Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Bell Quaich

Faed Sproat was a weel kent farmer and curler from the Stewartry of Kirkcubrightshire from the early 1930s onwards. His mother club was Anwoth. I was fortunate recently to be given by his daughter some curling items from his estate. Among these was a small silver medal.

As the pictures of it show, it was won by a rink competing in the Bell Quaich competition in 1939, the year of the trophy’s donation and of the opening of the original (The Aul’) Ice Rink in Ayr.

The medal was intriguing from a number of viewpoints. It was one of the very earliest prizes from Ayr Ice Rink; and the obverse was of a design with which I was familiar. A bit of research showed that it had been won by a rink of which Faed Sproat was a member.

The Quaich was presented by E A Bell, the first secretary of the ice rink curling club, for inter-district competition. The first winners were The Stewartry, and the small medal was obviously the prize which was given to each member of the winning rink.

As will appear from the illustrations there are other examples of this design. The first I acquired are thin, uniface, gilded strikings with no clue as to when or where or why they were made. The same comments go for the second example I got, except for the fact that it is bronze and ungilded. The third is thicker, has a rim and is in the form of a blank medal for engraving and presentation. Sadly, it too gives no clue as to why, where, or when. The small medal is 'signed'. That is, it bears the maker’s name, John Pinches, who was a well-known London medallist.

The Bell Quaich still exists; it is still played for at Ayr but no longer for inter-district competition. In fact, the original plinth which boldly proclaimed its inter-district nature has been pensioned off.

The photograph shows that the plinth is made of ebonised wood and of heptagonal cross-section. On each of the seven faces is a silver plaque bearing the appropriate heraldry for each of the original districts, the team of each of which had to consist of three rinks. They are:


That for the Stewartry includes as the first winners’ inscription in 1939 'JF Sproat'.

This is a photograph of the first winning rink and the Quaich in 1939. Faed is wearing the plus fours, front left.

Faed Sproat is second from the right in the front row. The picture is of Stewartry curlers and Americans on tour to Scotland in 1952.

David B Smith.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The First International Match: England v Scotland

It should perhaps be remembered, at a time like the present, when the English organisers of the Four Nations Match have been crying out for a few Scots to represent the most important nation in the contest, that it was the English who started the whole affair. In 1893 there were about fifty clubs in England associated with the Royal Club. It was William I’Anson of the Malton Club in Yorkshire, and some of his friends, who suggested to the Royal Club that there should be an Anglo-Scottish challenge match.

The idea was discussed at an AGM of the Royal Club, and approved, and a committee established to develop the idea. They came up with the location of Talkin Tarn, a lake of about 100 acres, beside Brampton, a small town in the vicinity of Carlisle. No doubt the idea was to select a spot near the Border within reasonable reach of all participants.

Many more Scots clubs indicated a wish to enter than their English counterparts and the final draw resulted in 69 rinks a side. Invitations had been sent out to member clubs on both sides of the Border, and a draw was made. Like so many other largish bonspiels it did not prove an easy matter to pick a date on which natural frost would provide ice of the requisite thickness – even though the organisers were happy with a thickness at least a couple of inches less than 'the curling authorities' of the present day deem necessary.

This was not the first time that such an international had been thought of. For example, the Caledonian Mercury of 15 January 1849 tells us that, “The preliminaries of a match have been settled betwixt the Newcastle Curling Club and Haddington Club. We understand that the event will come off at Berwick and will take place at an early date, as soon as the frost has sufficiently set in to secure permanent and good ice.”

Rev. John Kerr in his review of the curling winter of 1894-5, A Grand Curling Year, published in the Glasgow Herald on 4 January 1896, wrote thus of the first International Match. A very similar piece from the Stirling Journal of 8 February 1895 was printed in the Annual for 1895-6.

“On the 29th January there came off the long-talked-of International match, England v. Scotland – an event which in itself made the season memorable. The venue was the deep and picturesque 70 acre lake named Talkin Tarn, where the Brampton folks in summer enjoy rowing and sculling. The preparation for the match roused much interest among the natives, who had never seen the 'roaring game'. “I knows all about this curlin’”, one was heard saying to a neighbour the night before the match, “every man plays with a large stone weighin’ a hundredweight and a half, and the one that got his stone farthest away wins the game.”

“Nay, friend, that’s not it at all”, said another. “I’ve heard o’ curlin’ fifty times from them that does it, an’ they all play on skates, don’t ye know, just like they do at hockey; that’s curlin’.” Not the least interesting part of the play was to watch the countenances of those knowing ones and the thousands of others who came from Carlisle, Brampton, and elsewhere to see the fight.

“Down the rinks the stones are roaring,
Ringing through the frosty air,
Skips frae a’ the airts are pouring
Booming orders everywhere.
Surging sounds of mimic battle,
Flash of fastly fitting kowes,
Clang and clatter, rush and rattle,
Pealing far o’er heichs and howes.”

William I’Anson, of Malton, and Sir James Gibson-Craig, of Riccarton, did well in bringing about that gathering, and the Royal Club will do well to have it annually when frost permits. It will not likely come off again on the Tarn , for only curlers could have surmounted the difficulties that barred the way thither, and borne with good humour the inconveniences of going to and returning from such a place. From window to window of each train curlers’ chaff flew backwards and forwards. “At one station,” says a Stirling player, “we stopped rather longer than there was any occasion for a very red-faced ‘party’ with a countenance which negatived his chances of his being a local optionist, put his head out of the window to ascertain the cause of the stoppage. ‘Pit in yer heid, man’ said a brither in a neighbouring compartment; ‘the gaird thinks that face o’ yours is a danger-signal, and ‘ill no start the train as lang as it’s oot.’”

In that style every hitch made the company happier, and the failures in the arrangements were made to contribute to the success of the bonspiel. There were 68 rinks or 272 players on each side, and Scotland won by 275 shots. It was not another Bannockburn, for the large majority of players on the English side were Scotchmen; but many of these had not for years been north, and such a reunion with their countrymen over Scotland’s ain game was delightful. For England, which has adopted our golf and made her sons champion players of that game, the gathering was an unmistakable proof that Scotland has another sport which excites even more enthusiasm among its votaries, and is quite as healthy and invigorating. We are not surprised to hear, as the result of the international match, that 1895 has been a year of great progress for curling south of the Tweed, that several new clubs have been formed, and that an association of provinces has been constituted to make arrangements for the great annual bonspiel with Scotland and foster and strengthen the game in the south. Lochmaben, which is to be scene of next meeting, has the honour of having added a word to the curler’s vocabulary. Her shoemakers used never to let their opponents get a single shot. This was called soutering. At the international match it was “Up wi’ the Souters o’ Selkirk”, the gold badges to the rink with the biggest majority being won by the Selkirk team, whose opponents scored only two shots by mistake at the first 'head' of the game…”

The result of all the games which made up the match are taken from the Leeds Mercury of 30 January 1895, and are printed so that the curious can see from where all the rinks, English and Scottish, had come from. The gaps in the numbering are obviously caused by some rinks’ failure to appear. By my calculations based on this report there were 69 rinks, and the Scots beat the English by 281. As far as I can judge the furthest travelled Scot was the Rev. C. Halliday of Scotscaig in the East Neuk of Fife. What a pity to travel so far and lose to the 'Auld Enemy' in the form of John Smith, with his rink of Blackburn Rose and Thistle curlers, by 13 shots to 9.

More of the other open air International Matches later.

David B Smith

A bird’s eye view of Talkin Tarn today. (Photo from the Visit Cumbria website)

The busy scene at tarn level. (From the author's collection)

Some rinks at play in the match. (From the author's collection)

The results of the matches were:

Scotland - England

4. John Martin, Corstorphine, 20 - T Darling, Berwick-on-Tweed, 14
5. W Strang, Haremyres, 27 - Rev RC Inglis, 11
6. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Clackmannan & Kennet, 19 - Jas Blacklock, Harrington, 11
8. W Crawford, Duns, 16 - J McGregor, Durham, 10
9. W Gibson, King Robert Bruce, 29 - J Carrick, Durham, 6
10. Peter Taylor, Airdrie, 14 - J Gray, Preston, 8
11. P Rankin, Cambusnethan, 17 - E Wilson, Preston, 12
12. DP Laird, Merchiston, 17 - M Macartney, Preston, 13
13. Sir R Waldie Griffith, Kelso, 23 - Rev S McNaughton, Preston, 6
14. W Henderson, Kinnochtry, 11 - Wm McNab, Bolton, 8
15. R Cross, Rutherglen, 6 - B Rannam, Bolton, 21
17. S Brown, Tynron, 8 - Dr Irving, Huddersfield, 18
19. W Hislop, Eskdale, 17 - J Brown, Birmingham Caledn., 12
20. R Riddell, Galshiels, 33 - R Kerr, Birmingham Caledn., 9
21. J Fleming, Liddesdale, 18 - Wm Stuart, Belle Vue, 12
22. Archd. Marshall, Kelvindock, 5 - J Meggatt, Belle Vue, 18
23. Capt. JA King, Lennox Castle 18 - W McNaught, Wigan & Haigh, 16
24. J McHenry, Haddington, 12 - Jas. McLellan, Wigan & Haigh, 15
25. John Reside, Cathcart, 3 - W Connell, Blackburn Caledn., 16
27. Major Robertson Aikman, Hamilton, 18 - W Gibson, Blackburn Caledn., 17
28. Wm Paterson, Douglas, 14 - Joe Allweed, Southport, 10
29. M Anderson, Neilston, 10 - Wm Platt, Southport, 7
30. W Callander, Minnigaff, 12 - John Boyd, Southport, 6
31. W Stevenson, Glasgow Lilybank, 7 - WH Milner, Harrogate, 17
32. James Miller, Crossmichael, 14 - W Pearson, Derwentwater, 13
33. JR Blackwood, Rosslyn, 18 - Charles Clark, Derwentwater, 8
34. D Draper, Falkirk, 22 - Thos. Hodgson, Derwentwater, 8
35. W Grieve, Selkirk, 27 - E Bowden, Derwentwater, 2
37. William Sutherland, Partick, 7 - Wm I’Anson, Malton, 18
38. Sir JH Gibson-Craig, Bart., Waverley Kierhill, 15 - W Roberts, Malton, 14
39. W Chapman, New Monkland, 24 - W.Young, Middlesborough, 7
40. John Bell, Tinwald, 22 - John Dickson, Middlesborough, 3
41. R Connel, Castle Semple Loch, 26 - John Davison, Middlesborough, 9
42. J Fulton, Lees & Lithtillum, 18 - W Longshaft, Middlesborough, 18

43. Robert Fleming, Avondale, 20 - W Alexander, Liverpool, 13
44. J Keanie, Lochwinnoch Garthland, 8 - Isaac Graham, Liverpool, 21
45. A Kirkpatrick, Crocketford, 17 - W Gracie, Liverpool, 16
46. W Morris, Craiglockhart, 14 - Samuel Cowan, Bradford, 11
49. J Smith, Hillhead, 10 - Sir J Heron Maxwell, Crystal Palace, 17
50. John Stodart, Pencaitland, 10 - JG Gibson, Crystal Palace, 13
51. W Renfrew, Hurlet & Nitshill, 11 - J Barbour, Newcastle-on-Tyne, 16
53. Dr Haldane, Airthrey Castle, 10 - WHA Marshall,
Newcastle-on-Tyne, 29
54. JH Webster, Stenhouse & Carron, 11 - T Taylor, Newcastle-on-Tyne, 17
55. P Turner, Kirknewton, 11 - J Telford, Newcastle-on-Tyne, 22
56. R Husband, Broomhall, 7 - RM Waugh, Newcastle-on-Tyne, 24
57. R Knox, Alloa, 14 - R.Young, Manchester Caledn., 5
58. Col. Hope, Earlston, 14 - Wm McClymont, Manchester Caledn., 8
59. GR Ure, Bonnybridge, 23 - J Ayton, Newcastle Tyneside, 9
60. T Mitchell, Kirkhope, 20 - W Semple, Newcastle Tyneside, 12
61. J Young, Upper Annandale, 20 - J Robertson, Newcastle Tyneside, 5
62. G Robson, Antonshill, 14 - J Main, Newcastle Tyneside, 11
64. R Frater, Stirling Castle, 11 - AC Millwater, Leeds Caledonian, 8
65. J Thomson, West Calder, 17 - J McCulloch, Leeds Caledonian, 6
66. J Coubrough, Strathblane, 27 - A Sword, Leeds Caledonian, 7
67. WJ Gulland, Musselburgh, 20 - T Steel, Barrow Caledonian, 12
68. J Wood, Ayton & District, 21 - T Blacklock, Barrow Caledonian, 12
69. J Dryden, Kirkintilloch, 16 - CJ Armstrong, Carlisle, 11
71. D Thomson, Largo, 6 - W Hamilton, Carlisle, 13
73. Wm Smith, Buchan, 15 - R Todd, jr., Carlisle, 15
74. D Brown, Coatbridge, 10 - W McKie, Carlisle, 13
76. J Craig, Blantyre, 34 - RS Benson, Darlington, 11
77. J Brown, Upper Nithsdale, 20 - Wm Swan, Darlington, 6
78. John Currie, Stewarton Heather, 8 - R Alexander, North Staffs., 13
79. Rev. C Halliday, Scotscraig, 9 - John Smith, Blackburn Rose & Thistle, 13
80. Hugh Gilmour, Waverley, 14 - John Jardine, Blackburn Rose & Thistle, 9
81. A Kerr, Dalton St. Bridget’s, 19 - Wm McCowen, Whitehaven, 9
83. J Scott Davidson, Hercules, 17 - R Currie, Manchester Trafford, 12
85. J Grant, Alloa Prince of Wales, 22 - Wm Carruthers, Workington, 16
86. Capt. Middleton, Cupar, Fife, 16 - Dr. Myrtle, Harrogate, 12

Total……. 1,108. Total…… 827.