Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Welcome Home

The photo above is of Abington station in South Lanarkshire. It was taken by John Robin in 1965. It probably looked much the same fifty-six years earlier, although there's nothing there now, except a passing loop on the West Coast Main Line. Back in 1909 the platforms were crowded with locals to welcome home their successful teams from the Grand Match, held at Carsebreck on November 24. Incidentally, this remains the only Grand Match ever to have been held in this month, the earliest date of the winter to see the Match played. The records show that there was five inches of ice on that occasion.

The success of the Abington curlers was recorded in the Hamilton Advertiser, and reprinted in the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1910-11.

"The rather early and, in some opinions, rather severe visitation of Jack Frost, has also been of such duration as to permit of the various representative matches being played on natural ice in the full and joyous freedom of outdoors, and not 'cribb'd, cabin'd and confined' within the narrow limitations of an artificial and autocratic ice rink.

In local curling circles the season, so far as it has gone, has been a memorable one, for the Abington Club have been successful in carrying off the 'blue riband' of Scottish curling, viz. the Royal Caledonian Club trophy, which is played for at the Grand Match at Carsebreck. From this small village, four rinks made the long journey, and returned victorious with the splendid aggregate of 130 shots against their opponents' 36, and the magnificent aggregate of 23 shots, which enabled them to carry off the aforesaid trophy over the heads of their formidable, ancient opponents, Biggar, which club had a gain of 90 shots to its credit.

Abington thus won the prize for the highest aggregate and the highest average, but the rules of the match preclude them from being awarded both prizes. David Paton, who had the honour of of being the skip of the highest rink, with the handsome majority of 40 shots, also carried off a well deserved prize.

On their arrival at Abington Station, the victorious had a splendid reception, their fellow villagers turning out in large numbers. Mr Smith, the indefatigable station-master, had had word of the victory before the curlers arrived, and he speedily communicated with Dr Newbigging, the president of the club, who, as speedily, sent the 'fiery cross' round, in the shape of the Boy Scouts, who roused the whole village to their sense of local patriotism, just as their well-intentioned movement rouses that of the more imperial variety.

A right royal salute of fog signals let the curlers know that something was in the wind, and on alighting at the station they found both platforms packed with the largest turnout that has been seen since the ever-memorable visit of the King. The victorious wielders of the cowe and handle were lined up upon the bridge, and the secretary (Mr R Colthart) called upon for a speech. Thereafter, David Paton's rink were carried shoulder high to the village, preceded by a torchlight procession."

The 1909 Grand Match was significant for a number or reasons, not just because of the early date in the season already mentioned. It had been six years since the previous Match at Carsebreck, although there had been two years of experiment when the match was held indoors over a period of days in the newly opened Scottish Ice Rink at Crossmyloof, April 6-29, 1908, and March 15-April 9, 1909. Although Carsebreck had been a Grand Match venue as far back as 1853, in 1909 the pond had been extended, and an official Royal Club clubhouse erected. The Scottish Central Railway had built a platform, over 600 yards long, to assist the curlers arriving and departing by the special trains which were laid on to Carsebreck Halt. There were 2736 players on the ice. Three hundred and eighteen games were officially part of the Grand Match and another twenty-six games were played which did not count towards the final tally. This was the biggest Grand Match to date. The South was victorious on the day.

One fatality was recorded, that of John Gibson, of East Kilpatrick, who died suddenly on the ice. The 1910-11 Annual contains an obituary which notes that, "All day he had played an uphill game, for he was feeling far from well, although he was too considerate for the feelings of others to spoil their enjoyment with his complaints; and he had all but finished his last 'head' when he suddenly expired." He was sixty-six years old. Reading the obituary it is very apparent that Gibson was a good curler, a skip, and well respected. Incidentally, he was a grand nephew of Robert Burns wife Jean Armour, "a relationship of which he was quietly proud," according to JHD the writer of the obituary.

The top photo of Abington Station is by John Robin, and is used with his permission. You can find more of John's photos, old and new, here.

This photo is from the Annual of 1910-11. Click on the image to see it larger. It has the caption 'Abington Curling Club - Winners of the RCCC Grand Match Trophy and the Diamond Jubilee pictures at Carsebreck, 24th November, 1909.'

The names are given as follows:
Jas Hunter, W Thomson, R Colthart jun, H Knox,
J Graham, A H Colthart, D Hunter, J S Hoatson, D Paton, G Hunter,
AA Colthart, J, Ballantyne,
Dr Newbigging, Pres., JW Paterson JP, Vice-pres, 
R Paton, R Colthart, (Secy), Wm Brown, Jno Hunter.

The 'Diamond Jubilee' pictures mentioned above, one of which can be seen in the photo, were engravings of Charles Martin Hardie's painting which had been commissioned to celebrate that event in 1899. The original is owned by the Royal Club and is in Scone Palace. A version of the original is on show in the National Portrait Gallery, see here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Playing for Scotland: The Making of Modern Sport

Playing for Scotland: The Making of Modern Sport is an exhibition in Gallery 10 on the second floor of the recently refurbished National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street, Edinburgh. It is set to run until December 31, 2014. The exhibition traces the transformation of sport during the nineteenth century when traditional games flourished and new sports were invented. Our sport of curling is well represented.

The exhibition has paintings and curling artifacts. The paintings include Sir George Harvey's The Curlers, oil on panel, 1835, see here. This takes centre stage, and you can study the detail of the painting at close quarters.

There is a steel engraving of Charles Lees's The Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch, the original of which the Royal Caledonian Curling Club has been raising funds to restore, see here.

It was a real thrill to see the John E Maguire painting of Thomas Thorburn's curling stone workshop in Beith. Restored, and beautifully framed, the painting provides a fascinating insight into how curling stones were made in the nineteenth century. In the Scottish Curler of December 2007 David B Smith wrote about how he had found this painting in an East Renfrewshire Council store as a flat canvas with no stretcher and no frame. It was heartening to see that the painting is now treasured and on display for all to enjoy.

A film, Scotland: A Sporting History, was specially commissioned to accompany and introduce the exhibition. It was directed by Derek Lodge and combines expert interviews and archive footage to explore the history of organised sport in Scotland. It is available to watch online here. The curling content starts at just over five minutes in, after a chapter on golf.

David B Smith is the curling expert in the film.

There is some wonderful archive footage of the sport being played indoors and out. I believe these scenes are from the Haymarket Rink in Edinburgh, but I may be wrong. (Added later. I am wrong. The footage is of curling at the old rink in Ayr. Thanks to Jim Fraser for identifying it correctly.)

The photos are screenshots from Scotland: A Sporting History.

This post is by Bob Cowan, April 2012.