This article was written by David Smith and was published in the March 2008 Scottish Curler.
The manufacture of curling stones on an industrial scale has never been common, perhaps because the product is so durable. Particularly when the game was almost solely played outdoors, stones hardly ever wore out - though some were broken in play - and were handed down from grandfather to son and grandson.
Noo, Dave, a preasant I’m to gie ye -
Tak’ may aul’ favourite stanes doon wi’ ye;
Tho’ chippit sair they aye rin soond;
An’ maybe as the years rin roond
They’ll lie as aften near the tee
Wi’ you, as they hae done wi’ me.
from An Auld Curler’s Advice to his Son, by W.S.F.
The years around 1900 seem to have been the high point in the proliferation of curling stone factories: there were seven then: Thomas Thorburn in Beith; T & A Kay in Haugh near Mauchline; Andrew Kay & Co. in Mauchline; John Keanie & Sons in Lochwinnoch; Donald & McPherson in Stair; David Beveridge in Perth; and J & W Muir in Beith. For ten or eleven years before 1892, Provost Gordon of Bathgate, himself a keen curler, was involved in making stones.
All of these firms, it appears, not only sold by retail, and repaired and repolished stones, but also sold by wholesale, for some of the big Glasgow and Edinburgh ironmongers and sports warehouses, like P & R Fleming & Co., Argyle Street, Glasgow, and R Anderson & Sons, Princes Street, Edinburgh, regularly advertised large stocks of curling stones ‘by the best makers’.
It is in the adverts that one comes across the great variety of stone types used in the manufacture. For instance, in 1882 Fleming advertised Burnocks, Tinkernhills, Ailsas - Grey and Red Hones, Carsphairn Red and Crawfordjohns; in 1890 Donald & McPherson added to these Silver Greys, Muthills, and Giells; and in 1892 Anderson advertised Grey Ailsa Craigs, Red Ailsa Hones, Grey Ailsa Hones, Crawfordjohns, Burnock Waters, Earnock Moor; to which in the same year Redpath, Brown & Co. added Blantyre Blacks, Blantyre Silver Greys, and Douglas Water.
Since almost nobody within living memory has bought for personal use a new pair of stones, most of these names mean little or nothing to the curling population. We all know - or do we? - what Common Ailsa looks like, and some of us know that the insert in an Ailsert stone is crafted from Blue/grey hone Ailsa, but how many would be able to tell a Crawfordjohn or a Burnock, far less a Tinkernhill or a Carsphairn Red? I personally couldn’t recognise a Blantyre, whether black or silver grey, and although I know where Muthill and Earnock are I have no idea what a stone bearing the name of these places looks like. As for Giells, is this a place or a person?
The main difference between stones of that distant period and the present is that they were made with two running surfaces: there was a more highly polished side for drug ice, and a less highly polished one for keen. The configuration of each sole was also different. The result was that the curler needed only a single pair of stones to answer to the many sorts of ice he encountered outdoors, whereas in former times it was necessary, if it could be afforded, for the keen curler to go to the ice with more than one pair of stones.
Top: Advert in the 1879-80 Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual.
Most curlers will recognise Common Ailsa, also called these days Green Ailsa (there being nothing ‘common’ at all about curling stone metal!)
Blue Hone Ailsa. This is commonly used nowadays for the running band of new and reconditioned stones.
This is a closeup of Crawfordjohn which came from Craighead quarry near Abington.
This is Carsphairn Red.
This is Tinkernhill.
This beautiful pair are Burnock Water stones from around 1900.
The photographs are by David B Smith and Bob Cowan.
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