Sunday, January 20, 2013
At a recent auction sale at Bonham's in Edinburgh there was offered a most unusual lot.
This is how it was described in the catalogue and online: “Of curling interest; a William IV silver belt buckle, maker's mark IR, Edinburgh. Of rectangular form, each corner with curling stone, the long sides with crossed curling brooms encircled by laurel wreaths, the short sides with foot irons, length 11.5 cm.”
None of the trustees of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Charitable Trust had ever seen such a buckle before, and after some email consultation among them in Scotland and Sweden (where the European Curling Championships were taking place) it was decided to try to buy the object for the nation and add it to the Trust's collection.
I am happy to report that the trustees' bid was successful.
The buckle looks even better than its description. When it was made by IR in Edinburgh in 1830 he was thinking four and a half inches and not 11.5 cm. That is a tall buckle and its weight is commensurate with its size.
The decoration is bold. Each of the curling stones has the smooth flat top surface that one expects from a stone of the 1830s. The brooms are roughly in proportion to the stones.
The last element of the design which appears top and bottom is an arrangement of 'crampits', or 'foot-irons', or 'tramps' which were iron, spiked devices made to be strapped to the instep of the curler's shoe and give him a more secure footing on the ice.
Since such devices are beyond the ken of curlers of the present day the photograph shows what they were like.
By the end of the nineteenth century their use had been abandoned in most of Scotland except the south west. The Rev. John Kerr, in a remarkably sour series of Curling Reflections in the Glasgow Herald of 21 May 1902, said: “In the same tournament (viz. The Waterlow Cup at Lochmaben) I was much disappointed to see the antiquated and barbarous 'tramps' still in use in a good many cases. These are bound to the feet, and their spikes, which, of course, are intended to keep the curler firm on his feet, do much damage to the ice. I thought it had been decided to forbid and forgo them altogether They are what C-B would call 'methods of barbarism' not worthy of civilised warfare.
(The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations answered the question of who C-B was. In a speech at a dinner of the National Reform Union on 14 June 1901 Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, leader of the Liberal party in the House of Commons, said : “When was a war not a war? When it was carried on by methods of barbarism.”)
Top photo © Royal Caledonian Curling Club Charitable Trust
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Fifty years ago this week, on Wednesday, January 16, 1963, the Royal Club's Grand Match was held on the Lake of Menteith. The results of 180 games are individually recorded in the Annual for 1963-64 as Grand Match Results, and a further 27 games took place in the President v President Elect Match. This indicates that 1656 curlers took part in the play on the loch that day fifty years ago, but there may well have been other games taking place on the ice which were not included in the 'official' matches. Indeed, the Report of the Grand Match Committee in the Annual suggests that some curlers had turned up hoping for a game even though they had not entered. There had also been some late cancellations. Some 230 rinks had been marked out on Monday 14 and Tuesday 15, a major feat as snow had to be cleared from the surface of each sheet, as the photo above shows. The chairman of the Grand Match Committee was Willie Murray, Glenfarg CC.
The Scottish Curler of March 1963 records that the youngest participant was 15-year old John Gill from Alness, and the oldest, at 86, was Alex Simpson of Largs Thistle.
The match was declared 'on' on the fifteenth after an early morning inspection of the venue which showed there was at least five and a half inches of ice everywhere and six inches in places. The forecast was for continuing cold weather with some snow overnight, and clear weather on the day of the match. The forecast was accurate, and the match went ahead, the cannon sounding out at noon to start play, and again three hours later to signal the games to stop.
For the record, the North beat the South. The Bishopshire club won the Challenge Trophy.
The official reports of the match were all positive as were descriptions of the occasion in the media. This was the first time the Lake of Menteith was a venue for the Grand Match. The previous Grand Match, in 1959, had been on Loch Leven. The Lake of Menteith would be the venue again in 1979. Only these three Grand Matches have been held since 1935.
It is well recorded that the winter of 1962-63 was a severe one. There was so much snow that outside curling was restricted elsewhere! However, the Vale of Menteith was one area which received less snowfall, and this allowed the Grand Match to happen.
The photo is credited to Gerry Cranham of the Observer, and was reprinted in the Royal Club Annual and in the Scottish Curler magazine. It shows more than half of the games being played on the loch.