Monday, May 28, 2018

How the Royal Caledonian Curling Club got its name

Queen Victoria was just eighteen years old on her accession to the throne on June 20, 1837. She married Prince Albert, of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in 1840. The young couple first visited Scotland in 1842, leaving behind their two children, Princess Victoria and Prince Albert Edward. They travelled by sea to Edinburgh, arriving at Granton on HMY The Royal George (here) on September 1. Their visit attracted huge attention, and was reported in great detail in newspapers of the time. A few days later the couple crossed the Forth and began a trip north via Kinross and Perth, with thousands lining the route. At Perth on September 6 they received the keys of the city from the Lord Provost. The correspondent of the Morning Post on September 9, 1842 writes, "Her Majesty was most enthusiastically received all through her progress in the fair city of Perth, and she appeared much gratified with the enthusiasm of her subjects. The crowd was incalculable; the streets were crammed with human beings, and all were eager to express their love and loyalty in their best fashion."

The Royal party spent the night of Tuesday, September 6 at Scone Palace. It was at Scone where the Earl of Mansfield is said to have demonstrated the sport of curling to the Royal couple, in the Long Gallery, and Royal patronage was duly sought and given. Nothing about this curling demonstration appears in newspapers, as far as I have been able to find. So what is the evidence?

Lord Mansfield had been elected President of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club at the 'Meeting of Representatives of Clubs' held within the Waterloo Hotel, on Tuesday, July 26, 1842. The Grand Club had been formed just a few years before, in 1838.

On August 31, 1842, a 'Special Meeting' of the Club was held in Edinburgh, to discuss the upcoming visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Scotland. In the absence of the Lord Mansfield, William Gibson-Craig, Esq, younger of Riccarton, MP, the President-Elect of the Grand Club, was in the chair. The minutes of this meeting note that it was 'for the purpose of expressing to her most gracious Majesty the Queen, and his Royal Highness Prince Albert, their sincere congratulations on the auspicious event of their visit to Scotland'.

The minutes as printed in the Annual for 1842-43 state, "The opinion of the Meeting was in heartfelt and joyous accordance with the sentiments of loyalty and attachment entertained by all classes of her Majesty's subjects throughout this her ancient kingdom. The Meeting resolved, that it would be a distinguished favour if his Royal Highness Prince Albert would honour them by becoming Patron of the Club. They accordingly instructed the Secretary to transmit a copy of this Minute to the President, the Right Honourable the Earl of Mansfield, with a request that his Lordship would use his influence, during the Royal visit, to procure for them the honour which they were so desirous to obtain."

The Secretary, George Ritchie, was instructed to write a letter to Lord Mansfield.

Ritchie writes to Lord Mansfield, on the same day as the 'special meeting', with these words, "My Lord, I am instructed by a Meeting of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, held here this day, to transmit to your Lordship, as President, a Pair of Curling Stones, and a copy of the Curling Annual for 1842, which they have resolved to present to his Royal Highness Prince Albert, and to request that your Lordship will do them the very great favour to present them, in name of the Club, to his Royal Highness, during his visit to the Palace of Scone. The Meeting are desirous to testify to his Royal Highness the respect and attachment felt towards him by the Curlers of Scotland, and know of no more appropriate mode of expressing their esteem, than by thus enabling his Royal Highness to practise their ancient national game. The Meeting consider themselves peculiarly fortunate in having as their President a Nobleman whose rank and character will guarantee the respectability of the Association, while his zeal and enthusiasm as a Curler cannot fail to recommend it to the favourable notice of his Royal Highness."

The Earl of Mansfield was indeed a keen curler. He was President of the Scone and Perth Curling Club, which was one of the first to join the Grand Caledonian Curling Club in 1838. 

It is interesting to speculate whether those attending the 'special meeting' knew that the Royal couple would be staying overnight at Scone, but they knew that Lord Mansfield would have access to them during their visit to Scotland. As the letter already mentions the stones that were to be presented to Prince Albert, it would seem that the decision to make such a presentation had been made well before the August 31 'special meeting'.

In a letter to the Secretary on September 19, Lord Mansfield replies officially that he had indeed presented the stones to Prince Albert, "I beg leave to inform you that, agreeably to the request of the Grand Caledonian Club, I had the honour of presenting to his Royal Highness the Prince Albert the Pair of Curling Stones which were confided to my care, and which his Royal Highness was graciously pleased to accept. I have it in command from his Royal Highness to express to the Club his Royal Highness' gratification at this mark of their respectful attention to him; and I have also to inform you that his Royal Highness has been so kind as to consent to become the Patron of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club. I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient humble Servant,

This is the title page of the 1842-43 Annual, published in the autumn of 1842, which shows that the Grand Caledonian Curling Club now had a royal patron in Prince Albert.

The 1842-43 Annual also contains the following account of the presentation of the stones, and the demonstration of curling which followed. Just who wrote this is a matter of conjecture, but it is the information presented therein that has become the accepted account of what happened at Scone Palace.

"An Account of the interesting ceremony of the Presentation of the Curling Stones to PRINCE ALBERT.

ON Wednesday, the 7th September, the Earl of Mansfield, President of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, and as the Representative of the Society, in presence of the Queen, her Majesty's Ministers, and the guests assembled in the Palace of Scone, presented to his Royal Highness Prince Albert a splendid pair of Curling Stones, made of the finest Ailsa Craig granite, most beautifully finished and ornamented, the handles being formed of silver, and bearing an appropriate inscription. The Stones were most graciously accepted by the Prince, who expressed a determination to put them, at a fitting time, to a practical test, and gave directions for their immediate transmission to Windsor.

The noble Earl replied, that he hoped he might enjoy an early opportunity of initiating his Royal Highness into all the mysteries of the 'rink'. Her Majesty inquired particularly respecting the game of Curling, and, with a view to illustrate the explanations that were given to her Majesty by Lord Mansfield, the polished oaken floor of the room was summarily converted into 'a rink', and the Stones were sent 'roaring' along its smooth and even surface.

And we have reason to know that her Majesty herself 'tried her hand' at throwing the Stones, although they proved to be too heavy for her delicate arm. Both her Majesty and the Prince expressed surprise when informed as to the usual length of a 'rink', and appeared to imagine that it must require a very great degree of strength to propel the stones to such a distance.

The Noble Lord, also, at the request of the Club, solicited his Royal Highness to honour the Club by becoming its Patron, to which request the Prince, with ready condescension, consented. His Royal Highness is therefore now Patron of this great association of Curlers, who have done so much to revive and extend one of the most ancient and delightful games that belong to Scotland; and we may hope that by the influence and example of his Royal Highness the 'roaring game' will also speedily become a fashionable and popular pastime on the other side of the Tweed."

It is not my intention to belittle this account of what happened at Scone Palace, but, having tried to slide a curling stone over a polished wooden floor, my experiences tell me that this is in fact very difficult to do, and the stones do not travel far. So I suspect the description above contains some exaggeration.

Unfortunately, Queen Victoria's own journals (here) say nothing about the curling demonstration. She records dining at Scone in the evening of Tuesday, September 6, "The dinner lasted very long. Lord Mansfield sat next to me. The Drawingroom is a pretty room, and so is the Gallery, only, too narrow. I was very glad to get to bed." (Not surprising, it had been a long day.) The following morning she records, "Slept very well, and breakfasted at 9, after which we walked out, and saw the mound on which the ancient Scottish Kings were always crowned ..." The party left Scone at 11.00, bound for Taymouth Castle.

But there's not a word about the presentation of curling stones to Prince Albert, nor that she herself tried to throw a stone, and found it too heavy.

When did the presentation of the stones take place, and when was the demonstration? I had always assumed that this must have been on the evening of Tuesday, September 6, perhaps after the dinner. But the account of the presentation does not confirm this. It is dated Wednesday, September 7, and if this is correct, then the presentation of the stones, and the demonstration, must have taken place in the morning, perhaps after breakfast and before the Royal party left Scone Palace. 

Here is one of the stones that were presented to Prince Albert.

The silver handles are engraved, "Presented to His Royal Highness Prince Albert. By the Grand Caledonian Curling Club on the occasion of His Royal Highness' First Visit to Scotland. Edinburgh, 1st. Septr. 1842."

The stones are now in the Royal Collection at Frogmore House and can be seen online here. They are single-soled stones, the style of stone in use at the time, before the general introduction of the goose-neck handle with a centred pin, and even later, reversible stones. It is interesting to learn that they are made from Ailsa Craig granite. Stones made of similar rock are recorded being sent to Canada as early as 1829, according to Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia, which was published in 1830. And John Cairnie, in his Essay on Curling, and Artificial Pond Making, from 1833, includes an image of his yacht 'coming to her moorings with a few selected pieces of granite for curling sport, taken from the shore of Ailsa Craig'.

It does look as if the Prince's stones were of Common (Green) Ailsa, rather than of Blue Hone, but it is difficult to say much about them, given the photographs that are available. I wonder who made them? David Smith believed that the Prince's stones were indeed played with, see his 2011 article here.

So, the Grand Caledonian Curling Club now had a Royal Patron, but it had not yet added the 'Royal' to its name.

A special committee was appointed following the Annual Meeting in July, 1843, to prepare a petition to the Queen. A brief minute of this meeting appears in the Annual for 1843-44.

This reads, "At a Meeting of the Committee appointed by the last General Meeting of the Grand Club to prepare a Petition to the Queen, held on the 31st July, 1843, in 8, North St. David Street, Edinburgh; Present—William Gibson-Graig, Esq MP President, in the Chair; and Dr John Renton. Messrs Alexander Cassels, George Ferguson, and George Ritchie.

The Meeting unanimously agreed upon the Petition, a copy of which follows, and requested the Secretary to write Lord Mansfield that Mr Craig, the President, had that day transmitted the same to Sir George Clerk for presentation, in the event of his Lordship having left London."

Here is how the petition was worded:


Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the President, President-Elect, Vice-Presidents, Office-Bearers, and Members of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, beg leave with all humility to approach your Majesty, and to submit to your Majesty the following Petition, which humbly sheweth:

That the Grand Caledonian Curling Club was instituted for the purpose of promoting the ancient and peculiarly national Scottish Game of Curling, which in its character is at once innocent, healthful, and moral, and in which all ranks and orders of your Majesty's subjects keenly participate:

That the Grand Caledonian Curling Club is the General Association of the District Curling Clubs of Scotland, about one hundred and twenty of which, comprising above five thousand Members, are now affiliated with it:

That the Grand Caledonian Curling Club publishes an Annual of all its proceedings, a copy of which is herewith humbly submitted to your Majesty:

That recently the Grand Caledonian Curling Club received the distinguished honour of his Royal Highness Prince Albert becoming its Patron, and now it begs leave to approach your Majesty, and to solicit your Majesty's Royal sanction that the Grand Caledonian Curling Club may henceforth be allowed to assume the designation of The Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club.

May it therefore please your most gracious Majesty to grant the humble request of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, and your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

Signed in name and by authority of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, this 31st day of July, 1843. WILLIAM GIBSON-CRAIG, President.

A few days later the President received this letter:

"WHITEHALL, August 12, 1843.

Sir—I am directed by Secretary Sir James Graham to inform you, that he has laid before the Queen the Petition of the 'Grand Caledonian Curling Club', praying that they may be permitted to assume the designation of 'The Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club'.

And I am to acquaint you that her Majesty has been graciously pleased to grant the prayer of the Petition.—I have the honour to be, etc.

So, "Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to grant the prayer of the Petition!" Curling's governing body was to have a Royal patron and a Royal title!

Yet another special meeting of the Grand Club was convened, and the text of a response was agreed to, and the following letter was sent to Sir James Graham by the President.

"Sir—I have laid before a Special Meeting of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, held this day, your letter of 12th August, intimating that her Majesty had been graciously pleased to permit that it be henceforth designated 'The Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club' and l am desired by the meeting to request you to convey to her Majesty their grateful sense of the distinguished honour conferred upon their association."

Curling's governing body was now the 'Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club'. The 'Grand' was soon felt to be superfluous, and in following year, the Annual had this brief minute, "At the Annual General Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, held within the Royal Exchange Coffee-house, Edinburgh, 25th July, 1844, the Secretary read a letter from Mr Gibson-Craig regarding the proposed change in the designation of the Club, - and thereupon the motion by the Secretary, 'That the Designation of The Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club shall, from and after 25th July 1844, be THE ROYAL CALEDONIAN CURLING CLUB,' was unanimously carried."

This from the Annual for 1844-45.

More on Royal connections to follow in a future article.

The images above are taken from the digitised Annuals as indicated.  The photograph of one of the Prince’s stones is by courtesy of The Royal Collection, copyright 2003, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

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