Monday, March 19, 2012

Early International Curling

The imminent opening of East Lothian Archive Centre in John Gray House, Haddington, has spurred on David Affleck, East Linton CC, keen curling historian, to great efforts to find material for the writing of a history of curling in the county.

He has brought to my attention the following minute from the minute book of East Linton CC dated 17 February 1855:

"The Newcastle Lads came over the Border to take the shine out of the Lothian lads but there in a mistake for after a keen contest they had to return over the Border minus of the medal losing it by 8 shots. The Newcastle lads after their defeat took it all as good and keen curlers should do. The day was clear, the game animated, the play good and the ice first rate order."

Both clubs were much indebted to "Lady Ann Baird for her kindness again in making the clubs and the company present to a grand dinner (sic) and drink on the ice." Lady Baird was the widow of Sir David Baird of Newbyth, a founder member of the East Linton Club. She appears in the Annual as patroness of the club in 1855.

This match was the result of the success of the two clubs in the ballot for District Medals which had taken place at the Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the RCCC, held in Edinburgh on 25 July 1853. The balloting for medals began in this season in an attempt to restrict the numbers competed for, so popular was the sort of competition they encouraged. About half the member clubs were to be eligible for the ballot in each year. At this meeting a total of 66 medals was awarded, and in addition two were given to the Canadian Branch and two to the Halifax (Nova Scotia) Branch. In accordance with the rules of the Royal Club another club - in this case, Edinburgh Operative – was appointed to provide an umpire and to hand over the medal to the winning club.

Part of the job of the umpire was to return a written report on the match with details as to the date of the match, how many rinks played on each side, and how many men there were in each, whether the match was of a number of ends or time, the length of the rink, what the score was, the time occupied by the match, the state of the ice and the name of the loch or pond where the match took place. These results were printed in tabular form in the Royal Club Annuals. Sadly, in this instance no umpire’s report is shown amongst the many that were properly recorded and printed in the table for the season of 1855-6 in the Annual for that year, and therefore there seemed to be no official record of where the game was played or of any of the other required statistics.

At least, the minute recorded the date of the match and the majority by which East Linton won. We can also infer from the 'kindness of Lady Ann Baird' that the place of play was the loch at Newbyth.

However, further research has now established that in the table of district medal results published in the Annual for 1857-8 there is a partial report of the match, as having taken place on 15 February 1855 on 'Newbyth Lake' and won by Linton by a majority of nine shots. It was, however, Francis Storie, the treasurer and secretary of the winning club and not the umpire, who reported the game to the Royal Club.

Interestingly, this was not the earliest 'international' match of which we have some information. As I noted in the Curling History Blog of January 2, 2011, such an international had been thought of earlier. For example, the Caledonian Mercury of 15 January 1849 tells us that, "The preliminaries of a match have been settled betwixt the Newcastle Curling Club and Haddington Club. We understand that the event will come off at Berwick and will take place at an early date, as soon as the frost has sufficiently set in to secure permanent and good ice." History does not tell us whether this match took place.

The East Linton minute book does, however, give us a glimpse of the sort of difficulties to which such a match, played so far from the home of one of the clubs, could give rise.

"29 October 1855. Two letters from Newcastle club were read regarding their expenses in coming to Linton to play the medal given by the Grand Club (sic). The committee had considerable difficulty in coming to a decision considering that no agreement about the expenses of coming to Linton to play for the medal but taking into account that Dirleton Club by agreement had paid part of their expenses the committee agreed to give them five pounds sterling." Quite what is referred to in relation to Dirleton club is not at all clear. One wonders whether the Newcastle lads made the long journey to Linton by railway which had come to East Lothian only about ten years before.

David B Smith.

Top: This photograph of curling in the late 1850s on Smeaton Lake near East Linton shows what the Newcastle and Linton curlers would have looked like. One of the very earliest photographs of the game. From the author's archive.

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