Friday, July 05, 2019

An American Curling Story

If you have any doubts about the effect that winning Olympic Gold Medals has on the perception of the sport by the general public, you could ask Rhona Martin or any of her GB team which won back in 2002. Or you could watch Making Curling Great Again - An American Curling Story, a short documentary which is just out, following the success of John Shuster's US team in Pyeongchang last year.

The film, on YouTube here, is directed by Jesse Wachter, and is a fascinating 28 minutes to enjoy. CurlingZone's Gerry Geurts is the Executive Producer. Presented by Dynasty Curling Ltd, and Annex Media, the film covers the history of curling in America, and then the story of the Shuster team.

Perhaps I'm biased, having experienced the warm and welcoming nature of club curling in America many years ago, and even having played in Hibbing where John Shuster caught the curling bug. This is a feel-good video about the sport, and the positive effect the gold medals have had in promoting the growth and awareness of curling in the USA. It's not triumphalist, as might have been expected. I loved it.

The film includes a collage of videos of the sport being played in the past. There's some wonderful old film footage (screenshot above of an 'oops' moment), and photographs. The interviews with the team members are revealing too, as are the comments about how the sport fits in in these divisive times in the USA. Even the Simpsons get a mention, and the closing credits are to the classic Cheetos 'Teach me how to curl' commercial.

Do watch it!

Thursday, July 04, 2019

The 1985 Air Canada Silver Broom in the Kelvin Hall

Glasgow's Kelvin Hall has been undergoing renovation in recent years. Part of the building now houses some of Glasgow Museums' extensive collections; the University of Glasgow's Hunterian Museum has space in the building; the Glasgow Club provides many different sporting activities; and the National Library of Scotland has its digital resources with viewing facilities, and I have visited often. All the above occupies just a small part of the building. Read about its history here.

Last month, like many, I wanted to see Trix. I headed for the Kelvin Hall to see the 66-million-year-old skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Glasgow being the only UK stop on a European Tour. The experience was both fascinating and enjoyable. The exhibition was staged in the large part of the Kelvin Hall still under renovation, and not usually accessible to the public.

It took me back ..... to 1985, when the Air Canada Silver Broom World Curling Championship was staged in that very space. The Kelvin Hall was not an ice arena, and an ice pad was built specifically for the event, the first time that had ever been done for an international curling competition. This is not uncommon now of course, but 1985 showed just what could be accomplished even if a town or city did not have a dedicated ice arena.

This post is based on my memories of the time leading up to the championship.

It took an innovative mind to even have the idea of staging the World Curling Championship in the building. The owner of that mind was Richard Harding. He had competed in the Silver Broom in 1977, and was, in 1982, editor of his own curling magazine. Many years ago I wrote, "It wasn't a new idea to use a conference or exhibition centre as a venue for a Silver Broom. Edinburgh curlers had discussed that before, but the suggestion had been dismissed as too costly, and impractical. What Harding did - and to those who know him it is typical of him - was to keep after what he thought was a good idea, and not be put off by the pessimists. Richard Harding was the spark that kindled the enthusiasm for the Glasgow Silver Broom."

Richard approached Bob Dalgleish, of the Glasgow Sports Promotion Council, and the plan to bring the World Curling Championship back to Scotland was set in motion. The Championship had last been in Scotland in 1975, at the Central Scotland Ice Rink in Perth. It had grown since then, and involved ten nations. It was a men only competition, the women having gained their own world championship in 1979. In 1980 the Silver Broom had been held in Moncton, New Brunswick, and in 1981, in London, Ontario. In 1982, the event had taken place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Richard involved Robin Brechin, a successful Glasgow businessman, and several other curling friends to form a 'bid committee', and a proposal to hold the 1985 Silver Broom in Glasgow was duly submitted. This was rather more than a formality, as several other venues wanted to host the Championship, and Glasgow had to prove it was best placed to do so.

This is the cover of the May/June 1983 issue of Curling, which pictures the members of the 'site selection committee' for the 1985 Silver Broom. L-R: Chick Windsor (whose company organised the organised North American travel packages), Clif Thompson (International Curling Federation President), Pierre Jerome (Air Canada), Sam McColm (Royal Caledonian Curling Club President), Don Lewis (Icemaker) and Doug Maxwell (Executive Director, Silver Broom). They are standing in front of a Glasgow Corporation bus which had been specially decorated for the occasion. The group were welcomed at Glasgow Airport from a British Midland flight from London, on which the captain had identified them and welcomed them to Scotland as they flew over the border. In their bus, they then visited Glasgow hotels, the City Chambers, and the Kelvin Hall, where the annual circus and carnival was being set up. It is recorded that Air Canada's Pierre Jerome fed the elephants, and that became part of Silver Broom folklore.

The effort and planning that had gone into Glasgow's Silver Broom bid was examined in detail. Don Lewis, who would be in charge of making the ice for the event, was convinced that a temporary ice rink was a realistic proposal.

Glasgow was awarded the Air Canada Silver Broom in April 1983, at the opening of the Championship in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Twenty committees were established and this photo shows the chairs and the executive in 1984, on their way to experience the Silver Broom in Duluth, and observe at first hand all that was involved in hosting the event. The jackets were made of the Glasgow tartan.

On March 18, 1985, the venue became available for the construction of the rink, and in just eight days and nights the ice pad was built, and seating installed. Here is a photo of the ice pad build underway.

Glasgow became the centre of the curling world during March 25 - 31, 1985. This is a photo of the opening ceremony in the Kelvin Hall.

This video of part of the opening ceremony has been rescued from a VHS tape, from a Scottish Television broadcast of the event. To view in Youtube link here. It shows the entry of the teams, each accompanied by young curlers from around the country, carrying the national flags. It's not the greatest quality, but can you identify any of the flag bearers? I can see Peter Smith, from Perth, and George McConnell, from Greenacres. Can anyone identify others? And one can see that the stands were packed with spectators.

ADDED LATER. Thanks to John Brown who has commented,  "The flag bearer for the England team, dressed up as a Pearly King, was Alastair Burns who later skipped the England team in the World Championships in 1992, 1995 and 1996."

The cover of the event programme. More about the 1985 Silver Broom itself in future posts.

Thanks to Kirsty Letton for the photo of the committee chairmen, in their tartan uniforms. The photo of the rink under construction is courtesy of Star Refrigeration. Other images are my own or from my archive.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The women curlers who first took to the ice in Switzerland

I have written before about the women who took up the sport of curling at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. You can find my articles on 'The Women in the Painting: Scottish Curling Pioneers' here;  'Henrietta Gilmour: Pioneer Woman Curler' here; and 'When the Scottish Men Faced the Canadian Women in 1903' here. I have been seeking evidence for the earliest 'mixed' curling games, with women playing alongside the men. The results of that search has led to two articles, 'The Women on Rothie Pond' here, and 'The Women Curlers of Buxton' here.

But there's one place where women took to the ice that I haven't yet discussed. Women curlers were curling at the winter resorts in Switzerland in the first decade of the twentieth century. I would suggest that here, rather than in Scotland, is where 'mixed curling', or 'open curling', first became generally accepted. What is the evidence for such a statement? The photo above clearly shows women playing the sport at St Moritz, alongside the men. But when? The image is an undated postcard. It's an interesting photo, but never having been sent through the mail, it is impossible to date it accurately. I set out to find images of women curling in Switzerland which could be accurately dated.

This is the earliest that I have found. It is from an article, by E H Lawson Williams, published in the Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes, Vol 17, July to December 1903. The author recounts his experiences of a first visit to St Moritz. The photo is captioned 'Ladies Curling at St Moritz', but there is no mention of the photographer. Williams says, "In my previous article I somewhat discountenanced the idea of ladies playing the 'roarin' game'. I must now make an exception of those who visit the Engadine. Aided by perfect ice and lighter stones no great strength of back is necessary. The ladies' branch of the club at St Moritz is a recent creation; but the game has caught on, and promises at an early date to rival the counter attractions of the skating-rink."

Lawson-Williams must have visited St Moritz in the winter of 1902-03. This image, from the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, is from a couple of years later, and appeared on December 10, 1904. It was simply captioned 'On the Ladies' curling rink'. This suggests that the women may have been playing separately from the men at that time, on their own rink.

This photo is from a page of a family album with other images from 'St Moritz, 1904'. Written below the photo is the name 'Heather'. I only have the one page of the album, and unfortunately do not have Heather's surname. I can see men in the photo, so perhaps this is early evidence of mixed curling at St Moritz.

This image is another postcard showing women curling, in a mixed game, at St Moritz. As seen, it is dated December 7, 1905, on the front, and postmarks on the reverse confirm that it was in the mail on December 8 and 9, 1905, having been sent from St Moritz to Biel.

This image, in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in January 30, 1909, is captioned 'The Engadine Winter Season - Ladies Curling at St Moritz'. Is there one man on the ice?

Here is an image which clearly depicts a curling game, with women playing alongside the men, again at St Moritz. This was published in a French magazine Le Sport Universel Illustre, February 13, 1910. It is captioned 'Une partie de curling a Saint-Moritz'. The photographer is not stated.

Although images of women curling at St Moritz seem to be the most common, women were also on the ice at other Swiss resorts. This photo, by Mrs Mottram Hewett, Culverlea, Winchester, is captioned 'Curling at Davos, January, 1904'. This was already mounted on card when I purchased it, and there is no indication of where it was published.

The first decade of the twentieth century saw many Swiss resorts opening in the winter months, and offering activities, among which was curling. The photos above, which can be dated, show that women were playing the sport not just on their own, but in the same teams as men.

Who were these women, and where were they from? They were not Swiss, but visitors.

Some of the resorts formed curling clubs which became affiliated to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in Scotland. The St Moritz CC and the Davos CC were the first to do this back in 1894. An article in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1903-04 (reprinted from the Alpine Post and Engadine Express), by William J Orthwein, about Curling in the Engadine, said, "In its home the sport has acquired the loving title of Scotland's ain game o' curlin', and while Scotsmen are generally found to be at least the introducers of the game in most of the other countries where the game is being played, we now find members of many other nations taking it up. Here in St Moritz this is probably the case to a more marked degree than anywhere, owing to the cosmopolitan nature of the place. Our club has numbered among its members Scots, English, Irish, Americans, Germans, Austrians, Russians, Italians, Swedes, Hollanders, and Belgians." In 1903 there were several curling rinks in and around St Moritz. As well as the rink at the Kulm Hotel, there was a rink at the Hotel Schweizerhof, while the Palace and Belvedere had also established ponds of their own.

Although visitors to Switzerland came from all over the world, the British were undoubtedly at the forefront of the 'winter holiday' movement. It is not too much of a stretch to suggested that if a husband and wife, or a family, holidayed in Switzerland, all would take to the ice if the opportunity was to be had.

The most enthusiastic of these visiting curlers, including the women, would have joined the local curling club. Some idea of who the first women curlers were can be found in the Annuals of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The membership roster of the St Moritz CC, presumably at September 15, 1903, and published in the RCCC Annual of 1903-04, listed thirteen lady members.

Umney being an unusual name, it is possible to identify who the first named of the St Moritz 'Lady Members' actually was. Mrs Ethel Umney was the wife of Percy Umney. He is listed among the 75 male 'regular members' of the Club. Percy was a solicitor, a partner in the private practice of Wood, Umney and Chambers located in Richmond. He also worked as a solicitor for his father Charles’ company, the wholesale druggists, Wright, Layman and Umney, who made Wright’s Original Coal Tar Soap. So the Umneys were English.

Mrs Bird's husband is not listed amongst the club's members. Note that of the thirteen names, eleven are listed as 'Miss'. It would be great to find out more about these women, although, without any first names, this is difficult. Having the resources to be able to holiday in Switzerland in the early twentieth century does suggest that curling in these resorts was for the well-off! The sport of curling is traditionally proud of its egalitarianism, but those who played while on holiday in the Swiss Alps were from the 'upper-class' end of society at the time.

The Grindelwald Curling Club listed a Mrs Sidney Galpin as the lone woman member of the club from 1902 through to 1906. Her husband was a regular member of the club. He is described in the Scotsman of December 14, 1904, as one of the best known curlers in Switzerland. In 1907, Mrs Galpin was joined by other women as 'regular members', namely, Mrs Marsh, Mrs Keighley, Mrs Gaye, Mrs Grant, Mrs J E Collister, Mrs Scott and Miss Williams. I've not come across any images of the women at play at Grindelwald.

Unlike the men, the women who curled in the Swiss resorts in the early years of the twentieth century did not have major competitions in which to compete. The men had the Jackson Cup, instituted in 1898, and the Swiss International Bonspiel began in 1905.

There is an interesting reference to a women's competition at Villars in January 1908. The Villars Sports Club ran 'Golden Competitions' in a number of sports, with prizes on offer in both 'ladies' and gentlemen's events'. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph in January 28, 1908, reported that the men's curling points competition attracted a large number of entries and was won by G W Lunn, but, "The ladies' curling competition created a good deal of amusement, all being novices at the 'roaring game'. Miss Bicknell scored five points out of a possible 24, being one point better that Miss Wharton." Her prize was a golden curling stone!

The St Moritz CC, with the largest complement of women members, had a number of competitions in which the women played. Erwin Sautter in his book Curling Vademecum records that during the 1909-10 season Major Lindsell and Mr Garlick supplied prizes for team competitions for 'ladies skipped by men'. Miss Bridson offered a prize for ladies' play. Erwin also notes that a committee was formed from the women members, and comprised Mrs Hewitt, Mrs Francis, Miss Constable, and Miss Bridson, who was the honorary secretary and treasurer. A ladies' points competition for a prize given by Miss Constable was held at the end of January 1910, and won by Mrs Bott.

Miss Bridson was an accomplished curler. In February 1908, the Globe reported that she had skipped her rink of Miss Dunn (3rd), Miss Caton Thompson (2nd) and Miss Linau (lead) to win 'Mr Cutlack's prizes for ladies' at a curling competition in St Moritz.

The 'Lady Muriel Watkins Challenge Cup for Ladies' Ice Curling' was first played at Murren on January 30, 1911, in beautiful weather and on splendid ice. It was a points competition. The Scotsman reported on February 1, 1911, "The result was a tie between Miss Brooke and Miss M Bell. Miss Brooke won on the tie being played off."

This wonderful image of mixed curling is on a postcard that was sent from Fleurier on December 15, 1908. The postcard has no indication of where the action is taking place. Erwin Sautter sent the same image to me some years ago, and on the back is captioned 'Mixed curling at Lenzerheide (Switzerland) about 1910'. The place may be correct but Erwin's date is a year or two out, as the postmark on the postcard shows. But what a beautiful setting for the sport of curling!

In The Book of Winter Sports, published by Edward Arnold, London, in 1908, Bertram Smith has a section on curling. Four pages are devoted to 'Curling in Switzerland'. Smith writes, "St Moritz generally leads the way in all winter sports, and curling is no exception to the rule. Grindelwald is also a great curling centre, with a club membership of over a hundred. In both of these clubs, and also at Davos, there are a large number of lady players, who have no difficulty at all on the keen Swiss ice in holding their own, though the game is rather beyond their strength in Scotland." Really?

J Gordon Grant's The Complete Curler was published by Adam and Charles Black, London, in 1914, and subtitled 'Being the history and practice of the game of curling'. Chapter 5 of the book is titled 'Curling in Switzerland'. He lists the following places where curling was played at that time: Adelboden, Andermatt, Arosa, Campfer, Celerina, Chateau d'Oex, Diablerets, Davos, Engelberg, Grindelwald, Kandersteg, Klosters, Lenzerheide, Leukerbad, Montana, Morgins-les-Bains, Murren, Samaden, Beatenberg, Saint-Cergue, St Moritz, Villars-sur-Ollon, and Wengen. But in the chapter's twelve pages, the author makes no reference to women playing the sport.

This image is a favourite, showing as it does women competing with the men in two rinks at Villars. The postcard was mailed on November 21, 1913, and the action probably dates from the previous winter.

Last word here goes to 'A.H.' who penned an article 'Curling: The Roaring Game' which appeared in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News on January 1, 1916, after a spell of cold weather at the end of 1915. He writes, "It is pleasant and interesting to observe that curling is increasing in popularity among ladies and they prove very dexterous in handling the stones and broom. Many of them acquired a taste for the game in the Alpine winter resorts, and gradually began to practise it at home." I would like to believe this last statement, but I really have not uncovered any evidence to substantiate it. Did they really bring their enthusiasm for curling back to England in the first decade of the twentieth century? If so, where did they play?

The Great War, 1914-18, was to change the world. Curling returned to the winter holiday resorts of Switzerland in the inter-war years, but that's another story. So too is the formation of the Swiss Curling Association in 1942, and the remarkable growth of indoor clubs throughout that country from the 1960s.

The sources of the images are as indicated in the text. All except those found via the British Newspaper Archive are in my own collection.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Roll Curling

At first sight this looks like a normal Welsh Trefor curling stone, with a chrome handle, dating from the 1960s. But there's a discovery to be made when you turn it over.

Underneath there's no running band. Rather, the stone has been designed to travel on three ball bearings inserted into the rock. The stone belonged to David Smith, and I never found out from where it came. Recently though I've discovered how it might have been used ... in the sport of 'Roll Curling'.

Roll curling was first played in Europe in the 1960s. The game was marketed by a Dutch company, Ocriet Rollcurling Ltd. The parent company, Ocriet, manufactured a special concrete product (see here) at their factory at Eemnes.

Here is roll curling being played in the Swiss resort of Montana-Vermala, at an altitude of 1500 metres. Note the use of brushes (!), and the 'dolly' to the side of the rink on the right. The photo is a postcard that was mailed in 1967, so the action must be from before that date. The (French) caption states that the photo shows 'new summer curling games'.

Here is a roll curling rink at the Berghotel in Amersfoort, Netherlands, in 1962. This image is from the history of the Ocriet factory, in a Dutch publication, Historische Kring Eemnes, in March 2011.

The first roll curling rink to be constructed in Britain was at the Duke of Edinburgh public house, Ferndale Road, Clapham, London, in December 1963. There had been a tennis court on the site previously.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal described the opening game, "Its British beginnings in a garden in Brixton may seem modest, but municipal authorities at holiday resorts and owners of recreation centres are more than a little interested."

"Actually, there is little to describe about this new game which does not differ from the traditional one played on ice. The rink, marked with green house at one end and a red house at the other, a back score and hog score, is laid out in reconstituted stone as smooth as a shove-ha'penny table. The curling stones move and twist mounted on ball bearings."

Two teams, representing Scotland and Holland, contested at the opening of the rink.

This undated news/magazine photo is somewhat damaged but shows a game underway at the Brixton pub. Note the 'dolly', and that the skip has a broom in hand. It looks to be nighttime. The rink is somewhat shorter than in the normal sport of curling on ice.

The rink survived in the pub's garden for at least eighteen months, before falling foul of planning regulations.

I was excited to find that some video footage of play has survived. A short feature on the game was made by British Movietone, and can be watched below, or larger, here.

There was considerable interest nationally in this form of 'summer curling'.

On May 12, 1964, the Thanet Times mentioned that Blackpool Parks Department was considering introducing the game as an attraction in the town.  As far as I'm aware this idea was not progressed.

And in August 1965, the Norwood News reported that roll curling had been demonstrated at the Crystal Palace, London, during a multi-sports event at the venue.

Roll curling as described here did not stay the course. Indeed, Ocriet Rollcurling Ltd had been wound up by 1975.

Curling stones which ran on ball bearings or similar were not a new idea. David Smith, in his book 'Curling: an illustrated history', presents a patent from 1902 for a curling stone substitute which ran on ballbearings. There is also a patent for stones which ran on castors from 1887.

'Iceless' stones are now (2019) made by the Tiano company in China, see here.

New Age Kurling and FloorCurl are popular present day derivatives.

Two mysteries remain, and my research continues. Were the stones used in roll curling manufactured by Kays in Mauchline? Or were they made of Ocriet material?

I have heard tell that roll curling (or something very like it) was played on the promenade at Largs in the 1960s. The search is on to find out more!

The stone pictured at the top of this article is now in the care of the Scottish Curling Trust, and in store at Stirling. Other photos in this article are as described or from my own collection. The British Newspaper Archive was once again a major research source.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Peter Thomson, Baker, and the 'Curling: made in Scotland' Exhibition

The curling history exhibition, 'Curling: made in Scotland', opened today (February 20, 2019) at Hampden Park, Glasgow. The Scottish Football Museum has an additional space for temporary exhibitions, and the curling exhibition will be held here until June 16.

The exhibition relies heavily on the David B Smith bequest to the Scottish Curling Trust. David died in 2015 and his huge collection of curling memorabilia has been in store in Stirling since then. David's brother, daughter and son, and their partners, were present for the opening. Also on display are treasures acquired by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club over the years, and also more recent acquisitions by the Scottish Curling Trust.

Do visit if you possibly can. Curling's history is very special. Scottish Curling's CEO, Bruce Crawford, challenged us all to pick our 'favourite' item on show. I knew what mine would be! It's this painting:

The exhibition has been almost a year in the planning. For me, one of the highlights has been the discovery of an oil painting which David had in his collection. That's it above. David's notes about this had been lost, and the Scottish Curling Trust's John Burnett, who has been heading up the team that's made the exhibition happen, asked if I knew anything about it. It shows a curler standing on the ice, with stones in the foreground, with a broom cowe under one arm. In his left hand he is carrying a pair of curling stone handles and bolts.

It turned out that, without initially realising the connection, I did know rather a lot about the painting, and especially the artist. David had got there before me of course, and he had described his purchase of the painting in an article in the Scottish Curler, back in April 1993, long before my association with the magazine.

David wrote that he had purchased the painting from a friend in Somerset, and that it had come from at auction in Stoke-on-Trent. He reflected on seeing the painting, "The picture was indeed dirty; and its frame was dirty and damaged, but oil paintings of curling and curlers are not so common that one can turn up one's nose. And so I bought it." David did not record how much he paid for it.

The painting is not signed, but after some research, David figured out the identity of the curler in the painting. He is Peter Thomson, an Airdrie baker, who was one of those taking part in the game depicted in the huge 'The Curlers at Rawyards' painting (see here), which dates from 1857, and that the artist was John Levack. 'The Curlers at Rawyards' hangs at the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life at Coatbridge. David describes his painting as a 'spin off' from this big composite portrait, and that the artist had perhaps prepared for the large work by first sketching how each person would appear in his finished work. He wrote, "Sometimes the artist later worked up these sketches into individual portraits." There's no proof that this is the case, but it is a likely scenario to explain the origins of David's painting.

Here is a closeup of Peter Thomson from the large painting. Compare it with David's painting at the top of this article. There is absolutely no doubt that both depict the same person. That it is Peter Thomson relies on the accuracy of the little name plates that adorn the frame of the larger painting. If these are correctly positioned, and are accurate, then the curler depicted is indeed Peter Thomson.

David concluded his article by noting that he knew of one other individual portrait by John Levack, of Provost Rankin, and wrote, "Perhaps this article may bring others to light, and perhaps also some more information about the artist who immortalised those Airdrie curlers of 136 years ago." By coincidence, I was to be the one to provide more information! 

Moving forward to 2016, I did not know about David's painting when I wrote about 'The Curlers at Rawyards', and its artist, in an article here. The story of John Levack is a sad one. He committed suicide, after, it should be said, having been jailed for beating up his wife. I wondered if she had survived, and what had happened to her. Some months after I published the article, I received an email from a descendant, and we began to correspond. Leslie Porter is Levack's great great granddaughter. Agnes, Levack's wife, did recover from her injuries, successfully supporting her family of five children as a seamstress for a theatrical company. Leslie is descended from the oldest of these, also called John, the artist's son, born before he and Agnes were married. John's daughter Catherine emigrated to Canada with her husband in 1927. They were Leslie's grandparents. Leslie was emailing me from St Catherines, Ontario, Canada. The Internet can be a wonderful thing!

Leslie sent me this photo of John Levack, artist, from the family archive. It may well be the only recorded image of him. He died in 1874, aged 46. He had married Agnes Laughlan in 1867.

Concentrating though on the curling connection, Leslie has an auction catalogue which describes the sale of other John Levack paintings. This was undated, but I was able to find out that it referred to a sale by Muir and Dalziel, an auction house in Glasgow, on Wednesday, February 23, 1910. Intriguingly, one of the paintings in the sale was described as 'The New Monkland Curlers'. One can only speculate that there is another John Levack painting 'out there', and what it depicted. Could it have been a preliminary sketch or smaller version of the huge 1857 painting? I wonder if it still exists.

A postscript to this article is that I've also been contacted by a descendant of Gavin Black, the local landowner on whose land at Rawyards the curlers were depicted. But that's another story!

The painting of Peter Thomson hangs in the rear of Case 1 at the exhibition. Over the next couple of months I hope I will be able to highlight some of the other treasures on show. And if you attend in person you will be amazed by the variety and quality of the items that are in the exhibition.

Thanks to Leslie Porter for sharing her family history with me, and for sending me the photo of her great great grandfather. Also to helpful staff at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, and at the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life. The large image is from the Art UK website. The others were taken by me. The painting of Peter Thomson which belonged to David Smith is now is in the care of the Scottish Curling Trust.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The curling stones at the bottom of the ocean

On the evening of September 3, 1939, the SS Athenia was torpedoed by a German U-boat, the first UK ship to be sunk in such a way in WW2. The Donaldson line ship was bound for Montreal via Belfast and Liverpool, and when she encountered U-30 she was carrying 1,103 passengers, and 315 crew. One hundred and seventeen passengers and crew died as a result of U-30's action.

The Wikipedia entry about the SS Athenia is here. I was interested to read that 'Wartime German authorities denied that one of their vessels had sunk the ship'. 'Fake News' is not a recent phenomenon.

In the holds of the Athenia was a consignment of curling stones, bound for Canadian curling clubs. I had heard rumours of this, but I had not got around to researching the subject. However, a fellow curling historian was on the case, and last year David M Sgriccia, aka Angus McTavish, of the Detroit Curling Club, posted an article on his blog, see here.

I'll let David tell the story in his own words. I commend his article to you, and I know the hours he must have spent on research before he could write it. There's a lot in newspapers of the time about the loss of the Athenia, and even about the fact that it was carrying curling stones being sent to Canada by Andrew Kay and Co. But David, with help from Andrew Wyllie of Kays Curling, has unearthed the facts and figures, and we now know just how many curling stones lie at the bottom of the ocean, and to which clubs these had been sent.

I do want to quote just some words from his article, as it reflects how I feel about the story too. "It was a big loss for curlers to lose 278 curling stones, but we should never forget the 117 people who died that day from the sinking of the SS Athenia or the millions that died during the war years that followed."

The top image is courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

Friday, February 01, 2019

The Curling Image Project: Midterm Report

The Curling Image Project is taking a bit of a break, as I contemplate a house move over the next few months. The image above is a good place to start when considering the success, or otherwise, of the project.

But first a bit of history! It all began when in 2015 I learned about Sports Heritage Scotland, see here, and was intrigued by the posibilities of the various reminiscence projects that were being discussed, all to help patients with memory problems and dementia. Curling was one of the sports signed up to the Sports Heritage Scotland, with both the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and the Scottish Curling Trust among the original partners. I provided a number of old photographs to a fledgling Curling Memories Project, against the day that perhaps these might be useful.

Sorting through old photographs made me realise that perhaps I could myself provide a database of curling images for future use. I thought the best way to do this would be to post an image each day, building up a weekly collection of seven images in a Curling History Blog post, which could be viewed on a tablet or computer, or printed out. There are twenty-two weeks' worth of images now online, see here. Any individual week can be highlighted by clicking on the title of the post, and then printed.

The project needed a name, and so 'The Curling Image Project' was coined, somewhat grandly, but better than 'Bob's Old Photos'.

The positive on having these photos now on the blog is that they are there to use, in a permanent form, and I have been heartened by the comments that I have received. The photos themselves are varied in their content, and this is deliberate, given the underlying use to which they might be put.

I am sure that we all will know someone with Alzheimers, be it family or friend. It is just a horrible condition. It is especially bad for those who remember the sufferer when they were fully fit.

The photo above shows (L-R) John McFadzean, John Hutchison, Janet McMillan, John Wilson and Eric Johnston in 1971. The team had won the final of the 'big holiday competition' (now known of course as the Dalrymple Cup) where the winners of fourteen weekend competitions played off at the end of the season, with a Mediterranean Holiday to be won. Although the competition was to become a mixed event, in the early years it was open, explaining why in 1971 it was won by the team in the photograph.

Our team of young curlers from Glasgow were always very well received on our first forays to Stranraer's new rink. In 1971, I met Johnny McFadzean, playing lead for Hutch, and we hit it off from the start. I have the happiest memories of Johnny, May, and the children, at their farm (Airylick). In the mid 1970s, we curled together with our wives, and enjoyed holidays in Ibiza and Tenerife (thanks Hammy!). We hillwalked and we bothied. In the 1980s we walked the West Highland Way together, and then in 1983 hiked across Nepal to the Everest Base Camp area. We shared a love of the outdoors, of books, and of gardening.

Sadly, the Johnny I knew then is no more, a victim of that disease which causes sufferers to completely lose memory. I fortunately still have wonderful memories of Johnny and his family, and the adventures we had together. I wish he had too.

I trust I'll be able to return to The Curling Image Project in some months time.

(8x6 inch photo, by FH McCarlie, Stranraer. My email address is in the sidebar if you want to contact me.)

The Curling Image Project (Week 22)

CIP-148. Winners of the 'British Open' at Falkirk in 1972. L-R: Bill Carruthers (second), Willie Young (lead and skip), Jim Steele (fourth), Harry Ewing (MP for Stirling and Falkirk, presenting), and Willie Kerr (third). This was Willie Young's seventh win of this major competition. His team beat Graham Findlay and his Dunfermline team in the 1972 final. (6x8in print, Falkirk Herald.)

CIP-149. This is a group shot of visiting curlers at Crossmyloof, with their hosts. I haven't as yet been able to work out which tourists they are. Can anyone tell me? David Duncan is on the right, so that suggests the 1970s or early 1980s. The reproduction is really too small to be identifying other individuals, but I like the photo as it shows the extent of the seven-sheet curling rink at Crossmyloof, which holds fond memories for me, as that's where my curling career began! (9x7in print, photographer not stated.)

CIP-150. This is a promotional shot for the CBC Championship Curling event in Toronto in  December 1969. L-R: Ron Northcott (Canada), Bud Somerville (USA), Bill Muirhead (Scotland) and Christer Wessel (Sweden). These were four of the skips of teams that had played in the Air Canada Silver Broom at Perth earlier that year. Wessel had skipped and played lead for Sweden in 1969. His fourth player was Kjell Oscarius. This eight rink competition was 'videotaped' to produce a ten-week series of hour-long programmes for television in Canada. The event was won by Saskatoon's Merv Mann, who beat Somerville's team in the final. (8.5x6.5in print, CBC photo.)

CIP-151. The third 'Arctic Winter Games' were held in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1974. The photo is of the Alaska Junior Girls who won gold in the curling competition. L-R: Jodi George (3rd), Theresa Gryder (skip), Lisa Baucher (2nd) and Donna Gryder (lead). Next to the podium, in the sheepskin jacket, is three times Canadian and World Champion skip Ron Northcott who presented the medals. On the right is Lt Col Roy Fisk, the 'Chief Referee', as he is described in the article in the April, 1974, Scottish Curler. The multi-sport competition is still held every two years, see here.  (7x5in print, photographer not known.)

CIP-152. Winners of the Scottish Mixed Curling Championship 1991. L-R: Rhona Martin, Bobby Wilson, Mrs Rose Anderson (presenting), Robin Gray (skip), Joan Wilson, and RCCC President, Dr Derek Anderson. (8x5in print, Ron Vavasour, Photographer.)

CIP-153. Jim Law at a coaching weekend at Gogar Park in 1989. L-R: Karen Clark, Suzie Law, Gillian Gray, Fiona Sinclair, Fiona Barrowman, Clare Anderson, Julia Monteith. (10x8in print, photographer not stated.)

CIP-154. Here are the winners of the First Event at the Milwaukee TriScore Bonspiel sometime in the 1950s. The names are HT Ferguson (skip), Ralph E Welton, Dr Graham Fee and Alfred J Hudson, but not sure if it is a L-R. (7x5in print, Erwin F Nell, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.)

Photographers are credited when they are known. Check the archive (on the right) for previous Curling Image Project posts.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Curling Image Project (Week 21)

CIP-141. In 1970, the incoming Canadian tourists lost the Strathcona Cup but 'won all hearts' during their four-week programme. Here, at the Haymarket rink, are some of the visitors surrounding George Crabbie (Captain of the Midlothian Province team). L-R: Bob Arseneau, Ron Collette, Bill Thompson, Doc Campbell (the Canadian Tour Captain), John Eccles, Ken McKenzie, Bill Meyer, Collie Campbell, Bob Galloway, Randy Shedd and Frank Hastings. (8x6in print, Scotsman Publications.)

CIP-142. A moment from the final of the 1982 European Curling Championships at Kirkcaldy.
Scotland (Mike Hay, David Hay, David Smith, Russell Keiller) v Germany (Keith Wendorf, Hans Dieter Kiesel, Sven Saile, Heiner Martin). David Hay sweeps a German stone out of the house, encouraged by his skip, Mike Hay, as the German team watches on. Scotland won the game 6-5, to take the championship. (8x6in print, by William Hill, Press Photographer, Pittenweem, Fife.)

CIP-143. Everyone who has ever won a 'cup' is under pressure to fill it. Here's evidence of that actually happening. L-R: Anita Duncan, Jack Brown (skip), Mabel Christie and Kathy Kerr of the Fochabers CC had won the Christie Cup, a club competition, and were no doubt about to pass the trophy around! (8x6in print, photographer unknown.)

CIP-144. It's a scene, I think, from the World Junior Curling Championships at Portage la Prairie in 1990. The photographer has caught three of the Scottish women's team in what can best be described as a 'caption competition'. Laura Scott, on the right, has turned away and is thinking, "I've absolutely no idea what Kirsty (Addison) and Joanna (Pegg) are talking about, and I'm certainly not going to ask." Other captions are available. (8x5in print, photographer not stated, but probably Michael Burns.)

CIP-145. Significant this one. The Inverness rink was the first to host a weekend invitation for Scotland's competitive women curlers in 1981. Previously there had been nothing to compete in if you worked or studied during the week. The Sylko Supreme Ladies Invitation Curling Competition was won for the first time by the Beth Lindsay team. Back L-R: Graham Bradley, Chairman of Sylko, Helen Burton, Beth Lindsay, Kathleen Clark, presenting the Kathleen Clark trophy, George Crawford, Scottish sales manager for Sylko. Front: Carolyn Hibberd and Alison Brown. (6x7in print, photographer not stated.)

CIP-146. L-R: Hammy McMillan, Norman Brown, Mike Hay and Roger McIntyre, having won the Bull Trophy at Grindelwald, in 1995. The winning team did not have to take the animal home, and someone, I'm sure, will be able to explain what happened to the winners' prize! (6x4in print, by Ernst Schudel.)

CIP-147. Mrs T Donaldson, perhaps of Drummond Castle CC, throws the first stone of a new season at the Central Scotland Ice Rink, Perth, in September, 1956. Note the skating on the end ice, behind. She is playing off a hack, set in front of the crampit, and is adhering to the rules of the time which stated that the stone had to be released from the hand before it crossed the tee. Note that the house is not painted, and, assuming the outermost circle is indeed at six foot radius, the inner circles seem to be marked at one foot, three foot and five foot! (8x6in print, Star Photos, Perth.)

Photos are credited where the photographer is known. Check the archive (on the right) for previous Curling Image Project posts.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Curling Image Project (Week 20)

CIP-134. More photos the Hexagon World Curling Championship in Vancouver in 1987. This was taken during the seventh or eighth end of the final game, between Germany and Canada, with the score tied at 4-4. Rodger Schmidt delivers, with sweepers Johnny Jahr, and Hans-Joachim Burba. (35mm transparency, photographer unknown.)

CIP-135. Canada's Russ Howard watches behind as the German team plays a runback in the final of the Hexagon World Championship at Vancouver in 1987. (35mm transparency, photographer unknown.)

CIP-136. Russ Howard is already shouting as he delivers in the final game of the Hexagon World Championship in Vancouver in 1987. The sweepers are Kent Carstairs and Tim Belcourt. Note that one sweeper has a hair brush, the other, a pad. (35mm transparency, photographer unknown.)

CIP-137. The Perth Masters remains one of the most important of Scotland's competitive events. But this is the presentation group from 1996, when the competition had Stakis as sponsor. L-R: Provost Jean McCormack, Peter Loudon (3rd), Bob Kelly (2nd), Gordon Muirhead (skip), Russell Keiller (lead), Mark Foster (Manager, Stakis City Mills Hotel). (7x5in colour print, Louis Flood Photographer.)

CIP-138. L-R: James Allison (2nd), James Sanderson (3rd), Jim Moffat (skip) and Alex Allison (lead), winners of the TB Murray Trophy, for curlers of 25 years and under, in 1965. They beat the Robert Smellie team 17-2 in the final. (6x4.5in print, Scottish Studios and Engravers Ltd.)

CIP-139. Tateshina is a town in Nagano Prefecture, Japan. A curling demonstration and a bonspiel was organised there in 1983 by the Tokyo Curling Club. Can anyone add additional information? Note that play appears to have been on outside ice. (4.5x3.25in colour print, photographer not stated.)

CIP-140. It's not a very clear photo, but it is a very significant one! This is the youngest team ever to win the Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Rink Championship, which was held in 1971 at the Border Ice Rink, Kelso. L-R: John Brown, Ian Webster, Ken Horton, Graeme Adam (skip). Such was the unusual nature of a young rink winning a major competition against older and more experienced opposition, that Robin Welsh, the Editor of the Scottish Curler magazine, wrote, "Graeme Adam and his ridiculously young rink of Glasgow schoolboys beat Tom McGregor's Lesmahagow rink to win the Royal Club Rink Championship at the Border Ice Rink in Kelso." I don't know quite what to make of his words 'ridiculously young'. John was 16, Ian was 15, Graeme was 17, and Ken, 14. We would not think much of that today, but in the 1960s, and even into the 1970s, the few young curlers in Scotland (of which I was one) were looked on as something of a curiosity by many, as undesirable by some, but actively encouraged by a few, to whom I will always be grateful. (3x3in colour print, by Leslie Ingram-Brown.)

Photos are as credited where the photographer is known. Check the archive (on the right) for previous Curling Image Project posts.