Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Wanlockhead School Curling Club

In 1908, the Wanlockhead village school received a letter from the Reverend John Kerr. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club chaplain wanted to know about the school curling club. John Edmond, the schoolmaster, organised for photographs to be taken, and an article about the club duly appeared in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1908-09, accompanied by the image above.

Here's the story of school curling at Wanlockhead.

One of the many attractions of the Museum of Lead Mining in Wanlockhead village, Dumfries and Galloway, is the Miners' Subscription Library, established on November 1, 1756.

The library holds the minute books of the Wanlockhead Ice Curling Society, founded in 1777. Not so old, but certainly as important, is the minute book of the Wanlockhead School Curling Club, instituted in 1883. Jan, the guide on the day of my first visit recently, holds the minute book of that unique club, above.

A couple of days later, I was given permission to study the minute book in detail. It was fascinating!

The first entry is dated November 10, 1883 and reads "At a meeting of the boys attending the school it was resolved to form a Junior Curling Club." Eighteen members were listed. John Wilson was the President, John Laidlaw, the Treasurer, and John Gracie, Secretary. The skips were named as Alex McCall, George Lorimer, Dugald Cameron and William Stevenson.

It cost 3d to join, and the annual subscription was to be 2d.

Regulation number 6 read, "Any member using profane or abusive language shall be expelled from the club."

The following year, the club had twenty-one members. One has to commend the writing of the secretary, as above! Indeed as the years passed, and one secretary was succeeded by another, all the entries in the minute book are completely legible - in contrast to the minute books of many other curling clubs that I have been privileged to study. Given that these secretaries would have been just twelve or thirteen years of age, the entries in the minute book are a delight to read.

The minute book differs from those of established clubs in that the membership was constantly changing as the boys grew older and left school. Boys would only have been able to be club members for three or four years. School leaving age in Scotland was only raised to 14 in 1901.

There's no evidence in the minute book to suggest that any girls were members.

The format of these minutes was to list the office bearers, the members, the state of the finances, and record the most important matches that the members played. The main competition was that for the 'the medal'. It should be said here that the boys of Wanlockhead school had curled informally for many years before 1883, but it was in that year that a club was formally instituted. John Edmond, the schoolmaster, was the driving force in getting it established. He was a keen curler himself, and a member of the senior club. He donated a medal for the boys to play for and this simple medal is on display in the Miners' Library at Wanlockhead. On December 30, 1884, the minute book records that a ribbon was bought for the medal, cost 3d.

Some years the play for the medal extended over several days. For example, on December 19 and December 22, 1896, four club rinks played out a 'round robin'. The results were tabulated:

William Howland 28     Robert Jamieson 14
William Allison 34        Robert Jamieson 8
William Howland 31     James Wilson 11
James Wilson 28           William Allison 14
Robert Jamieson 28       James Wilson 14
William Allison 38        William Howland 4

No rink went undefeated and two teams, skipped by William Allison and William Howland, won two games and lost one. The medal however went to the team skipped by William Allison who had the better shots-up record.

Although play for the medal donated by John Edmond was the club's premier competition, once the medal play was over, if the ice held, other competitions were arranged. A minute from January 1912 reads 'On Saturday 27th we played for five knives as prizes, rinks under the old skips'.

These days one might wonder at 'knives as prizes', but such prizes are mentioned in a number of occasions through the history of the club. I am sure we are talking about penknives, rather than larger blades, and what young boy would not appreciate a good quality penknife of his own!

The club members also played individually at points. To ensure that everyone had the opportunity of winning something, whatever their experience, the skips played off, the seconds and thirds played together, as did the leads, with a prize on offer for each group.

The minute book only records one occasion when the Wanlockhead boys played away from home. That perhaps was not surprising given the the school club was unique at that time, and travel was difficult, the railway not reaching Wanlockhead until 1902. But in 1896 a challenge was issued to the school at nearby Leadhills, and on January 23, 1897, two rinks from Wanlockhead met two rinks from Leadhills. The actual venue in Leadhills is not stated. The results were (Leadhills skips first):

Scott Hastie 21     William Allison 13
David Murdoch 7    William Howland 21

It was one win apiece, although Wanlockhead were the winners overall on shots up.

A return match was arranged for January 30, and this was played 'on the longer rinks at Hillhead pond'. The Leadhills side changed one of their skips, dropping David Murdoch (!) in favour of James McCall, but Wanlockhead won both games:

James McCall 3   William Howland 21
Scott Hastie 13   William Allison 17

There would seem to be no doubt that youngsters did curl in Leadhills, the senior club there dating from 1784, but there's no record of a school club being formed, despite the success of that in neighbouring Wanlockhead. Perhaps Leadhills just did not have a teacher with the enthusiasm of Wanlockhead's John Edmond. 

It would seem that the Wanlockhead boys 'inherited' the curling pond at Peter's Sike as their own and there they were encouraged to 'get on with it' without interference from the adults.

This pond is high on a hillside to the north east of the village, on the county boundary. From the evidence of old maps it may have been one of the first curling places used by the Wanlockhead curlers. By the end of the nineteenth century, the men had two ponds, the one at Hillhead already mentioned, and one nearer the village, the Stake Moss pond. The construction of the railway caused the Hillhead pond to be given up in 1901.

This is the Peter's Sike pond in May 2017, looking east. It's much overgrown but its location is easily identified, and even after a very dry period it still had standing water.

This poor quality photo from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1908-09 purports to show Wanlockhead Boys Curling.

This rather more convincing photo comes from Old Wanlockhead by Alex F Young (Stenlake Publishing, 2010) from an original image held by the Lead Mining Museum.

Having visited the pond, it would seem highly unlikely that the boys would have carried their stones up the hill to the Peter's Sike pond for every game. The minute of November 8, 1911, records, "As some of the curling stones have been stolen from Petersyke (sic) Pond, it was proposed to build a sod house." This was duly constructed. The minute of November 11, 1912, reads "We have recovered some stones and by the aid of Mr Mitchell and Mr Edmond we have got up a neat little house." John Edmond supplied the wood for the house, and Mr Mitchell (presumably the tenant of the land whereupon the pond lay) employed one of his joiners to build it. The house was finished on November 22. 'A gallon of tar was purchased for 6d and the boys tarred the house for keeping the stones in'. (Tar likely means creosote in this instance.)

So, what stones were kept in the curling house? The older boys certainly used full size granite stones. Such stones are shown in the group photos (above and below), along with smaller ones. However, the museum has on display this rare wooden curling stone and it was suggested by David Smith, in his book Curling: an illustrated history, that the boys played with lighter stones like these until they had the strength to play with full size granites. But there is no mention of 'wooden stones' in the minute book.

Once the medal play was over, if the ice held, other competitions were arranged. Indeed, in 1908, 'a fine silver medal' was donated to the club by Walter S Wilson of Glendyne, South Park Road, Hamilton. The minute book records how teams that had played for the original Edmond medal were rearranged to play for the Wilson medal. Both medals have survived and are displayed in the Miners' Library.

The school curling club celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 1913, and the boys received a new, larger prize to play for - a beautiful rose bowl, donated by Archibald Fraser, of Redholme, West Kilbride, and this soon became the club's premier competition. Archibald Fraser's parents had been natives of Wanlockhead, and with his brothers he had donated the Fraser Memorial Hall, with meeting and recreation rooms, to the village in 1908.

The school club kept going through the years of WW1. This was of course was a busy time for all involved in the village in the production of lead, used in munitions.

Industry declined as the war ended, and families began to move away from the village. In 1926 the school role stood at just thirty-six - nineteen girls and seventeen boys.

The minute of November 14, 1927, records that 'John Edmond, for many years headmaster of the school had forwarded ten shillings for which to buy prizes to be competed for during the winter'. Although he had retired in 1920, he obviously still had an affection for the school curling club!

There is only one further mention of the club members playing and that was in January 1933 when four rinks competed for 'the medal' (but which one?) and a different four rinks played for 'the cup'.

The last entry in the minute book is many years later, in 1951, when the club was formerly wound up.

John Edmond seems to have been a remarkable man. I wondered if he had a family, and if they had curled.

John Edmond was born on September 23, 1857, in the Parish of Carnbee in Fife, to parents Robert and Anne. He must have arrived in Wanlockhead before 1883, the year he helped found the school curling club, although I cannot find him in the 1881 census. He married a fellow teacher, Grace Gibb Gillespie, on August 11, 1887. He was thirty years old, she was twenty-six, and also originally from Fife.

Their first child, Robert Gray Edmond, was born on September 10, 1888, but died just three years old. The couple were to have four other children, George, Balmanno, Louis and Harry. It is not surprising that the Edmond children became curlers, given their father's enthusiasm for the sport.

George Gillespie Edmond was born on April 7, 1890, at the schoolhouse in Wanlockhead. From this date it can be calculated that George was just nine years old when he is first listed amongst the members of the school curling club at the beginning of the 1899-1900 season. In that season he played lead. By 1902, he's the club's Secretary, and a skip!

John James Balmanno Edmond was born on September 21, 1892. Balmanno, as he was called, first appears among the members of the school curling club in 1901, and he followed in his brother's footsteps by becoming Secretary in the 1904-05 season.

Louis Anson Edmond was born on March 9, 1895, but died just twenty months old.

Henry Lillie Edmond was born on December 15, 1898. Harry, as he was called, is first listed as a member of the school curling club in the 1910-11 season, and was a skip the following year.

We may know what Harry looked like!

This is another version of the group photo that appeared in the Royal Club Annual for 1908-09. It adorns the wall of the cafe at the lead Mining Museum. According to Alex Young, who reproduced this image in his book Old Wanlockhead, Harry Edmond is the young man standing on the right of the middle row, wearing the kilt and a very fine sporran!

I wondered what had happened to the Edmond children after they left school. All three served in WW1. Staff sergeant George Edmond served with the Royal Field Artillery at Gallipoli, Egypt, Mesopotamia and India. Balmanno had studied medicine and served with the Royal Army Medical Corps with the rank of Captain, and won the military cross. He was wounded in November 7, 1918. Harry became a private in the Highland Light Infantry, wounded twice in 1918, when he would have been just nineteen years old. There are photos of them within this thread.

John and Grace Edmond, having retired to Edinburgh, celebrated their Golden Wedding in 1937.

My thanks go to the extremely helpful and encouraging staff at the Wanlockhead Museum of Lead Mining. Some of the images above are credited in the text, the others are by me. The photo of the Fraser Rose Bowl is from the Future Museum of South West Scotland website here. Sandie Keggans' booklet 'The Roarin' Game: Curling in Wanlockhead', published by the Wanlockhead Museum Trust was very useful. The Edmond family information is from the Scotland's People website. More information about the Wanlockhead curling ponds can be found here.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The brass band played on the curling pond

Wednesday, February 21, 1855, dawned cold and fair. The ice on Corsebar Pond was good. The curlers of Paisley were soon engaged in a bonspiel, those from the north side of the town playing those from the south side. Many came to watch.

A brass band was in attendance! According to the Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, the band 'enlivened the spectators by playing a number of popular airs'.

Music to curl to, back in 1855. Just imagine!

According to the newspaper report, "The curlers however were too intent on their game to listen to the strains, and each one seemed to be saying:

'The music o' the channel-stane
Sounds sweeter far than a' that' "

This was an early example of a charity match. The losers in each rink were to pay one shilling, and the winners sixpence, the funds going to benefit Paisley Infirmary which had only recently, in 1850, become a general hospital with medical and surgical wards.

The newspaper report concluded, "After a most friendly game, the numbers (at least so far as we could ascertain) stood thus: South 199, North 193, Majority for South six shots. Upwards of five pounds were realised for the Infirmary."

The venue for the match, Corsebar Pond, on the south side of Paisley, Renfrewshire, has a rather interesting history. At first glance it is just one of the 2391 places that are currently in the Scottish Historical Curling Places database, where there is good evidence of outside curling being played.  However, Corsebar is rather unusual, as it was not a pond which belonged exclusively to one club, as it was used by many!

Curling in Paisley has a long history. Aside from the tenuous evidence from an old protocol book what suggests some sort of contest on ice near the orchard of Paisley abbey in 1541 (which may or may not be a record of an early curling match), we can say with confidence that the game was being carried on in and around the town in the middle of the eighteenth century. In 1795, the Sandholes club had more than a hundred members. The Sandholes club was one of those which amalgamated to form the Paisley Union club in 1844. The Union was admitted to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1845. The Paisley Iceland CC had been founded in 1841, joining the Royal Club the same year. The St Mirren CC was founded in 1845 and admitted in 1846. The Boreas CC was founded in 1852, and admitted that same year.

In the nineteenth century if a curling club wished to join the Royal Caledonian Curling Club it had to have somewhere to play. The first of the 'General Regulations' of the Royal Cub, as printed, for example, in the Annual for 1853-54, reads, "Any Local Curling Association shall be admissible into the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, if it consists of at least eight Members, have a designation, and sheet of Ice for its operations, and be governed by Office-bearers under a code of regulations." (My emphasis).

Clubs spent much money constructing and maintaining their curling pond. Rarely though do we find examples of clubs sharing their ice with another.

It seems that by the middle of the nineteenth century the curlers of Paisley were struggling to find suitable places to play! So bad was the situation that the advert above appeared in the local newspaper. Robert Boyd was the secretary of the Paisley Iceland Curling Club.

Robert Brown, in his History of Paisley, published in 1886, writes, "About the middle of this century the game of curling increased its votaries considerably and became very popular, but the curlers laboured under great disadvantage in not having near the town a commodious sheet of ice to play on. This difficulty, however, was overcome. The representatives of the different clubs made choice of a low-lying field on Corsebar farm, in the neighbourhood of Paisley, in which by the formation of an embankment a few feet high on one side a sheet of water extending to about eight acres might be obtained. During winter the water would be accumulated in the pond, and being run off in summer, the land would be used for raising meadow hay. The Earl of Glasgow, to whom the ground belonged, was applied to for permission to carry out this arrangement; and with his usual generosity and desire to encourage an excellent amusement, his Lordship readily agreed to the request."

As the Earl of Glasgow was Patron of the Paisley Iceland curling club the solution to the problem had been close at hand all along!

It seems that a committee of members from four clubs (Paisley Iceland, Paisley Union, the Boreas and the St Mirren) was formed to oversee construction and to run the pond. 

The co-operation of the four Paisley curling clubs is unusual and few details of how this came about are known today, although the online history of the St Mirren CC (here) suggests that two of the clubs (St Mirren and Paisley Union) had previously shared a pond at Hole in Bush (or Holly Bush) farm in 1846.

Construction of Corsebar must have taken place rapidly.

The Corsebar Pond was officially opened in the first week of 1854, although, according to the Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser of January 7, 1854, the first games on the pond had been played the previous Saturday (that would have been December 31, 1853) by members of the Paisley Iceland and the Boreas clubs. However, the 'official' opening was on Tuesday, January 3, 1854. Play began at noon, with five games between the Union and Iceland clubs. The Union was to win four of these. Players from the Boreas and St Mirren clubs were soon on the ice too, and two games were played between these clubs, Boreas winning both.

The day was a success. The newspaper correspondent writes, "The play amongst all the clubs proceeded with excellent spirit during the course of the game, and provosts, magistrates, and ministers of the gospel might be seen confidentially consulting with weavers and masons and plasterers whether a guard should be rubbed off or an inwick played."

The Renfrewshire Curling Club seems to have been founded as a result of the availability of Corsebar ice in 1856, and it too joined the Royal Club in 1857. This club also became involved in maintaining the pond.

Brown provides some more facts about the Corsebar Pond, which was still very much in use when he wrote his 1886 book, "The greatest depth of water in the curling pond is little more than three feet, and it is therefore safe from serious accidents. It affords accommodation for at least thirty rinks, and there is a cottage beside it which serves to store the stones and to give shelter to the curlers when required."

The 'curling house' had not been completed when the pond was opened in 1854.

  
However, it had been completed by 1858, although it turned out to be somewhat insecure, as the above clipping shows.

Other problems that the pond committee had to deal with can be inferred from a paragraph in the Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser on December 15, 1855. "We observe that the committee of the Corsebar Curling Pond have give notice that persons found skaiting (sic), sliding, or playing at shinty on the ice there, or trespassing on the gounds adjoining, will be prosecuted."

It was also noted that curlers who were not members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club could obtain season tickets for five shillings, or day tickets for sixpence.   

As well as being regularly in use by five local curling clubs, the Corsebar Pond became a 'neutral venue' for District Medal matches between clubs, the Royal Club promoting these from its inception. On February 1, 1855, for example, Anderston CC (from Glasgow) met Ardgowan CC (from Greenock) at Corsebar, two rinks aside, four players in each rink. This match resulted in a narrow win for Ardgowan 32-30, and the state of the ice on the Corsebar Pond was described as 'excellent'. The umpire was Archibald Sinclair, from Renfrew.

At least one other club used the pond regularly, the Sneddon CC. This was an old club, dating from 1815, although its minute books, which survive and are in the care of the Heritage Centre in Paisley, suggest a much earlier date for the club's beginnings. It was in 1815 when the club, with more than 100 members that year, was 'remodelled', and the surviving minute books date from then. These show that the Sneddon members played on a number of different ponds until 1855, when on January 24, the club met on the 'Corsebar New Curling Pond'. This pond became the venue of choice for the club for its matches until it was wound up in 1880. It would seem that the Sneddon CC never joined the Royal Club, for whatever reason, but the last recorded minute on January 21, 1880, suggests that most of the members had joined other clubs which were members of the Royal Club, and no longer wished to play in Sneddon competitions.

Occasionally, one of the regular users of the Corsebar Pond chose to play elsewhere. According to the Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser of December 29, 1860, eighteen members of the Renfrewshire CC had met the previous Wednesday on Mr John Stirrat's pond at Nethercraigs, 'choosing it in preference to the Corsbar (sic) Pond', to compete at points for the gold medal that had been presented by their patron, Colonel William Mure of Caldwell. Just why Nethercraigs was chosen over Corsebar in this instance is not recorded, but John Stirrat was the Renfrewshire club's vice-president, so perhaps the reason was simply that he wished to provide hospitality to the club members on a pond at his own place of business, Nethercraigs Bleach Works.

Curling on the Corsebar Pond continued into the twentieth century.

This image, from a glass negative found in the Strathclyde Archives in 1979, probably shows play on the Corsebar Pond.

Here's more of that old image, and this shows just how large the pond was.

What of the place today?

Visiting today one finds a flat sports ground, with a changing pavilion, in a primarily residential district. This is the view from the north east corner of the site. The trees seen here are part of 'Donald's Wood', the land rising behind up towards the Glennifer Braes Country Park.

View from the south west.

 
Along the east side of the site, the original embankment which blocked off the pond from the Espedair Burn has been enlarged and hides a secret. The old curling pond is now part of a flood prevention plan put into place following the Paisley floods in 1994. Should the run off from the Glennifer Braes to the south become excessive a sluice can be opened on the Espedair Burn turning the playing field into a storage area for excess water.

Thanks go to the helpful staff of the Heritage Centre at Paisley Central Library. The Sneddon CC minutes, and Robert Brown's History of Paisley, were consulted there. The British Newspaper Archive was the source of much of the information about Corsebar activities. The top image is a screenshot of the OS 25 inch map of the area from 1897, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland maps website, here. The black and white images of curling on what is likely to be Corsebar Pond came from a glass negative found in the Strathclyde Archives when they were based at the Glasgow City Chambers. The image was published in The Curling Companion by W H Murray. I have been unable to ascertain where the original is now. The recent photographs of Corsebar are © Bob Cowan. If it was not for the enthusiasm and dedication of Lindsay Scotland and Harold Forrester, who maintain the Historical Curling Places website, I would not be a 'pondhunter' and would be unaware of the Corsebar Curling Pond!

Monday, April 17, 2017

One problem of growing old

Back in the eighteenth century, when it was not possible to travel far, curlers would only have had the opportunity to play against those from the neighbouring parish. These were the days before railways, and even getting to a neutral venue for a bonspiel involving players from two or more parishes would involve considerable effort. Later, when the train allowed curlers to travel further, horse and cart still provided the assistance to get the stones to the ponds, see here.

In some cases it is known that curlers walked considerable distances to take part in matches. Some reports describe players wrapping their stone in their plaids and walking to the pond to meet the opposition. The reference to plaids is just romantic nonsense, I would suggest. But just how would you carry your curling stone over a long distance?

Back then it would be a single stone that would be carried, as 'one curler - one stone' was the way the game was played.

The most likely scenario would be that the player put the stone in a bag, or more likely just a sack, and carried it over his shoulder. Or her shoulder, see below!

The suggestion that a single stone could be carried in a bag over your shoulder is backed up in a little story that has appeared in different places in the curling literature. The transcript below is from an 1884 book, Curling: The Ancient Scottish Game, by James Taylor. The incident described took place in Lanarkshire in the early years of the nineteenth century. A veteran 'knight of the channel-stane' had acquired great celebrity as a skilful skip, but he was growing old.

Taylor writes, "The announcement of a parish bonspiel fired the spirit of the veteran curler, but his failing strength made it impossible for him to carry his curling stone over a rough worn track two long miles to the scene of the action.

"I'm no able," he was often heard to mutter on the evening before the match and on the morning of the eventful day. The burden of the old man's song was, "I needna try't, I canna carry't."

"Could you do ony gude, gin ye were there?" inquired his wife, who was several years younger than her husband.

"Ay, that could I! was his ready rejoinder.

"My certie, ye's be there then," was her prompt reply; and forthwith tumbling the stone into a bag, the faithful matron heaved it on her shoulder, and followed by her husband halted not, till she deposited her load on the ice at the loch where the match was to be played.

"There, my bonnie man," she said, "play ye'r part, and gif ye win, my faith, ye's get some-thing gude and warm to ye'r supper the night," and home the courageous dame wended her way.

The result was that both the rink of her husband and his parish gained a victory to which the skilful play of the old curler contributed not a little. And many a good bicker has since been quaffed, first to the health and now to the memory of this model curler's wife."

It should be remembered that this was written in Victorian times, undoubtedly for a male readership, and would no doubt have brought a smile in that male-dominated society.

More seriously, the story does imply that, back in the day, your curling stone was a personal item, for your use alone. There was no consideration that the old skip could just turn up at the pond, and play with a borrowed stone. And you kept your own stone at home, and not at a curling hut beside the rink, presumably because it was such a valuable item. One problem of growing old would be that you weren't as able as you once were to carry your curling stone to the local pond!

But it is difficult to imagine the very large boulders, such as the Grannies, see here, or the Jubilee stone, below, being carried over any distance!

This stone was presented to the Royal Club in 1888 by John Wilson of Chapelhill, Cockburnspath, and we can assume that it had been used in that part of the country in years past. It may have had a name before 1888, but, as it was exhibited at the 50th anniversary meeting of the Royal Club, it became known as 'The Jubilee Stone'. It weighs 117 lbs (53 kg). Read more about named stones here.

The illustration by W J R Cheshire accompanied the story in Curling: The Ancient Scottish Game by James Taylor, 2nd edition, 1887. The photo of the Jubilee Stone is from my archive. It still belongs to the Scottish Curling Trust, see here.

Monday, April 03, 2017

There wasn't always a house

Curling these days is very colourful, and the painted circles at each end of the sheet contribute to making the game look attractive to those who are seeing it for the first time. The circles, the head, or the house, is that area which stones have to touch, or be within, if they are to be considered at the completion of an end of play. It may be a surprise to many that such a 'counting area' has not always been a feature of the sport.

The earliest rules of play, such as those of the Duddingston Club from 1811, show no requirement for circles of any sort. The only marks that were needed on outside ice were the tees - simply small holes in the ice at each end of a sheet - and the hogline, called the hog-score back then. This was defined in the Duddingston rules as, 'The hog-score to be one sixth part of the length of the rink distant from the tee'. Shots counted, as now, if they were closer to the tee than any of the opposition, but it seems that as long as they had crossed the hog, they were eligible to count. They did not have to be within any circles. (For those familiar with lawn bowls, this is not a strange concept.)

Such rules were essentially those adopted by the Grand Caledonian Curling club at its inception in 1838. By 1841, some ninety clubs had already joined, accounting for about three thousand members. The Annual of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club for 1841-42 records, "The Constitution of the Grand Club has this year been carefully revised. The adoption of a uniform system of playing, and the total abolition of local peculiarities, have been strongly recommended, for the purpose of preventing all sources of dispute."

In the Rules of the Game, in 1841, we find, "No stone to be counted which does not lie within seven feet from the tee, unless it be previously otherwise mutually agreed upon." The italics are in the publication, to emphasise that this was a new inclusion in the rules. Note too that the rule makers allowed an exception, that the 'counting area' could be ignored if both competing sides chose to do so. One has to think that the introduction of this regulation was somewhat controversial, and not all agreed with it, if such an exception was included.

There was still no requirement to scratch a circle on the ice.

How then did players know if stones lay within the fourteen feet diameter 'counting area'? One can speculate that, as play was usually the 'drawing game' and towards the tee, rarely would stones far from the tee need to be considered. Perhaps they kept a seven foot measuring stick on hand to check. Or perhaps a seven-foot radius circle was indeed scratched on the ice, even though this was not a requirement of the rules.

The Grand Caledonian Curling Club received its 'Royal' accolade in 1843. Ten years later, in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1853-54, we learn that a Committee had been appointed to revise the Laws of the Royal Club, and that that Committee, after having the experience of the winter season, were to report to the General Meeting the following July.

 
This duly happened, and in the Annual for 1854-55 a diagram of the curling rink was printed for the first time, part of which is shown above. The rules of play had been amended to read, "A circle of seven feet radius, to be described from each Tee as a centre, and no stone to count which is wholly without this circle."

The diagram shows other lines. For the first time we see a 'sweeping score', and a 'foot circle', this latter an early definition of where and how a player should stand when delivering their stone, discussions about which would occupy the Club's rule makers for many years to follow.

Note that the 1854-55 diagram shows other circles within the fourteen foot diameter 'counting circle'. These were optional and only there to facilitate measurement as was (eventually) made clear in the Annual for 1879-80 when the rule was amended to read, "Around each tee as a centre, a circle of seven feet radius shall be drawn. (In order to facilitate measurements, two feet and four feet circles may be laid down.)"

 
This woodcut illustration shows how the circles would have been inscribed on outside ice, the process known as 'tee-ringing'. It's a two person job. One curler holds one end of the marker in place over the tee, the other pushes the marker around, scraping the circles into the ice.

A fourteen-foot diameter circle remained officially the size of the house until 1938, when the Royal Club amended the Rules to make the circles just twelve feet in diameter, a measurement that Canadian curlers were already well used to. I have already written about that change in 'The day the house got smaller', see here.

In summary then, there was no 'counting area' of any sort until 1841, and no requirement for a fourteen-foot diameter circle to be scratched on to the ice until 1854. So that year is the date when it can be said that curling got its first 'house'!

There's a 'But ...'!

Keen curling historians will know the first description of our sport came from the pen of James Graeme (1749-72). In his Poems on Several Occasions, publish posthumously in 1773, Graeme writes about curling. Actually, the poem was first published in 1771 in the Weekly Magazine. The lines which are relevant here are:

'The goals are marked out; the centre each
Of a large random circle ...'

What was this 'random circle'? Graeme was certainly describing something marked on the ice, but this was not a house or 'counting area' as we know today. The use of 'random' would not be appropriate if he was referring to a fixed diameter 'counting area'. These circles on the ice were sometimes referred to as 'broughs', and various clubs had their own rules which required circles, large and small, to be scratched on to the playing surface. The Peebles curling club rules suggested a circle just six feet in diameter, whereas the Abdie club required only a circle just two feet in diameter - an area this small could not possibly define a 'counting area'. 

Broughs then were not the 'counting area'.

In An Account of the Game of Curling, published in 1811, the Reverend John Ramsay writes, 'The place for the rink being chosen, a mark is made at each end called a tee, toesee, or witter. It is a small hole made in the ice, round which two circles of different diameters are drawn, that the relative distances of the stones from the tee may be calculated at sight, as actual measurement is not permitted till the playing at each end be finished."

The term 'brough' is mentioned by James Bicket, Secretary to the Toronto Curling Club, in The Canadian Curler's Manual: or An Account of Curling, as practised in Canada: with remarks on the History of the Game. This was published in 1840. Bicket writes, "Round the tee, two or more circular lines are drawn, the largest having a diameter of about five feet, the others smaller and at intermediate distances. The space within the largest circle is called the 'brough'. The use of the circular lines is to shew, while the game is being played, the comparative nearness of the stones to the tee; actual measurement not being allowed until all the stones have been played to one end of the rink." Note that Bicket refers to the 'brough' being the space within the largest circle, and not to the circle itself. However, this did not define a 'counting area'.

Illustrations of broughs are rare. This little vignette by Charles Altamont Doyle was included in the Rev John Kerr's History of Curling, and entitled 'Making the Broughs'. Doyle's scribed circles are not even six feet in diameter. Indeed, the circles seen in his larger paintings (here) are small in diameter.

Tee-ringing is a job that still has to be done whenever ice becomes available for play outside. Here two members of the Troon Portland club are caught in the act, using - as current rules decree - a six foot marker! The date was January 20, 2001, at Coodham.

A final thought about measuring. If which stone was nearer the tee could not be determined by eye, some sort of measuring device would have been used to find which was closer. This could have been as simple as a length of string. But some clubs had large dividers like those above, preserved at the Fife Folk Museum in Ceres, as an elegant solution for making the measurements. Exactly when these were in use is not known, but John Cairnie used similar at Largs in the early years of the nineteenth century.

As curling moved indoors, colouring the circles became possible. But that's another story!

The top illustration is a screenshot from a World Curling Federation video of the recent CPT World Women's Curling Championship 2017. The diagram of the rink is from the 1854-55 Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The tee-ringing image is from History of Curling, by the Reverend John Kerr, as is the Charles Altamont Doyle vignette. The Troon Portland CC photo is from my own archive, passed on to me by David Smith. It was taken by the Troon CC President Finlay Buchan, at Coodham in 2001. Thanks to Ian Mackin for this information. The photo of the dividers at the Fife Folk Museum was taken by me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

More from 1979. To see ourselves ... as others see us

I wrote recently about the Royal Bank Ladies World Curling Championship in 1979 (the first world women's championship, see here) and noted that the programme contained two pages with a montage of cartoons entitled 'To see ourselves ... as others see us'. I rather liked these, and, as they are not well known, I've extracted them to reproduce here.

 
 Who drew these? I don't know.  The signature looks like A. I 79. Can anyone identify the artist? 

It raises a smile to see these now, and I hope no-one is offended by them. It is important to remember that just thirty-some years ago, there were many in the media and in the general populace making disparaging comments about curling. Women's curling especially was seen as something of a joke. How things have changed!

But it seems that back in 1979 when the programme was being put together before the event itself got underway, the women on the Scottish organising committee were happy to poke fun at themselves in this way, and they were very aware of how (some) others saw them!

I wonder if all the foreign competitors and visitors appreciated the Scottish sense of humour!

Did the artist have someone specific in mind when drawing the figures!

OK, so one figure is sweeping, but what's the other doing?

I'm not quite sure I understand this one! Surely you are not 'satisfied' if your opposition throws one through the house?

We've all been here!

 
There's a hidden meaning here, I'm sure!

 How things have changed.

 
Optimism, indeed!

No throwing brushes into the air back in 1979.

And a nod to the even more distant past!

The images have all been scanned from the event programme.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The First World Women's Curling Championship

 
Recognise the curlers on the photo above? This is a photograph of a Swiss women's curling squad, from a promotional postcard, duly autographed by all involved. They were Swiss champions, and about to take part in the first women's world curling championship in 1979. The names of those in the photo (L-R) are Jurg Geiler (coach), Christine Seeger, Rosi Manger, Linda Thommen, Betty Bourquin, and Gaby Casanova (skip). They were from CC Albeina, Basel.

It was of course the team skipped by Gaby Casanova that was to go on to win the Royal Bank Ladies World Curling Championship (as the first world women's event was called), in Perth, Scotland, March 18-23, 1979.

Although the International Curling Federation (now the World Curling Federation) had been formed in 1966, it was not until March 1976 that a woman's voice was heard at ICF meetings. The voice was that of Mabel Margaret deWare, a Canadian politician from New Brunswick, and an accomplished curler, having skipped her team to the Canadian ladies' title in 1963. deWare reported on discussions that had been held between Scottish and Canadian ladies on proposals to launch a Ladies World Championship. According to Robin Welsh (then the ICF secretary, in his book International Guide to Curling, published in 1985), "The meeting agreed that the ladies would try to find a sponsor and then make a formal proposal to the Federation."

Things moved quickly thereafter. In 1977 the ICF approved the formation of a Ladies Committee of the Federation. At Winnipeg in 1978, Canada's Dorothy New, the chair of the Ladies Committee, reported plans to stage the first world women's championship the following year. Frances Brodie was Scotland's representative at that meeting, and she reported that the venue would be Perth, Scotland. Work had been going on behind the scenes, with Frances Brodie and Dinkie Stewart, a popular Edinburgh lady curler, securing sponsorship from the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Bank's support was soon officially announced. The Royal Bank Ladies World Curling Championship would be held March 18-23, 1979.

Curling, and women's curling in particular, has come a long way since 1979, and with the 2017 Championship currently underway in Beijing, China, I don't imagine that many fans of the sport will be thinking much about what happened back in 1979 in the old ice rink in Perth. But, with the reason that our roots should not be forgotten, here is some information I've gathered together about that 1979 competition.

I am fortunate to have kept a copy of the event programme. It ran to forty-two pages, with the usual welcome messages from the Provost of Perth (Norman Renfrew), the President of the Ladies Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (Lucy Fleming), the President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (Jack Anderson) and the Managing Director of the Royal Bank of Scotland (John Burke).

As well as the competition draw, and the competing teams (see below), Chuck Hay had written a two-page article on 'From Crampit to Hack', Bett Law had contributed two pages on 'The International Scene, and there was a page about Perth by Anne Burgess. There was a poem by Liz Baker, and two pages of cartoons, 'To see ourselves ... as others see us'. The programme was well supported with twenty pages of adverts. It was designed and printed by Sunprint, Perth.

The Local Organising Committee were named as Lucy Fleming (chairman), Frances Brodie, Ella Reid, Ada Craig, Betty Grierson, Dinkie Stewart, Eleanor Howie, Norah Hay, Chris Davidson, Jean Glen, Lesley Stewart, Gail Pollitt and Dorothy Calderwood (secretary). Sheena Gellatly was convenor of the Ticket Committee. Ada Craig was convenor of the Transport Committee. Other convenors were Norah Hay (Entertainment), Jean Glen (Programme) and Betty Grierson (Hospitality). A large number of volunteers were involved.

The eleven participating countries were the same nine which had competed in the 1978 European Championships, plus Canada and the USA. The lineups as shown in the programme were:










Under each team photo with the names was a little biographical information. Here is what accompanied Switzerland's entry in the programme: "The Swiss Ladies' Championship team comes from Basle and this is their first major success. Their average age is 25 years. Gaby, three times Ladies' Regional Champion, is a secretary. Betty, the only married member of the team, is a gold modeller. Linda is a medical student and Rosi is a secretary."


The Countess of Mansfield threw the opening stone on Sunday, March 18. There were two draws that day, and two more on the Monday. On the Tuesday and Wednesday, there were three draws on each day. Five sheets were in use for each draw, with one of the eleven countries sitting out each time. Still, some teams played three games in the one day.

All the results can be found on the WCF's Historical Results pages, see here, although the linescores haven't survived.

The morning of Thursday, March 22, saw the final draw in the round robin. Sweden topped the ranking with eight wins and two losses. Five teams (Canada, Switzerland, Scotland, France, and the USA) all finished on the same 7-3 won-lost record. Two tiebreakers were played to decide the four semifinalists. Scotland beat the USA 6-4 in one of these, and Switzerland defeated France 8-5 in the other.

The semifinals were played on the morning of Friday, March 23. Sweden beat Scotland 8-5 and Switzerland defeated Canada 7-3. In the final the same afternoon, Switzerland (Gaby Casanova, skip, with Betty Bourquin, Linda Thommen and Rosi Manger) beat Sweden (Birgitta Torn, skip), Katarina Hultling, Susanne Gynning-Odling and Gunilla Bergman) 13-5, handshakes offered after eight ends. 

General view of the Perth Rink, with six sheets available for play, and five in use on each draw. No dividers, or carpet walkways in these days! And, horror of horrors, there were even fallbacks in places which made it difficult (apparently) for teams used to playing on perfect ice.

 
Scotland's Ann McKellar, with Jeanette Johnson and Beth Lindsay behind.

Canada v USA

Switzerland v Sweden in the Final. (Notice the children right at the front!)

Here's a closeup of the two youngsters with the front row seats at the final! Anybody recognise them? Did they go on to become curlers themselves, inspired by what they saw in 1979?

It would be wrong to think that the Championship was played in black and white!

This is the only colour photo of the 1979 event that I know of - on the cover of the Swiss Curling magazine, with Gaby encouraging her front end. I am sure there will be other photos from Perth that year. Surely some spectators had cameras with them. Are there 35mm slides to be found, hidden away in a drawer since then? And does any video exist?

Swiss skip Gaby Casanova raises the trophy aloft. That's lead Rosi Manger on the left. Next to her is Linda Thommen (2nd, with the pins on her jersey), and Betty Bourquin (3rd), on the right, is carrying what appears to be a mascot!

Here's another of the actual presentation, with the trophy being handed first to Rosi Manger, and the team standing in playing order from left to right. 

The same Swiss foursome would go on to capture the European Championship title later that year in Varese, Italy. I find it interesting that the team's promotional photograph, shown at the top of this article, contains their coach (Jurg Geiler) and a fifth player (Christine Seeger). It would be many years before the official championship records began to include the names of coaches and alternates. Incidentally, coach Jurg Geiler had played lead on the Peter Attinger team at the 1974 Silver Broom in Berne.

The first world women's championship was deemed to be a success, on many levels, and soon after the final game, the dates had been set for a second championship, again at Perth, the following year. The Royal Bank kept up its sponsorship in 1980 and 1981. When the competition returned to Perth in 1984, after travelling to Geneva in 1982 and Moose Jaw in 1983, the Bank was once again the sponsor. 

I still think this was one of the most attractive curling trophies ever played for. Scottish wild flowers were hand engraved on a block of Swedish crystal by Harold Gordon of Forres. The trophy came on a mahogany base, into which was set a silver name plate. The trophy was competed for in the early years of the world event, then retired when a new sponsor took over. It lay unused until 1991 when it was redesignated as the trophy for the World Junior Ladies' Championship. However, at some point around the year 2000 it was irreparably damaged, and was then retired for good.

If you have memories of 1979 do send them to me (email opposite), or post in the comments section below. The latter is moderated so comments do not go up immediately.

The promotional postcard of the Casanova squad is from my collection of curling ephemera. The other B/W images are from my archive, or scanned from the event programme. The colour photo of the Swiss Curling magazine cover is from the late Erwin Sautter's book Curling-Vademecum, published in 1993. The action and presentation photos are originally from local photographers Cowper and Co, Perth. The close-up photo of the trophy is by Andrew Wilson Photography, East Claremont Street, Edinburgh.