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.

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