Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Glasgow Stones

This feature appeared in the October 2008 Scottish Curler magazine. David B Smith tells the story:

Late last year I got a phone call from a dealer in Perthshire about a pair of curling stones which were about to appear in the catalogue of a Perth saleroom. Nothing unusual about that, I hear you say. They were in their original box. Again, nothing very unusual about that. The box was lined throughout in crimson velvet; the circular holes into which the stones were placed were also lined in velvet. It was beginning to sound as if these were rather special stones. The handles were of a most unusual design and were cast from solid silver and the grips were made of horn. These were really special stones.

I had to wait until the description of the stones appeared in the sale-room catalogue. When I looked there was more. There was a plaque attached to the box, which bore this inscription:
‘OAK, Original Old Stockwell Bridge, Founded above the year 1335’ And the handles bore this inscription. ‘RESPECTFULLY PRESENTED To the Right Honourable Robert Stewart, LORD PROVOST OF THE CITY OF GLASGOW, This Pair of Curling Stones Chiseled out of the Boulders Found IN THE FORMATION OF Kelvin Grove Park By John Murray Contractor, 1853’

At this point I decided that a closer look was necessary and I applied to the auction house for photographs. The stones were indeed particularly splendid. The estimated price, however, was daunting: £800-£1000. I decided that the best course would be for me to be sure that the National Museums of Scotland and Glasgow Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery knew about them, for they were of museum quality.

In the meantime I sought out more information about Robert Stewart. It was clear from the inscription that he had been a Lord Provost of Glasgow. I discovered that he was born in 1810, had inherited and expanded the business of iron and coal master of Omoa in the parish of Cleland, and had joined the town council in 1842. He became Lord Provost in 1851 and became responsible for the purchase by the council in 1852 of the estate of Kelvin Grove, from the grounds of which the West End Park was created to provide recreational space for the citizens of the city which was rapidly expanding to the west away from the only other green space, The Green. The old bridge referred to in the plaque was demolished in 1851. He also led the successful campaign for the provision by the city of fresh water for the city from Loch Katrine in opposition to the plan of the Glasgow Water Company to supply it privately from Loch Lubnaig.

Robert Stewart is commemorated in the Kelvingrove Park by a vast ornate fountain (which, ironically, is not now permitted to run because it is fed by the public water supply). See here.

It appears that the curling stones were the result of the West End Park venture. Since it seems reasonable to suppose that the recipient of a gift of curling stones was himself a curler, further research in that area was necessary. The Annuals of the Royal Club provided only one Robert Stewart in the whole of Lanarkshire at the correct dates, and he was Robert Stewart, member and latterly secretary of Chryston Curling Club. The president of this club was Mark Sprot, advocate and ironmaster, and it may well be that their community of business caused them to be members of the same club.

The sale came and went. I saw on the internet that the stones had been sold for a hammer price of £3000! To this, of course, falls to be added buyer’s commission and VAT on the commission. I contacted the dealer who had first spoken to me about the stones. He was the under-bidder but did not know who had bought them. In vain I asked other dealers whom I knew.

On my way to Perth in February 2008 I looked in at an antique shop in Auchterarder. The owner said at once: “The stones you’re looking for are at Scone Palace today; there’s an antiques fair there.” And so, having looked in at Dewar’s Rinks I sped off to Scone and discovered the stones in their box at the stall of Nicholas Shaw, a dealer from Petworth, West Sussex. They were every bit as magnificent as their description had suggested them to be but by then even more expensive. Nick Shaw promised to send me good photographs and this he did, along with permission to use them for this article.

Whether I have found the correct Robert Stewart in Chryston CC or not, the recipient of these stones might as well have been a non-curler for all the play they have seen. The striking band, which is of a very unusual sort of stippled pattern, shows no sign of use whatever. The stones are in their pristine state.

The handles, made in Glasgow, are indeed cast from silver and hall-marked accordingly. They are of a unique design. The base of the goose neck is decorated with acanthus and vine leaf; and the entire edge is embellished.

This pair of stones is not only important from the point of view of design and execution but from their association with a very important citizen of Glasgow.

The photos are courtesy of Nicholas Shaw


fran said...

I am doing some research on an R Stewart, Glasgow, who appears to be a silversmith? I have a silver serving piece but the handle and knob greatly resemble the curling stone material. Was Stewart a silversmith?

Linda said...

Hi Mark,
I am also trying to find out something about R Stewart as I have recently purchased a lovely hand painted square box that has a plate inside that says: R Stewart, Silversmith to her late majesty Queen Victoria, Glasgow. Same Person? I don't know but maybe that will help you....Linda

William S Lindsay said...

It makes sense that this is Robert Stewart (1811-1866) Lord Provost of Glasgow (1854). He was indeed an Iron Merchant and bought Murdostoun Castle in 1850. He has a fountain in Kelvingrove Park in his honour for bringing in drinking water from Lake Katrine in the Trossocks. His sister was Helen Stewart who married my Great-great-Grandfather William Schaw Lindsay MP (1815-1877) the shipping magnate.