Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Grand Match at Linlithgow 1848

by Bob Cowan

This week has seen Charles Lees's painting of the Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch, beautifully restored, go on display in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh as part of the 'Playing for Scotland: The Making of Modern Sport' exhibit. It is on loan to the Gallery from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

To celebrate this, here is the story of the actual Grand Match depicted in the painting!

The first Grand Match of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club had been successfully held in January 1847 at Penicuik Pond, after three mild winters. A second such contest was eagerly anticipated, and arrangements were put in place when the Grand Match committee met in Edinburgh, on Thursday, December 30, 1847. The meeting resolved that the Grand Match should be played again between curlers from the North and the South sides of the River Forth, as it had been earlier that year at Penicuik.

It was decided that the second Grand Match should take place at Linlithgow on Friday, January 28, 1848, but should the state of the weather afford ice at an earlier date, then it should go ahead then.

On January 19, the Grand Match committee met again, and forty-three rinks from the North were ballotted to play against the same number from the south, although no fewer than 171 rinks had applied from South of the Forth. The extra 128 rinks were ballotted to compete against each other to take part in a President v President-Elect match. Not all the ballotted rinks mustered on the day though, as will be noted below.

The match took place on Tuesday, January 25, 1848. It was a beautiful day, a blue sky, and cold. The ice had a slight covering of dry snow. The conditions could not have been better.

The Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1848-49 contains the results of all the matches and also the following 'Report of the Grand Match'. In the days before cameras and smart phones, it fell to the anonymous writer of this report to paint a picture with words of the happenings of the day!

"The 25th of January 1848—a day which will long be pre-eminently memorable in the Curling Annals of Scotland—having been fixed upon by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club as that on which the Grand Match was to 'come off' between the Curlers of the North and those of the South side of the Forth; and Queen Mary's loch, a beautiful expanse of water in the immediate vicinity of the ancient burgh of Linlithgow, having been selected as the spot on which this great contest for the palm of superiority was to take place, a vast national gathering of the heroes of the Broom—certainly by far the most numerous that ever congregated—assembled at this place. As regards its geographical and central position, its easiness of access from all parts of the country, by means of railway connection; its ample and extensive capability to accommodate the large assemblage of Curlers and spectators who might be expected to turn out on the occasion, a spot more appropriate or better calculated for the purpose, could scarcely have been chosen.

At an early hour, and during the whole course of the forenoon, the Members of the Royal Club, which now numbers in its ranks upwards of 8000, might be observed pouring from all parts of the country, far and near, into the quiet town of Linlithgow; every train, both from east and west, as it arrived at the station, disgorging some hundred combatants, fully accoutred with stones and besoms. Numerous vehicles, besides, of all descriptions, loaded with passengers, came rattling in through every inlet to the town. From the position which we occupied, we had a very good opportunity of surveying the different groups as they arrived. First comes a band of strapping lads from the hills, with their plaids and broad blue bonnets, the very beau ideal of Scottish peasantry. Next comes a party who, from the ruddy glow of their cheeks, and their big top coats, are evidently south country farmers, come up to fight for the honour of the Loudons. Here again is a lot of spruce-looking brethren of the rink, evidently from Edinburgh; they are the Merchiston Club, who have the honour to claim Prince Albert as a Member. Another train arrives with a fresh batch of Curlers, among whom we distinguish the Noble President-Elect of the Royal Club, the Duke of Athole, at the head of his four Rinks of Highlanders; and never did one of his illustrious ancestors fight more stoutly for name and for fame than did His Grace that day for the honour of the North.

The muster being now completed, the Skip of each Rink, after receiving his note of instructions, marched off with his troops to the scene of action, while every eye beamed with joyous anticipation of a 'roaring game'. Thirty-five Rinks from the North, and the like number from the South, constituted the Grand Match between the North and South sides of the Forth. The South side having mustered in greater numbers than the North, were formed into another great Match, consisting of fifty Rinks a side, and designated, respectively, the President's and President-Elect's party. Numerous other rinks were made up by amateurs not belonging to the Royal Club. The whole field amounted in all to about 130 rinks (consisting of 8 players each) so that altogether, including the immense concourse of spectators who had assembled, some from great distances, to witness this interesting trial of skill in our favourite national game, there could not be fewer, at one time, than 6000 persons scattered over the surface of this magnificent sheet of ice.

His capricious Majesty, John Frost, by putting his veto for some years past upon public meetings on the slippery board, though convened for the most legitimate and constitutional purposes, and by having treated the prayers, petitions, and complaints of his liege subjects, with the most sovereign contempt, seems to have been meditating an abridgement of the liberties and privileges of his devoted people. Such an attempt was not to be tolerated; discontent, insubordination, and desertion, were beginning to manifest themselves among his troops; and having received from certain quarters a premonitory hint of what was likely to be (and has eventually been) the result of similar proceedings elsewhere, the sulky Arch Monarch prudently altered his intention in time, came down from his high throne, and at last abandoned his project altogether. Accordingly to make amends for previous neglect, His Majesty on this occasion came out in great strength, appeared in person 'with all his frozen honours thick upon him', and took up a position on the bartizans of the old Palace of Linlithgow from which he might enjoy a full and uninterrupted view of the 'doughty deeds of arms' performed by his valorous combatants on the glassy plain below.

In the whole annals of curling, there never was a more propitious day, keener ice, or a more interesting locality for the exercise of this truly national game. The mist which hung over the loch in the morning had given way to the glowing effects of a glorious sun who was shining now in all his splendour, and whose golden rays refracted prismatically in the glittering and pearly fringework with which every tree, and every shrub, and every plant was luxuriantly adorned, in honour, no doubt, of the presence of the hoary monarch, shed a lustre and a brilliancy all around that was truly enchanting. The loch, which was covered slightly with a sprinkling of dry powdery snow, to the depth of an inch or so, and just sufficient to enable the players to keep their feet with safety, and to give occasional employment to the 'sooping department', had been laid out and prepared for upwards of 150 rinks, and every precaution had been taken to provide against the possibility of accident from the ice giving way, by the distribution of life buoys, ropes, and ladders, in every direction, under the charge of a detachment of police, specially engaged for the occasion.

The report of a gun, the appointed signal for preparation, was now heard. All was bustle and motion; the individuals composing the collected multitude, hurrying to and fro, over the broad expanse, to occupy the various positions allotted to them. Order, however, soon took place, and the immense mass gradually resolved itself into separate distinct groups formed of the different rinks, who, with their Skips at their head, awaited with intense anxiety the word of command to 'set to'. At this moment, the scene, to a spectator, was animating and exciting beyond description. Presently another discharge from the ruined battlements of the ancient palace gave the expected signal, and in the same instant, the deep roll of a hundred ponderous stones sent booming up the Rinks, mingling and dying away in the distance, with the receding echoes of the discharged artillery, produced an effect truly grand. Then on every side might be heard:

That music dear to a Curler's ear,
And enjoyed by him alone,
The merry clink of the Curling rink
And the boom of the roaring stone.

Taking a survey through the different Rinks you might here and there observe the titled peer and the hardy peasant,—the belted knight and the honest ploughman,—the Reverend Doctor and the Minister's Man, all promiscuously engaged in the friendly contest; title and station giving no other distinction than that derived from superiority of skill in the game, —for it is a marked and peculiar characteristic of this manly sport, that its votaries meet on the Ice upon a footing of the most perfect equality and fraternity that the reddest and most ardent republican could desire. Passing along you might hear some honest broad-bonnetted Skip bawling out ' Canny noo, Sir John, play canny and drap a gaird on this stane; the sorro's in the man! he's raging like a lion."

Another sharp-eyed carle cries out, "Come up here, my Lord, between Tam Gladstane and the Cornel, there's plenty of room to draw a shot ;—I like you man, I like ye, she's bonny, bonny—weel dune, my Lord, ye're the shot—ye 're a perfect pat-lid man." " Be up amang them here, Doctor," shouts a decent looking elder to his worthy pastor, "and outwick Jamie Tamson,—tut, tut, ye want heels, whar's your pith the day, Doctor; I see ye're keepin' your pouther for the poopit on Sunday." And thus the joke and the play went on, all, however, in the most perfect good humour, the banners under which they fought being inscribed "Rivalry and Good Fellowship."

Around every Rink were gathered a group of interested spectators who had assembled from various quarters, and who certainly were not without their enjoyment in the sport, from watching the various turns of the game, and the unconstrained excitement of the players. The Rink which had the greatest number of bystanders was that which included the Duke of Athole, the President-Elect; and such is the genial influence of this manly game on the feelings of all engaged in it, that it would have been impossible, from his Grace's manner, to have known that he stood 'a peer of the proudest title' amongst the honest and independent but humble sons of industry and toil with whom he was mated.

The contest raged with 'various success' over every portion of the ample loch from 12 till half past 3 o'clock, when another discharge of musketry announced the close of the game. The different Skips, according to previous orders, immediately repaired to head quarters to report the result of the game in their respective Rinks, and after a little time spent in summing up, the Secretary reported, amid the shouts and huzzas of the victorious party, that the Curlers of the South had beaten their opponents, in the aggregate, by a majority of 106. We beg to refer, for the particular result of each Rink, in both Matches, to the tables given in pages 18, and 19 of the present Annual. *

In concluding these remarks, we must not omit to mention, that the arrangements made by the Secretary and the Local Committee, were most judicious. Nor must we forget the kindness of Provost Dawson, in allowing the free use'of his fields bordering upon the Loch, and of Mr Scott in giving up for several days the use of the water of the Loch for his mills,—nor the attention shown by the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company, in placing Special Trains at the disposal of the Dinner party in the Evening.

Finally, the kind and courteous manner of the noble President-Elect throughout the whole day, were such as to endear him to every keen Curler."

The Grand Match results are below. Was your club involved? In 1848, some 170 clubs were member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

In each case the team from the North is written first. The name is that of the skip, with the club name in brackets. In some cases only the surname is listed. In one case, that of Largo, the name of the skip is not recorded.

1. John Drysdale (Dollar and Devonvale) 14, John Piper (Penicuik) 20
2. James Sharp (Dunblane)15, Allan Pollok junior (Mearns) 20
3. Daniel Macrobie (Bridge of Allan) 18, - Cowan (Corstorphine) 22
4. - McLaren (Ardoch) 11, Wm Dalgleish (Avondale) 22
5. J W Williamson (Kinross) 7, - Wilson (Buchan) 29
6. John Milne (Dunkeld) 21, Jas Guild (Cumbernauld) 26
7. Matthew Barr (Bridge of Allan) 26, D Hoggan (Banknock) 22
8. Alex Cowie (Torry) 22, Henry Shanks (Bathgate) 19
9. Robert Paterson (Doune) 16, Wm Spence (Northwoodside) 15
10. Rev J Gilchrist (Abdie) 19, M Hay (Banknock) 28
11. David Anderson (Balyarrow) 28, Andrew Wright (Corstorphine) 15
12. John Braynion (Ardoch) 25, Robert R Glen (Linlithgow) 9
13. Thomas Saunders (Alloa Prince of Wales) 13, J W Gray (Merchiston) 24
14. Hugh McLaren (Alloa) 16, A Prentice (Cambusnethan) 30
15. Andrew Walker (Cupar) 29, Archd Thomson (Buchan) 13
16. Wm Thomson (Coldoch) 11, Wm Morrison (Grahamston) 17
17. D C Macdonald (Dunkeld) 8. T Stodart (Newlands Water) 25
18. The Duke of Athole (Dunkeld) 17, John Coubrough (Airth and Bruce Castle) 17
19. -- -- (Largo) 10,  P Gemmil (Rowallan) 28
20. Robert Douglas (Dunblane) 30, John Ferguson (Hamilton) 13
21. Alex Monteath (Ardoch) 19, Dr Wilson (Whitehill) 12
22. James Forbes (Doune) 27, James Smith (Avondale) 13
23. Thomas Law (Inverkeithing St Margts) 19, H Caldwell (Paisley Union) 19
24. John Reid (Dunblane) 29, Jas Mossman (Uphall) 17
25. George Todd (Kinross) 19, R Drennan (Linlithgow) 21
26. John Robertson (Dollar and Devon Vale) 5, G Glendinning (Buchan) 30
27. A Mitchell (Alloa) 12, John Fleming (Bathgate) 26
28. D Monro (Bridge of Allan), 16, Thos Cuningham (Currie) 23
29. Wm Stirling (Dunblane) 24, John Gibb (Linlithgow Junior) 21
30. J Wright (Bridge of Allan) 17,  Bailie Landels (Linlithgow) 20
31. John Dewar (Doune) 19,  Archd Hunter (Buchan) 19
32. John Balfour (Doune) 18, Wm. Boak (Merchiston) 17
33. J Duncan (Tullibody) 10, Dr Simpson (Kirknewton) 25
34. Wm Robertson (Dunkeld) 15, Thos Lawson (Newlands Water) 27
35. A Seton Stewart (Alloa) 21, B Scott (Linlithgow Junior) 28.

Total for the North 626, for the South, 732. Majority for the South, 106.

The club with the highest score on the winning side was Buchan, and that on the losing side was Dunblane.

The results of the further fifty games in the President v President-Elect match can be found in the Annual for 1848-49.

Top photo © Bob Cowan

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