Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Parliamentary Curling

One of the features of curling throughout its history has been that it is what social workers of the present day would call 'socially inclusive'. You might be the laird and provide the pond on your land but unless you could curl well you couldn’t aspire to skipping a rink.

We historians of the game like to emphasise its egalitarianism. There’s the famous story – perhaps even spurious – about the poacher and the sheriff, both members of Peebles Curling Club in the early years of the nineteenth century. They played in the same rink. The poacher was the skip because of his skill on the ice. Sadly, from time to time it fell to the sheriff to have to jail him for unlawfully taking red fish during the summer. The story goes that during one bonspiel the poacher skip shouted down the ice to the sheriff, “Shirra, do you see this stane?” “Aye”, said the sheriff. “Weel, just gie it sixty days!”

I was delighted recently to come across two newspaper reports that showed that even far from home the Scot took what opportunity he could to indulge his passion for his favourite, national game.

The first appeared in the Aberdeen Weekly Journal of February 7, 1895.

“Parliamentary curling is at present popular among members of Parliament. Mr Graham Murray, at the Crystal Palace, has won the point medal with a capital score of 23. The Parliamentary players include Mr G. Whitelaw, Mr William Whitelaw, Sir John Kinloch, Mr Cochrane, Mr H. Anstruther, Mr Thorburn, and Mr Ramsay.”

The second appeared in the pages of the Glasgow Herald of February 12, 1895.

“A curling match between certain members of the House of Commons and the curling club was held at Wimbledon on Saturday. Of two Parliamentary rinks one was composed of Mr Bruce Wentworth, Sir John Kinloch, Mr William Whitelaw, and Mr Parker Smith; while the other consisted of Mr Graham Murray, Mr J.A. Baird, Mr Anstruther, and Mr Graham Whitelaw. But the Wimbledon Club won by three points.”

The lake at Wimbledon, which still exists close to the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s headquarters, had been used for some time by curlers, mainly of the expatriate Scots type. The Wimbledon CC had joined the RCCC as recently as 1893, but the Crystal Palace CC had been on the go since 1870.

Of the Parliamentary curlers:-

A Graham Murray, was MP for Bute,
William Whitelaw was MP for Perth City,
Sir John Kinloch was MP for East Perthshire,
Thomas Cochrane was MP for North Ayrshire,
Henry Anstruther was MP for St Andrews, and
Walter Thorburn was MP for Peebles and Selkirk,
The Hon. Charles Maule Ramsay was MP for Forfar,
Bruce Vernon Wentworth was MP for Brighton, and
John Parker Smith was MP for Partick.
The geographical spread is notable.

Graham Murray was, perhaps, the most distinguished of these curlers. He became an advocate in 1874, and his career blossomed. He was appointed an Advocate Depute in 1888-90, Sheriff of Perthshire in 1890-1, QC in 1891, was Member of Parliament for Bute from 1891 to 1905, Solicitor General in 1891-2 and 1895-6, Lord Advocate 1896-1903, Secretary of State for Scotland 1903-5, Lord Justice General and Lord President of the Court of Session, 1905-13. He was created a peer as Lord Dunedin in 1905, and was a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (that is, a judge of the House of Lords) from 1913 to 1932. In fact, he is regarded as one of the most important and famous of Scots judges.

Despite these onerous offices he kept up his interest in curling. In 1897 we find him writing the Sport of the Month article, on curling, in The Pall Mall Magazine. Until he moved to London in connection with his Lords appointment he was an active member of the club which was the successor to the ancient but defunct Duddingston Curling Society, namely Coates CC. He was a member of Crystal Palace CC.

When he was made president-elect of the Royal Club in 1908-9 the editor of the Annual wrote: “It is also pleasing for us to have as President-elect at such an interesting juncture, the Right Hon. Lord Dunedin, who throughout his career of strenuous activity in the profession of which he is now the honoured head, never missed a day on the ice when a game was available, and as a ‘keen, keen curler’ discarded his ‘briefs’ for the nonce when he heard the curlers’ war-cry and the sound of the channel-stane.”

In the next year he succeeded Lord Strathcona as the Club’s President.

As for the other Parliamentarians’ curling connections in the year 1895, so far as I have been able to find them:-

William Whitelaw was president of Perth CC,
Sir John Kinloch was a member of Strathmore CC,
Thomas Cochrane was a member of Dalry Union CC,
Walter Thorburn was vice-president of Peebles CC,
The Hon. Charles Ramsay was a member of Brechin Castle CC,
Bruce Vernon Wentworth was vice-president of the family club, Dall CC, at their estate of Dall on Loch Rannoch, and
John Parker Smith was a patron and member of Partick CC.

David B Smith.

Top: Curling on Wimbledon Lake, January, 1891, from a private album.

Graham Murray, also known as Lord Dunedin, as president-elect of the Royal Club. From the programme of the dinner held by the Royal Club to honour the first team of Canadian curlers to visit Scotland in 1909.

A sketch from The Penny Illustrated Paper of January 14, 1893. The accompanying article commented on how seldom the Scottish game of curling could be played in the south of England and also remarked that Wimbledon because of curling had become a sort of Scottish colony.

All illustrations are courtesy of David B Smith.

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