Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What shape are your handles?

The open-ended handle is now so common that one sometimes wonders why there ever was a desire for a different design. But in some parts of Scotland and at some periods there was.

I suppose the earliest form of the closed handle was that of iron permanently fixed with lead into the top of the stone, but even in the earliest periods it appears that the L-shape was by far the most popular. In parts of Perthshire some, but by no means all, curlers liked a handle that was closed at each end and therefore attached to the stone in two places.

This very large triangular, or 'three neukit', stone from Coupar Angus weighs about 112 lbs.

It might appear that a closed handle would ease the carrying of a weighty stone but if the stone was balanced, as it needed to be for skilful play, neither form of the handle gave any advantage; and one finds examples of both types of handle on very heavy stones.

The heaviest stone of them all, The Jubilee Stane, has an L-shaped handle and tips the scales at about 117 lbs.

It was from original handles like these that the more sophisticated designs of the second half of the nineteenth century were developed.

This picture shows a very elegant, and expensive, handle for use with a single-soled stone. The basic handle is of cast brass but it has been very skilfully encased in thin silver plates which in turn bear engravings of thistles. It was located on two posts of iron permanently fixed into the top of the stone. At each side was a screw which when tightened made sure that handle and stone did not part company.

From the introduction of the double soled stone the basic form of the handle has consisted in a (roughly circular) plate into which the bolt is screwed. From this plate emerges in a curve the neck of the handle, often called the 'goose neck' because it resembles that part of that farmyard bird, and the grip is an extension of that, made of wood or ivory or bone or horn, embellished variously with rings of different metals and ivory and bone, and with plaques of silver, which could be engraved.

A small proportion of curlers liked closed handles even for their double-soled stones. The earliest example which I have come upon has been made from iron presumably by a local blacksmith, and it was connected to the stone by means of a central bolt.

Thereafter a number of variants upon this basic design found their way onto Scottish ice, but they were never common. One problem for the historian is that very few handle makers marked their products with a stamp or even initials, and so it is difficult to discover who made the handle, and when, and where.

This appears to be the simplest form, but the question arises – and perhaps some curler with engineering knowledge can answer it. "How is the wooden grip fixed to the brass of the handle?"

The question is still unanswered even with this sophisticated example.

This is the only handle stamped with the maker’s name and town; J SCOTT MELROSE.

The screw at the right hand side of this handle unscrews to allow the whole to come to pieces.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Curling spirits

This from David B Smith:

Charles Doyle, the father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was an accomplished artist, member of a family of accomplished artists. His father was a hard-headed political cartoonist, John Doyle, each of whose publications was eagerly awaited by queues of devotees in the street outside his London publisher’s.

Charles and his brother Dickie drew and painted in a wide variety of styles. For some reason both brothers developed a penchant for depicting fairies. Although Charles created quite a number of lively curling scenes he was not always successful in keeping fairies away from them. In John Kerr’s History of Curling there is an end piece by Charles which consists of a fey young lassie speeding over the ice, her diaphanous stole billowing behind her, apparently standing barefoot on the handle of a curling stone. She is said to be The Spirit of Curling.

The same young lady appears on a New Year card by him in water colour.

Against this background I thought it might be apposite to place a couple of mentions of actual fairy curling.

Robert Heron, in his Observations made in a Journey through the Western Counties of Scotland in the Autumn of MDCCXCII, which was published in Perth in 1793, writes of the beliefs of the people around Gatehouse of Fleet: “The Fairies are little beings of a doubtful character, sometimes benevolent, sometimes mischievous: On Hallowe’n and on some other evenings, they and the Gyar-Carlins are sure to be abroad, and to stap those they meet and are displeased with, Full of butter and bear awns; In winter nights they are heard curling on every sheet of ice…”

The next comes from the pen of James Hogg, The Ettrick Shepherd, friend of Scott and Christopher North, and very keen curler. I have mentioned it in a former Scottish Curler.

In 1807 he published The Mountain Bard, a small book of Borders stories and legends, turned into ballad form by himself, and accompanied by notes. From a note on the ballad, Willie Wilken, a famous warlock, comes the following:

Willie Wilkin’s funeral procession was interrupted by the arrival of two dreadful bulls, each of which “put each of them one of their horns into the (ropes) of the coffin, and run off with the corpse... and when after many miles, they came to Loch Ettrick, on the heights of Closeburn, the bulls were seen to plunge into the lake with the corpse.”

“He was, when alive, very fond of the game of curling on the ice, at which no mortal man could beat him; nor has his passion for it ceased with death; for he and his hellish confederates continue to amuse themselves with this game during the long winter nights, to the great terror and annoyance of the neighbourhood, not much regarding whether the loch be frozen or not. I have heard sundry of the neighbouring inhabitants declare, with the most serious countenances, that they have heard them talking, and the sound of the stones running alongst the ice and hitting each other, as distinctly as ever they did when present at a real and substantial curling.”

The spirit of curling had another and perhaps final outing in a poem composed by W A Creelman for his book, Curling Past and Present, published in 1950. The author was a member of Sydney Curling Club, Nova Scotia, a Canadian, who nonetheless wrote his wee poem in quite broad Scots.

The title of the poem is, curiously, The Spirit of Curling.

On the sheen o' THE GRIP a wee sprite frae the air
Rides awa down THE ICE wi' her hear a' aflame
In the path o' the wind gleams the goud o' her hair
Wha is she? Mon, Mon, she's the SOUL O' THE GAME.

She sway and she swings on her gossamer wings
Her twa een intent on the braw arms that SWEEP
Fore the front o' THE STANE as it enters THE RINGS
Thru' a narrow bit PORT like a ship frae the deep.

She kens ilka laddie o' CURLING maun learn
How to play on THE BROOM wi' the hand and the ee;
How to lay doun A GUARD wi an OOT - or IN TURN;
How to WICK and curl in on the face o' THE TEE.

In a rollicking vein the spunkie wein stands
On her curling ROCK speeding another to greet;
Tho the CHAPPIN' ha hurled her a doun on her hands,
In a twinking she's back on the tips of her feet.

Her youth is eternal, and auld is her fame;
She's lithesome, she's bonnie, she's canty, she's gleg,
She lo'es ilka move that belongs to the game,

So toast HER ye sons o' THE STANE and THE BROOM!
She a poem in motion as swaying and swirling
She rides on undaunted to victory or doom

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Glasgow Stones

This feature appeared in the October 2008 Scottish Curler magazine. David B Smith tells the story:

Late last year I got a phone call from a dealer in Perthshire about a pair of curling stones which were about to appear in the catalogue of a Perth saleroom. Nothing unusual about that, I hear you say. They were in their original box. Again, nothing very unusual about that. The box was lined throughout in crimson velvet; the circular holes into which the stones were placed were also lined in velvet. It was beginning to sound as if these were rather special stones. The handles were of a most unusual design and were cast from solid silver and the grips were made of horn. These were really special stones.

I had to wait until the description of the stones appeared in the sale-room catalogue. When I looked there was more. There was a plaque attached to the box, which bore this inscription:
‘OAK, Original Old Stockwell Bridge, Founded above the year 1335’ And the handles bore this inscription. ‘RESPECTFULLY PRESENTED To the Right Honourable Robert Stewart, LORD PROVOST OF THE CITY OF GLASGOW, This Pair of Curling Stones Chiseled out of the Boulders Found IN THE FORMATION OF Kelvin Grove Park By John Murray Contractor, 1853’

At this point I decided that a closer look was necessary and I applied to the auction house for photographs. The stones were indeed particularly splendid. The estimated price, however, was daunting: £800-£1000. I decided that the best course would be for me to be sure that the National Museums of Scotland and Glasgow Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery knew about them, for they were of museum quality.

In the meantime I sought out more information about Robert Stewart. It was clear from the inscription that he had been a Lord Provost of Glasgow. I discovered that he was born in 1810, had inherited and expanded the business of iron and coal master of Omoa in the parish of Cleland, and had joined the town council in 1842. He became Lord Provost in 1851 and became responsible for the purchase by the council in 1852 of the estate of Kelvin Grove, from the grounds of which the West End Park was created to provide recreational space for the citizens of the city which was rapidly expanding to the west away from the only other green space, The Green. The old bridge referred to in the plaque was demolished in 1851. He also led the successful campaign for the provision by the city of fresh water for the city from Loch Katrine in opposition to the plan of the Glasgow Water Company to supply it privately from Loch Lubnaig.

Robert Stewart is commemorated in the Kelvingrove Park by a vast ornate fountain (which, ironically, is not now permitted to run because it is fed by the public water supply). See here.

It appears that the curling stones were the result of the West End Park venture. Since it seems reasonable to suppose that the recipient of a gift of curling stones was himself a curler, further research in that area was necessary. The Annuals of the Royal Club provided only one Robert Stewart in the whole of Lanarkshire at the correct dates, and he was Robert Stewart, member and latterly secretary of Chryston Curling Club. The president of this club was Mark Sprot, advocate and ironmaster, and it may well be that their community of business caused them to be members of the same club.

The sale came and went. I saw on the internet that the stones had been sold for a hammer price of £3000! To this, of course, falls to be added buyer’s commission and VAT on the commission. I contacted the dealer who had first spoken to me about the stones. He was the under-bidder but did not know who had bought them. In vain I asked other dealers whom I knew.

On my way to Perth in February 2008 I looked in at an antique shop in Auchterarder. The owner said at once: “The stones you’re looking for are at Scone Palace today; there’s an antiques fair there.” And so, having looked in at Dewar’s Rinks I sped off to Scone and discovered the stones in their box at the stall of Nicholas Shaw, a dealer from Petworth, West Sussex. They were every bit as magnificent as their description had suggested them to be but by then even more expensive. Nick Shaw promised to send me good photographs and this he did, along with permission to use them for this article.

Whether I have found the correct Robert Stewart in Chryston CC or not, the recipient of these stones might as well have been a non-curler for all the play they have seen. The striking band, which is of a very unusual sort of stippled pattern, shows no sign of use whatever. The stones are in their pristine state.

The handles, made in Glasgow, are indeed cast from silver and hall-marked accordingly. They are of a unique design. The base of the goose neck is decorated with acanthus and vine leaf; and the entire edge is embellished.

This pair of stones is not only important from the point of view of design and execution but from their association with a very important citizen of Glasgow.

The photos are courtesy of Nicholas Shaw

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Medals with a message

When Sir Alexander Boswell, the laird of Auchinleck in Ayrshire, gave a medal to the curlers of Kyle he caused very precise instructions for how it was to be played for to be inscribed on it.

The following description of the medal appeared in the Ayrshire Express of 1 January 1870:
"On one side, on a shield, in the centre, is the figure of a sturdy Caledonian, partially robed, with a stout club in his right hand, surmounted with a knight’s helmet and crown, over which is written in old English letters, 'Old King Coil,' and, above all, is the motto, 'Non Timet Hostiles Jam Lapis Istemenas.' Underneath the figure, in a garter, are the words, 'Kyle for a Man,' surrounded with a wreath of thistles and oak leaves, &c."

On the other side are the following instructions:
"This medal may be challenged for by any curlers of Kyle, and shall be played for by single matches, each playing six stones, and allowed a person to direct the game. Twenty one the game, and the distance forty yards from brough to brough. The winner not to be obliged to play more than one match with the same person, nor five matches, in whole, in one year. The man who challenges must stake a crown, the holder of the medal nothing. A contest for the medal not to be construed into a parish play, and all the matches to be played on the 'Whirr Loch' in the parish of Auchinleck."

Several explanations are necessary. The medal must have been presented before 1822 because on 26 March of that year Sir Alexander Boswell was shot dead at Auchtertool in a duel by James Stuart of Dunearn. (He was tried and acquitted in the High Court of Justiciary on a charge of murder.) Sir Alexander was a keen, keen curler; a member of the Duddingston Curling Society, and a poet who wrote some notable curling poems.

The Latin is a quotation about a stone from the Roman poet Martial. It means: 'This stone does not fear hostile threats.'

Kyle is that part of Ayrshire that lies between the Rivers Irvine and Doon. The old rhyme characterises the different parts of the county by what they were best at producing.

Kyle for a man; Carrick for a coo; Cunningham for butter and cheese And Galloway for woo’.

'Brough' is an old Scots word for 'circle', and a crown was a coin worth five shillings, a large sum at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The play for the medal was to be single-handed, each curler throwing six stones, with someone in the broughs to hold the brush. Six stones is a very great number when one considers that at that period in and around Auchinleck the rink in ordinary curling matches consisted of nine men each throwing a single stone.

I have in my collection from the same bit of Ayrshire another medal that contains instructions.

It is of silver and engraved round the rim are the words: OLD CUMNOCK CURLERS SOCIETY MEDAL 1831.

On one side appear the words:

Whoever plays for me Must of this Parish be Fortyfive Yards from tee to tee.

And on the other:

At 2 days notice play for me or delivered up I must be to the Rink that challenges for me

These two are the only medals I have so far come across that contain the rules of play. I would be delighted to hear of any others.

David B Smith

Sunday, October 05, 2008

In the house

In one of the earliest poems about curling, by the Lanarkshire poet, James Graeme, and first published in 1773, we find:

The goals are marked out; the centre each
Of a large random circle; distance scores
Are drawn between, the dread of weakly arms.

In Thoughts on the Seasons, (1789), David Davidson the Kirkcudbrightshire poet wrote, when describing the play at a bonspiel between Glenbuck and Bentudor:

Then Fotheringhaw, a sidelin shot,
Close to the circle played.

And in the next year Alexander Wilson wrote:

To the ice of Loch Tankard, our buirdly braw callans
First bare the big whin-stane, and marked out the tee;
Syne drew down the dread hog-score, the hack and the circle,
Around which our Fathers oft sported wi’ glee.

The first badge or medal of the Duddingston Curling Society, which was struck in 1802 “to distinguish the members from any other gentleman” shows a circle inscribed in the ice of the loch.

The Rev. John Ramsay in his An Account of the Game of Curling, by a Member of the Duddingston Curling Society, 1811, page 4 states: "The place for the rink being chosen, a mark is made at each end, called a tee, toesee, or witter. It is a small hole made in the ice, round which two circles of different diameters are drawn, that the relative distances of the stones from the tee may be calculated at sight, as actual measurement is not permitted till the playing at each end be finished. These circles, in the technical language of the game, are called broughs."

Sir Alexander Boswell sang the following song to the Duddingston curlers at a dinner in McEwan’s Tavern on 11 December 1816:

"Soop the rink, lads, wide enough;
The hogscore mak’, and mak’ ilk brough;" (make every circle.)

The curlers of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries clearly played their stones into a circle round the tee.

It is therefore a bit surprising that in the Annual for 1838-9 in which the first rules of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club were published there was no explicit provision in the Rules of the Game for circles, or broughs, or a house.

Rule 16th stated: “No measuring of shots allowable previous to the termination of the end.”

When rules were first promulgated for district medals for points in the Annual for 1839-40 it was provided “3d, A circle eight feet in diameter shall be drawn round the tee…” and the circle was an important part of the scoring system, for one point, drawing, demanded that a stone be put into the circle and others demanded that a stone be struck out of it.

The 6th rule in the Annual for 1840-1 was: "...In cases in which each party has a stone equally near the tee, neither to be counted, and the winning party of the previous end is again to fill the ice. Measurements to be taken from the centre of the tee to that part of the stone which is nearest it."

In that for 1841-2 in Rule 6 we find this addition to the rule, printed in italics: “No stone to be counted which does not lie within seven feet from the tee, unless it be previously otherwise agreed upon.”

After the first thorough revision of the rules, which contained 'great improvements' according to the editor, we find in the Annual for 1854-5: “Rule 1….A circle of seven feet radius, to be described from each Tee as a centre, and no stone to count which is wholly without this circle…”

The revised Rules clarified when a stone was in or out of the circle. “10…No stone shall be considered within or without a circle unless it clear it; and every stone shall be held as resting on a line, which does not completely clear it; - in every case, this is to be determined by placing a square on the ice, at that part of the circle or line in dispute.” This was the first mention of a circle but it must have been part of the game from its beginning.

The new Rules were accompanied by a “Diagram or Plan” called “The Rink”, which set out a number of dimensions including those of smaller circles within the seven foot, of 2 and 4 feet in diameter, which were not obligatory.

The seven foot rule lasted until the AGM of 27 July 1938, when after much discussion involving the fact that in Canada they had been playing for years with a six foot circle in contravention of the Rules of the mother club, a compromise was reached. Rule 47 now read: “The Tees shall be 38 yards apart – and, with the Tees as centres, Circles having a radius of not less than 6 feet nor more than 7 feet shall be drawn. Additional inner Circles may be drawn.”

On 24 July 1963 the rule was changed to 6 feet, since all the other curling associations in the world, as well as all the Scottish ice rinks, used that measure.

The only change from that to the present is the decimalisation of the imperial measurements, which took place at the revision of 1980. The present rule is: “Section A.
3. The tees shall be 34.75m. (114 feet) apart and, with the tees as centres, circles having radii of 1.22m. (4 feet) and 1.83m. (6 feet) shall be drawn. Additional inner circles may also be drawn. ..”

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Can you kiggle-caggle?

At a time when - for reasons that are obvious: there are so many more of them than us - Canadian terms are beginning to oust the old, indigenous Scots ones, perhaps we should take a little time to remind ourselves of some of the older terms, and add them again to our vocabulary.

If younger Scots can take to using 'rock' for stone - and even some middle-aged Scots television commentators are guilty of that grave fault - perhaps they can pick up expressive words like 'kiggle-caggle'.

It may be that 'to kiggle-caggle' has fallen out of use because ice has got better, for I see that it is defined in my notes under the date 1991 as 'to throw the curling stone with a rocking motion on the ice, designed to reduce friction when ice is wet, or even under water.' (I suspect that the definition is my own.)

In this example from a poem, Scotland’s Ain Game o’ Curlin’, sung at the Annual Dinner of the Kinross Curling Club in January 1889, and printed in the Annual for 1892, pp. 421-2, the poet, having celebrated the actual game, then deals with the apres-curl drinking, and uses the term to describe the unsteady gait of some curlers on their way home. My wife, who is a bit posher than me, has suggested I should explain some of the other Scots words. I have put a translation of each line in italics below the line!

And when we at nicht in the Public sae couthie
And when we at night in the publichouse or hotel so friendly
Sit drinkin’ for fellowship, - no that we’re drouthie -
Sit drinking for fellowship - we’re by no means thirsty -
We weel ken that 'Heath’ry' will drive us a’ hame,
We know well that Heathery (a nickname) will drive us all home,
If his dog-cart’s at hand, and his powney’s no lame.
If his pony and trap are to hand and his pony is not lame.

It is true that he may, as he ance did afore,
It is true that he may as he once did before.
Clap us down at a place that’s no’ just our ain door;
Drop us off at a place that’s not exactly our own door;
But what does it matter? - a’ doors are the same
But what does it matter? - all doors are the same
To a curler when he’s kiggle-cagglin’ hame.
To a curler when he’s kiggle-caggling home.

In Keen Curler’s Troth, from the Annual for 1936, p. cxxvi, it is obvious that 'kiggle-caggling' was part of the ordinary curler’s armoury.

I’ll aye a curler keen abide,
And ne’er a challenge shirk.
I’ll draw the tee straucht doon the slide,
And fickle ilka quirk.

I’ll kiggle caggle to and fro,
Tak wicks, and draw the port,
Ne’er be a hog, nor eke owre slow
Tae chip the brittle shot.

I’ll soop the rink frae score tae tee,
I’ll keep ma language clean,
Dae what I’m tell’t, treat courteouslie
Ma foe, forbye ma free.

I’ll mind ma feet, and slide ma stane,
No drap it, wi’ a dunt,
A gawky gommeril is a bane,
His neebors bear the brunt…

Top photo: A clear case of the kiggle-caggles. New Farm Loch, Kilmarnock, beginning of the twentieth century, from the author's collection.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Royal Club Button Mystery

In November 2006 the Scottish Curler printed an article by David Smith about the attempt of the RCCC in 1850 to institute a uniform for its members. This had been prompted by his finding a button which had been produced as part of that uniform.

The article read:
"At a meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Club held on July 25, 1849, a Mr Piper exhibited a pattern of a curling coat, with designs for buttons for the same, and as a result, the matter of a Royal Club uniform was remitted to a Committee.

The Committee set to work at once, and by August 22 decided that there should be a club uniform 'consisting of Coat, Vest, and Trowsers, made of Tweed Cloth of one pattern and quality, and strongly recommended the full suit, and at all events, that each member should provide himself with the coat.

The Meeting also resolved, that the groundwork of the cloth shall be as nearly as possible of a Granite colour, checked with blue and green bars, the blue being the royal colour, and the green emblematic of the broom.

The Meeting further resolved, that the price of the cloth shall not exceed 5s. per yard, but in the meantime directed Mr Piper to procure pattern cloths, at the lowest possible price per yard; also to give an estimate for the making and mounting, likewise an estimate of a full dress button, per set, - the button as fixed on at the General Meeting.'

John Piper, who appears as member of Edinburgh Operative Curling Club, instituted in 1849, and as member and Representative Member of Waverley, instituted in 1848, in the RCCC Annual for 1850, and whose warehouse was then at 37 South Bridge, Edinburgh, lost no time in complying with these directions for on 30 August the committee met again and '…In compliance with the directions of last Meeting of Committee, Mr Piper laid before the Meeting, four pieces of Scotch Tweeds, of the same pattern as approved of by last Meeting, and of different qualities, No. 1, 3s, 9d. per yard. No. 2, 4s. per yard. No. 3, 4s, 6d. per yard. No. 4, 4s. 6d. per yard, and the Meeting having carefully examined these pieces, selected No. 4 thereof, and resolved that it shall be the sample cloth for the Uniform of the Royal Club, and directed that it be registered in the name of the Clothier to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, to be hereafter appointed.'

Piper’s charges for making the various garments and supplying sets of buttons were approved and he was formally appointed Clothier to the Club.

Piper made sure the curling public was aware of his appointment as clothier by putting a prominent advertisement in The Scotsman of November 14, in which he stated that he was 'now prepared to execute orders for the UNIFORM. For the convenience of those visiting Edinburgh, he will have at all times a number of Suits ready-made of various sizes. CURLERS ATTENDING HALLOW-FAIR are particularly requested to call and inspect it…'

Ten days later the advert contained this additional exhortation:
Whether wanting the Uniform or not
Are particularly requested to call and inspect it.'

Piper’s enthusiasm does not appear to have been matched by the members’. There is no depiction of any curler wearing the uniform. Indeed, at the annual meeting of July 26, 1853, Mr J.O. Dalgleish observed that the uniform had only been partially in use and moved successfully that the subject be reopened. A new committee was appointed but the matter seems to have gone no further.

Despite the fact that he bought for himself the very recently painted picture of the Grand Match at Linlithgow by Charles Lees, and, properly proud that he was the owner of this magnificent and inestimably important painting, made this part of his advertisement in November 1853, John Piper’s name no longer appears as member of any club after the Annual for 1856; and there is no further mention of the uniform in the Club’s Annuals. The reason may well be what the online catalogue of the National Archives of Scotland shows, namely that on November 10, 1855, John Piper, Edinburgh, Tailor clothier, was made bankrupt; and that he was discharged from bankruptcy in April 1859. Quite a come down for the 'Master clothier, employing 42 men' shown in the Census Return of 1851 as living with his wife, four daughters and a servant at 5 St John’s Place, Edinburgh.

This may explain why, although I have been searching out, and collecting, curling material for about forty years, it was not until September 2006, that I saw for the first time one of the buttons that Piper had had designed for the Royal Club. The button was for sale in an internet auction, and my excitement at this very rare find can perhaps be imagined by other collectors.

I was successful in bidding for it. The picture (above) shows the result - a fairly large copper button, 1.125 inches in diameter, containing, within a border of Caledonian thistles, all the other insignia necessary for a Royal Caledonian Curling Club - crossed broom-kowes, framing a pair of curling stones, above which is a very un-Scottish-looking crown, and below which is a very complex and difficult to read monogram, RCCC.

On the reverse the words JOHN PIPER SOUTH BRIDGE ST. EDINBURGH encircle the registered design mark which records that the design was registered in 1849. Piper produced two sizes of button of which this is the larger. It is a pity that this one is unfinished, for the Royal Club specified that the buttons would be ‘all best treble gilt’."

David continues this story for the Curling History blog: "Curiously, just after publication, a keen member of The British Button Society, Rex Butler, contacted the Royal Club to find out about a button which he had come across when cataloguing a collection of buttons in Birmingham Museum. He had correctly deduced that the cipher at the bottom of the button was 'RCCC' with the same letters reversed and superimposed. That was a very clever deduction for the cipher did not resemble much to me when I first saw it. The Royal Club passed on his email to me. I sent him a copy of my article. In an exchange of emails we each expressed astonishment to the other that both of us had come across a single example of the button almost simultaneously.

Recently Rex Butler has been again in touch, this time directly with me. He told me that The British Button Society, of which he is the membership secretary, had been invited by a firm of button-makers in Halesowen to inspect a number of old dies for buttons which they had come across; and to give advice as to their identification and preservation.

Some of the dies were indexed in a large book and when he was looking through this an entry for the Royal Caledonian Curling Club of May 25, 1962, caught his eye. The entry gave the die number, M740, and button sizes as 36” and 27”, that is, of 36 and 27 'lines' respectively, the line being one fortieth of an inch. He found the dies and photographed them, and some of his pictures accompany this posting.

In a later email Rex explained in detail the whole process of manufacture of dies and buttons. These dies were for the making of horn or nylon buttons. One fact surprised me: 'horn' includes hoofs of cattle.

I have in my collection six of the smaller size of button from these dies. They are dark bluish or black. They are the only examples of this button that I have ever seen. Is there any Royal Club member, or descendant of one, who has any such buttons?

There does not appear to be any particular event for which the buttons would have been created. I have looked in vain for any mention of buttons in the minutes of Annual General Meetings as published in Annuals around the appropriate time. The date of the order (1962) does not seem to coincide with any incoming or outgoing tour to or from Canada and the United States."

Rex Butler explains how the dies are made and used. "The method of making the dies for these one-piece moulded buttons is for the die sinker to make a female master die (above). Usually, a lead or other soft material impression is taken from this, and sent to the customer for approval. If approved, a male master die is made from the female, after hardening the latter. The male is made by shaping a metal bar to an approximate contour that will fit the female (usually, a concave female, so a convex-ended bar for the male), heating the male bar so as to soften the metal, and then forcing it into the female, using a powerful press. The result is a mirror image of the female die, as you can see from the photo below. The male is then hardened, to prolong its life. Once this is done, it is used to make the female production dies from which the buttons will be made (bottom photo)."

The '61' indicates the year the die was made -1961.

A female production die.

These photographs are courtesy of Rex Butler. Find out more about buttons here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Curling at altitude

It’s now more than thirty years ago that a remarkable curling match took place. Near the top of the Jungfrau in the Bernese Alps and close to the Jungfraujoch station of the Jungrau Railway is a cavern, or as some advertisements put it, a cathedral, or a palace, carved out of the ice of the glacier there.

During the Grindelwald Bull competition in 1977, Jim Gardner, Calwell Loughridge, John Grant and I, all members of the Abbotsford Curling Society, took some time off from our busy schedule to inspect this large hole in the ice. We all thought it might be great fun to have a game away up there but there wasn’t time that year. The next year I was unable to go and the rink with a Smith-substitute played in the bonspiel under the flag of Ballindalloch CC, which was only right because it was well fuelled throughout by that product of the distillery situated at Ballindalloch, Glenfarclas.

That year the arrangements were successful and two rinks, that of Ballindalloch and a local rink skipped by Hans-Peter Glarner, plus some Scots umpires, took their stones up the railway with them to the cavern to play what they claimed was the highest game of curling ever played. They were 11,333 feet above sea level.

The photograph above shows Calwell and Jim ready to sweep a John Grant stone, while Hugh Lyburn, then of Wigtownshire and now of Brandon, Manitoba, looks on. All I learned about the game was that it had been great fun and that the score was a diplomatic 6 all. Whether the word peels was added to the Grindelwald/Swiss vocabulary I do not know.

I wonder, however, whether their claim is correct. 15,000 feet up Mount Kenya beside the Lewis Glacier there is a small lake called in all the books the Curling Pond. In Kenya Mountain, 1926, the author EAT Dutton describes his companion, JD Melhuish, skating on the Pond, and causing consternation among the porters who had never before seen a 'white man dancing with knives on his feet'. In The Mountain Club of Kenya Guide to Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro it is said that Dutton taught Melhuish to curl on the Pond in 1919. The report is silent as to who carried the curling stones to that great height, and as to their number.

Found on the web. This is apparently a Jack Jackson photo, for sale as a hi-res poster image here. It is captioned 'Point Lenana, 4985M, and the Curling Pond, from Top Hut, Mount Kenya, Kenya'.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Uniroyal World Junior Championship 1976, Aviemore, Scotland

In these days of the internet, digital cameras, interactive television and webcasting, it is easy to forget how difficult it was to record in pictures the curling events of years past. In 1976 I travelled to Aviemore to watch the second Uniroyal World Junior Championship at the rink in the Aviemore Centre.

I had my camera with me, and took a few 35mm slides. The results weren't very good. I kept a few of the slides over the intervening years and had them digitised recently. The Scottish team (above) was L-R Bob Kelly, Ken Horton, Willie Jamieson and Keith Douglas, from Glasgow Young Curlers Club. Here are three more of my pics from that wonderful week - the first time I had watched a complete international event.

Canada's Paul Gowsell encourages his sweepers.

Canada's Glen Jackson delivers, with Neil Houston and Kelly Stearne ready to sweep.

The presentation ceremony, Team Canada on top of the world!

But the above was not the main reason for today's post. Bob Kelly recently lent me a VHS videotape that had been converted from the 16mm film which Uniroyal made at the time for promotional purposes. Bob knew of my interest in rescuing old video footage of curling. This thirty minute film record of the 1976 event is now on DVD. Perhaps one day (soon) it will be possible for all to see again on the web. Already tantalising snippets of historic curling footage can be seen on YouTube (for example here), and in the CBC archive. The future is indeed exciting for the curling historian.

What can be done today though is to extract singles frames from the DVD. The quality is not great, even allowing for the fact that the original film image has been twice converted. See what you think!

The championship flag, with just two venues on it.

Something you don't see every day - Scotland's World Champion skip (from 1967) Chuck Hay sweeping! It was the opening stone of the event.

Bob Kelly and his team lost to Canada in the semifinal. All the records are on the WCF site here.

Sweden's Jan Ullsten and his team lost the final to Canada.

Another pic of Team Canada. I think it fair to say that the 'colourful' Gowsell team caused some raised eyebrows amongst the traditionalists in Scotland!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

W K Jackson

David B Smith writes:
Amongst the objects forming the Jackson Collection acquired recently by the RCCC Charitable Trust (see here) is an ephemeral document, the official identity card of Willie Jackson as a competitor in the Winter Olympic Games at Chamonix in 1924. Of course, the actual gold medals won by WK and his son Laurence were an important reason for acquiring the collection, but this small card very much adds to the feeling of what it was like to be a competitor.

Incidentally, among the objects I was given from the estate of Robin Welsh was a competitor’s badge from the same games, for Robin Welsh, senior, was also a gold medal curler in this rink; and this badge must have been his.

The photographs from Chamonix of the curlers in action are disappointing: none of them is very sharp. I have found one that shows WK holding the brush. Another shows two other members of the winning rink, Robin Welsh and TB Murray, in some sort of action on the ice, which was, of course, in the open air.

Jackson had been famous in curling Scotland before 1924. He was vice-president of the Royal Club in 1921-2. But the Olympic win undoubtedly added to his fame; and he added to his fame every year throughout the Twenties. He was again elected vice-president in 1931-32. Such was the regard in which he was held that he was elected President in 1933-4. In proposing his election Lord Sempill said that apart from farming he had been a justice of the peace and county councillor, a director of Edinburgh Ice Rink, and a member of the Royal Club Council for over twenty years.

Throughout the years Jackson won many, many trophies and great respect, but he also won the affection of everyone as the following poem by the Rev. A. Gordon Mitchell, chaplain of the RCCC, clearly shows. It first appeared in the Annual for 1933-4.



O Willie, Willie Jackson,
In your presiding year
Your legion of admirers
Acclaim you wi’ a cheer.
We’re prood to see ye winnin’
Where ye deserve to be.
We thocht frae the beginnin’
Ye’d reach the Curlin’ Tee.

It is a prood position,
As weel ye ken yoursel’,
Made famous by tradition
O’ them that filled it well;
Fu’ mony a belted Thanie
Was prood to win that chair,
An’ those that lo’e the stanie
Were gled to see them there.

A noble and a rare man
Ye’ve pruived yoursel’ fu’ weel,
Ye’ll mak a peerless chairman,
And, as ye play the spiel
To nane ava a second,
Sae owre us ye’ll preside,
By ane an’ a’ aye reckoned
The curlers’ joy and pride.

Three cheers for Willie Jackson,
The champion of the Rink:
There’s nane will grudge to gie them
That wields the kowe, I think.
Cheer till ye’re hairse and roopit!
And wuss that it may be
His stane may aye be soopit
To sit upon the tee.

Top: WK Jackson’s identity card, front and back.

WK Jackson skipping at Chamonix at the Winter Olympics, 1924.

The Great Britain gold medal winning rink at play. Left is Robin Welsh. Next to him is TB Murray.

A competitor’s badge, probably that of Robin Welsh. 'Concurrent' is the French for 'competitor'.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Thomas Durham Weir portrait

With the recent death of Bob Gardner, pictured at the Royal Club's AGM last year, the curling world lost a great philanthropist. His obituary is here.

Bob's generosity saw him gift a remarkable painting to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 2002. David Smith wrote about this in the October 2002 Scottish Curler magazine. This is what he wrote:

'In 1862 the curlers of Bathgate held a big dinner in honour of their president for the previous thirty three years or so, Thomas Durham Weir of Boghead. The large pond in his policies had afforded them curling for decades. The manner in which he was honoured was by the commissioning and presentation to him of his portrait, executed by William Smellie Watson, one of the best painters of his day.

As was the custom in the Victorian era the speeches were long, and they were recorded for posterity. The laird himself distributed them in the form of a small book, privately printed, and entitled, The Bathgate Curlers’ Dinner.

In August 2002 the part played in Scottish curling by another notable curler was marked by the presentation to the RCCC of this very portrait.

Bob Gardner, formerly of Falkirk CC and Council member in 1982-6, acquired the picture and decided to give it to the curlers of Scotland in memory of his late wife Chris.

Christina Anderson Gardner died earlier this year after a long and full life. She began curling in 1960 as a founder member of Falkirk Ladies Sixty CC and such were her keenness for the game and her natural abilities, on and off the ice, that it was inevitable that in 1973-4 she was elected President of the Ladies Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

Chris worked tirelessly in the promotion of her favourite game. She and Bob, at their own expense, became ambassadors for curling all over the world, and in particular in its most distant parts. For example, in 1971 they went all the way to New Zealand with a small group of like-minded, curling-daft Scots and played the game there. They also visited Japan in order to promote the game. They were assiduous 'fans' of Scotland at a long series of world championships.

Chris’s greatest claim to fame, however, is that she was largely responsible for the institution of the World Ladies’ Curling Championship, which began in Perth in 1979.

The painting is a three quarter length portrait of a distinguished, middle-aged man. As he faces the painter one can see that his left hand rests upon a fine curling stone handle placed on a table beside a silver medal. In the bottom left corner one can discern curlers at play at Boghead. Round his neck and suspended from a massive gold chain is a large miniature curling stone, of green chalcedony with a gold handle.

Thomas Durham Weir was at the founding of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club. He was one of the group which drew up the first constitution. He was a vice-president for the season 1843-4. He was a keen exponent of the game, who, according to John Kerr, “was always at his best at the head of the [Bathgate] curlers, and with his enthusiastic ‘bravissimo’ he led them on to many a gallant victory.” He not only played in the Grand Match on Linlithgow Loch on 25 January 1848, but he made an impassioned and humorous speech in honour of 'Scotland’s ain grand game o’ curling' at the dinner which followed the historic event. When he died on 31 May 1869, 'universally loved and esteemed', Henry Shanks, the Bathgate poet, celebrated his memory in these lines:

How sad to remember, when frosty December,
Calls forth to the bonspiel her bands full of glee,
No more will he take his stand cheerful with broom in hand,
The pride of the rink, and the joy of the tee.

No more shall we hear again his ‘O be unerring, men!’
All too unerring hath fallen the blow;
No more shall his ringing cheer, trumpet-toned, high, and clear,
Shout o’er the victory, his ‘bravissimo.’

Blow no more over us, blustering Boreas,
Come no more south with thy snow-covered head:
Gone, and for aye, is he who would have welcomed thee;
The Saul of our curlers, our Durham is dead.

Well hast thou played thy part, manly and feeling heart;
How many will miss thee, now bid thee farewell.
Sleep on and sleep soundly. For ever and fondly
The Laird of Boghead in our memories shall dwell.

The curlers of Scotland have every reason to be grateful to Bob Gardner for this extremely generous gift, which at one fell swoop rekindles in us the memory of two notable curlers who both dedicated themselves to 'Scotland’s ain grand game o’ curling', and in their different ways did so much to promote its success.'

Bob Gardner's photo and that of the painting of Thomas Durham Weir are by Bob Cowan.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mapping Scotland's curling places

We have already described how David has researched, from a variety of sources, the various places in Scotland where curling was played (see here).

Lindsay Scotland suggested putting all this information in a more graphical form. He and David are now working on this, and need some volunteers to help with the task!

The curling places map uses the features built into Google Maps. You can see here what they have done so far here with the first 100 or so locations. When you open the map, zoom in a bit and then select one of the little blue balloons, each of which is one of the Curling Places.

This initial trial has been very successful, and the aim now is to move on to include the complete list of the locations in David’s document.

With a total of some 2500 locations to add to the map, Lindsay and David are looking for some reasonably IT-literate volunteers to help. If they could get enough help (say twenty volunteers) the task should only take a few hours of each person’s time.

The task itself is not very complex and does not need any particular IT skills. It involves using search features in Google Maps and the OS website to pin-point the locations, and then placing these onto the map. You would need to have a reasonable internet connection (broadband), a standard browser (Internet Explorer or Firefox) and the ability to open PDF files. You would also need to be comfortable copying/pasting items of text between different open windows.

If you think that you can help, then please email Lindsay Scotland here.

This is a screenshot of how the curling places are highlighted on a map. On the Google Maps site you can zoom in, or out, or move around the map using the control on the top left, and locate places near where you live!

The full screen shows a scrolling list of the places on the left. If you click on a place, the information currently in David's database appears on the screen!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Who first pebbled the ice?

The first reference to pebbled ice that I have come across is the passage in the Rev. John Kerr’s wonderful book, Curling in Canada and the United States, where he, at page 344-9, tells his readers about preparation of Ice for Curling in Canada.

It is important to remember that in 1902-3, the date when John Kerr was captain of the first Scots team to tour and play in Canada, that although the major part of curling was done in covered rinks, that is, within buildings, it was still natural frost which froze them. The buildings were there to protect the curlers and the ice from the weather. The long and severe winters of Canada meant that the expenditure involved in going indoors was worthwhile.

When the ice had been flooded two or three times to get a level rink - a luxury that Scotland did not often afford – the ice was 'pebbled'. Kerr explains, "Strange as it may seem to the uninitiated, in this final process hot water is used; and when the mercury indicates a near approach to zero the water may be almost at boiling point, the objective being that the heated water may melt a seat for itself in the ice-sheet before freezing, and so not scale off under the action of a moving curling stone; …"

Dr Kirk, one of the team members, in the course of his impressions of curling in Canada, writes at page 549, "The surface of the ice is either sprinkled or corrugated. In the former case a watering can with a very fine rose is used, and hot water is sprinkled sparingly over the whole surface. This, of course, makes no pattern on the ice. In the latter, small streams of water issue from a pipe about 5 feet long, with pinhead apertures an inch apart, the pipe being fed from a tank attached to it containing hot water. This is rapidly run diagonally across the ice first from one side and then across so as to make a diamond pattern. This gives a certain texture to the ice surface, so that the stone answers more readily to the turn of the hand than it possibly can do on perfectly smooth ice."

Pebbling could only have evolved in Canada. The very idea of putting liquid water - and hot water at that - onto the longed for open air ice in Scotland would have seemed like ridiculous vandalism.

This photo of Ken Watson, in 1936, clearly shows that the diamond pebble was still in use at that time. The photo is from the Brier (the Canadian Championship), held at the Toronto Granite Club, and is from Doug Maxwell's book, the First Fifty: A Nostalgic Look at the Brier, Maxcurl Publications, Toronto, 1980. Maxwell describes how the pebble was made and says, "The ridged pebble thus produced was used for the entire week. There was no re-pebbling as in today's game. The ice would become progressively swingier as the week ran down to the final days."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Where is the Silver Broom?

The photos of the 1975 Silver Broom at Perth, on the blog here, have stimulated a question. Does anyone know what has become of the Silver Broom trophy?

It is more than twenty years since it was last played for. Is it in an Air Canada store somewhere? Does the WCF have it? Does anyone know?

The late Doug Maxwell, the executive director of the Silver Broom for many years, was trying to find out the answer to the question before his illness, with no success.

The top photo shows Air Canada's Maridee Coulter with the trophy in 1983. The photo below shows Sigrun Cowan in Glasgow's Kelvin Hall in 1985.

Note Sigrun's shoes, with their high heels. She walked confidently and securely the length of the ice with the trophy - a tradition at the event. Now, how did she do this? Should the secret be revealed? Enough time has passed. The senior flight attendants who had to make the walk each year glued sheets of sandpaper to the soles of their shoes! It is not on record what the ice technicians thought of the practice at the time.

These were the days!

Incidentally, we do know where the Scotch Cup is. This was the trophy played for in the early years of what was to become the official World Men's Championship in 1968. The trophy, pictured below, is now presented to the winners of the Scottish Championship, see here.

Air Canada photos by Mike Burns from the Scottish Curler archive.

Scotch Cup photo by Bob Cowan. A new base has been added to the original trophy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Kerr's History of Curling online

The cornerstone of any curler's library is John Kerr's History of Curling and Fifty Years of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The book was published in Edinburgh by David Douglas in 1890. It grew from the idea to celebrate the RCCC jubilee in 1888 by having a 'sketch of the Royal Club's history in the past fifty years'. Kerr's book turned into a scholarly treatise about the history of our sport, and is a fascinating read today.

The book is now online, courtesy of Electric Scotland. Every one of the more than 400 pages has been digitised and set out in chapters for the website. The book index can be found here.

The Electric Scotland website is huge! It is the brainchild of Alastair McIntyre. He created it first in Scotland in 1996, but it is now hosted in Canada where McIntyre now lives. On the website you will find a wealth of information on the history of Scotland, about the Scots, Scots-Irish and those of Scots descent around the world, Scottish clans, tartans and genealogy. Alastair has prepared a series of videos about each section of the web site, see here!

The project to create an online version of Kerr's History of Curling was announced in May this year, and the first couple of chapters were online by May 16. The project was completed in little over a month! The complete book, with all its illustrations, is now online. I find that quite amazing!

What I like about the website, and Alastair's efforts, is that the future has been considered. The site will be left to the Scottish Studies Foundation of Toronto and through them it will eventually reside on the McLaughlin Library computers at the University of Guelph and run by the Centre for Scottish Studies at that University. This will ensure that all the content will be preserved for future generations.

So, how does this help the curling historian? Having History of Curling online means that the content is searchable. Let's say we wanted to find out what Kerr has to say about the Coupar Angus and Kettins club, which David has pointed out recently (in the Scottish Curling Forum here) is the curling club with the longest continuous history, with the minutes to prove it. A Google search with the club name throws up a link to the Electric Scotland pages, and to Chapter 4 of History of Curling about Ancient Curling Societies. Try the link here.

A large format copy of Kerr's History of Curling in Bob's collection. It is open at the beginning of Part 11, Modern Curling: The Transition Period. See how this looks online here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Iron stones

Shirley Adams, a long-standing collector of curliana from Nepean in the area of Ottawa, has been in touch - see her comment here.

She is the source of two iron curling stones in my collection. The first came from Bob, when he was uncluttering himself before going to work and live abroad when he retired. It had come, he said, from Shirley, whom I met at the Glasgow Silver Broom in 1985.

The other was a direct gift from Shirley to me and it was brought from Nepean to my door by two special couriers, young curling friends of Shirley’s, who were on their way to the Broom at Vasteras. The iron had travelled the whole way from Canada as hand luggage! The body was wrapped in corrugated cardboard and through the top protruded the brass handle – for ease of carrying and identification. The couriers said that the appearance and weight of the object had caused considerable suspicion and much inspection but when they told people that it was 'a present for a ******* judge in Scotland' that seemed to smooth its passage!

We unwrapped it on the kitchen table and hanselled it with several drams of malt whisky, with a very little of which the iron was baptised.

The photograph below shows the two irons beside a conventional stone for comparison. Although the Blue Hone Ailsa is larger it weighs less: it is 37 pounds; the painted iron is 56, and the unpainted one is 60 pounds.

Both the irons ran on a cup of 7.5 inches; that is, the sole of the stone was hollow and only the outer edge was in contact with the ice. The unpainted iron has on its base a stamped maker’s mark: JOHN BRAIDWOOD & SONS MONTREAL, all in a circle round the much larger figure 17.

Irons were the common 'stone' in Lower Canada. Clubs which played with stone stones were generally called 'Granite' clubs to distinguish them from the iron-players. It was as late as the 1940s that the iron players decided to let their irons rust and make common cause with the granite-players.

Top: Two irons and a blue hone.
Above: The makers’ stamp on the sole.