Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve 1935

It's Christmas Eve today. I wonder what everyone is doing? Looking back to December 24, 1935, many of Scotland's curlers were on the ice at Carsebreck for a Grand Match!

This was the 35th Grand Match to be held, and the 25th to be held on the Royal Club's own pond at Carsebreck.

The winter of 1935-36 was severe. December 1935 was the coldest month since 1927. The month began with mild weather. After heavy rains in mid-December, roads in many districts became ice-bound on the 16th. From then until the 24th - the date of the Grand Match - frosty conditions continued.

On December 18 it was reported that the ice on the pond was three inches thick in most places and about two inches in other parts. On December 19 a disappointing telegram was received by Andrew Hamilton, the Secretary of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, stating that the thickness of the ice varied from one inch to two inches.

The Scotsman on December 20 had this image with the caption, 'GRAND MATCH HOPES - Mr William Angus of Carsebreck Farm measuring the ice on Carsebreck Loch yesterday before reporting conditions to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in connection with the possibility of a bonspiel'.

It was reported on the night of December 20 that there was a good sheet of ice on the pond.

On Saturday, December 21, Andrew Hamilton sent postcards to clubs with the information, "If the frost continues, the Grand Match will be played at Carsebreck on Tuesday, December 24, commencing at 11.30 am."

On Sunday, December 22, the safety minimum (of the time) of five-inch thickness was attained, and by Monday, December 23, Carsebreck was all set for the national bonspiel, and the marking and laying supervised by David King, who had prepared the rinks for all the bonspiels which had taken place during the previous thirty years. The photo above, from the Dundee Courier, shows some of the forty LMS railway employees who helped prepare the rinks and score the circles on the ice.

The December 23rd edition of the Dundee Evening Telegraph ran a column with the heading "Carsebreck Bonspiel To-Morrow. Christmas Eve will be grand occasion for curlers all over Scotland." And this stated, "The great Carsebreck Bonspiel is definitely fixed for to-morrow."

The article noted that the surface of the ice was fairly rough, but reported the view of 'a veteran curler' that 'a curler wants ice, and it doesn't matter so much whether it is fine or rough', with the qualification that 'they generally liked fine'."

Some 2600 curlers headed for Carsebreck early on Christmas eve. Reportedly, only half of them travelled by train, although the LMS Railway Company had again made special cheap travel arrangements for curlers and spectators. By 1935, others were able to reach the pond by motor car or bus.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal of December 26 had this photo, captioned 'The Trek to the Loch'. There was a short walk from the railway sidings (Carsebreck Halt) to the loch itself. It was a much longer walk in from the roadside if travelling by car.

The official reports of the match, as recorded in the RCCC Annual for 1936-37, are informative.

The North beat the South by 5102 shots to 4266, a majority of 836. Just how many curlers were on the ice is uncertain. According to the Table of Grand Match Results published in the Annual in 1936, and thereafter, there were 322 teams on each side, making the 1935 Grand Match the biggest ever in terms of participation. However, only the scores of 309 matches are recorded in the eleven pages of results published in the Annual for 1936-37. Perhaps not all scorecards were handed in at close of play! Or it could be that the Table of Grand Match Results lists the rinks which had entered for the bonspiel, and some, for whatever reason, had failed to turn up on the day.

The Challenge Trophy, awarded to the club on the winning side having the highest average majority of shots per rink, went to the Monzievaird and Strowan Club.

Four gold badges were awarded to the rink in the winning club having the greatest majority of shots, and went to Major Graham-Stirling’s side. They overpowered their Duntocher opposition 46-2, a winning margin of 44 shots. The other Monzievaird and Strowan team, skipped by Robert Stewart, also beat Duntocher opposition, 24-11.

Here are the two Monzievaird and Strowan teams. The woman on the front row is Mrs Boothby who played lead for Major Graham-Stirling. One of the gold medals has survived. David wrote about this back in 2013 here. The image above was from his own collection then, and must now reside with the Scottish Curling Trust.

Winners of the Second Trophy, awarded to the club on either side (other than that which gained the Challenge Trophy and badges) having the greatest net majority of shots, was the Drummond Castle Club.

The Craigielands Club won the medal awarded to the Club on the losing side having the highest average majority of shots.

The Strathcona Medal was won by the St Martin's Club, which had the highest majority of shots in the President and President-Elect Match. This match is for surplus rinks or clubs unsuccessful in ballot for places in the main Grand Match. In 1935, this match involved 32 teams, sixteen on each side.

The scores in all the games of both the main Grand Match and the President v President-Elect Match can be found in the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1937-37, listed over twelve pages.

The Royal Club account of the day noted some of the players who took part in the match. Sir Colin MacRae, President of the Club (above, from the Annual) had skipped a Clan MacRae rink. Also on the ice were the Earl of Stair, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and Sir John Stirling-Maxwell.

A spectator at the bonspiel was Ernest Brown, MP for Leith and Minister of Labour. It was his first visit to Carsebreck.

Among the players was John Brown, of the Dundas Club, South Queensferry, who had taken part in the Grand Match on six occasions. He was seventy-nine years old, but still active enough 'to play a whole-hearted game'.

The Annual report noted that 'not a few women curlers' had taken part in the match. 'One rink consisted of four sisters - the Misses Carnegie, from Colinsburgh, Fife, skipped by Miss Pat'. They were well-known players, and their play was 'on a standard equal to that of many skilled men'. It is to be noted that these women are not in fact listed as members of the Colinsburgh Curling Club in the Annual, but can be found in the ranks of the Hercules Ladies CC. It was under the latter club that they competed at Carsebreck where, for the record, they lost to Charles Bruges and his team from Craigielands CC, 27-3.

Also mentioned was Mrs A M Cook, Elie. She was the skip of the other Hercules Ladies CC team, which also lost to a Craigielands side, skipped by Gilbert Scott, 29-6.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal had this photo of Miss Lois Muirhead 'in curling kit at the famous Scottish bonspiel on Christmas Eve'.

Who was she? There is a Lois Muirhead listed in the Annual as a member of Glasgow Ladies CC, but if this is her photo, it is unclear for whom she was playing, as Glasgow Ladies were not represented as such in the 1935 Grand Match. I suspect it may have been for the Bridge of Weir CC. She was also a member of the Kandersteg Curling Club, so she was a keen curler indeed. Another Glasgow Ladies member, Mrs Jane S Glen, is also mentioned in the Annual report.

And, as mentioned above, Mrs Boothby was a member of the Monzievaird and Strowan CC, the champions on the day.

An amusing account of the match can be found in the Dundee Courier, by a 'Special Correspondent'. I've reproduced this in full here. Enjoy!

"A Gale-Swept Carsebreck - But Nobody Cared. Bearded Men Forgot They Were Old. 2800 Curlers in a Glorious Christmas Party."

"Carsebreck was a glorious Christmas party. I could not have asked for better. The setting was one from fairyland. White fields and hills; silvery trees; white roof-tops ... in the midst of these a glistening floor of ice. Every second person one met on the ice looked like Santa Claus in fancy dress. Jolly old men with beards of all sorts and sizes pranced gaily about flourishing broomsticks.

I enjoyed every minute of our big Christmas party, and I didn't notice I was cold until I got back to town. But let me tell you more about the old men. Hundreds of them came gambolling down to the ice full of boyish fun and pranks. Thinking it might be interesting to discover the oldest among them, I set out on my voyage of discovery. I started somewhere about 75 years, and moved on - 77, 78, 80. 82, 83 . . . until I came to a rubicund old gentleman who was sitting on his heels, bawling jocular remarks to a companion whose nose was a matter of three inches away from his own.

"Are you the oldest man on the ice?" I inquired. The jovial one sprang to his feet, pulled off his jacket, and dashed the icicles from his beard. "What meanest thou?" he cried (these were his very words). "I'm only 104. Begone!"

The outstanding quality of our Christmas party was its complete cosmopolitanism. Peers played with miners; all were perfectly at ease. A Cabinet Minister - Mr Ernest Brown - could be seen trying a slide. He had come to see what Carsebreck was like, and its rejuvenating influence had infected him.

I found Lady Marjory Dalrymple taking snapshots of her brother, the Earl of Stair. "There no need to go out of Britain for winter sports while places like this exist," she said.

I saw John Bannerman, one of the greatest figures of post-war rugby, responding as vigorously to the call of "Soop! Soop!" as he used to do to the call of "Feet! Feet!" Another rugby internationalist, Alf Wilson, of Dunfermline, was cheering his local rinks on enthusiastically.

(And here is rugby internationalist John Bannerman, as captured by an Aberdeen Press and Journal photographer.)

I stopped to watch Sir Colin MacRae pause his game, and, shaking a finger waggishly at a comrade whose shot had stopped short, declare, "When you are only halfway up, you are neither up nor down."

I saw a minister from the far and Puritan north point his broomstick skywards and scream (literally scream) "Don't touch it! Don't touch it!" All this to a continuous chorus of "Soop! soop!" which tempted me to the improvised luncheon where I clamoured "Soup! soup!" and felt very clever and jolly.

In the afternoon a gale swept across the loch, carrying off tam o' shanters and setting beards streaming in the wind. But nobody minded.

Something like 2800 curlers engaged in the Grand Match of the Caledonian Curling Society.

The men from the south were attempting to turn the tables on those from the north who won at the last Christmas party six years ago. Oh, yes, the old fellows remembered there was a match on. One had only to get in the way of a curling stone (as I did) to realise that. Then one would have thought the heavens were falling. Beards exercise restraint on language.

Everybody one met knew for a fact that the North or the South was winning. The reason was meticulously explained. The North had keen curling stones which went better on the rough ice. The South had dour curling stones which went better on the smooth ice.

The bewildering thing was the ambiguity which seemed to exist about the state of the ice. When I came away all I knew was that whichever side won I knew what the reason would be.

There is this fashion note to be added. The sartorial daring of these curlers knew no limits. From the Dunblane tailor, who appeared on the ice in a bowler hat, the weird and wonderful tammies one encountered at every rink, the headgear of the curlers of Carsebreck overwhelmed anything Paris could have produced.

Our Christmas party vanished like a splendid dream. A gamekeeper fired two shots from a nearby hill, and the throngs on the ice thawed into the waiting trains. The last glimpse I caught of Carsebreck as my train steamed into the dusk was of solitary curler drawing his train of curling stones across the empty expanse of ice. That was a merry Christmas."

And a Merry Christmas to everyone in 2019 too! If you have some time to spare over the next few days, do watch the seven minutes of (silent) film of the 1935 Grand Match which can be found in the Moving Image Archive of the National Library of Scotland, online here. (There's a surreal moment in the middle of the video when a women on skates passes the end of one rink!) Here's a link to an article about a Grand Match that almost came off, and here's the story of how the Carsebreck pond came about, and its association with the railway. More on the 1935 Grand Match is here.

The image above is a detail from the Scotsman photo that was published in the 1936-37 Annual. The images in the article were sourced as indicated in the text. The British Newspaper Archive was an invaluable reference as always. The results and report are from the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1936-37.

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