Monday, December 20, 2010

Grand Matches

This year’s unaccustomedly early onset of really cold weather and the chaotic traffic conditions thereby brought about caused me to think about the dates on which Grand Matches have been held.

We must remember that in the whole history of the Royal Club - a period of 172 years, of which the 163 since Penicuik in 1847 have been potential years for Grand Matches - only thirty-three examples of the whole Scots nation at play have actually taken place; and that in a long period when namby-pambyism and 'health and safety concerns' had not yet taken hold.

After the trial run at Penicuik in 1847 the first real Grand Match was, of course, played on Linlithgow Loch in 1848. Was there some serendipity involved in holding it on Robert Burns’s birthday, the 25th of January? Since then January has proved to be the most popular month for the event, sixteen Matches in total having been played in that month.

It is not surprising to find that December has been the next favourite month, with nine. February has had seven and only one has ever taken place in November. That was the Match on Carsebreck on November 24th. The latest date for event has been 15 February.

In one calendar year, 1896, but in two different winters, two matches were played – on 12th January and 21st December - both on Carsebreck, and BOTH won by the same club, New Monkland, who were, incidentally the very first winners of the new Grand Match Trophy which is still the much-coveted prize.

David B Smith

The Grand Match on Linlithgow Loch, 1848, oil painting by Charles Lees.

Sir Mitchell Thomson, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and president of Craiglockhart Curling Club. Oil sketch by Charles Martin Hardie for his large oil painting of the Grand Match at Carsebreck, signed by initials and dated 10.2.99.

The Grand Match of 1929 in progress at Carsebreck.

1929, Carsebreck. The happy but droukit curlers make their way from the Royal Club Pond to the railway, which was just over the fence. The Royal Club Secretary’s office is the building on the left.

Your author, suitably attired in the rear of the photo, prepares for the start in 1979.

Top photo: Aerial view of the Lake of Menteith, February 6, 1979, with the last Grand Match in full swing.

Photos © David B Smith

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Curling Lighters: Part 2

I recently wrote about the wonderful variety of table lighters which the game of curling had spawned, see here. This second piece on the topic concerns a newer and more conventional design, namely the miniature curling stone. In these the body of the stone is generally turned from real stone. In the top has been cut a circular hole into which is fitted the actual lighter. As one would expect the common types of curling stone metal are used but a large proportion of those which I have seen are made from rare and uncommon rocks, which are difficult to identify and name.

I will briefly describe the lighters in the illustration. These are described from left to right and from top to bottom. Clicking on the image will open it at a much larger size in a new window.

1. Blue hone Ailsa Craig stone, made by The Scottish Curling Stone Co., Ltd. In its original cardboard box of Red Robertson tartan, appropriately for the company was part of The Robertson Group of companies. Lighter: made by Rolstar, England.

2. Blue hone Ailsa Craig stone, made by The Scottish Curling Stone Co., Ltd. In its original cardboard box of Red Robertson Tartan. Lighter: no maker’s name.

3. Pottery with green glaze, no maker’s name or mark. I wonder if it is by Rainbow Pottery, Ingleside, Canada, a company which made, inter alia, pottery curling stones from ca. 1972 until 1990. Lighter: made by Ronson, Woodbridge, N.J., U.S.A.

4. Granite, perhaps from Aberdeenshire, no maker’s name or mark. Lighter: made by HB., West Germany.

5. Basalt (?), no maker’s name or mark. Lighter: made by HB., West Germany.

6. Trevor microgranite, North Wales, no maker’s name or mark. Lighter: made by Rolstar, England.

7. Unidentified stone, no maker’s mark or name. Lighter: Ronson, made in England.

8. Schist (?), no maker’s name or mark. Lighter: made by HB, West Germany.

Six of the stones have striking bands. Nos. 3 and 7 do not.

Since it is unlikely that table cigarette lighters in the form of a curling stone - or anything else - will ever be made again, it may be that this is an area for the curling collector who wishes to collect not just for the love of the game but for investment!

David B. Smith.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Curling Memorabilia on Flog It

BBC's Flog It programme broadcast a segment in 2005 with presenter Paul Martin being shown some of David B Smith's collection of curling memorabilia. Click here, or on the image above, to watch. The YouTube clip is around six minutes only.

The screenshot shows David explaining to Paul what a loofie is!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Curling Lighters: Part 1

The Table Lighter

In its heyday the custom of smoking was all-pervasive. For many a decade no film star could be photographed without a lit cigarette between first and second fingers.

The paraphernalia and accoutrements which served this habit were legion; and often they were decorated with emblems of the many sports and pastimes enjoyed by smokers.

Not least of these was the cigarette lighter. Even the comparatively humble pocket lighter was often embellished with the picture of a curler - to gladden the curler’s eye.

More impressive, however, was the table lighter, too large for the pocket, and designed to be handed, or slid, around the dining, or, perhaps, the club table.

The picture above displays five of these from my collection. (The punchbowl and the curling stone merely form an appropriate background.)

The oldest is the second from the left. It is of a fairly common design in silver plate, THE emblem of the game, the stone, held aloft on a trio of brooms and crampets. What is unusual about this design is the three little knobs which protrude from the top of the stone. One of them is different from the others in that it appears to have a sort of wick just emerging from a hole at its top. All three can be removed from the top of the stone. When the top of the stone itself is removed all is clear. The body of the stone is a receptacle for oil of some sort, the wick dangles into the oil; it can be lit when the stone is closed and left burning 'on the peep'; the other two contain at their inner ends enough fibrous material to hold some of the oil; when removed from the top of stone and applied to the burning wick they ignite and can be used to convey fire to the smoker’s cigarette or cigar. This is the only example of this type of light that I have ever seen.

The most recent is the rectangular dark blue plastic model with elegant depiction of house, broom and stone. It is a Ronson SociaLite, made in Canada.

Second from the right is a fairly sturdy model about which little needs to said except that they appear to be offered for sale on the internet quite commonly.

The remaining two are variants of the same design. The metal castings of the curler in the act of delivering his stone are very similar but in one he is enclosed in a hollow tube of transparent plastic and in the other he is engulfed in a solid lump of it. These two, which were made in Japan, still have attached to them the small label which no doubt enabled the traveller to do his best sales pitch to his tobacconist customers.

David D Smith.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Played in Glasgow

The Curling History Blog's guru, and my good friend, David Smith, has been ill for some months. I welcome his return to health with this contribution, the first in a while, in the form of a book review.

Played in Glasgow, Charting the heritage of a city at play, by Ged O’Brien, pp. 228, Malavan Media, £14.99.

This is the tenth and latest in a series of books designed to celebrate the sporting heritage of our country. The importance of the series is vouched by the sponsorship of the series by Historic Scotland for this volume and English Heritage for the previous volumes which all dealt with aspects of English sporting history.

The coverage is encyclopaedic, both in terms of time and variety of sports. A feature of the series is the richness of the pictorial material.

The blurb includes this; “…until now there has been little work on the architectural heritage of British sport and recreation; on the pavilions and clubhouses, the greens, the grounds and the grandstands, the parks, pools, and lidos that form such an integral part of our urban landscape and, whether we play or not, watch or not, our cultural identity too.”

The first seven chapters deal with the history of sport generally in the city of Glasgow and thereafter more particularly in relation to distinct portions of the city, like the East End, Glasgow Green, Queen’s Park, Jordanhill and Anniesland. In each of these chapters there are successions of pictures showing the evolution of stadiums, such as Celtic Park, and of bowling greens and clubhouses.

Chapters 8 to 15 cover specific sports, such as golf, bowls, ice sports, cricket, football, greyhounds and speedway, swimming, and doocots. In relation to each sport there is a profusion of pictures, old and modern. The book is a veritable treasure house of sporting material.

The curler, of course, will look to see how his favourite game is handled. The chapter on Ice Sports contains fourteen pages, largely devoted to curling. A very evocative portion of the text and pictures tells the story of Partick Curling Club, and illustrates this with modern pictures of the club’s curling house and tarmac rink in Victoria Park, Glasgow, which were in use in January this year. No doubt it is preferable to be able to plan and execute a whole season’s curling in an indoor ice rink than to be dependent on the fickleness of John Frost, but these pictures will help to show that we have lost something.

The first building in which curling in Scotland was played indoors on machine-made ice was the spectacular circular, domed, Glasgow Real Ice Skating Palace, situated in Sauchiehall Street directly below the present School of Art. In 1896 a few games were played on the small, circular ice pad. This precursor of modern curling is illustrated by a fine engraving and an architect’s plan.

This is a marvellous book. What a pity that for whatever reason the publishers have chosen to send it forth without an index.

David B Smith.

Previous blog posts here and here are relevant.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Archibald, Earl of Eglinton

When Archibald, 13th Earl of Eglinton, died in 1861 at the early age of forty nine he was, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 'the most popular nobleman in Scotland', while Disraeli described him as 'the most honest man, and the most straightforward, I ever dealt with'.

He had been active in politics and on the turf. Today he is probably best remembered for his extravagant medieval tournament in 1839, but his legacy to the sport of his native land is more significant.

As a founder of Prestwick Golf Club and its first captain in 1851 he was one of those instrumental in causing the famous golfer Tom Morris to move to the west from St Andrews as golf professional, and later in establishing The Open Championship.

Curlers remember him as an enthusiastic supporter and player of the game. When the Grand Caledonian Curling Club met in Kilmarnock in October 1841 the youthful earl thus addressed the meeting: "…there can be no doubt that there is no curler present who has sent his stone gliding through a port, which, at the distance of the rink, seemed almost impassable - or who has delicately cracked an egg on a stone… - or who has, perhaps, performed a glorious in-wick… - or who has planted his stone on the tee, the all-important stone upon which the success of his party depended - and who has enjoyed the rapturous applause with which such feats have been greeted by his fellow-players, there is not a person present I dare say, who has done and seen all this , who will not engage in the game with pleasure… Who that has passed the day at that game , or enjoyed the glories of in-wicking and out-wicking that does not rejoice that he was born a Scotsman; and glad to think that he is not like the poor shivering wretches of other countries, who know not how to pass the frosty season of the year, and the tedious hours of winter!"

And then the company elected him President for the ensuing year.

This speech is eloquent testimony to the earl’s love of the game and of his warm patriotism.

Two paintings by the famous painter, Charles Lees, R.S.A., celebrate these two games which were such significant parts of his life. In each the earl is shown as a keen votary of the game.

The earlier is the famous The Golfers A Grand Match Played on St Andrews Links 1841, which now belongs to the nation, having been bought by the National Galleries of Scotland in 2002.

The second is the slightly later Grand Match, North versus South, of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, at Linlithgow. This painting, of course, belongs to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

In each of the pictures the earl appears - taking a keen interest in the proceedings - though in neither is he in an ostentatious position.

Last week Bonhams, the famous auctioneers, at a sale of Sporting Memorabilia in Chester, sold a preliminary sketch of our earl in oils on paper done for the golf picture. Such is the fame of the artist and the subject that the price achieved, including buyer’s premium, was £10,920.

The sketch is reproduced by kind permission of Bonhams 1793 Ltd.

David B Smith.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Diamond Jubilee Painting

As the Royal Caledonian Curling Club’s diamond jubilee approached in 1898 much thought was given as to how to celebrate the important event.

The main idea for the jubilee had been a brief history of the club. In the hands of the indefatigable chaplain, the Rev. John Kerr, this project blossomed; and instead of a brief sketch there appeared in 1890 the most comprehensive account of the history of, and enthusiastic celebration of every aspect of 'Scotland’s Ain Game' – a work that has never been surpassed.

The idea that bore fruit in 1898 was a companion painting to Charles Lees’s most loved picture, The Grand Match of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club at Linlithgow, which had been created fifty years before. The plan was not to represent an actual Grand Match but to portray the general scene at the Royal Club’s own pond at Carsebreck and to include a comprehensive selection of the curling notables of the day.

The painter, Charles Martin Hardie, RSA, (1858-1916), himself a curler, was selected for the task, but when the true magnitude of the expense involved became clear, and it appeared that the Royal Club’s resources could not meet it, it was the Club’s worthy former president, Sir James Gibson-Craig, convener of the 'selection committee', who commissioned the picture and became its first owner.

(You can see a representation of the painting online here.)

Since the idea was that the picture was to be representative and not personal the decision as to who should be included was the subject of much consultation.

The Annual for 1899-90 contains a long and detailed account of the process by which particular curlers appeared in the finished work.

“From the foregoing summary [the editor writes] it will be seen that, with a very few exceptions where special circumstances have to be considered, to gain a place in the picture a curler had either to have held the highest honour the RCCC can confer, the presidency, or to be the selected represen­tative of his district, or of some club which has gained special honour in the curling world during the last few years. But though the selection has been made from a purely curling point of view, there is no game which can boast of such a list of men among its active votaries who have distinguished themselves in other paths of life as is to be found in this short leet of curlers.

The present government is strongly represented by the First Lord of the Treasury, the Secretary for Scotland, the Lord Chamberlain, and a Lord-in-Waiting, the last one by the Lord High Treasurer and First Com­missioner of Works. Colonial Government is represented by a Viceroy of India and Governors of Victoria and South Australia. Municipal government by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and the Provost of Selkirk, County government by the Lord-Lieutenant of Dumfriesshire and the Conveners of Midlothian, Perthshire, and Fife. The Church by three out of the four Lord High Commissioners since 1868, by the chaplain and by the minister of Mouswald. The Press by a proprietor of the leading newspaper in Scotland. Agriculture by two presidents, nine vice-presidents, the treasurer and several directors of the Highland and Agricultural Society. As representatives of other sports we have the Master of the Renfrewshire Hounds and Captains of the Royal and Ancient and Prestwick Golf Clubs, while Sir Waldie Griffith and Mr. I'Anson represent the Turf. Those who have held or still hold commissions in the Army, Militia, or Volunteers, and members of County Council; Parish Councils, School Boards, etc., are too numerous to men­tion. The Committee consider they may he congratulated on the success of the selection, and anticipate that the picture and its engravings will be of interest not merely to curlers, but to all Scotsmen.”

The artistic work involved in the capturing of over sixty likenesses was immense. We are fortunate that some of Hardie’s preliminary work survives.

I have recently been fortunate enough to acquire his oil sketch (above) for Sir Mitchell Thomson, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and president of Craiglockhart Curling Club. It is intialled – in pencil on the canvas – and dated 10.2.99. It consists of a right-facing head and shoulders in just the attitude in which he appears in the painting. When he was painted he was in his fifty third year. He was Lord Provost from November 1897 until 1900 and at the conclusion of his term of office he was created a baronet. At the time of his death in 1918 his residence was No. 6 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, now known as Bute House, and the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland.

David B Smith.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Hercules Ladies

There are stray accounts of ladies indulging in the 'ancient, manly game' of curling from the second decade of the nineteenth century, but it was not until the century’s end that ladies so far threw away their femininity as to form themselves into curling clubs.

It is perhaps not surprising that the first of these were 'sister clubs', as it were, of well-established men’s clubs. Boghead Loch at Bathgate had been the scene of much curling throughout the century. It was an important centre for the curlers of West Lothian. Similarly, Hercules CC at Elie in Fife was a hotbed of the game, conveniently situated close to Kilconquhar Loch. And so, Hercules Ladies and Boghead Ladies Curling Clubs were the first to be admitted members of the Royal Club in 1895. Balyarrow Ladies (Fife) followed in 1898, and Cambo Ladies (also Fife) in 1899.

The first newspaper reports of the activities of any of these clubs which I have come upon are in The Glasgow Herald of February 6, 1899. Two Balyarrow rinks had taken to the ice on a private pond at Edenfield, beside Springfield in Fife; and Hercules Ladies took on Montrave at Montrave. The report was factual, and brief, and made nothing at all of the new phenomenon of ladies curling.

So quickly and well established did the ladies from Elie become that the opening on October 12, 1899, of a new club house for the Hercules ladies as well as the Hercules gentlemen was reported in the Annual for 1899-1900.

“The house is in two divisions, one for each club. The gentlemen’s house… is fitted up with tables, chairs, and an excellent stove, the gift of Captain Scott-Davidson, while the curling stones are ingeniously boxed in what serves as a seat all round the house. The ladies’ house…is provided with cloak-room and lavatory, and is handsomely furnished with cushioned seats and curtains, while the stones are placed under the seats as in the gentlemen’s house. Here also there is a large, handsome stove, the gift of General Morgan, Elie.

After the formal business of the opening of both houses the lady curlers and the gentlemen curlers took tea together. The curlers then arranged themselves outside the house so that photographs of the ladies and their part of the new house, and the same for the men and theirs, could be taken.

The fashion for ladies’ clubs looked as if it might catch on: in addition to those already mentioned Boarhills Ladies (Fife) was instituted and joined the Royal Club in 1902, but thereafter the movement appears to have fizzled out. By 1930 the only two ladies’ clubs to appear in the Annual were Hercules Ladies’ and Edinburgh Ladies, formed in 1912 but not joining the Royal Club until 1924.

David B Smith.

The illustration is of Hercules Ladies outside their new curling house. The photograph originally appeared in the RCCC Annual for 1899-1900.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Glasgow Real Ice Skating Palace

It might be asserted that the modern era of curling in Scotland began on 9 October 1895, for in that day’s Glasgow Herald there was published the prospectus of The Glasgow Real Ice Skating Palace Ltd with its proposal to turn the Panorama Building in Sauchiehall Street into a “real ice Skating Palace, such as has proved so attractive to the general public, and so profitable to the Shareholders in London, Paris, Brussels, and Munich…”

The existing building, a handsome circular and domed structure, the use of which had been to display large panoramic pictures of historical events such as the Battle of Bannockburn, was to be transformed into an ice palace to the plans of the well-known Glasgow architect, James Miller. “Should the Directors receive sufficient promises of support, an adjoining piece of ground can be rented sufficiently large to admit of the construction of a curling rink as an annexe to the building.”

The Palace opened to the public “for a short season” on 16 May 1896, for skaters and spectators, who could enjoy the music provided by a “magnificent orchestra” as well as refreshments, while watching not only the antics of the skaters but the “cinematographe”, “which may be said to create living, moving pictures…First the figure of a skirt dancer is thrown on the screen…This is followed by ‘Westminster’, a ‘Blacksmith’s shop’ in which a realistic effect is created by a man thrusting red hot iron into water, followed by rising steam, etc.” It was proclaimed that the “champion skater of the world” would give demonstrations twice daily.

On 2 June the Palace advertisement boasted that the ice was “THE TRIUMPH OF THE AGE !” and announced that as well as “skating on the most Superb Ice Surface in Europe” there would be “CURLING (TRIAL) MATCH from 9 till 11 a.m. to which all Members of Curling Clubs are invited…”

Partick CC took part in the trial. We are fortunate that their secretary, realising the historical importance of what was taking place, recorded the event:

“Eight players forming two rinks, took part in a game on this date within the Glasgow Real Ice Co.’s Skating Palace, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. The game lasted two and a half hours and nineteen heads were played and resulted in a win for Mr White, [President], of eight shots.. There was a beautiful sheet of ice, which was very keen, and, although the length of the rink was some yards shorter than usual (thirty yards being the extreme distance), the game was thoroughly enjoyed by players and spectators alike. This was the first game ever played in Scotland on artificial ice…”

On 11 June the advertisement for the first time solicited applications to the general manager for ice for curling, hockey, etc. On 3 July a hockey match took place.

The first season came to an end on 6 August when the Palace closed for alterations. It reopened on 27 August when it became, until the beginning of December, a vaudeville theatre. On the reopening evening and for the rest of the week patrons could enjoy:- Royal Yokahama Troupe of Jugglers; Hartz, the world’s greatest magician; Miss Lilian Lea, soprano vocalist; Clown Clemolo and Comical Monkeys; Mark Anthony, vocal comedian; The Great Bale Troupe, acrobatic bicyclists; Arpad Argyal, Hungarian sleigh-bell viruoso; Brothers Artols, gymnastic grotesques; Curtis Dalton, baritone vocalist; Mr and Mrs Dickson Moffat, society sketch; and Mr James Norrie, tenor vocalist, not to mention the Local Pictures on the cinematographe, The Gordon Highlanders leaving Maryhill Barracks, and Rothesay Pier – Steamer “Columba” , Arrival and Departure.

From December 12 until it finally closed on 1 May 1897 skating seems to have been the main business though the adverts solicited applications for curling, and there was a Grand Ice Carnival in March.

In the advert of 21 April 1897 there were announced curling matches: Port Glasgow v. Lilybank, and the next day, Breadalbane Lochearnhead v. Breadalbane Killin, to be followed by a hockey match. The last advertisement was that Wishaw would play Motherwell on Wednesday 28, and Glasgow Lilybank would play Paisley the next day.

One cannot but notice the contrast between the short, diminutive rink of the Palace and the massive, fourteen-sheeter in Chelyabinsk, Russia, where the recent World Senior championships were held.

The next public announcement was that on 1 May the Palace was closing for the season.

This was closely followed by the formal announcement in July of the voluntary liquidation of the company. The final act was the sale by auction of all the plant and fittings in November.

Glasgow and Scotland had to wait a further ten years until, with the opening of Crossmyloof Ice Rink in 1907, the modern era of Scottish curling – on artificial ice in indoor rinks – really began.

David B Smith.

The top print shows the building before its transformation into the Glasgow Real Ice Skating Palace. It was situated in Sauchiehall Street directly below where the Glasgow School of Art now is.

A sketch of the interior of the Palace. The circular form of the building can be seen, as can the viewing gallery above, and the orchestra in full swing.

David B Smith

Monday, March 29, 2010

Curling's dollies

The Rules of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club provide in relation to the 'House', which is defined as 'the area within the outside circle at each end of the sheet', that '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.'

There is no provision for painting the ice or any part of it in order to create the coloured, target-like houses which are such a characteristic feature of present-day indoor curling. There is no doubt that coloured circles add a great deal to the visual appeal of the game. In fact, the coloured circles are what strikes the casual television viewer as the characteristic image of the game

The purpose of the colour is, however, to assist the curler to assess where each stone is lying in relation to the house, and, perhaps more importantly, the tee, when it is his turn to deliver the stone.

Painting the circles is a comparatively recent custom. For a large part of the history of curling the curler played to a house which was only scored in the ice. It was difficult to see from the hack how the stones lay in relation to the tee.

The original way of reducing this difficulty was to mark the tee with a moveable object, known as the 'tee-marker'. This was usually made of wood so that if a stone perchanced to come into contact with it, it did nothing to affect the running of the stone. The marker had to be small in cross-section so that it took up as little room as possible, and high so that it could be seen above any stones that were lying near it. What better shape for this device than a bottle? Hence in many a place the 'tee-marker' was known as 'the bottle'. In other places the shape was like a skittle.

J. Gordon Grant in The Complete Curler, (1914), writes, “In addition to the bottle which is occasionally to be found in the ‘press’ of the club-house, another ‘bottle’ can sometimes be observed on the pond – a solid wooden ‘bottle’, totally unconnected with aqua vitae. It is usually about the size of an ordinary quart bottle, and stands on and indicates the position of the tee to the man on the crampit. It is not an indispensable adjunct of the game (as many consider the other bottle to be), and, accordingly, some clubs never make use of it…if the ‘bottle’ is in the way of a moving stone, it ought to be removed temporarily out of the way of the stone, but often the skip is too late in trying to reach it, and accordingly the ‘bottle’ is knocked down or sent skimming along the ice. But this is not really of any consequence, as the collision with the ‘bottle’ has no appreciable effect on the motion of the stone; the ‘bottle’ gets the worst of the encounter.”

Robin Welsh in his International Guide to Curling, (1985) classed the tee-marker as one of the pieces of curling equipment which was extinct in Scotland, just like the 'duster'. I have never seen a 'bottle' used in indoor play but when I began to curl at Haymarket in the early 1960s some of the older skips still used the 'duster' to indicate either a stone to be struck out or the place a draw had to end up. At the risk of sounding a bit like Chic Murray I should explain that the duster was called the duster because it was a duster – one of the bright yellow variety with which we’re still familiar, and the skip used to wave it to the player and then throw it down on the ice in the place where he wished the stone to finish.

For some reason, which I have been unable to discover, the 'bottle' came to be called the 'dolly' in Switzerland. (In fact, one of Switzerland’s most famous competitions is for the Dolly Cup of Geneva Curling Club, which will be played for the 53rd time on November 26-28, 2010.) Neither the Oxford English Dictionary or the Dictionary of the Scots Language has an entry for 'dolly', in the curling sense.

Curiously, A Noel Mobbs in his book, Curling in Switzerland, (1929), which deals with all aspects of the game in that country and in which one might reasonably have expected the author to elaborate on the use of the dolly, only mentions the 'Dolly' to define it as 'A wooden skittle placed on the ice to make the position of the tee visible from the other end of the rink'.

David B. Smith

Top photo: This splendid 'bottle' was specially made for a rink of Aboyne Curlers, under their president, the Rev. T.S. Gray, at the Grand Match of December 24, 1934, the last to be held at Carsebreck. Curiously the Annual for 1937 which records this Match does not include this rink!

Above: Two tee-markers beside a stone of standard size. The red one on the left featured in the curling scene in the film My Life So Far. The film crew repainted it. The other one is from Dunblane.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The story behind the photograph

Click on the photo to see it larger size

Old-Time Bonspiel in Edinburgh

I recently came across a photograph of a group of curlers posing in front of a motley selection of ancient curling stones. Since Lindsay Scotland was in the picture I sent it to him.

He in turn sent it to Bob Cowan to test how many of the curlers Bob could name. Bob forwarded it to me with the request that I write 'a wee post around' the photo.

Here goes.

On 30 December 1972 the Abbotsford Curling Society had a game 'using Dave Smith’s collection of old stones', as the Scottish Curler put it in its account of the game in February 1973, under the above title.

"Since none of the old stones matched, either in size, shape, weight or running property, it was decided to revert to the late 18 th century custom of having eight in a rink, each throwing one stone. This, of course, meant that six were available for sooping…Sometimes the skips couldn’t see the stone for brushes, besoms and bottoms (when there are six sweepers helping the stone along it’s not always easy to ‘sweep to a side’)... It took a couple of ends to learn the idiosyncracies of one’s allotted stone, but thereafter the standard of play was high."

Eleven ends were played in two and a half hours; Professor Murray McGregor from Guelph, Canada, ably assisted by his two sons, Bob and Scott, skipped the winning rink; and beat the said Dave Smith by 16 shots to 6.

The photograph shows: back row, left to right: Calwell Loughridge, David Brown, Lindsay Scotland, Sandy Moffat, David B Smith, Jim Gardner, Alastair Stewart, ?, Murray McGregor and Ronnie Malcolm; front row: Bob McGregor, Hazel Smith, Bob Martin, Janice McGregor, Jessie Loughridge, and Scott McGregor.

Dave Smith was the only person who followed his own suggestion that people might like to dress up in a sort of eighteenth century style!

Sadly two of the curlers are no longer with us, but most of the remaining Scots are still actively involved in the game one way or another. So obsessed with it did Ronnie Malcolm become that he chose to be manager of Murrayfield Ice Rink.

Murray McGregor was professor of agricultural economics at the University of Guelph, Ontario, and he and his family, of two sons and a daughter of curling age, and a daughter who was too young and therefore kept her mother off the ice, spent a year’s sabbatical in Scotland. So keen were they on curling that before the year was over they had curled in nearly every ice rink in Scotland, and made friends all over the country. When he left Murray donated a fine silver quaich for competition in Edinburgh. I am very proud to have won it.

As can be seen from the photograph the stones were mainly single-soled, circular, early nineteenth century. The sharp-eyed may think they can discern the massive Jubilee Stane, but, no, it was a fibre-glass replica included in the picture to enhance the 'old-time' atmosphere.

David B Smith.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Widgerys at Breakfast

The magazine Funny Folks that ran from 1874 until 1894 commenced a series of humorous pieces in February 1886, entitled The Widgerys at Breakfast.

Mr Widgery usually began by mentioning something he had just read in the morning paper, and Mrs Widgery at once began to misunderstand him. Some such topics were 'billiards', 'hare and hounds', 'football' (she, of course didn’t understand ‘dribbling’), 'the new German Diet' (which she thought was about food and not politics).

Curiously the very first of the series involved Mrs W’s failure to understand the game of curling. She can hardly have been the only English citizen who did not understand the pastimes of her northern neighbours.

From Funny Folks, 20 February 1886.


"Capital curling match they've just had in Scotland," remarked Widgery, with his eyes on the sporting column and his feet in the coal scuttle. "Should like to have been there."

"La!" said Mrs Widgery, handing him the toast, "I didn’t know curling was in again. Were the competitors regular hairdressers, or only ladies’ maids?"

"Curling, my love," returned Widgery, putting down the paper and bracing himself up for the inevitable, “in this connection has nothing whatsoever to do with feminine coiffure, but is one of the national pastimes of Scotland, and it has the great advantage over many other sports that it is bound to be a straight game, and - "

"A straight game?" interrupted his spouse. "I – I – don’t quite see –"

"Don’t quite see what, dearest?"

"Why, how it can be such a very straight game if it’s curling!"

After a savage bite at his toast, Mr. W. benignly proceeded:

"I’ll just give you an idea of the pastime. My love. You see – a bonspiel, as a match is called –"
"I see," jerked in Mrs. W. "Bonspiel. That’s Scotch for spills; but we don’t call ‘em matches because they don’t have any brimstone on the tips."

"I was speaking of a curling match, darling, not pipe-lights or Lucifer matches," explained Mr. W., blandly. "Curling is played in a rink with a pair of curling stones –"

"Oh, not a pair of curling irons, then," trespassed Mrs. W. once more. I should have thought –"

"I said curling stones, love."

"La! How funny; I didn’t suppose stones could be curled, anyhow."

Widgery looked more than half inclined to kick the cat, but with an effort he swallowed his pride, and refrained.

"Well, poppet, the players, all having crampets on their shoes –"

"Crumpets in their shoes!" echoed Mrs. W. "Well, I never heard of that before. To be sure,” she continued, contemplatively, “they’re softer than muffins would be, and “ –

“No, dearest; I said crampets. Crampets are little spikes to prevent slipping on the ice.”

“Oh, I see now, it’s (s)pikelets you mean, then, isn’t it?” was his better half’s triumphant solution of her puzzle.

“Ahem! Well, there’s a hogscore on the ice –"

“Oh, they hold their pig-market there, then. I’ve read of hogs sold by the score” –

“No, no, dearest, the hogscores are marks upon the ice, drawn at a certain distance from the tees” –

“What do they let a tease be there for? Isn’t he likely to interrupt the play?”

“No, pet, the tees are the centres of the rinks. Well, then each side has a skip” –

“Why, then, they must play at something like hop-scotch.”

“Not at all, child, there’s no resemblance whatever.”

“But they skip in hop-scotch, and hop and jump too,” insisted Mrs. W.

Widgery still manfully commanded his temper.

“In curling, a skip is a sort of judge,” he explained. “Well, then, the players whose stones are best soled – “

“Do they get a good price for them?”

“Get a good price for what, darling?”

“Why, for the stones, when they’re sold?”

“No, ownest, when a stone is well played, it is said to be soled – understand?”

“Oh, yes, now, of course. Then there’s never any occasion to have them heeled as well as soled, I suppose.”

Widgery felt a sort of sinking sensation at the pit of the stomach, nevertheless, after an attack on the coffee and toast, he proceeded:

“A stone on the move is called a running stone. You’d be surprised at the tremendous speed a running stone attains.”

“Oh, yes, I know,” wedged in Mrs. W., sweetly. “It must be a very hard runner indeed, I’m sure.”

“Exactly,” acquiesced W., beginning to glare. “Well, then, you see, each side does its best to cut the other out, as it’s called.”

“I see; then there’s cutting as well as curling going on?”

Though Widgery secretly gnashed his teeth, and felt his pulse under the table, he suppressed himself, and continued, as if he liked it:

“Yes, pet, and a good curler’s a bit of a twister too, I can tell you. By the way, there’s one thing about curling, the players being on the hard rink all the time” –

“Oh, the hard drink! How dreadful!” said Mrs. W., horrified. “That’s the worst of men; they can’t get together for ever such a little time without having too much of these horrid stimulants.”

“I was about to observe, sweetest, that being in the hard rink – h, a, r, d, hard; r, i, n, k, rink, hard rink – all the time, makes ‘em peckish, and gets ‘em into good condition to do justice to the curler’s fare, as it’s called, of beef and greens.”

“La! What’s it called curler’s fare for?” inquired Mrs. W., innocently.

“Why, oh, well, because it’s symbolical of fare play, I suppose, sweetest. Hell! There’s my ‘bus.”

And he was out of the house and clambering up to his seat beside the driver almost before he realised that he had left the room without bestowing upon her the customary salute.

David B Smith.

Almost contemporary with The Widgerys at Breakfast these woodcuts appeared in The Graphic of 7 February, 1880.

Click on the graphic to see a bigger size.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A blether about some favourite medals

Most clubs have, if not an actual medal, a note in their minute book that shows that they once had a medal. For a long period – from the beginning of the nineteenth century to its end - the medal was a very popular form of trophy, far more popular than the cup.

When I use the word 'trophy' I mean that the medal was played for year after year, and did not ever become the property of a winner unless, for example, in terms of the donation he had won it three times in succession, in which case he won it 'outright'.

This philosophy could cause difficulty if the medal was meant to be played for in rinks, but even here there was a custom in some parts of the country of having a match at points, involving all the rink members, and the winner of the points carried off the medal as his own.

An early form of embellishment of the obverse, or front, of a medal was an engraving of a curler in the act of throwing, or having just thrown, a stone.

The first of my favourites is new to the collection, for it was a Christmas present from my wife in 2009. As can be seen from the photograph it is of modest size, a standard medal of the sort which could be bought blank in many a silversmith’s shop, and then engraved to suit its purpose, whether for a curling or a ploughing match, or a horticultural society.

Not too many were as elegantly engraved as this one. The curler delivering the stone is wearing not only a tall, silk hat but on his feet are crampets, the pronged devices much favoured in the south west to give a sure footing. This they did, but at the cost of mangling the ice. Our curler appears below a ribbon on which are the words: RAISED BY SUBSCRIPTION. The stone he has thrown is of the older-fashioned variety, single-soled; that is, with its handle permanently fixed to the top surface.

On the reverse are the words which show that the club which subscribed for the medal was that of Springholm in Kirkcudbrightshire. Sadly, although I have applied to some of the oldest and most knowledgeable curlers of that part of Scotland, such as Ramsay Lamont and Tom Rennie, I have been unable to find out anything about the history of this club.

The other medal is also old, and slightly larger. One can tell that it is old by the suspension, which consists of two, crossed brooms of early to mid-nineteenth century shape. My daughter noticed it in an antique emporium in Victoria Street, Edinburgh, long since replaced, as it happened, by my favourite curry restaurant, Khushi’s, sadly, also no more in that location for it burned down some months ago.

The medal to which my daughter drew my attention was blank on both sides; and so it remained for some time. As I found the blankness a bit displeasing, I decided to have the medal finished as it might have been more than a hundred years before.

What better motif for the obverse than a bearded, Tam-o-Shantered curler delivering a stone? I knew just the design: one of the water colours by R.M. Alexander, which belong to the Scottish Curling Museum Trust, fitted the bill exactly. And I knew just the man to do the engraving, John Grant, the superb heraldic engraver in Edinburgh.

I had an important birthday coming up; and I resolved that the beautifully engraved medal should be a present from me to me.

All that remained to do was compose the appropriate donation inscription: just within the rim:


Quite a number of people have asked me from what Roman author the Latin quotation is taken. I have to confess that, Roman as it may look, it is entirely Scottish, made up by myself. It says: “He loved the ice and the stone.”

David B Smith.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Grand Match of 2010 That Never Was

It was not without some justification that a journalist from The Observer in 1963 described curling’s largest outdoor bonspiel as 'sport’s greatest non-event'. When I wrote about Grand Matches in my Curling: An Illustrated History, published in 1981, I was able to say that since the first and second in 1847 and 1848 there had been only 33 outdoor Grand Matches.

Sad to say, the Grand Total as at January 10, 2010, remains the same.

There are good reasons why such a large event can’t happen with great frequency.

First, the climate of Scotland is not really designed to give us enough ice very often. It is interesting to record – against all the recent statements that SEVEN or EIGHT inches of ice are needed – a piece from The Glasgow Herald of January 17, 1855:

“THE ROYAL CALEDONIAN CURLING CLUB MATCH. – The secretary of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club had reported last night that he would have been able to make arrangements for the national match on Tuesday next, but the reports from Carsebreck rendered that impossible. Ice four inches thick is deemed necessary to sustain the weight of so large a concourse of persons as usually attend the match, and this thickness has not yet been attained…”

This year, however, it was not a lack of thickness of ice, - whether FOUR or SEVEN inches are requisite - it was a lack of polis and emergency personnel to deal with a major incursion of traffic on minor roads already under strain from snow and ice, and all the anticipated emergencies, that caused the abandonment of attempts to put on a grand match at the Lake of Menteith.

Against the 'health and safety' arguments it may be worth saying – and saying loudly – that my researches over many years have disclosed NO FATALITIES AT ALL during the 163 years of Grand Matches.

The second reason for infrequency is that there is a major difference between a proposed match of the present day and all the pre-War events, namely, that now all the participants and spectators would expect to arrive in their own motor vehicles, whereas hitherto the main mode of transport was the railway train. Carsebreck had a railway siding, which, though far from ideal, allowed large numbers of curlers to disembark with their stones from numbers of special trains. An influx of curlers and spectators arriving by road would have been impossible at Carsebreck, just as it has been judged to be impossible to cope with at the Lake of Menteith.

Carsebreck siding 1929. The RCCC pond is to the right. The access was not ideal!

Many a match in the past had to be cancelled after all the arrangements including the marking out of the rinks had been accomplished.

Even when they did take place it was sometimes with difficulty.

The Match of January 29, 1929, was such a one. The report in the Annual says: “The Grand Match at Carsebreck was pulled off…with difficulty and under adverse conditions. Indeed, had the thaw been of a little longer standing or a little more rapid, play would have been impossible. As it was, the Match was played in circumstances of considerable discomfort…” January 29 was the fourth date fixed in that month.

Below are two more surviving photographs of the 1929 Match which give some idea of the uncomfortable conditions.

The busy scene at the pond-side. The reflections give a clue to the conditions underfoot on the ice.

This must be after the Match. Curlers ready to depart.

David B Smith

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Clarissa and the Wild Scotsmen

This photo was taken on Coodham Loch on January 3, 2010, as a number of enthusiasts were enjoying a great day curling on outside ice (photos here). David Smith is talking to local resident Katrina Tweedie, not herself a curler, but enjoying herself with her family skating on the loch.

The scene reminded me of a story David had written for the Hogliner daily magazine when the World Ladies Championship was held at Paisley's Lagoon Centre in 2005. Here's what he wrote:

"By the 1920s, when the following poem was composed, curling was very popular in Switzerland in all sorts of Alpine places, such as Chateau d’Oex, and Wengen and Kandersteg and St Moritz.

The game was as yet little played by the native Swiss but large numbers of Brits - English as well as Scots - spent a week or more in fine hotels enjoying outdoor curling in what was often clear, sunny weather. The apr├Ęs-curl was very important.

The poem and illustration are from a delightful little volume, Winter Sportings, by Reginald Arkell, published in 1929. Clarissa’s picture is by Lewis Baumer. Both convey the spirit of the times vividly.

The Girl Who Was Torn to Pieces by Wild Scotsmen

Clarissa - isn’t it a shame,
I can’t recall her other name,
I knew it once, but I forget -
Was just a modest violet
Who simply couldn’t stand a crowd.
She only asked to be allowed
To luge or bob or skate or ski
When no one else was there to see:
Avoided carnival and ball -
Was not gregarious at all.

Clarissa, one December day,
Had just arrived at Chateau d’Oex,
When she espied a sheet of ice
That looked particularly nice.
It’s surface was beyond compare,
No single skater skated there -
Clarissa didn’t stop to think,
She skated on the Curling Rink.

Oh me! Oh my! Oh us! Oh you!
There was a Bonspiel overdue,
And fifty lairds had taken pains
To polish up their granite stanes;
And fifty lairds were lurking round
The Curling Rink - that holy ground.

Beginners, please! The stage is set!
Clarissa lit a cigarette.
She puffed it gaily once or twice,
The threw it down upon the ice;
Waved to the Scotsmen standing by
And started in to do or die.

She died! In agony untold!
The dreadful details I withhold,
But, if you see a piece of ice,
That looks particularly nice,
Dear Reader, ere you start to skate,
Ponder upon Clarissa’s fate."

Needless to say, Katrina did not venture onto the curling rink last Sunday. Indeed her presence at Coodham was much appreciated by all the wild scotsmen present on the day - she heated up the lunchtime soup for us all. Thanks Katrina!