Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best Wishes of the Season: Leamington 1909

Bob Cowan writes:

I recently acquired this old postcard showing curling at Leamington. It dates from the early 1900s. It is clearly postmarked, Leamington Spa, December 31, 1909, although the sender makes no mention of the subject matter of the postcard in the writing on the reverse. It was published by W A Lenton, 10 Victoria Terrace, Leamington Spa. The early twentieth century was the great era of the postcard, and today there are thematic collectors of every possible subject. Cards showing the sport of curling are not particularly rare, but are very sought after.

What is special about this card is where the sport is taking place. Royal Leamington Spa is in Warwickshire, England, south east of Birmingham, and just ten miles south of Coventry. The Historical Curling Places website (see here) does not, as yet, indicate that the sport was played on outside ice in this area of the country. However, Curling: An Illustrated History by David B Smith, John Donald Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh, 1981, has, on page 154, a photograph of 'Curling on the River Avon, Warwickshire, near Leamington, ca 1900'.

There is little doubt that the postcard image is an authentic record of outside curling in the early 1900s, sometime before 1909. There are two games taking place. Note the double crampets on the nearest sheet, to facilitate both right and left handed players. If the venue is indeed somewhere in Leamington, it is likely that the games are taking place in the pond in the Jephson Gardens. The little bridge in the background does suggest a formal setting. Hopefully someone with local knowledge might be able to confirm this. It would be interesting to research local records to see if the curling matches shown on the postcard merited mention in the local newspapers at the time.

So, who is taking part in the photographed matches? Local curlers, most likely. Despite the current misconception that outside curling was a uniquely Scottish sport, it was played in many places in England in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club 1906-07 lists the following English Clubs: Barrow-in-Furness Caledonian, Bedford, Belle Vue, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Birkenhead Mersey, Birmingham Caledonian, Blackburn Caledonian, Bolton, Bradford, Buxton, Carlisle, Cleator Moor, Crystal Palace, Darlington, Derwentwater, Glamorgan, Harrington, Harrogate, Huddersfield, Leeds Caledonian, Leeds Rose and Thistle, Liverpool Caledonian, London Caledonian, London Scottish, Malton, Manchester Caledonian, Middlesborough Caledonian, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Newcastle Tyneside, North Staffordshire, Preston, Scarbro, Sheffield, Southport, Sunderland, Warwickshire, and Whitehaven.

The Warwickshire Club was instituted in 1894 and admitted to the Royal Club in 1901. The secretary, as named in the 1906-07 Annual, was R M Esdaile, Hopton House, Leamington! Thirty-five members are listed.

Another thing which makes the postcard unusual is that it has an embossed greeting 'Best Wishes of the Season'. In my collection I have the same postcard without the overprint.

David and I would like to extend the same greeting to all followers of the Curling History Blog. Thank you for your support and 'Good Curling' in 2013!

ADDED LATER: John Brown has been in touch with evidence from old photos (see here) that the location is in fact the boating pond in the Mill Gardens. These are south of the Jephson Gardens, on the opposite bank of the River Leam and were laid out during 1902 on land made available by the demolition of Oldham's Mill. They were opened in January 1903. The little bridge in the rear of the curling scene appears clearly in old photos of the Mill Gardens, for example here. This all dates the curling to sometime in the years 1903-1909.