Driving today into Lochwinnoch from the south, you pass between two large expanses of water, the Barr Loch, and Castle Semple Loch, both now part of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Lochwinnoch Reserve. Both lochs have a curling history!
The first Grand Match of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club had been
successfully held in January 1847 at Penicuik, matching twelve rinks from north of the River Forth against the same number from south of the river (although it should be noted that another 22 games were played, alongside the North v South match). The second Grand Match took place on
Linlithgow Loch on Tuesday, January 25, 1848. Such was the success of that occasion, described here, that a third Grand Match was scheduled for the following year, 1849, again at Linlithgow, but this did not take place.
Through these years the membership of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club was increasing. The Club was formed in 1838, and in the first season 28 clubs were members. By season 1850-51 the membership had grown to 243 clubs.
In the Royal Club Annual for the season 1849-50, the following paragraph has been inserted almost as a postscript.
"NOTE.—We have great pleasure in stating, that Colonel Macdowall of Garthland, has in the most handsome and liberal manner consented that about 200 acres of land adjoining the Lochwinnoch Station of the Glasgow and Ayr Railway, shall be flooded with water, to the depth of one or two feet, in order that the Members of the Royal Club may have an opportunity to play the Grand Match this Winter, in the event of there being sufficient Ice."
It would be wrong to assume that the arrangements for the Lochwinnoch Grand Match had gone ahead without problems. The decision to consider Lochwinnoch as the venue had been made at a joint Meeting of the Annual and Finance Committees, on December 8, 1849. It wasn't just a Grand Match venue that had to be decided, there had to be accommodation for an adjourned meeting of the Royal Club. It was agreed that the West of Scotland would be a good venue, it was also resolved that the Grand Match should be, on this occasion, between the North and South sides of the Clyde, rather than having the River Forth as the dividing line as it had been in the past. The Secretary (Alex Cassels), Mr J. Callender, Secretary to the 12th Province, and Mr Robert Love, Secretary to the Lochwinnoch Club, were established as a sub-committee to attend to the arrangements.
Alex Cassels then wrote to Mr Harvey, Castlesemple, whose estate included the the main loch (now known as Castle Semple loch) requesting that he might be good enough to allow the members of the Royal Club to meet and play the Match on the Loch of Lochwinnoch, during January or February. Mr Harvey declined to give permission. The reasons for this and the resulting fall out, which involved matters being heard in court, will be the subject of a future article!
Having had this refusal, the location of the Grand Match was very much in doubt. However, as the Annual reported, "Mr Cassels attended a meeting of the sub-committee at Lochwinnoch, when they had their attention directed to the lands of Colonel Macdowall of Garthland, adjoining the Loch. Part of these lands, called Barr Meadow, extending to about 200 acres, was well adapted for being flooded, and this having been represented to Colonel Macdowall, he at once, and in the handsomest manner, granted the free use of the land referred to, in order that it might be flooded, to afford Ice for the Grand Match."
Colonel Macdowall's generosity was to stand him in good stead in the future, as he was made a Vice-President of the Royal Club later in the year!
The following report of the match was printed in the Royal Club Annual for 1850-51, and in the absence of any paintings of the scene, words much suffice to describe the occasion! That said, the report in the Annual is identical to that published at the time in the Scotsman of January 16, 1850! So, who wrote the report is uncertain.
"At Lochwinnoch, on Friday the 11th January, 1850, the greatest gathering of the lovers of this manly and truly national game that ever was held in Scotland, took place. For a considerable time it had been known to the public, that in the event of the weather proving favourable for a sufficiently lengthened period, this great bonspiel, or grand match, would be played at the above place during that winter. Accordingly when John Frost had raised his icy sceptre, and loch, stream, and fountain had owned his stern supremacy in bonds of gelid cold, the curlers far and wide began to cut their besoms off the broom, and make all ready to obey the call of their noble president.
It may be called' The Grand Match' of the Royal Club; for of all the previous meetings, it was by far the most numerous, both as regards the Curling brotherhood, and spectators. At the Grand Matches which took place at Linlithgow in 1848, 85 Rinks aside were engaged; but on the present occasion, the Clyde was the boundary of separation between the combatants, and there were no fewer than 127 Rinks from the north, matched against the same number from the south side of that River; besides, the president and president-elect had each a party of 10 rinks a side. As the appointed day approached, the excitement became intense, and every shadow of change in the weather was scanned with anxious eyes by the eager and expectant sons of the 'channel-stane'. In spite of several attempts at a thaw, however, the Frost-king kept the grip; and, on the eventful morning, the ice was in first-rate condition, presenting a fair field for the efforts of the numerous enthusiastic votaries of the sport.
At an early hour on the appointed day, the various conveyances to the scene were crowded. East, west, north, and south, they came in laughing bands, accompanied in some instances with flags and music. There were loopy lawyers from Edinburgh - longheaded merchants from Glasgow - farmers from the Carse of Gowrie and the 'Kingdom of Fife', ploughmen from the Mearns, with ministers and schoolmasters from many a landward parish; in short, few districts omitted to send their picked men to uphold their local credit on the slippery field of honour. It is gratifying to add, that several members of the aristocratic circles were also there, besom in hand, engaged with as much enthusiasm as the lowliest peasant, in the exciting mysteries of the game. Curling is proverbially a levelling amusement, in the pursuit of which high and low familiarly rub shoulders with each other, yet are we certain that nothing save mutual love and respect ever spring from the friendly contact.
Having been prevented from meeting on Lochwinnoch Loch, in consequence of a refusal on the part of Mr Harvey of Castlesemple, the bonspiel was held at Barr Meadow, on a splendid sheet of ice, about a mile or so in length, by rather more than a quarter in breadth, kindly furnished (by flooding the land) for the occasion, by the proprietor, Colonel Macdowall, of Garthland. This afforded the highest satisfaction; as it relieved the mind from any anxiety of danger - the depth in no part exceeded two or three feet. The situation was central and convenient - being close by the Lochwinnoch Station of the Ayrshire Railway, and only fifteen miles westward from the great City of Glasgow. It was also beautifully picturesque, being surrounded nearly on all sides by gentle slopes and belts of planting. The old Castle of Barr, too, was to be seen as if overlooking the scene, and beyond there was the elevated ridge of hills, which has the sombre Mistylaw for its chief. On the present occasion, covered as it was with countless groups of men and women (for numerous fair curlers were on the ice), besides children, it presented such an extraordinary yet beautiful appearance, that we believe none who gazed upon it will soon let it depart from their memory.
Upwards of eleven hundred persons were engaged in this magnificent game, and the spectators must have amounted to nearly as many thousands. Every city, town, and hamlet, sent forth its votaries and admirers of the game; and if numbers afford any approval of the pastime, certainly there was no lack of encouragement. Curlers from all corners of Scotland were to be seen engaged; not only many Rinks from the 'Kingdom of Fife', and the 'Lothians' but - more distant still - even from the 'Hill of Birnam', in the 'far North'.
Snow having fallen thickly about nine o'clock a.m. the previously cleared ice was covered; but at half-past 12, the players having been arranged into 137 rinks, a signal gun was fired, and immediately thereafter the roaring play commenced.
Such a flourishing of brooms, waving of caps, sweeping of the ice, eager watching of moving stones, accompanied with shouts of laughter, directions for playing, cries of disappointment, or commendations of success, created altogether such a joyous scene of apparent confusion, that the pencils of a hundred Harveys, or the pens of a hundred Dickens's, would have been totally ineffective in conveying the faintest idea of what was going on. Suffice it to say that mirth and good-humour were observable on every hand; and although a wee drap of the dew was occasionally observed circling round the tee, nothing approaching to indecorum or ill nature ever crossed the hog-score.
The ice was not only the best and truest, but in the best condition, from the 'cauld, cauld, frosty weather' which prevailed. Every one admitted this; but more especially those who were successful. Severe frost continuing throughout the day, the ice was extremely keen and slippery. Stones, by the slightest touch - as if by magic - ran any distance, requiring gentle and cautious playing. The rink which attracted the greatest number of spectators throughout the course of the day, was that skipped by the Earl of Eglinton and Mr Palmer; but from the excessive crowding along both sides of the rink, the ice was greatly biased, and the science of the players in consequence very much impeded.
Three hours after the commencement of the play, and, indeed, while the enthusiasm was still gathering, another boom was heard from the signal. gun, and immediately the contest ceased; and the skips of each Rink repaired to the Secretary's Tent, to report the result of the game; and here, assuredly, the Secretary's Office was no sinecure. His patience and forbearance were largely taxed, and but for his experience and energy, there must have been great confusion. Every one would be first; and it was long before the state of the game, on all the Rinks, could be noted down. After a while, however, this was done, and a summation effected, and it was found that the 'Northmen' were ahead of their competitors 233 shots - and that the President's party was victorious over that of the President Elect, to the extent of 13.
The crowd then began rapidly to disperse, some to take their 'beef and greens', the curler's favourite food from time immemorial, at the club dinner-party in Lochwinnoch, others to fight their battles o'er again, and have a friendly dram for 'auld acquaintance sake' in the tents that fringed the loch; while not a few wended their various ways homewards, joking and laughing over the events of the day."
The North beat the South on the day by 233 shots (2295 to 2062), over 127 games. An additional eleven games were played in the President's v President-elect match. The individual results are shown in the tables in the appendix, below.
The Annual for 1850-51 contains the financial details involved in holding the third Grand Match. On the income side, £27/14/6 was collected from the skips. £14/10/0 came from renting tents - presumably these housed those selling food and beverages to players and spectators. On the debit side there was considerable amounts involved in paying those workmen who prepared the ground before it was flooded, and to those involved in clearing the ice.
One pound ten shillings was the cost of the carriage of the cannon, and its powder, and to pay the men in charge of this!
There was a band too, apparently, and reporters got their dinner paid for, all of which came to £4/10/0. When the books were balanced, the accounts were just over one pound in the red!
A curling song was written to celebrate the occasion:
THE LOCHWINNOCH BONSPIEL.
January 11th, 1850.
Keen and snell is the weather, ye Curlers, come gather,
Scotland summons her best, frae the Tweed to the Tay,
It's the north o' the Clyde 'gainst the southern side,
And Lochwinnoch the tryst for our Bonspiel to-day.
Ilk parish the've summoned, baith landward and borough,
Far and near troop the lads wi' the stanes and the broom,
The ploughs o' the Lothians stand stiff i' the furrow,
And the weavers o' Beith for the loch leave the loom.
The blithe shepherd blades are here in their plaids,
Their hirsels they've left on the Tweedside their lane,
Grey carles frae the moorlands wi' gleg e'e and sure hands,
The bannet o' blue, and the auld farren stane.
And the Loudons three, they forgather in glee
Wi' townsfolk frae Ayr, and wi' farmers on Doon,
"But over the Forth" come the lads frae the north
Frae far Carse o' Gowrie, and palace o' Scone.
Auld Reekie's top sawyers, the lang headed lawyers,
And crouse Glasgow merchants are loud i' the play,
There are lairds frae the east, there are lords frae the west,
For the peer and the ploughman are marrows to-day.
See the rinks are a' marshalled, how cheerly they mingle,
Blithe callants, stout chields, and auld grey-headed men,
Till their loud roaring stanes gar the snowy heights tingle
As they ne'er did before, and may never again.
Some lie at hog score, some oure a' ice roar,
'Here's the tee', 'there's the winner', 'chap and lift him twa yards',
'Lay a guard',' fill the port', 'now lads! there's nought for't
But a canny inwick, or a rub at the guards'.
It is done—we maun part—but fair fa' each kind heart!
Wi' the auld Scottish blood beating warm in the veins;
Curlers! aye we've been leal, to our country's weal,
Though our broadswords are besoms, our targets are stanes.
We are sons o' the true hearts, that died wi' the Wallace,
And conquered at brave Bannockburn wi' the Bruce,
These wild days are gone, but their memories call us,
So we'll stand by langsyne, and the gude ancient use.
And we'll hie to the spiel, as our fathers before us,
Ye sons o' the men whom foe never could tame!
And at nicht round the ingle we'll join the blithe chorus,
To the land we loe weel, and our auld Scottish game.
The song is simply credited 'Uphall'.
What of Lochwinnoch after the Grand Match of 1850? Barr Meadow was used for the Twelfth Province Bonspiel on January 15, thirty games being played in the same stretch of ice that had seen the Grand Match just a few days before. Despite the Royal Club having its own pond at Carsebreck by 1853, the Grand Match returned to Lochwinnoch in 1864 and 1878, to the Castle Semple Loch on both these occasions.
Appendix: Clubs taking part in the Grand Match of 1850, with results.
(here), or from the British Newspaper Archive (here).