Monday, March 30, 2020

The First Indoor Grand Match

The early years of the twentieth century saw the Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Grand Match take place at Carsebreck on February 9, 1900, February 11, 1902, and January 16, 1903. Following these great bonspiels, Scotland's curlers waited in vain for the next one. The winters of 1903-04, 1904-05, and 1905-06 all passed without a Grand Match being held.

Behind the scenes though, the Carsebreck venue was improved. The Caledonian Railway Company constructed a platform some 260 yards long, with suitable exits to the field below on the route to the pond. By 1906, a new bridge had been constructed over the River Allan, convenient for the platform exits, and the old bridge repaired. Three small bridges over the ditch adjoining the pond had been renewed. The course of the burn flowing into the pond had been diverted, and the east bank heightened. The other banks of the pond had been repaired and strengthened.

A Secretary's office had been built, accommodating the Club's property, formerly kept in a shed of the Railway Company. All the above made significant inroads into the Club's funds, but showed a continuing commitment to the holding of Scotland's great outdoor bonspiel.

Elsewhere, Scotland's first indoor ice rink was under construction, as this advert from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1906-07 shows.

It was yet to open when the Representatives of Scotland's curling clubs met in the summer of 1907. The entry for the next Grand Match, should there be a cold spell, included 411 rinks from the North, and 352 rinks from the South, the dividing line being the Forth and Clyde Canal.

A C Riddall of Glasgow Northern CC moved that, "In the event of the Grand Match not taking place by 1st March of any year, the Committee of Management and Secretary be authorised to have it played in the Scottish Ice Rink, Glasgow, if arrangements can be made for doing so."

Riddall noted that, if arrangements could be made to play the match at the ice rink, 'it would give a great zest to the old game'. He proposed that there be four sessions of three hours each day, which would accommodate 24 games.

Riddall's motion was seconded by Mr Thomson, Holyrood.

The Rev Dr Fergusson (Airthrey Castle) proposed an amendment, saying that said he thought Mr Riddall was a year too soon with this motion, "This rink, which they were all delighted to hear was nearing completion, and which they all approved of certainly, was not ready yet, and they knew not the manner of the management, how the rink would be conducted, and the charges that would be made, or those details which were necessary for a business company like this to go into."

That brought a spirited defence of the Crossmyloof rink by John Jackson of Glasgow Lilybank, who was the Scottish Ice Rink company secretary. He stated, "It is not a new thing; it is built upon exactly the same principle as Princes Rink (in London), and all of you who have played there know that the ice is admirable. The refrigerating machinery is made by one of the very first makers in the world, and there is no doubt whatever that the ice will be available from the 1st of October, and as my friend will see, we do not propose to ask the Grand Match to come there until after the month of March, very possibly April or May. The rink will be thoroughly well tested before then."

There was further discussion before Riddall's motion was passed by a large majority. The stage was set then for a Grand Match to be held indoors.

The 'Scottish Ice Rink' as it was called, opened as planned on October 1, 1907. The curling and skating venue was an immediate success.

This is the only image that I am aware of which shows the exterior of the first 'Scottish Ice Rink'. More on the history of the rink can be found here.

The winter of 1907-08 was not severe, and there was no opportunity for an outside Grand Match. So it was that the first indoor Grand Match was held at Crossmyloof during April 1908!

The Scottish Ice Rink had just six lanes for curling. Despite initial thoughts to hold four sessions per day, the indoor Grand Match went ahead with just three sessions each day. Eighteen games could be played daily. The competition ran from Monday, April 6, and was concluded on the evening of Tuesday, April 28.

The outcome was a substantial win for the South, by 400 shots, 3728 to 3328. A new draw had been made for the indoor Grand Match. I'm not sure how many matches were planned. It could have been 250, certainly less that would have taken place at Carsebreck, for which, as noted above, there had been an entry of 411 rinks from the North, and 352 rinks from the South.

The Annual for 1908-09 lists the results of just 219 games. In addition, thirty matches were held in a President's v President-elect's competition.

The Grand Match trophy was won by the Blantyre CC. They had entered three teams, two of which had good wins over their opposition by 26 and 24 shots, whereas the third team had lost by three shots. That gave the club the highest average shots-up. The gold badges to the rink of the winning club which had the greatest majority of shots went to that skipped by M. Campbell. The trophy to the club having the greatest net majority of shots (other than the club which has won the main trophy) went to the Biggar CC.

The individual game results were published in a large table in the RCCC Annual for 1908-09. That's the first 20 results above. As far as I can see, none of the few women's clubs that were members of the Royal Club at the time competed at Crossmyloof. It is possible that individual women played in a club team, but I have not found any mention of this.

The newspapers of the time took less interest in the drawn-out competition that would have been the case had there been a Grand Match on outside ice, held in a single day. However, some results were reported, and these can be found in those newspapers digitised in the British Newspaper Archive. Unlike the Annual table, the newspaper results show when the games were played.

Particularly attentive was the Dundee Courier. Here is part of the report that appeared on Wednesday, April 8:

It is of interest that in the afternoon of the second day's play, all six rinks from the Biggar Curling Club took part.

Two rinks had travelled from Weem (near Aberfeldy) to represent the North. It would be interesting to know exactly how they travelled to Glasgow. Presumably this was by train, but did they stay over, and where? Indeed, I am curious to know what arrangements were made by all the teams which had to travel a long way. And what did it cost each club? If such information exists, it may be recorded in old minute books.

Not all went according to plan. Note that on the morning session on April 7, only one game took place. The Scotsman of Wednesday, April 8, had the explanation, reporting that "Two rinks from Partick and three from Johnstone failed to appear in the morning, and thus one rink from Bonhill, two rinks from Vale of Leven, and two from Upper Cowal, who were drawn against them, had a fruitless journey." That must have been a disappointment, to say the least, for those curlers who had made the effort to travel to Crossmyloof.

According to the published Royal Club rules, the travel expenses of those who DID appear should have been covered by the clubs which failed to show. The rule stated, "If any Rink, entered to play at the Grand Match, fail to appear at the Match, they shall be liable for the reasonable travelling expenses of the Rink against which they were balloted to play, unless the Rink failing to appear shall give the Representative Committee a satisfactory excuse for their absence."

Several sessions were lost when a fault developed with the freezing plant. Although efforts were made to reschedule the lost games, some clubs were unable to return to Crossmyloof.

I have been unable to find any images of play at Crossmyloof during this first indoor Grand Match.

Indoor Grand Matches were played again in 1909 and 1911, both at Crossmyloof; in 1913 at the new Edinburgh Ice Rink, Haymarket; and in 1914, jointly at Crossmyloof and Haymarket. The Grand Match came off outside at Carsebreck on November 24, 1909, and February 2, 1912.

In 2000, the concept of an indoor Grand Match was resurrected, with play on most of Scotland's rinks, all in one day, January 8. But that's another story.

The image (an artist's impression) of play at the opening of the Scottish Ice Rink is from the Royal Club Annual for 1907-08, as is the photograph of the outside of the building.

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