Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The woman who broke her arm and carried on curling in 1879

Cargen House, near Dumfries, was built in 1870 for Patrick Dudgeon, an eminent mineralogist. His Wikipedia entry is here. He had an interesting life, spending some sixteen years as a merchant in China, before returning to Scotland in 1850, and buying the Cargen estate in 1853. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1860. He was a trustee and director of the Crichton Royal Hospital for thirty years, and the Deputy Lieutenant of Kirkcudbright from 1867.

He was also a curler, and was President of the Troqueer Curling Club.

In the winter of 1878-79, he had passed his sixty-first birthday and was living at Cargen with his wife Cecilia Jane and their family.

We can conclude that Patrick Dudgeon was a keen curler. Aside from his activities with the Troqueer club, he had a small pond on his estate, and recently evidence has come to light showing that this had been curled upon. This evidence, in the form of a report in the Annandale Observer and Advertiser, was uncovered by Lindsay Scotland when trawling that paper in the British Newspaper Archive for new places to add to those on the Historical Curling Places database.

The article describes a ladies' curling match, with the sides skipped by men, Dudgeon himself and a Mr Gillison, a neighbour. Unfortunately, the women players are not named. What is interesting is the statement that 'In certain parts of Scotland curling amongst the ladies is not uncommon'! The fact that light weight stones had been made, and were being used by the women at this time came as a surprise to me.

I wondered if there was more to be found about these women who played on the Cargen pond. And there was. First of all, in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard of February 5, 1879, there is a list of donations to the recently opened soup kitchen. Two hundred rolls had been donated by Mr Gillison (mentioned above) as 'being result of Ladies curling match at Cargen'. Wagering on curling games was very common in the past. There are extensive reports of matches for 'coals for the poor', or for bags of grain. I believe it was the loser of the game that had to pay for the charitable donation. We can conclude that the result of the ladies match at Cargen was of significance, and that Mr Gillison's side were the losers!

The Dumfries and Galloway Standard of February 5, 1879, also had an article about a ladies' match. The report differs in a number of ways from that above. It may have been an embellished report of the same game, or perhaps of a match played on a different day. The Dumfries and Galloway Standard article has the women skipping the two sides which saw the domestic servants at Cargen (the 'insiders') compete against women from elsewhere on the estate (the 'outsiders'). The skip of the 'outsiders', who unfortunately remains unnamed, fell when delivering her stone towards the end of the game.

She broke her arm, but with the injured limb in a sling, she continued to play and her team ran out the winners! The full report is below.

Women's curling began to take hold in Scotland in the mid to late 1890s, see here, with the formation of several all-woman clubs. But according to the first of these Dumfriesshire newpaper reports, women's curling was 'not uncommon' at least fifteen years earlier, although the second says that is was 'not usual' to find women curling. The search continues to find more evidence of women on the ice in Victorian times, although I have not forgotten that the earliest mention of curling in the digitised newspapers of the British Newspaper Archive (believe it or not) is from 1740, and is of a ladies' match on the Water of Scaur, see here.

Here is the full report that appeared in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard of February 5, 1879.

"A Resolute Lady Curler.
The worthy proprietor of Cargen is known to be an enthusiastic curler, and his enthusiasm, which has infected so many, has not suffered the inmates of his own household to escape, for Mr Dudgeon, jr, is only less ardent on the ice, and, the female domestics of Cargen, inspired by the example of their masters, lately challenged an equal number of the fair sex to a bonspiel. The challenge was accepted, and a meeting took place; the contending rinks being skipped by ladies prompted and directed by gentlemen. It is not usual to find a rink of lady curlers at play. The phenomenon however is not unprecedented. Ladies on skates - at least in Scotland - were never seen, and probably never heard of, till only a few years ago; and it would rather have astonished our snuff-taking and toddy-drinking great grandmothers to have seen how fast it was possible for a young lady to be (on skates) without losing her modesty. But though our grandmothers never tried the skates, they have been known on rare occasions and in obscure localities to turn out with their husbauds and sweethearts to have a pitch in the roaring game. It is long since we heard of anything of the sort having occurred is this neighbourhood however; and in these days when lissom maidens love to skim the ice on skates, our matrons might do worse than exercise themselves by quietly indulging in the more solid and stationary sport of curling.
The result of the match between the Cargen domestics, whom we shall call the insiders, and the ladies residing on the estate - the wives and daughters of farmers and others - whom we shall call the outsiders, was such as to warrant the highest expectations to be formed of female curling: ladies not infrequently become champion croquet players; they might attain similar distinction on the ice as curlers.
On the occasion of which we are speaking the game was in the fullest sense well contested; the ladies threw their stones and laid their cowes like men, doing the work of sweeping as ladies only can do it. Towards the end of the game, however, an unfortunate accident occurred. The lady who skipped the outside rink, in delivering her stone, slipped, fell, and - broke an arm. An accident like this would have sent some fair ones into swoons and many of the sterner sex to bed; not so our heroine, however. It only served to bring out more fully her resolution and enthusiasm. Her rink was likely to win; it would not fail by any failure of hers. So she got her arm in a sling and, going at it single-handed, had the satisfaction of coming off victorious. The lady we understand afterwards procured surgical assistance; but the limb was so swollen that it could not be set and spliced for a day or two."

The 1881 Census detail, from Scotland's People, shows that the Cargen household had eight female domestic servants. Two had been in service ten years before. Frances Austin had continued in her role as a nurse. And Jane (or June) Russell had progressed from being a housemaid to the position of lady's maid in 1881. Elsewhere on the estate, there are many possibilites of women who could have curled. It is frustrating not to know their names, especially the skip who broke her arm.

In the winter of 1878-79, Cargen was not the only place to host a women's game. The Baljarg estate near Closeburn, also in Dumfries and Galloway, hosted a married vs single ladies match, two rinks aside, with all four teams skipped by men. The same Baljarg pond had seen a women's game back in 1861, as reported in the Southern Reporter of February 7 of that year. It does seem that the women of Dumfriesshire were keen to take to the ice back in the day. So much more to discover!

My thanks go to Lindsay Scotland for pointing out the 1879 clipping in the Annandale Observer. The image of Cargen House is from an old postcard. The house was demolished in the 1980s. The British Newspaper Archive is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in curling history.

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