Friday, March 23, 2018

The mystery of Scotland's first junior curling club

I do like a good mystery, and there are many lurking in curling's history. For example, why did the Murray Trophy cease being played for as a competition for young curlers in 1935, just six years after it had been presented to encourage such play?

In looking for an answer to this question, I discovered something of which I was unaware. You see, I had always thought that the Glasgow Young Curlers Club, established in 1967 and formalised in 1969, had been the first of Scotland's 'young curlers' clubs'. Turns out I was wrong. There had been an earlier club for young curlers at Edinburgh's Haymarket Rink in the 1930s!
It is well known that Tom Murray (above), who played second stones in the GB team which won the gold medals at Chamonix in 1924, presented a trophy to encourage play by young curlers. I wrote about the 'Murray Trophy' here. That trophy was first played for in 1929, when fourteen teams took part.

Murray may also have been responsible for establishing Scotland's first 'young curlers' club' at Haymarket! In the report of the first playing of the Murray Trophy, in the Royal Club Annual for 1929-30, it is stated, "Sir Robert Lockhart, Chairman of the Ice Rink Club, in presenting the T B Murray Trophy to the Linlithgow Club, said they owed a very deep debt of gratitude to the donor. That was a pet scheme of Mr Murray's, and he had spent an enormous amount of time and trouble to foster the game among young players."

The reference to 'enormous time and trouble' does suggest that Murray's efforts may well have been in instructing young curlers at the Haymarket rink, and not just in purchasing a trophy for them to play for. Was it at his suggestion that some of those young curlers at Haymarket formed themselves into a curling club?

In the September 1958 Scottish Curler there is an article, by the editor Robin Welsh, describing Jock Waugh's ideas to resurrect the Murray Trophy again to be a national competition for young curlers, when it had last been used for such a purpose in 1935. Reflecting on the trophy's history, Robin states, "In addition, to launch the competition in style, Tom Murray and an elite group of experts marked every Friday night in their diaries, and, each week, came to the Rink (Edinburgh Ice Rink at Haymarket) to train young curlers."

The mystery of what happened to the competition is not helped by what that article then says, "The Murray Trophy, Edinburgh's biggest cup - a massive piece of silverware - was played for from 1929 to 1935. Then, for one and many another reason, it left the junior ranks and became one of the senior trophies at the Edinburgh Rink." What were the 'one and many another reason' that had led to the demise of the country's only competition for junior curlers? I hoped to find the answer.

I decided to look at the history of the Scottish Junior Curling Club, in parallel with what I already knew about the Murray Trophy's early years. There is no direct connection between the Murray Trophy and the Scottish Junior Curling Club, other than the involvement of Tom Murray.

The records show that the Scottish Junior Curling Club was admitted to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1929. At the Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Club in the Peebles Hydro on July 31, 1929, the names of twenty-five new clubs were read out. This list did not include the Scottish Junior Club, but it was not unusual for a new club to be admitted if duly proposed after the annual meeting, but before the Annual went to print. This is what happened with the Scottish Junior Club. This and six other clubs are separately listed in a section called 'Late New Clubs'.

Here is the membership roster at the beginning of the 1929-30 season, as recorded in the Annual for 1929-30.

The patron is T B Murray.

The winners of the first Murray trophy competition, held earlier in 1929, had been J Oliphant (skip), A Paris (3rd), J Morrison (2nd), and I McKnight (lead), from the Linlithgow Curling Club. None of these are listed above. But the runners-up were from Merchiston CC, skipped by A Allan, with W Roberts, W Ainslie and J Nisbet, having lost to Linlithgow 16-9 in the final. Note that Roberts, Ainslie and Nisbet are all listed as members of the Scottish Junior Curling Club in its inaugural season.

Here is evidence that the Scottish Junior Curling Club was formed sometime in 1928. This clipping from the Scotsman reports on the first annual meeting of the club in November 1929, and indicates that the Club had been formed 'last year', that is, in 1928.

So, the Scottish Junior CC was in existence before the first Murray Trophy competition took place.

It should be pointed out that the Murray Trophy was a competition run at, and by, the Edinburgh Ice Rink. It was not, at that time, a national competition organised by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The Scottish Junior Curling Club curled out of the Edinburgh Ice Rink at Haymarket. The choice of name suggests that it did not want to be seen as just a club for Edinburgh young curlers.

In season 1929-30, the Murray Trophy was won by Biggar - Wm Brown (skip), Wilson Brown, J. Plenderleith, and A H Brown. Runners-up were Merchiston - R G Manson (skip), W Roberts, J Ainslie, and J Nisbet. John E Nisbet is listed as the Scottish Junior Club's Treasurer and Secretary, and other finalists are members of the Scottish Junior Club too.

This is the club's membership in the 1931-32 Annual. It certainly looks to be prospering, with twenty-nine members.

The previous season, the club had been awarded a Royal Club 'Local Medal' to encourage points play, although I cannot find who won this, or even if it was played for at all. Of course, the club already had a points medal, presented by Dr MacRobert and Mr D Reid back in 1929 at their first annual meeting. This was won by J Fordyce in 1931.

In the absence of old minute books, we do not have any record of the games played by members within the Scottish Junior Club.

However, the club also was matched to play for a District Medal against Temple in the 1932-33 season, but the result of this match is not recorded, if indeed it was ever played.

At the beginning of the 1932-33 season, the Scottish Junior Curling Club had nineteen members and a new Secretary and Treasurer.

This was J F Waugh, a name that would become well known in the years ahead. T B Murray was still the Patron. The President was R H Watherston. This last had been a member of the team that had been runners-up in the Murray Trophy the previous season. Linlithgow were the winners: A Paris (skip), A F Dickie, J Bennie, and I A MacKnight. Runners-up were the 'Co-optimists': R Dunlop (skip), R Watherston, J Ainslie, and J Forrest.

The Linlithgow juniors had been the first winners of the trophy back in 1929. Success spurs success, and local interest, and the Linlithgow Gazette newspaper reported that the 1930 contenders had played a match against veteran curlers on outside ice, on Linlithgow Loch, before their first games in the Edinburgh Rink in February, 1930. But they did not reach the final that year.

The newspaper even promoted the local young curlers in this article from March 20, 1931. As it turned out, they were beaten in the final by Biggar. However, in the following season, the trophy was won by a Linlithgow team (as mentioned earlier).

The Linlithgow Gazette reported on Friday, May 6, 1932, that the trophy 'of handsome design, has been on view in the window of H Shields and Sons'.

Three years on ...

This the last record of the playing of the Murray trophy as recorded in the Scotsman of Saturday, March 16, 1935, the final of that season's competition having been played on Friday, March 15.

Here's the last entry for the Scottish Junior Club in the Annual for 1935-36. That Annual also records that the D Reid and Dr MacRobert Points medal had been won by D Kyles, with 22 points. In second place was J F Waugh, 20 points. There is no indication that the club is in anything other than a healthy state.

Nor, at the beginning of the 1935-36 curling season, is there is anything to suggest that the Murray Trophy would not be competed for in that season. Over the years from 1929 to 1935, the trophy had been played for just six times, and won by young curlers from Linlithgow, Biggar, Biggar (again), Linlithgow (again), Corstorphine, Corstorphine (again), and Corstorphine (yet again). Had Corstorphine's domination of the competition over a three year period discouraged others? It is interesting that Waugh's team entered the competition under 'Corstorphine' and not 'Scottish Junior'. Two of the members of the winning Corstorphine team in 1935 (Waugh and Kyles) are listed as members of the Corstorphine CC in the Annual for 1935, whereas three (Waugh, Kyles and Fordyce) are members of the Scottish Junior Club. Was J Wylie a member of another club? I cannot find the answer.

The Annual of 1936-37 records that the Scottish Junior CC had ceased to be a member of the Royal Club. The same Annual also notes that the T B Murray trophy was not competed for in the previous season.

It is a mystery, and despite much searching, and much speculating, I cannot say with certainty why this might have happened. Perhaps entries for the Murray Trophy competition had just declined over the years. Fourteen teams had entered in 1929. I do not know how many took part in 1935. You can find an interesting statement in the report in the Scottish Curler of April 1959, when the Murray Trophy was played for again as a national junior competition, "The trophy was run with success in the Edinburgh Ice Rink until 1935, and many well-known pre-war curlers helped to foster an exciting new interest in young curling. It was particularly tragic, therefore, when the tournament suddenly languished and died, the trophy being handed over for senior competition in the Edinburgh Rink." Why had it 'suddenly languished and died'?

Speculating more positively, perhaps there was no longer a need to have an Edinburgh based club, just for 'junior' curlers, if other clubs were making more provision to encourage younger members at that time. I wonder.

It is even stranger to understand the demise of both club and trophy when you realise that the originator of the trophy, and the Patron of the Scottish Junior Club, T B Murray, became President-elect of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in July 1935, and then President in July 1936. The very Annual that records Murray's election to President is the same publication that records that the Scottish Junior Curling Club has ceased to be a member of the Royal Club! Surely Murray would have done all he could to maintain and preserve the Trophy that he had donated, and the Club of which he was patron?

Perhaps there is a clue here. With Tom Murray's energies and activities turned towards his position as curling's top man, perhaps he just wasn't able to continue to help with the junior curling. And without his input, junior curling in Edinburgh just fell away.

Tom Murray died in 1944.

I like a good mystery, but I suspect that there must be more to this than meets the eye.

One question that comes to mind is, "What was the age of a 'young curler' or a 'junior curler' back in the 1930s?" The first Treasurer/Secretary was John E Nisbet. Thanks to Scotland's People his birth certificate is easily found. John Edgar Nisbet was born on July 1, 1905. In 1929 he would have been 23 or 24. Sadly, we know too that the skip of the first rink to win the Murray Trophy in 1929 was John Oliphant, who died on June 4, 1929, not long after his team's curling success. He was just 23 years old.

There's no published age limitations for the early Murray Trophy matches as far as I can see, but when the trophy was resurrected in 1959, it was for curlers of 25 and under, and it seems likely that one's mid-twenties might well have been the upper limit for being a 'young curler' back in the 1930s.

Membership of the Scottish Junior Curling Club may have been more flexible. Scotland's People can help identify the R H Watherston who was President of the Scottish Junior CC from 1932 to 1935. He was Robert Henderson Watherston who was born on May 11, 1907. He would have been in his late twenties in the last year of his presidency of the club.

However, John Forbes Waugh was born on March 20, 1912. He would have been twenty years old when his name first appears as Treasurer and Secretary of the Scottish Junior CC at the beginning of the 1932-33 season, and would have been just about to celebrate his 23rd birthday when he skipped his team in the Murray Trophy final on March 15, 1935.

The last two winners of the Murray Trophy, in 1934 and 1935, had been teams skipped by Waugh, the Treasurer and Secretary of the Scottish Junior Club. He had played second on the winning team in 1933. He was already a trusted administrator and an accomplished curler.

Moving forward more than twenty years, it was J K (Jock) Waugh who was instrumental in having the Murray Trophy resurrected in 1959 as a trophy for junior curlers, this time a truly national competition for young curlers of 25 years of age and under, as it was administered by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Jock is more remembered today as the director of the first Scotch Cup competitions, the first steps in the evolution of the World Men's Curling Championship. His obituary in the 1966-67 Annual, shows how much he was a respected figure, as the following extract shows:

"The sudden death of Jock Waugh shocked the curling world. We use the word 'world' advisedly because Jock had played in almost every curling country and everywhere had left the stamp of his personality. While his name was a household word among the Scottish curling fraternity, he was known and loved far beyond the boundaries of Scotland. In addition, as a man of wide sympathies, with immense popular appeal, he was admired and respected in many circles outside curling. But curling was his main recreation. More than that, he was dedicated to the game, which he fervently believed to hold unique qualities of skill, fellowship and character. He himself, with his keenness, sportsmanship and good cheer, was the embodiment of all that is best in Curling ..... "

I like this photo of Jock Waugh (third from the right). It was taken after the Ernie Richardson team had won the series of Scotch Cup matches against the Willie Young team. The Scotch Whisky directors had 'enjoyed a friendly game with the Champions'! (L-R: Brodie Hepburn, Ernie Richardson, Arnold Richardson, Archie Scott, Garnet Richardson, Jock Waugh, Jim Draper and Wes Richardson.)

I mentioned earlier the article in the 1958 Scottish Curler magazine. As a footnote to this the magazine Editor Robin Welsh has added, "Schoolboy and youthful curling has never been given wild encouragement in Scotland." That was to change dramatically in the years that followed, Waugh getting the Murray Trophy going again being no small part in this!

The early years of the T B Murray Trophy, the existence of a forgotten Scottish Junior Curling Club from 1929-1935, and the efforts of Tom Murray and Jock Waugh to encourage junior curling in Scotland, should not be forgotten in curling's history, whatever remains to be discovered about the history of young curlers in that period between the wars and why the Murray Trophy competition, and the Scottish Junior Curling Club, both came to an end at the same time.

The Scottish Junior Curling Club membership images are from Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annuals in my collection. The top image of Tom Murray is from a scrapbook in his family's possession. The Scotsman clippings are © Johnston Press plc, via the British Newspaper Archive. The Linlithgow Gazette clipping is also © Johnston Press plc, via the British Newspaper Archive. The image of the Scotch Whisky directors with the Richardson team comes from the March 1959 issue of the Scottish Curler.

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