Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Railway Station

by Bob Cowan

The possible advantages of railways in transporting curlers and their stones to compete in bonspiels had been recognised as early as 1846, as an article in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1846-47 shows. Just a few years later, by 1853, the Club had constructed its own pond at Carsebreck, served by a halt on the Scottish Central Railway at what was grandly called the 'Royal Curling Club Station'. Later it would become just 'Carsebreck Halt', but at this station many thousands of curlers would disembark trains from all over the country to compete in twenty-five Grand Matches in the years from 1853 to 1935.

What do we know of the origins of the Royal Club's pond at Carsebreck?

The Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club was held in Tait's New Royal Hotel, Edinburgh, on July 27, 1852. The previous year, Sir John Ogilvy had been appointed convener of a committee with the remit of obtaining a 'Grand Pond' for the Royal Club. At the 1852 Annual Meeting, Sir John reported the activities of that committee and indicated that they had found a possible site. The meeting was delighted with the progress. The committee was re-appointed with 'full powers to carry out and complete the proposed scheme of a Pond at Greenloaning, or in any other locality deemed most suitable and convenient by the Committee'. Sir John was to continue as Convener.

It was indicated that the cost and expenses of procuring the pond would be met by voluntary subscriptions from clubs and their members. At that time, the Royal Club listed more than 250 clubs in Scotland.

By the time the Annual for 1852-53 went to press a few months later, much had been achieved. The preface in the Annual says, "In the first place, then, it is with no ordinary pleasure that we direct the attention of the Members of the Royal Club to the statement of the proceedings of the Committee which was appointed to procure a Grand Curling Pond. From that statement it will be seen that the Committee have completed the duty assigned to them, and have realized the long-cherished wish of the Royal Club to have an arena for its hard contests, where the great Captain, 'John Frost', might summon his forces to combat on the shortest notice, and where they should have no dread of ambush in the depths below."

This last phrase shows that there was real concern about holding Grand Matches on natural bodies of water, with considerable depth below the ice. Prior to 1852 there had been three such bonspiels, at Penicuik in 1847, Linlithgow in 1848, and Lochwinnoch in 1850. A draw had been made for one to be held on Lindores Loch in 1851, but this did not go ahead.

The committee had investigated a number of possibilities for a location of the Royal Club's own pond. The site near Greenloaning, mentioned at the 1852 meeting, had looked promising and had been surveyed, but the 'claims of the tenants were so excessive as to prevent farther procedure upon their farms'. An area near Carstairs, served by the Caledonian Railway, was also looked at. That did not work out, and so another site not far from the rejected place at Greenloaning was investigated. The committee report tells the story, "A meeting was held at Carsebreck on 31st July, when the following Members attended, viz., the Convener, Lord Kinnaird, Major Henderson, Messrs Moubray, Smith, King, Stirling, Williamson, Sharp, C. E. Macritchie, Drummond, and the Secretary. Mr Drummond submitted a Plan of the grounds at Carsebreck, and the meeting having inspected the lands, they were of opinion that these were well adapted for a Pond, and that the proximity of the site to the Scottish Central Railway rendered it a most suitable and desirable place for the Pond. They then waited upon Mr Taylor, the tenant of the farm of Carsebreck, who agreed that they should have the site for the entire months of November, December, January, and February at a rental of £15 per annum."

Taylor was a tenant of Mrs Home Drummond Stirling Moray of Abercairny who gave her permission for the pond to be constructed.

The 'Mr Drummond' was Alexander Drummond, a land surveyor, who had his office at 7 Charlotte Street, Perth. He was instructed to complete his plan of the Pond, and to obtain estimates for the work. The Convener agreed 'to wait upon the Directors of the Scottish Central Railway, as to the fares to be paid by Curlers going to and returning from the Pond - and also as to the formation of a siding and ground for erecting a house for the use of the Royal Club'.

It was hoped that the pond would be ready for the coming winter, that of 1852-53. It was!

Estimates for carrying out the work were obtained. Above is the advert in the Perthshire Advertiser in August. The successful tender was made by 'Mr Falshaw, contractor, of Perth'. This is probably James Falshaw, Craigie Bank, who is listed in the Post Office Directory of 1852-53 as a 'contractor' and as a 'railway contractor' the following year. His company had done much of the work on the Stirling - Perth section of the Scottish Central Railway.

There was further negotiation with Robert Taylor of Carsebreck who had claimed for ground not included in the original negotiations, and this was solved by paying him £20. Agreements had to be made with another local farmer, Mr Ross of Westertoun, for the use of some of his ground, and to another, Mr Taylor of Netherton of Buttergask, for access to the pond. In terms of 'access' here, in the days before the invention of the motor car, or even of the bicycle, we are talking about travel on foot, or on horseback, or on a horsedrawn cart or coach. But it was access by the railway that was to ensure the success of the venture. The section of the Scottish Central Railway between Perth and Stirling had been formally opened on May 22, 1848.

The contractor experienced difficulty from 'the nature of the soil', but eventually the embankments and cuts were finished, and the pond was filled with water. The Committee met again at Carsebreck on November 24, 1852, and found the Pond covered with a splendid sheet of ice. The
Royal Club Secretary (Alex Cassels) was authorised to make an interim payment of £150 to Mr Falshaw. The 1853-54 Annual records a further payment of £200, and notes that the total cost of constructing the Grand Pond, with the surveys and rent, had amounted to just over £573 (equivalent to some £69,000 today). By a year after the pond was completed, donations from clubs and individuals amounted to £388, and the cost of the pond was well on the way to being covered.

The Ordnance Survey had not produced a map of the Carsebreck area by 1852. The area covered by the OS 6 inch to the mile and 25 inch to the mile maps was not surveyed until after that date, so we don't know exactly what things looked like prior to the pond's formation. Above is how it looked on the 25 inch map, surveyed in 1863 and published in 1866. And of course, there was no photography back then! How the area looks today can be seen here.

It does seem that the ground on which the pond was formed had been cut previously for peat for use as fuel, and the base of the pond was described as being of a retentive clay. The altitude of the pond was found to be 280 feet above sea level, and the site area was some sixty-one acres.

The depth of the pond when full varied from 6 inches to 5 feet 9 inches - the greatest depth being at the western corner, where the sluice was located. It was intended that the rinks for curling would be formed over the shallowest parts of the pond, it being noted that if the water level was reduced by one foot, none of the rinks need be upon water of more than three feet in depth.

The report in the 1852-53 Annual concludes, "It only remains to be observed that the Directors of the Scottish Central Railway have in the handsomest manner met all the desires of the Committee. Besides agreeing to reduce the fares to and from the Pond, they have constructed a siding and a station for the Pond, and they have allowed the Station to be called 'The Royal Curling Club Station'."

The first use of the station and the pond would come in February 1853. That will be the subject of another 'Carsebreck story'.

The map images are screenshots from the Ordnance Survey maps available on the National Library of Scotland maps website here. The image from the Perthshire Advertiser is © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, and reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive.


Alice said...

Thanks, Bob, for the ramble around the old curling pond on foot with pictures, maps and history. So! Why is that farmhouse abandoned? Who owns the land now? Is Carsebreck on the list of possible future grand match sites or curl-able in deep cold snaps?

Unknown said...

I visit carsebreck with my dog many times as I live locally but had no idea it was constructed for curling! Would be great to hold a national bonspiel again!

wharryburn said...

My grandfather William Angus farmed Carsebreck during 1920's and 1930's. Royal Caledonian Curling Club used to send a telegram asking him to measure the ice thickness to see if a match could be played. This was a big event seemingly and I still have newspaper photos of him beside an 11-inch thick plug of ice. The last Bonspiel was in 1935.

John A Smith

Bob Cowan said...

Hi John
There's a photo of your grandfather with this article :