Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mapping Scotland's curling places

We have already described how David has researched, from a variety of sources, the various places in Scotland where curling was played (see here).

Lindsay Scotland suggested putting all this information in a more graphical form. He and David are now working on this, and need some volunteers to help with the task!

The curling places map uses the features built into Google Maps. You can see here what they have done so far here with the first 100 or so locations. When you open the map, zoom in a bit and then select one of the little blue balloons, each of which is one of the Curling Places.

This initial trial has been very successful, and the aim now is to move on to include the complete list of the locations in David’s document.

With a total of some 2500 locations to add to the map, Lindsay and David are looking for some reasonably IT-literate volunteers to help. If they could get enough help (say twenty volunteers) the task should only take a few hours of each person’s time.

The task itself is not very complex and does not need any particular IT skills. It involves using search features in Google Maps and the OS website to pin-point the locations, and then placing these onto the map. You would need to have a reasonable internet connection (broadband), a standard browser (Internet Explorer or Firefox) and the ability to open PDF files. You would also need to be comfortable copying/pasting items of text between different open windows.

If you think that you can help, then please email Lindsay Scotland here.

This is a screenshot of how the curling places are highlighted on a map. On the Google Maps site you can zoom in, or out, or move around the map using the control on the top left, and locate places near where you live!

The full screen shows a scrolling list of the places on the left. If you click on a place, the information currently in David's database appears on the screen!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Who first pebbled the ice?

The first reference to pebbled ice that I have come across is the passage in the Rev. John Kerr’s wonderful book, Curling in Canada and the United States, where he, at page 344-9, tells his readers about preparation of Ice for Curling in Canada.

It is important to remember that in 1902-3, the date when John Kerr was captain of the first Scots team to tour and play in Canada, that although the major part of curling was done in covered rinks, that is, within buildings, it was still natural frost which froze them. The buildings were there to protect the curlers and the ice from the weather. The long and severe winters of Canada meant that the expenditure involved in going indoors was worthwhile.

When the ice had been flooded two or three times to get a level rink - a luxury that Scotland did not often afford – the ice was 'pebbled'. Kerr explains, "Strange as it may seem to the uninitiated, in this final process hot water is used; and when the mercury indicates a near approach to zero the water may be almost at boiling point, the objective being that the heated water may melt a seat for itself in the ice-sheet before freezing, and so not scale off under the action of a moving curling stone; …"

Dr Kirk, one of the team members, in the course of his impressions of curling in Canada, writes at page 549, "The surface of the ice is either sprinkled or corrugated. In the former case a watering can with a very fine rose is used, and hot water is sprinkled sparingly over the whole surface. This, of course, makes no pattern on the ice. In the latter, small streams of water issue from a pipe about 5 feet long, with pinhead apertures an inch apart, the pipe being fed from a tank attached to it containing hot water. This is rapidly run diagonally across the ice first from one side and then across so as to make a diamond pattern. This gives a certain texture to the ice surface, so that the stone answers more readily to the turn of the hand than it possibly can do on perfectly smooth ice."

Pebbling could only have evolved in Canada. The very idea of putting liquid water - and hot water at that - onto the longed for open air ice in Scotland would have seemed like ridiculous vandalism.

This photo of Ken Watson, in 1936, clearly shows that the diamond pebble was still in use at that time. The photo is from the Brier (the Canadian Championship), held at the Toronto Granite Club, and is from Doug Maxwell's book, the First Fifty: A Nostalgic Look at the Brier, Maxcurl Publications, Toronto, 1980. Maxwell describes how the pebble was made and says, "The ridged pebble thus produced was used for the entire week. There was no re-pebbling as in today's game. The ice would become progressively swingier as the week ran down to the final days."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Where is the Silver Broom?

The photos of the 1975 Silver Broom at Perth, on the blog here, have stimulated a question. Does anyone know what has become of the Silver Broom trophy?

It is more than twenty years since it was last played for. Is it in an Air Canada store somewhere? Does the WCF have it? Does anyone know?

The late Doug Maxwell, the executive director of the Silver Broom for many years, was trying to find out the answer to the question before his illness, with no success.

The top photo shows Air Canada's Maridee Coulter with the trophy in 1983. The photo below shows Sigrun Cowan in Glasgow's Kelvin Hall in 1985.

Note Sigrun's shoes, with their high heels. She walked confidently and securely the length of the ice with the trophy - a tradition at the event. Now, how did she do this? Should the secret be revealed? Enough time has passed. The senior flight attendants who had to make the walk each year glued sheets of sandpaper to the soles of their shoes! It is not on record what the ice technicians thought of the practice at the time.

These were the days!

Incidentally, we do know where the Scotch Cup is. This was the trophy played for in the early years of what was to become the official World Men's Championship in 1968. The trophy, pictured below, is now presented to the winners of the Scottish Championship, see here.

Air Canada photos by Mike Burns from the Scottish Curler archive.

Scotch Cup photo by Bob Cowan. A new base has been added to the original trophy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Kerr's History of Curling online

The cornerstone of any curler's library is John Kerr's History of Curling and Fifty Years of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The book was published in Edinburgh by David Douglas in 1890. It grew from the idea to celebrate the RCCC jubilee in 1888 by having a 'sketch of the Royal Club's history in the past fifty years'. Kerr's book turned into a scholarly treatise about the history of our sport, and is a fascinating read today.

The book is now online, courtesy of Electric Scotland. Every one of the more than 400 pages has been digitised and set out in chapters for the website. The book index can be found here.

The Electric Scotland website is huge! It is the brainchild of Alastair McIntyre. He created it first in Scotland in 1996, but it is now hosted in Canada where McIntyre now lives. On the website you will find a wealth of information on the history of Scotland, about the Scots, Scots-Irish and those of Scots descent around the world, Scottish clans, tartans and genealogy. Alastair has prepared a series of videos about each section of the web site, see here!

The project to create an online version of Kerr's History of Curling was announced in May this year, and the first couple of chapters were online by May 16. The project was completed in little over a month! The complete book, with all its illustrations, is now online. I find that quite amazing!

What I like about the website, and Alastair's efforts, is that the future has been considered. The site will be left to the Scottish Studies Foundation of Toronto and through them it will eventually reside on the McLaughlin Library computers at the University of Guelph and run by the Centre for Scottish Studies at that University. This will ensure that all the content will be preserved for future generations.

So, how does this help the curling historian? Having History of Curling online means that the content is searchable. Let's say we wanted to find out what Kerr has to say about the Coupar Angus and Kettins club, which David has pointed out recently (in the Scottish Curling Forum here) is the curling club with the longest continuous history, with the minutes to prove it. A Google search with the club name throws up a link to the Electric Scotland pages, and to Chapter 4 of History of Curling about Ancient Curling Societies. Try the link here.

A large format copy of Kerr's History of Curling in Bob's collection. It is open at the beginning of Part 11, Modern Curling: The Transition Period. See how this looks online here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Iron stones

Shirley Adams, a long-standing collector of curliana from Nepean in the area of Ottawa, has been in touch - see her comment here.

She is the source of two iron curling stones in my collection. The first came from Bob, when he was uncluttering himself before going to work and live abroad when he retired. It had come, he said, from Shirley, whom I met at the Glasgow Silver Broom in 1985.

The other was a direct gift from Shirley to me and it was brought from Nepean to my door by two special couriers, young curling friends of Shirley’s, who were on their way to the Broom at Vasteras. The iron had travelled the whole way from Canada as hand luggage! The body was wrapped in corrugated cardboard and through the top protruded the brass handle – for ease of carrying and identification. The couriers said that the appearance and weight of the object had caused considerable suspicion and much inspection but when they told people that it was 'a present for a ******* judge in Scotland' that seemed to smooth its passage!

We unwrapped it on the kitchen table and hanselled it with several drams of malt whisky, with a very little of which the iron was baptised.

The photograph below shows the two irons beside a conventional stone for comparison. Although the Blue Hone Ailsa is larger it weighs less: it is 37 pounds; the painted iron is 56, and the unpainted one is 60 pounds.

Both the irons ran on a cup of 7.5 inches; that is, the sole of the stone was hollow and only the outer edge was in contact with the ice. The unpainted iron has on its base a stamped maker’s mark: JOHN BRAIDWOOD & SONS MONTREAL, all in a circle round the much larger figure 17.

Irons were the common 'stone' in Lower Canada. Clubs which played with stone stones were generally called 'Granite' clubs to distinguish them from the iron-players. It was as late as the 1940s that the iron players decided to let their irons rust and make common cause with the granite-players.

Top: Two irons and a blue hone.
Above: The makers’ stamp on the sole.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Roar of Scotland's Darling Game

Curling has given rise to lots of verse: I suppose that writing about it during the long parts of the year when playing one’s favourite game was impossible to some extent satisfied the urge to celebrate.

Many a small volume of local verses contains a poem or song in celebration of the game. Many are impermanent for they were written for specific occasions about specific curlers or games. Others, however, deserve wider circulation.

One of the most prolific poets of the twentieth century was the Rev. A Gordon Mitchell.

He was a son of the manse. After studying at Edinburgh University he was ordained to the ministry at Shapinsay in Orkney in 1896. In 1898 he transferred to Killearn and there spent the rest of his professional and curling life, as member, chaplain, and secretary of Strathendrick CC. He was also president of the Forth and Endrick Province. As his obituarist in the Annual for 1944, p. lxxxviii, writes: “His masterly translations of Latin dramas of George Buchanan were recognised by his receiving the honorary degree of D.D. from St Andrews University.” His love of curling and the Royal Club earned him the position of Chaplain from 1920 until 1939. Poems and songs by Dr Mitchell appeared in Annuals from 1900 to 1938. They range from the celebration of joysome days on the ice to formal odes of welcome to a team of touring Canadians. He wrote with equal facility in braid Scots and in perfect English. He performed his pieces at many different sorts of gatherings.

Here’s a sample of his Scots, from A Day on Drumore.

The yird’s like a brick, an’ the cranreuch is thick,
An’ the air is as keen as a gully;
The sun rises bright on Benlomond sae white.
Hae! Get haun’les and beson, my billie.
We’ll daunder awa owre the cheep-cheepin’ snaw,
For I hae a vera guid notion,
The water to-day will be ready for play,
An’ the Ailsas will soon be in motion.

For we’ll a’ gang a-curlin’ the day,
All nature invites to the play.
Sae we’ll soop an’ we’ll roar on the dam o’ Drumore,
For we’ll a’ gang a-curlin’ the day…

When he was re-elected Chaplain at the annual meeting in 1934 he said: “I have really very much pleasure in thanking you for your renewed confidence and for the honour which you have been so good as to bestow upon me. I assure you that some of my happiest days have been spent amongst curlers. The game appealed to me from my early years, and my affection for it and for those who follow the game has been deepened by the passing years.”

At the lunch which followed the meeting the reverend doctor recited the poem printed below to much applause. It is not difficult to see why it found favour with such a gathering of curlers for it is full of his love for, and enthusiastic enjoyment of, the game.

The Roar of Scotland’s Darling Game

In dark December’s waning light
I wandered through a woodland way:
The air was keen, the ground was white,
And filigreed was every spray.
A little loch before me lay
And from its frozen surface came,
Mingled with shouts and laughter gay,
The roar of Scotland’s darling game.

Twas, ‘Daunder cannie up the slide,’
And, ‘Hit it like a cannon-ball’;
‘Lay me a gaird,’ ‘Hoots, man, ye’re wide,’
‘It’s keen, ye ken,’ ‘Mind, there’s a fall’;
‘Steady yoursel’ - nae mair reel-ral,’
And, ‘Gie’s anither o’ the same
Like Dauvit’s Psalms’ - and through it all
The roar of Scotland’s darling game.

The thunder of the captains keen -
The shouting of the players tense -
‘Soop for your life -
soop clean, soop clean’ -
The bold attack, the skilled defence -
The breathless pause - the fun immense,
And, like a double-bass to frame
An orchestra’s magnificence,
The roar of Scotland’s darling game!

Like brool of lion-throated seas -
Like pibroch’s far-resounding drone -
Like sough of rocking forest trees,
Or like the rising tempest’s moan -
Like distant thunder’s dreadful tone,
Salvos that far-off gunners aim -
The rumble of the channel-stone -
The roar of Scotland’s darling game!

Some love the direful game of war -
The battle trump that stirs the blood -
The martial shock - the mortal jar -
And long to prove their fortitude,
And make their country’s quarrel good,
With all their soul athirst for fame:
Give me the spiel of brotherhood -
The roar of Scotland’s darling game!

The hunter may extol the hunt -
The fisher praise his lonely sport -
The punter may prefer his punt -
The airman may the breezes court -
Above all games of any sort
That tongue of mortal man can name,
Give me the draw - the guard - the port -
The roar of Scotland’s darling game.

Drumore was and is the pond of Strathendrick CC. This picture shows the pond and curling house with ice that had been used a couple of days before. David's photo.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Silver Broom, Perth, 1975

From 1968 to 1985, the World Men's Curling Championship was sponsored by Air Canada. Ten countries competed each year for the Air Canada Silver Broom.

I saw a little of 1969, but I consider the 1975 event in Perth as the first that I really appreciated, although I was just a spectator. In the days before digital cameras, I took a few shots as 35mm colour slides, and I managed to keep hold of these through the intervening years. I got these digitised recently, and I would like to share them here. They provide a glimpse of what international curling was like thirty-three years ago!

Canada, USA and Sweden finished the round robin with identical 7-2 records. Switzerland was on 6-3. Scotland (skipped by Alex F Torrance with Alex Torrance, Tom McGregor and Willie Kerr) had a record of 5-4, France and Germany and Norway went 4-5, Denmark 1-8, and Italy 0-9.

Bill Tetley's Canada were tied against Switzerland in the last end of the semifinal with two stones to come. With three Canadian shots lying against him, Swiss skip Otto Danieli played an angled-raise with his last stone to take out the Canadian stone at the front of the four foot. With the Swiss shot hidden, Tetley had to play a draw to win, but slipped through.

Many will remember the Swiss shot in the semi, but how many recall that the Swiss had beaten Canada when the two countries met in the round robin.

USA (Ed Risling, Chuck Lundgren, Gary Schnee, Dave Tellvik) beat Sweden (Ragnar Kamp, Björn Rudström, Christer Mårtensson, with Axel Kamp skipping and leading) in the other semifinal. Danieli, with Roland Schneider, Rolf Gautschi and Ueli Mulli, were always in control in the final against the Risling team. The US skip missed twice in the ninth to give the Swiss a 7-3 lead. Switzerland had won the Silver Broom.

Lots of stats about world events can be found on the World Curling Federation site here. The problem is that the information about the 1975 Broom (here) appears to be wrong! Some scores must be incorrect. Canada lost only one game in the round robin according to the WCF, and that was to France. And France did not finish the round robin with five wins as the WCF records say. Neither did Norway finish with just three wins. It goes to show that you cannot always believe what you read on the Web! I wonder if the information I've posted above is the accurate version!

Please comment if you know what is correct.

The Earl of Elgin set off his cannon to get the event under way!

The traditional ceremonies.

Bill Tetley, Rick Lang, Bill Hodgson and Peter Hnatiw of Canada at the opening ceremony.

In the days before the internet, Doug Maxwell, the Executive Director, always made sure the media were looked after, and the stories from the world championships went around the world!

I wonder if the BBC has anything in their archives?

That's Scotland's Willie Kerr in the centre of the photo.

Round robin action.

USA skip Ed Risling in the final.

Otto Danieli of Switzerland delivers in the final. Did you notice that this transparency has been scanned from the wrong side!
All photos copyright Bob Cowan.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How many have drowned?

We've had our first question! Curlboy in the thread on the Scottish Curling Forum asks, "How common was drowning in the years gone by?" Given that the sport was often played on frozen lochs, accidents must have occurred. David answers the question!

"Contrary to the received wisdom of the present day, that curling out doors is inherently dangerous, the historical fact shows the opposite.

J Gordon Grant in his The Complete Curler tells us that the 'Army Rules' provide that two inches of ice will support a man, or infantry spaced six feet apart; when four inches thick it will carry a man on horseback, or cavalry, or light guns; when six inches thick, it will support heavy field guns, such as 80-pounders, and wagons drawn by horses…”

Why then do the Curling Authorities of the present look for eight inches of ice, a thickness that the Scottish climate is not really designed to produce?

Why did the Royal Club, as Bob informs me, have a team of subaqua specialists standing by at the last Grand Match in 1979?

All my researches over the last forty years and more have produced but one curling disaster. As Sir Richard Broun wrote in his Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia, 1830 , page 27, after listing all the Dumfries-shire parishes vanquished by Lochmaben '…and perhaps Kirkmichael might have been added to the list, but for the occurrence of a most disastrous accident by which six individuals were drowned, and a termination the most melancholy put to the bonspiel.' This is the only report of death by drowning at a curling match that I have come across.

Sure enough the newspapers from time to time recorded the death by drowning of persons because of ice breaking but they were mainly schoolboys sliding on the ice. Boys were generally inclined to try out the ice before it was properly bearing. Hence the advice reported to me by a miner from central Ayrshire whose mother used to say, 'Boys, don’t go onto the ice until the curlers have been on it.' (If it bore curlers it would bear sliding laddies.)

This is the sort of report that occasionally appeared: 27 January 1841, The Scotsman. “On Monday forenoon, while a number of boys were amusing themselves curling on the Molendinar Burn, immediately above the approach to the Necropolis, where there is a dam formed, and where the water is consequently deep, the ice gave way, and seven of them were immersed and almost in an instant disappeared, below the remaining ice. The dam, however, was emptied by opening the sluice with as little delay as possible, but we regret to say only five of them were got out alive. The names of the boys drowned are Francis Duff and William Rolls.” [Scottish Guardian].

I am not saying that ice never gave way under a curling match; merely that drowning was a very rare occurrence. The well-known black and white TV clip of Sir Robert Dundas and friends going through the ice of his shallow pond at Comrie in Perthshire in 1965 is but one example of this.

The last game I enjoyed on Coodham Loch near Symington was played on ice which creaked a bit but when measured after the game it was over 2.5 inches! Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fair test for a sheet of ice."

David B Smith.

Top: This is a still photo of Sir Robert Dundas and fellow curlers going through the ice at Comrie in 1965. You have to admire the dedication of photographer Alex Cowper, who kept filming before disappearing through the ice too!
Above: That's David with his back to the camera on the ice at Coodham. The photo was taken by a member of Troon Portland Curling Club. You can find more pics of members of that club curling outside in the archive section of their website.
Below: If drowning was an ever-present threat to curlers would Charles Altamont Doyle have made fun of falling through the ice as he does in this sketch of about 1860? From the David B Smith collection.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The places where curling was played

For ten years David Smith has been making a record of all the places where a game of curling has taken place. He began by going through all the Annuals of the Grand/Royal Caledonian Curling Club, from its inception in 1838 to the present day. From these volumes he noted the name of the place where any sort of game was recorded.

David also used the minute books of curling clubs as well as newspapers, and books. The comprehensive term 'places' has been used because of the variety of locations. Throughout the
recorded history of curling there is no doubt that the commonest place was the purpose-built pond. Clubs expended huge amounts of time, money and effort on the construction and maintenance of such shallow-water ponds. They also took every opportunity to play on dams and reservoirs, constructed for industrial and other purposes, when the ice there was satisfactory; and for large matches it was usual to play on natural, or man-made, lochs, and on surprisingly numerous occasions on frozen rivers, and, sometimes, canals.

The list of curling places was expanded in October 2000 and again in 2002, David studying old maps from across Scotland which show actual curling ponds.

The list was updated again in 2003 and in 2006, and now the newest version (2008) is available. It is hosted on the Royal Caledonian Curling Club website and can be downloaded here. It's a big pdf file. There are more than 2,500 places listed.

David will be pleased to receive information on curling places from curlers. He says, "If I already have it, no matter; but it may be new and important."

Many clubs keep alive the tradition of curling outside, and some continue to maintain their own 'curling places'. The top picture is of curling at Carrbridge on the club's tarmac rink in 2003. The photo is by David Robertson. More about the Carrbridge club is here.

Strathendrick Curling Club is another example. Check out photos of curling on their pond at Drumore here. Of many curling places, no trace remains, and old photographs of curling outside are quite rare. But sometimes one comes across tantalising references to curling places which are no more, such as 'Curling Pond Lane' a housing development in Longridge, West Lothian.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Robert Burns WAS a curler

When David Smith wrote Curling: An Illustrated History more than twenty-five years ago he said, “It is to be regretted that Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet, appears not to have been a curler. What a poem could have come from the pen that wrote The Holy Fair and The Jolly Beggars! As it is, we have to be content with two tantalising mentions of the game. In The Vision he uses curling to set the scene for the poem:

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

In Tam Samson’s Elegy the poet displays great familiarity with the game.”

David was to be proved wrong. He told the story of the new evidence which had come to light in the Burns Chronicle of Autumn 2006 (a publication of the Robert Burns World Federation), and in the April 2006 issue of the Scottish Curler:

"Athough no new Burns poem celebrating Scotland’s national game has been found in a dusty cupboard, what I have learnt is that in a copy of the Burns Chronicle of 1934 there is evidence that the Bard was a curler. For this I am grateful to Jim Clark, a retired policeman, who did us the honour at Ayr Curling Club this year of giving an inspiring toast to The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns. The irony of the situation is that that very copy of the Chronicle has sat with quite a number of others on my bookshelves for quite a number of years.

In the Chronicle there was published the first instalment of a then newly discovered series of letters between two friends of Burns, John Syme in the south west and Alexander Cunningham in Edinburgh. In a letter dated at Barcailzie, Kirkcudbrightshire, on 5 January 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…'

It is therefore no surprise that in Tam Samson Burns was able to use such technical terms as ‘cock’, which meant ‘tee’, in one stanza, and to fill the whole of the next with curling terms:

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 metaphor for death of lying on the hog-score of life is particularly apt for a curler. The mock elegy on this Kilmarnock sporting seedsman and nursery man was probably written about 1786 but not early enough for inclusion in the Kilmarnock edition.

At the time of this bonspiel Burns was not yet a resident in the burgh of Dumfries. It will be remembered that it was in the summer of 1789 that he and his family moved into the small dwelling house that he had had to build on the farm of Ellisland, on the banks of the Nith about six and a half miles north west of the town. In that year the poet was still a young man of twenty-eight and had just received his first commission as an exciseman in charge of the ‘Dumfries first Itinerary’. It was in 1791 that Dumfries became Burns’s home after Ellisland failed as a farming venture. He was, however, already a poet of international importance by virtue of the publication in Kilmarnock in 1786 of his Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, and of the first Edinburgh edition of the poems in 1787.

John Syme, the writer of the letter, was about four years older than Burns and was a lawyer. In 1791 he moved into Dumfries as Collector of Stamps, and when the Burns family moved into Dumfries in 1791 their first house was situated above Syme’s office. His friendship with Burns extended to making the arrangements for his funeral, and, with the other friend, Alexander Cunningham, the Edinburgh lawyer, collecting money for his widow and family.

At this time the Dumfries curlers played in rinks of eight, each throwing one stone, as appears from the diaries of William Grierson, published by John Davies in 1981, as Apostle to Burns.
The entry for January 24, 1795, reads, 'About 11 o’clock went to the river and played at the curling all day, having got a new stone from T. Grier, mason, Penpont. There was 16 of us playing, 8 on each side. The side that I was on gained. We played for 2d. (two pence) a game. At 7 o’clock went to W. Bryden’s to drink the winnings.'"

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

Could this have been Burns' own curling stone? Unlikely. It is certainly from the eighteen century, but the date is twenty years after his death. The stone is in David B Smith's collection.