown up! He had been four years old when his father died, and in 1859 would have celebrated his 18th birthday.

By the following year, 1860, the 7th Earl had become a keen curler. The Annual for 1860-61 records:


The Earl of Dunmore, on the occasion of his joining the Airth and Bruce Castle Club, having most handsomely given a Massive Silver Challenge Cup for Annual Competition in the Club; on February 1st the Club met in force, on the Ornamental Pond in Dunmore Gardens, for the First Competition.

No less than 32 Members were present, and 8 skips being chosen, the rinks and order of play were decided by ballot. After a keen contest of three hours, the following result was obtained:

J A Shaw Stewart's Rink 29, John Turnbull's Rink, 17
Archibald Malcolm's 25, Earl of Dunmore's 20
William Carmichael's 24, Robert Bowie's 19
Thomas Callendar's 23, William Russell's 13.

The Challenge Cup was then presented in due form to Mr Shaw Stewart, the skip of the victorious rink, and its goodly proportions were oft replenished with genial libations, and as speedily quaffed in honour of the Noble and Generous Donor, the fortunate Possessor, the Club, and the Ladies who honoured the Match with their presence, amongst whom were the Countess of Dunmore, Patroness of the Club, and the Ladies Murray.

In honour of the occasion, the Members of the Club determined that in future the name of the Club should be changed to Airth, Bruce Castle, and Dunmore."

The ABC curling club was to become the ABCD curling club!

The Annual records formally that the decision to change the name was approved at the Annual Meeting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, held in the Waterloo Rooms, Edinburgh, on July 25, 1860, the Airth and Bruce Castle CC being allowed to change its name to the Airth, Bruce Castle and Dunmore CC.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1861-62 records the following match held on December 31, 1860. This is the occasion that has been photographed.


The Members of the above Club, met on the 31st December 1860, on the Ornamental Pond in Dunmore Gardens and competed for a magnificent Gold Challenge Medal, bearing on the one side the following inscription: 'Presented to the Airth Bruce Castle and Dunmore Curling Club, by the Earl and Countess of Southesk, 1860'.

And on the edge: 'To be played for annually, till won three times successively by the same person, to whom it will then belong'. The other side being left blank for the names of the winners.

Thirty-two members entered the competition, divided into four Rinks. The following were the skips:

No 1 R Bowie 31 D M'Laren 26
No 2 W Russell 27 A Malcolm 14
No 3 Earl of Dunmore 13 W Carmichael 32
No 4 J Turnbull 32 T Callander 21

There was thus a tie between Messrs Turnbull and Carmichael, and the Umpire having appointed three ends to be played, Mr Turnbull scored 6, and Mr Carmichael 2. The former was therefore declared the winner of the Medal.

During the competition, the Earl and Countess of Southesk visited the Pond, and after its conclusion, the President of the Club, the Right Hon the Earl of Dunmore entertained the members to dinner at Dunmore Park. The Earl, who occupied the chair, was supported on the right by the Rev C Hinxman, and on the left by the winner of the Medal. The Earl of Southesk, A Malcolm, Vice-President, and John Turnbull, secretary, officiated as croupiers. After the usual loyal and patriotic toasts, the healths of the Countess and Earl of Dunmore, the Earl and Countess of Southesk, and the Ladies Murray, were given with all the honours. The remainder of the evening was spent with the utmost hilarity."

It is interesting to note that it was 'shots scored' rather than 'shots up' that decided the winning rinks.

The match was recorded in the Alloa Advertiser.

Why had the Earl of Southesk presented a medal to be played for by the club? The answer most probably lies with the fact that he had married the Earl of Dunmore's oldest sister, the Lady Susan Catherine Mary Murray, on November 29, 1860.

 The Hogmanay match was also reported in the Stirling Observer. On particular note is the following, "While the match was being played, the Right Hon the Earl of Dunmore, with his warm heart to curling, had an eminent artist present, who took both front and profile views of out knight of the broom; as also the spectators, in photography." This I believe is the first newspaper reference to the sport of curling being photographed, and confirms the origins of the Dunmore photographs to the cited dates! Just who the 'eminent artist' was is not stated.

Here is the second of the Dunmore photographs, again courtesy of the Falkirk Archives. At first sight it might look the same as the one above, but it is not. It is looking in a different direction. Again, the players are occupying two rinks.

In the earliest Ordnance Survey map, the ornamental ponds at Dunmore can be clearly seen.

Zooming in to the map, there appears to be two ponds close together. The photographer would have taken the photos from a position between the two ponds. The top photo is looking to the west (and is of the pond on the left) and the other is looking to the east (the pond on the right). 

The ponds are just one today. But standing in the middle, where it it narrowest, this is the view of the east side of the pond today. It is definitely the same place.

Considering the two old photos together, with two games on each of the ponds, there should be thirty-two players on the ice, and that is indeed what the photographer has captured, plus some spectators. We know the names of the skips, and indeed it can be surmised that everyone on the ice will be listed in the membership of the Airth, Bruce Castle, and Dunmore curling club in the Annual for 1860-61. I think we can even pick out the Earl of Dunmore in one of the photographs.

This could well be Charles Murray, on the right with his broom over his shoulder. He's the youngest looking player on the ice, and is in the forefront of the photograph! Play would have stopped, perhaps only for the shortest of time, for the photographer to take his photographs without any movement.

Given that the Earl would have been just nineteen years old, this is the earliest known photo of a 'young curler'! There's a little more about his later life here.

As the original photos were not donated to Falkirk Museums back in 1989, only allowed to be copied, it is not possible to say exactly what the originals were like. Most probably the photographer used the wet plate collodian process, see here. For an idea of the sort of camera that might have been used, see here. I do not know if the originals have survived, or where they are now.

There may well be other older photographs of Scottish curling awaiting discovery. Do let me know of any other candidates. However, the two taken at Dunmore Park on December 31, 1860, are remarkable in that we know so much about why, where, and when they were taken, and the players depicted therein.

The Airth, Bruce Castle and Dunmore CC was to survive for many years. Willie Young, one of Scotland's greatest curlers - some would say 'The Greatest' - was a member. Willie skipped his team of third John Pearson, second Sandy Anderson, and lead Bobby Young, when they represented Scotland in the 1959 and 1962 Scotch Cup matches. They curled out of the Airth, Bruce Castle, and Dunmore Curling Club. The notice of the club's resignation from the Royal Club can be found in the Annual for 1998-99. I wonder what has happened to the club's trophies and medals, and if the Earl of Southesk's gold medal, for which the photographs at Dunmore record a match, has survived anywhere?

My thanks go to the helpful staff at the Falkirk Archives at Callendar House, especially Jean Jamieson. The two photographs are reproduced here courtesy of Falkirk Archives. The newspaper clippings are as noted, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive, and the map clippings are from the National Library of Scotland's online maps website, here. The two photographs of the Dunmore pond today are my own. It was Lindsay Scotland who set me off on the trail of both these old photos after I had assumed there was just one. Thanks Lindsay!

Friday, March 23, 2018

The mystery of Scotland's first junior curling club

I do like a good mystery, and there are many lurking in curling's history. For example, why did the Murray Trophy cease being played for as a competition for young curlers in 1935, just six years after it had been presented to encourage such play?

In looking for an answer to this question, I discovered something of which I was unaware. You see, I had always thought that the Glasgow Young Curlers Club, established in 1967 and formalised in 1969, had been the first of Scotland's 'young curlers' clubs'. Turns out I was wrong. There had been an earlier club for young curlers at Edinburgh's Haymarket Rink in the 1930s!
It is well known that Tom Murray (above), who played second stones in the GB team which won the gold medals at Chamonix in 1924, presented a trophy to encourage play by young curlers. I wrote about the 'Murray Trophy' here. That trophy was first played for in 1929, when fourteen teams took part.

Murray may also have been responsible for establishing Scotland's first 'young curlers' club' at Haymarket! In the report of the first playing of the Murray Trophy, in the Royal Club Annual for 1929-30, it is stated, "Sir Robert Lockhart, Chairman of the Ice Rink Club, in presenting the T B Murray Trophy to the Linlithgow Club, said they owed a very deep debt of gratitude to the donor. That was a pet scheme of Mr Murray's, and he had spent an enormous amount of time and trouble to foster the game among young players."

The reference to 'enormous time and trouble' does suggest that Murray's efforts may well have been in instructing young curlers at the Haymarket rink, and not just in purchasing a trophy for them to play for. Was it at his suggestion that some of those young curlers at Haymarket formed themselves into a curling club?

In the September 1958 Scottish Curler there is an article, by the editor Robin Welsh, describing Jock Waugh's ideas to resurrect the Murray Trophy again to be a national competition for young curlers, when it had last been used for such a purpose in 1935. Reflecting on the trophy's history, Robin states, "In addition, to launch the competition in style, Tom Murray and an elite group of experts marked every Friday night in their diaries, and, each week, came to the Rink (Edinburgh Ice Rink at Haymarket) to train young curlers."

The mystery of what happened to the competition is not helped by what that article then says, "The Murray Trophy, Edinburgh's biggest cup - a massive piece of silverware - was played for from 1929 to 1935. Then, for one and many another reason, it left the junior ranks and became one of the senior trophies at the Edinburgh Rink." What were the 'one and many another reason' that had led to the demise of the country's only competition for junior curlers? I hoped to find the answer.

I decided to look at the history of the Scottish Junior Curling Club, in parallel with what I already knew about the Murray Trophy's early years. There is no direct connection between the Murray Trophy and the Scottish Junior Curling Club, other than the involvement of Tom Murray.

The records show that the Scottish Junior Curling Club was admitted to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1929. At the Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Club in the Peebles Hydro on July 31, 1929, the names of twenty-five new clubs were read out. This list did not include the Scottish Junior Club, but it was not unusual for a new club to be admitted if duly proposed after the annual meeting, but before the Annual went to print. This is what happened with the Scottish Junior Club. This and six other clubs are separately listed in a section called 'Late New Clubs'.

Here is the membership roster at the beginning of the 1929-30 season, as recorded in the Annual for 1929-30.

The patron is T B Murray.

The winners of the first Murray trophy competition, held earlier in 1929, had been J Oliphant (skip), A Paris (3rd), J Morrison (2nd), and I McKnight (lead), from the Linlithgow Curling Club. None of these are listed above. But the runners-up were from Merchiston CC, skipped by A Allan, with W Roberts, W Ainslie and J Nisbet, having lost to Linlithgow 16-9 in the final. Note that Roberts, Ainslie and Nisbet are all listed as members of the Scottish Junior Curling Club in its inaugural season.

Here is evidence that the Scottish Junior Curling Club was formed sometime in 1928. This clipping from the Scotsman reports on the first annual meeting of the club in November 1929, and indicates that the Club had been formed 'last year', that is, in 1928.

So, the Scottish Junior CC was in existence before the first Murray Trophy competition took place.

It should be pointed out that the Murray Trophy was a competition run at, and by, the Edinburgh Ice Rink. It was not, at that time, a national competition organised by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The Scottish Junior Curling Club curled out of the Edinburgh Ice Rink at Haymarket. The choice of name suggests that it did not want to be seen as just a club for Edinburgh young curlers.

In season 1929-30, the Murray Trophy was won by Biggar - Wm Brown (skip), Wilson Brown, J. Plenderleith, and A H Brown. Runners-up were Merchiston - R G Manson (skip), W Roberts, J Ainslie, and J Nisbet. John E Nisbet is listed as the Scottish Junior Club's Treasurer and Secretary, and other finalists are members of the Scottish Junior Club too.

This is the club's membership in the 1931-32 Annual. It certainly looks to be prospering, with twenty-nine members.

The previous season, the club had been awarded a Royal Club 'Local Medal' to encourage points play, although I cannot find who won this, or even if it was played for at all. Of course, the club already had a points medal, presented by Dr MacRobert and Mr D Reid back in 1929 at their first annual meeting. This was won by J Fordyce in 1931.

In the absence of old minute books, we do not have any record of the games played by members within the Scottish Junior Club.

However, the club also was matched to play for a District Medal against Temple in the 1932-33 season, but the result of this match is not recorded, if indeed it was ever played.

At the beginning of the 1932-33 season, the Scottish Junior Curling Club had nineteen members and a new Secretary and Treasurer.

This was J F Waugh, a name that would become well known in the years ahead. T B Murray was still the Patron. The President was R H Watherston. This last had been a member of the team that had been runners-up in the Murray Trophy the previous season. Linlithgow were the winners: A Paris (skip), A F Dickie, J Bennie, and I A MacKnight. Runners-up were the 'Co-optimists': R Dunlop (skip), R Watherston, J Ainslie, and J Forrest.

The Linlithgow juniors had been the first winners of the trophy back in 1929. Success spurs success, and local interest, and the Linlithgow Gazette newspaper reported that the 1930 contenders had played a match against veteran curlers on outside ice, on Linlithgow Loch, before their first games in the Edinburgh Rink in February, 1930. But they did not reach the final that year.

The newspaper even promoted the local young curlers in this article from March 20, 1931. As it turned out, they were beaten in the final by Biggar. However, in the following season, the trophy was won by a Linlithgow team (as mentioned earlier).

The Linlithgow Gazette reported on Friday, May 6, 1932, that the trophy 'of handsome design, has been on view in the window of H Shields and Sons'.

Three years on ...

This the last record of the playing of the Murray trophy as recorded in the Scotsman of Saturday, March 16, 1935, the final of that season's competition having been played on Friday, March 15.

Here's the last entry for the Scottish Junior Club in the Annual for 1935-36. That Annual also records that the D Reid and Dr MacRobert Points medal had been won by D Kyles, with 22 points. In second place was J F Waugh, 20 points. There is no indication that the club is in anything other than a healthy state.

Nor, at the beginning of the 1935-36 curling season, is there is anything to suggest that the Murray Trophy would not be competed for in that season. Over the years from 1929 to 1935, the trophy had been played for just six times, and won by young curlers from Linlithgow, Biggar, Biggar (again), Linlithgow (again), Corstorphine, Corstorphine (again), and Corstorphine (yet again). Had Corstorphine's domination of the competition over a three year period discouraged others? It is interesting that Waugh's team entered the competition under 'Corstorphine' and not 'Scottish Junior'. Two of the members of the winning Corstorphine team in 1935 (Waugh and Kyles) are listed as members of the Corstorphine CC in the Annual for 1935, whereas three (Waugh, Kyles and Fordyce) are members of the Scottish Junior Club. Was J Wylie a member of another club? I cannot find the answer.

The Annual of 1936-37 records that the Scottish Junior CC had ceased to be a member of the Royal Club. The same Annual also notes that the T B Murray trophy was not competed for in the previous season.

It is a mystery, and despite much searching, and much speculating, I cannot say with certainty why this might have happened. Perhaps entries for the Murray Trophy competition had just declined over the years. Fourteen teams had entered in 1929. I do not know how many took part in 1935. You can find an interesting statement in the report in the Scottish Curler of April 1959, when the Murray Trophy was played for again as a national junior competition, "The trophy was run with success in the Edinburgh Ice Rink until 1935, and many well-known pre-war curlers helped to foster an exciting new interest in young curling. It was particularly tragic, therefore, when the tournament suddenly languished and died, the trophy being handed over for senior competition in the Edinburgh Rink." Why had it 'suddenly languished and died'?

Speculating more positively, perhaps there was no longer a need to have an Edinburgh based club, just for 'junior' curlers, if other clubs were making more provision to encourage younger members at that time. I wonder.

It is even stranger to understand the demise of both club and trophy when you realise that the originator of the trophy, and the Patron of the Scottish Junior Club, T B Murray, became President-elect of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in July 1935, and then President in July 1936. The very Annual that records Murray's election to President is the same publication that records that the Scottish Junior Curling Club has ceased to be a member of the Royal Club! Surely Murray would have done all he could to maintain and preserve the Trophy that he had donated, and the Club of which he was patron?

Perhaps there is a clue here. With Tom Murray's energies and activities turned towards his position as curling's top man, perhaps he just wasn't able to continue to help with the junior curling. And without his input, junior curling in Edinburgh just fell away.

Tom Murray died in 1944.

I like a good mystery, but I suspect that there must be more to this than meets the eye.

One question that comes to mind is, "What was the age of a 'young curler' or a 'junior curler' back in the 1930s?" The first Treasurer/Secretary was John E Nisbet. Thanks to Scotland's People his birth certificate is easily found. John Edgar Nisbet was born on July 1, 1905. In 1929 he would have been 23 or 24. Sadly, we know too that the skip of the first rink to win the Murray Trophy in 1929 was John Oliphant, who died on June 4, 1929, not long after his team's curling success. He was just 23 years old.

There's no published age limitations for the early Murray Trophy matches as far as I can see, but when the trophy was resurrected in 1959, it was for curlers of 25 and under, and it seems likely that one's mid-twenties might well have been the upper limit for being a 'young curler' back in the 1930s.

Membership of the Scottish Junior Curling Club may have been more flexible. Scotland's People can help identify the R H Watherston who was President of the Scottish Junior CC from 1932 to 1935. He was Robert Henderson Watherston who was born on May 11, 1907. He would have been in his late twenties in the last year of his presidency of the club.

However, John Forbes Waugh was born on March 20, 1912. He would have been twenty years old when his name first appears as Treasurer and Secretary of the Scottish Junior CC at the beginning of the 1932-33 season, and would have been just about to celebrate his 23rd birthday when he skipped his team in the Murray Trophy final on March 15, 1935.

The last two winners of the Murray Trophy, in 1934 and 1935, had been teams skipped by Waugh, the Treasurer and Secretary of the Scottish Junior Club. He had played second on the winning team in 1933. He was already a trusted administrator and an accomplished curler.

Moving forward more than twenty years, it was J K (Jock) Waugh who was instrumental in having the Murray Trophy resurrected in 1959 as a trophy for junior curlers, this time a truly national competition for young curlers of 25 years of age and under, as it was administered by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Jock is more remembered today as the director of the first Scotch Cup competitions, the first steps in the evolution of the World Men's Curling Championship. His obituary in the 1966-67 Annual, shows how much he was a respected figure, as the following extract shows:

"The sudden death of Jock Waugh shocked the curling world. We use the word 'world' advisedly because Jock had played in almost every curling country and everywhere had left the stamp of his personality. While his name was a household word among the Scottish curling fraternity, he was known and loved far beyond the boundaries of Scotland. In addition, as a man of wide sympathies, with immense popular appeal, he was admired and respected in many circles outside curling. But curling was his main recreation. More than that, he was dedicated to the game, which he fervently believed to hold unique qualities of skill, fellowship and character. He himself, with his keenness, sportsmanship and good cheer, was the embodiment of all that is best in Curling ..... "

I like this photo of Jock Waugh (third from the right). It was taken after the Ernie Richardson team had won the series of Scotch Cup matches against the Willie Young team. The Scotch Whisky directors had 'enjoyed a friendly game with the Champions'! (L-R: Brodie Hepburn, Ernie Richardson, Arnold Richardson, Archie Scott, Garnet Richardson, Jock Waugh, Jim Draper and Wes Richardson.)

I mentioned earlier the article in the 1958 Scottish Curler magazine. As a footnote to this the magazine Editor Robin Welsh has added, "Schoolboy and youthful curling has never been given wild encouragement in Scotland." That was to change dramatically in the years that followed, Waugh getting the Murray Trophy going again being no small part in this!

The early years of the T B Murray Trophy, the existence of a forgotten Scottish Junior Curling Club from 1929-1935, and the efforts of Tom Murray and Jock Waugh to encourage junior curling in Scotland, should not be forgotten in curling's history, whatever remains to be discovered about the history of young curlers in that period between the wars and why the Murray Trophy competition, and the Scottish Junior Curling Club, both came to an end at the same time.

The Scottish Junior Curling Club membership images are from Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annuals in my collection. The top image of Tom Murray is from a scrapbook in his family's possession. The Scotsman clippings are © Johnston Press plc, via the British Newspaper Archive. The Linlithgow Gazette clipping is also © Johnston Press plc, via the British Newspaper Archive. The image of the Scotch Whisky directors with the Richardson team comes from the March 1959 issue of the Scottish Curler.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Braid Hills Ladies

The Clydesdale Bank was for many years a great supporter of women's curling in Scotland. The bank first came aboard in October 1977, when the national competition was to find a team to represent Scotland at the European Championship. The European playdown the following year was called the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Ladies Curling Championship. In 1979 this competition was to lead to a world ladies championship, for the first time. The Clydesdale Bank's sponsorship of the national championship continued. For the 1987-88 season, a new trophy was commissioned. That's it above, from the February 1988 Scottish Curler, without photo credit.

For its time it was rather unusual. On the glass slab on the top of the trophy was etched an old photograph, more about which below. At the time of the presentation of the new trophy Ian McLellan was Public Relations Manager for the Clydesdale Bank, and his 'assistant' was Alan Sloan, who is still well known to curlers today as the chair of the Glynhill organising committee. The Clydesdale Bank sponsorship came to an end in 1992, after sixteen years.

Here are the first winners of the new trophy in 1988, from the February 1988 Scottish Curler, uncredited: (L-R) Sheena Drummie, Kimmie Brown, Margaret Scott and Christine Allison (skip), who beat Jane Gallagher and her team of Kathy Cameron, Billie-May Muirhead and Jennifer Blair, 6-3 in the final at Kirkcaldy.

The curling historian will want to know more of the old photograph etched onto the new trophy.  It shows women on the ice at the Braid Estate Recreation Grounds, Edinburgh on a rink on the tennis courts. The Braid Tennis Club occupies the site today. The use of tennis courts for winter curling was not uncommon in the early years of the twentieth century.

The photo can be found in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1902-03. It was reproduced in the Scottish Curler magazine of September 1955, from which this image is scanned. Unfortunately, the photographer is not recorded in either the Annual nor the magazine. But it can be dated fairly accurately, most likely to the winter of 1901-02.

Here is what is recorded in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1902-03:


THIS club, composed of three rinks, was formed in the winter of 1901-2, at a meeting held in the Tennis Club Pavilion, the use of which is kindly granted to the club during the curling season.

A president (Miss E W Hardy), vice-president, secretary, and executive committee were appointed. The club is under the patronage of Lady Gordon Cathcart, proprietrix of the Cluny estate.

The ice is made by means of spraying the ash tennis courts; and within six to eight hours a beautiful sheet of ice is obtained. At the close of each day's play the ice is renewed by spraying, which only occupies about fifteen minutes, and 'new leads' are ready for the morning. The rinks are arranged to run across the tennis courts, which, being over fifty yards in breadth, give full-length tees.

A new use is thus shown for tennis courts, which previously lay useless during the winter months. This is a suggestion which is worthy of being taken up by country clubs who have difficulty in finding good and safe ice. School play-grounds could be largely utilised for skating and sliding-places for the children. As the ice is from a quarter of an inch to any thickness, resting on the solid ground, there is no fear of a ducking!

Ice curtains are hung round the rinks, and do good service in keeping off the rays of the sun, which is often more powerful in winter than in summer now-a-days. The Braid Estate Recreation Grounds are beautifully situated near the Braid Hills, and at the foot of Blackford Hill, the scene which Sir Walter Scott spoke of as so dear to him in his boyhood. It is three minutes walk from train and car.

A gentleman's club has been in existence for two or three years, and some roaring games have been enjoyed. The use of the tennis pavilion is a great boon, for there is a capital gas stove where hot soup, coffee, etc, call be easily made. Several exciting games and matches were played by the ladies, and the club received challenges from the Hamilton and Broughty Ferry ladies' clubs. A thaw unfortunately prevented them being accepted, but the Braid Ladies hope to meet them both next season.

A pair of stones presented by Mrs Forrest, the vice-president, were played for by the club, and won by Miss E Dunn, who was also presented with a pair of silver-mounted handles by Edward Bayley, Esq."

I was excited when first reading the above, not only because it records the use of the tennis courts in some details, but it also seemed to record another pioneering women's curling club, joining the list of Hercules Ladies, Boghead Ladies, Balyarrow Ladies and Cambo Ladies as well as the 'ladies section' of the Broughty Ferry CC, not forgetting Henrietta Gilmour and her team, from Lundin and Montrave CC, see here, all active on the ice at the beginning of the twentieth century.

But all is not what it seems. The Braid Hills Ladies did not exist as a separate club for long, and perhaps never had an identity separate from the men.

You see, the Braid Estate Recreation Grounds Curling Club was not admitted to the Royal Club until the Annual Meeting of the Representative Members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, held in the Royal Hotel, Edinburgh on July 30, 1903. The Braid Hills Estate club was proposed by Colin Moffat, of the Waverley CC, seconded by the Reverend John Kerr, and was one of eleven new clubs joining the national body that year.

But this was not a women's club. The club membership roster in the 1903-04 Annual shows there were twenty-seven male Regular and Occasional members, with an additional fifteen women, listed as 'Occasional' Lady Members. One has to ask why the original aspirations of the women to form their own club, as recounted two years earlier, had not been realised. What had happened to the secretary and executive committee mentioned in the 1902-03 Annual? If there had been a women's club, why had this not lasted on its own for more than a year or two? And had the women decided to join the men's club willingly? I don't know the answers.

Here are the names of the women on the club roster in 1903. The Miss Hardie could be the 'Miss E W Hardie' who was named President in 1901-02. The 'Mrs Forrest', the Vice-president who had presented stones to be played for by the club, could be the 'Miss Forrest' on the list. There are two members named 'Miss Dun' (sic), and one of these must be the Miss E Dunn who won the stones.

The Braid Estate CC prospered, simplifying its name to the Braid CC in 1905. It constructed another pond, with four rinks, not far away from the tennis club, at the east end of Cluny Drive, at the foot of Blackford Hill. The two locations can be found on the Scottish map on the Historical Curling Places website, here.

By the outbreak of the Great War, the Braid CC had twenty-seven male members and just four women. One of these, Miss Brander, was a very accomplished player, skipping her rink of Mrs Armour, Miss Mackintosh and Miss Taylor to the final of the first competition for Sir John Gilmour's Cup in January 1914, where eight women's teams took part in the event at the Edinburgh Ice Rink, Haymarket, that indoor rink having opened in 1911. The Gilmour Cup can be identified as the first open women's competition in Scotland, see here. The Cup was won by the Balerno rink skipped by Mrs Brodie. The runners-up were entered under the Braid CC name. Three of the team are three of the four names recorded in the Braid CC's membership roster in 1914 - Miss Brander, Miss Mackintosh and Miss Taylor. All had been club members since 1903. They may even have been in the 1901 photograph! The other member of the Brander rink was a Mrs Armour, who was one of seven 'Occasional Lady Members' listed in 1912.

I do not know the whereabouts of the original image of the lady curlers on the Braid Hills pond in 1901, nor what happened to the Clydesdale Bank trophy after 1992. If you know, do email me with the details. Images are as identified in the text.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Clash of the Champions 2002

The season 2001-02 was a great one for the women curlers of Scotland. Not only did Rhona Martin, Debbie Knox, Fiona MacDonald, Janice Rankin and Margaret Morton win Olympic Gold in Ogden, Utah, representing Great Britain, but just weeks later Jackie Lockhart, Sheila Swan, Katriona Fairweather, Anne Laird and Edith Loudon, carrying Scotland's colours, became the World Champions at Bismarck, North Dakota.

On December 1, 2002, a match was arranged between these two sides.

Christine Stewart takes up the story, writing in the Scottish Curler. "Sunday 1st December, and thousands of shoppers poured into Braehead Shopping Centre near Glasgow to start the serious business of Christmas shopping. Mingling with the shoppers were 600 eager curling fans. They had come from far and wide. Andrew Dodd and Ian Brooks who had got hooked on curling during the Olympics travelled all the way from Brighton. They had been lucky enough to get hold of tickets for what was billed as 'The Clash of the Champions'.

The event was promoted by the British Olympic Association, who had brokered the deal with TV and put up the £10,000 prize pot for a skins game, that type of match still rather uncommon in Scotland at the time. The BOA's involvement was hailed as 'an entrepreneurial first' for the organisation, and it was suggested that their involvement, if successful, 'may herald their arrival as a new player in UK sport promotion'.

Philip Pope, the BOA Press Officer, explained, in an article in The Herald written by Doug Gillon, "We are doing this in the interests of the sport, and not as a commercial enterprise. We have tried to find a mechanism to make it as competitive as possible, to celebrate and showcase a great British achievement which may never happen again."

Mike Hay, at that time the Scottish Institute of Sport's national curling coach, was instrumental in putting the match together. In the years since, Mike joined the BOA in 2006, and has risen in the organisation to be Head of Sport Engagement. He was the Chef de Mission of Team GB at the recent Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

A simple four page programme was produced for the event, and this contained detailed biographies of the two teams, and of the individual players.

Christine Stewart again. "The curling hall at Braehead had been transformed into a television set. Only one sheet of ice was visible, complete with BOA logo in the ice. The other seven ice sheets were covered in blue flooring, and 600 seats had been installed along one side of the curling hall.

Soup, coffee, drinks, sandwiches and snacks were being dispensed from table behind the seats. The bar windows were draped with blackout material enclosing the playing area, setting the stage for 'The Clash'. Opposite, BBC television with all its gizmos and gadgets was set up, and cameras at either end on long jibs were set to catch every stone and every sweeping call.

A gantry had been erected to house the commentators, the Olympic team of Dougie Donnelly and Kirsty Hay. Hazel Irvine was on hand for the introductions and interviews."

Sandy Forrest, from Cumbrae Primary School, and Alison Howie from Craigholme School, had won a competition to be the flag-bearers for the teams. Sixteen year old Jack Sillito, a fifth year pupil at Glasgow Academy, piped in the teams. 

How did the game go? At the halfway point the Olympians had £2,100 in the bag. Playing the final end Rhona's team had already won the match but £3,500 was still available.

Christine Stewart describes the climax. "Jackie lay two shots, Rhona had the choice, go for the double takeout and the money, or play a safe draw and take the game to an extra end. The crowd wanted the double, and she went for it, but lifted one stone only, leaving Jackie's team winning the end.

Final score was Olympic Champions £5,300, World Champions £4,700, not bad just a few weeks before Christmas. (Added later: In fact the curlers did not receive cash, but goods to the value.)

The crowd in the curling hall voted the event a huge success, and the fans left wanting more of this type of curling."

The match received good coverage in the print newspapers of the time, as the three articles above, written by Doug Gillon and Neil Drysdale, demonstrate. The year 2002 seems not long ago, but this was still before the days of smart phones and social media!

They make great reading now. Drysdale's preview in the 'Weekend Sport' section of The Herald had a number of provocative quotes from Jackie Lockhart. And we learned a little about her team. Drysdale writes, "Her rink comprises a rich mix of diverse characters. There's Kat Fairweather, 24, 'the shy, quiet one'; Anne Laird, 31, 'who popped out to the toilet in Bismarck and had her flush televised live on the show'; Sheila Swan, 23, 'the cheeky extrovert with a flair for karaoke and dancing to YMCA'; and Lockhart herself, who doesn't seem overly interested in the standing on ceremony or mincing her words."

At the big match at the Braehead rink, everyone was dancing to YMCA between ends!

The two photos of the match at Braehead, showing the Martin team in action, and Debbie Knox in the head with Jackie and Sheila behind, are by Hugh Stewart. The other material is from my own archive.

Does anyone have video of the BBC transmission of the game?