Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Curling Paintings of Charles Altamont Doyle

In the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh can be found an interesting painting. It forms a backdrop to a display of sporting items, including a pair of curling stones, a broom and a spectacular medal. It is described as a 'Watercolour of winter sports on a frozen Duddingston Loch', and was painted by Charles Altamont Doyle. The museum reference dates it to 1876.

There's just so much going on in the painting. But in the midst of all the skaters and spectators, there's a curling match in progress!

You may never have heard about Charles Doyle, but you will know of his son, Arthur Conan Doyle, much loved author of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

And regular visitors to this website will have seen another of Charles Doyle's paintings. The sidebar has an image of David B Smith's book, Curling: an illustrated history. David provided a Doyle painting, which he owned, to be used on the cover of his book.

Here's that image in detail. To be honest, I was never a great fan of Doyle's paintings, although in putting this blog post together, and learning about the artist, I've come to appreciate them a bit more. I can certainly appreciate the humour therein. Look to the top left where Doyle has included the legs of someone who has been upended on the ice! And one has to smile at Doyle's depiction of the four curlers!

I discovered recently that the image on the book's dust jacket is just part of a larger painting, above, which has additional detail on both sides. According to the information on the dust jacket the painting is dated 1862.

Charles Altamont Doyle was born in 1832, the youngest son of John Doyle, a well known cartoonist of the time. At the age of seventeen he obtained a job in Edinburgh as an assistant surveyor in the Scottish Office of Works. According to Simon Cooke (see here) he held a variety of related jobs there and supplemented his income with his art and illustrations.

He married Mary Foley in 1855, and they raised seven children, the eldest of whom was Arthur Conan Doyle.

Drink seems to have been Doyle's downfall. His health suffered in consequence, and in 1876 he lost his job at the Scottish Office of Works. He was committed to the mental institution in Montrose in 1881, and he died in 1893, aged 61, in the Crichton Royal Institution, Dumfries, having spent the final years of his life there. Simon Cooke suggests that he may have been committed to the Crichton as a way of treating his alcoholism rather than because of a specific mental illness.

An extensive biography of Charles Altamont Doyle can be found here, on a website that contains many resources for anyone interested in this 'fantasy artist'.

There's a self portrait sketch of the artist, from 1848, here.

I know of two other curling paintings by Charles Altamont Doyle. Both now belong to the City Art Centre, Edinburgh. This one is currently on display in the 'Paper Trail' exhibition at the City Art Centre, see here.

Here's a close up of this painting. Significant is that the players are shown using broom 'kowes', and that a circle has been scratched on the ice.

This painting, on loan from the City Art Centre, is currently on display in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh as part of the 'Playing for Scotland: The Making of Modern Sport' exhibit. Given the other wonderful sporting paintings on show in the gallery, the small Doyle painting may not at first be obvious, as it is within a cabinet, behind glass. I was on my hands and knees to study it! It is described as 'Curling Match on Duddingston Loch', although the date that it was painted seems not to be known.

I've mentioned before, see here, that this image was used on a Christmas card produced by the National Trust for Scotland some years ago. However, if you compare the image above with that on the card, you will find that the card image has been reversed!

Charles Doyle liked to paint fairies, and, indeed, one can find this theme in other curling sketches. In a post on the first year of this Curling History blog back in 2008, David wrote about 'Curling Spirits', see here, and included two of these sketches.

David also credited a sketch of curlers falling through the ice to Charles Doyle, see here. I do not know the provenance of this last work. However, its existence makes me wonder if indeed there are other curling sketches by Charles Altamont Doyle awaiting discovery!

Photographs of the Doyle paintings in situ are by Bob, on various visits to Edinburgh in the past months. Apologies for the reflections on some of these. The dust jacket image from David's book has been scanned. The larger version of this image can be found in The Roaring Game: Memories of Scottish Curling, written by David in 1985, and also scanned.

Monday, February 06, 2017

The station master's horse

In the 1800s, the railways brought curlers from far and wide to participate in Scotland's great bonspiels. Chief amongst these was the Grand Match. The Royal Club's pond at Carsebreck had its own halt on the nearby railway, see here, and curlers had only a short walk with their stones to get to the ice. Close access to a railway line enabled play on Lochmaben's Castle Loch, and on Castle Semple Loch at Lochwinnoch.

In other places, although the railway brought participants close to a loch or curling pond, there was still some distance to be covered to get to the ice surface itself.

Here's just one example. In January, 1892, planning was well advanced for the Northern Counties Provincial Curling Association's bonspiel on Loch-na-Sanais, near Inverness. The Association's secretary, James A Gossip, ran a large advertisement in the Inverness Courier of January 19, 1892, with the draw involving seventy teams which would take part. Various arrangements had been made with the Highland Railway to facilitate the match. For example, there were to be special fares for players. If necessary, a special carriage would be attached to the goods train departing Inverness for the south at 9.15 pm, for those who intended to attend the evening dinner.

Curling stones were to be carried 'free of charge', but at 'owner's risk'. Each curling stone, or its basket, had to be numbered for its particular rink, and as many as possible forwarded by early trains to facilitate conveyance to the Loch.

The advert stated, "Conveyances will be in readiness at Inverness to convey players and stones to the Loch. Return fare for each player, 1/-."

I wondered what these 'conveyances' would have been like. Loch-na-Sanais was several kilometres from Inverness railway station, and the 'conveyances' mentioned would have been horse drawn. That got me thinking that horses were the unsung heroes of these great curling events. I wondered if there were any stories that mentioned horses in connection with curling bonspiels. I found a number, and here are three examples.

The first is in connection with a match between the curling clubs of Breadalbane Aberfeldy and Weem for a Royal Club District Medal. Both clubs were located near Aberfeldy, and long-time rivals. The match was reported in the newspapers at the time, as shown by the clipping from the Dundee Courier of March 7, 1889, above. Although this was just a match between two clubs, it was a significant bonspiel, each club being represented by six teams of four players each. Royal Club records show that the match, held on Tuesday, March 5, took four hours to complete, and that the umpire was Charles Munro. He was the secretary of the Breadalbane Aberfeldy club. This was all above board, as when awarding the medal for the two clubs to contest, the Royal Club had stipulated 'own umpire'. The venue though was a neutral one, the Logierait pond (here), about 20 km to the east. On the day the ice was 'stiff', and the medal was won by Aberfeldy with a margin of ten shots, 150-140.

That might have been all that we would have known about this match, except that on Saturday, March 30, the London-based Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News ran an article about it. The text was by 'Rockwood' and this accompanied a page of illustrations. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News was a weekly publication founded in 1874.

One of the illustrations gives a general view of play on the Logierait pond. The author explained that although great bonspiels gave a national character to the game of curling, "... the most enjoyable encounters are those which take place on local ponds between parish and district clubs. Such contests are carried out will all the fierceness and hard fighting of a clan fray, although there is little blood spilling." One of the main functions of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in the nineteenth century was to promote such inter-club contests, by awarding District Medals for such matches.

Rockwood's article confirms that both sets of curlers, and their stones, had travelled by train, and that the stones had been carted to the pond from nearby Ballinluig station.

I think it is just wonderful that one of the images in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News is that above, with the caption 'Carting the stones from Ballinluig'. Note too that the image showing play on the pond has in the foreground some of the boxes in which the stones must have been transported in the cart. The illustrator was 'J G Temple' whose name can be found on many images in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of the time.

Three years later, on February 6, 1892, the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News again included a full page montage of illustrations entitled, 'Curling at Aberfeldy and Birnam'. This includes views of play at two different locations, although it is not clear just where these were.

One of the images is of a horse and cart, above, with the caption, 'Up the snow clad hill with the stones'. This is by the same illustrator as before, J G Temple. The illustrations accompany another article by Rockwood about curling in general, and about the rivalry between the Weem CC and the Breadalbane Aberfeldy CC. He writes, "Long ere the cart has zig zagged its way up the hill to Birnam Pond, through the deep-frozen ruts, the rinks have been mapped out."

The reference to 'Birnam Pond' had me puzzled for a while. Birnam is a long way from Aberfeldy, and I wondered at first if a pond in the Birnam/Dunkeld area had been a neutral venue for another District Medal Match. However, that did not seem plausible, given that Rockwood's text made clear that the two groups of curlers met after their game for 'beef and greens' in an Aberfeldy hotel.

The answer became apparent on studying locations where curling had been played in the Aberfeldy area, on the Historical Curling Places website. This showed me that Loch-na-Craig, a lochan some three miles to the south-east of Aberfeldy, had been used in previous years as a venue for matches between Weem and Aberfeldy, see here. Today the loch can be found just off the A826, which is the road you would take from Aberfeldy if you were heading towards Birnam. Hence, perhaps, 'Birnam Pond'!

And getting to that pond would involve an uphill climb. I am now convinced that this is the venue illustrated in the lower of the two views in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News montage. The top pond, which shows one surrounded by trees, could well be the Aberfeldy CC's pond at Pitillie (or Pittiely), see here, opened in 1885.   

J G Temple enjoyed drawing animals, it would seem!

The last horse related story is a sad one, from reports of the Scotland v England international in 1895 on Talkin Tarn, near Brampton. David Smith wrote in 2011 about this match here. The British Newspaper Archive can now provide contemporary reports of the bonspiel. The Dundee Courier on January 30, with the headline 'The International Bonspiel: Great Victory for Scotland', does not record any problems, mentioning that 'the ice was splendid' and that 90 rinks had been laid out in three parallel rows. The paper recorded that Scotland had won by 1087 shots to to 842. The Glasgow Herald on the same day reported positively on the match, noting that special trains were run from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester and Yorkshire.

The Dundee Evening Telegraph, sister to the Dundee Courier, had time to include rather more detail in its report of the match. This report included the information, "The 'get ready' gun was fired at one o'clock, and a few minutes later the gun to commence play sounded, but some delay occurred owing to carting arrangements not being equal to the strain put upon them." The article continued, "Two hours and a half was the time appointed for play, but owing to the late arrival of the stones, some rinks only played one hour and a half."

So what had been the problems with the 'carting arrangements'?

The Leeds Mercury of January 30 explained that the match had originally been scheduled for the previous Thursday, but did not go ahead that day because of a thaw. The paper suggests that some local farmers had been available to help transport stones on that first occasion, but, because of their disappointment then, had chosen not to turn out on January 29, the day that the match did go ahead.

The Leeds Mercury report sought blame elsewhere and was critical of the railway company, saying, "The North-Eastern Railway Company, it was said, had undertaken to do all the necessary carting, but if they did, they are not to be congratulated on the perfection of their arrangements." The paper notes that only eight carts were available, and that one of these was rendered useless 'as the horse when breasting a particularly steep bit of hill dropped down dead. The players had to get their stones to the tarn as well as they were able, with the consequence that the late arrivals were not able to begin their games at the appointed time'.

The newspaper also suggested that, because most Scots teams had reached the Tarn first, they had had time for practice, implying that this had contributed to the English defeat.

In contrast, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer report of the match was much more measured, saying, "The Tarn is about a mile from Brampton Station, and the curling stones had to be carted from the station to the Tarn. This led to some delay, and many of the rinks were later than others in starting, some being about three quarters of an hour behind. There had been a heavy fall of snow in the night, and the road from the station to the Tarn was very difficult to traverse - so bad was traffic that the stationmaster lost, from heart disease, a valuable horse which was conveying the stones to the Tarn over the slippery and arduous road." The Shields Daily Gazette printed an identical report.

So, a valuable horse, belonging to the station master at Brampton, died in the service of curlers on January 29, 1895. I wonder if it had a name. For anyone interested in the history of draft horses in the nineteenth century, here is where to start!

Images are © British Library Board, or © Illustrated London News Group, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.