Sunday, December 29, 2013

Women Curlers in the News

by Bob Cowan

The first newspapers began to appear in the early eighteenth century. The Ipswich Journal, for example, was first published in August 1720, see here. The issue of Saturday, February 23, 1740, had four pages. What makes this newspaper - from Suffolk, England - of interest to the curling historian is a small paragraph which appears on page 2, the earliest reference to the sport that I've been able to find (so far) in the British Newspaper Archive.

I've mentioned the BNA in the blog before, and I'm a big fan. The British Newspaper Archive is a partnership between the British Library and brightsolid online publishing (BSOP, see here) to digitise up to 40 million newspaper pages from the British Library's collection. The project is just two years in and is expected to last ten years. You can read about all that is involved here. I have found it to be a tremendous resource, especially in tracking down information on English curling clubs and where they played, see here. It has proved well worth the subscription, and not just for curling related content!

So, what was the first newspaper mention of our sport about? I got a surprise, see the screenshot above. Click here if you wish to see the full image of the page (purchase required). What is even more significant than the early date of the 'famous curling match' is that it involved two teams of women! The inclusion of the story in an English newspaper, at the bottom of a column on things Scottish, suggests that such a match was unusual, at least to the readers of the paper, if not to the inhabitants of Tynron Parish (as it is spelled today). 

Tynron Parish is in Nithsdale, in Dumfries and Galloway in south west Scotland. There is a village of the same name. The Water of Scaur (as it is written nowadays) marks the east edge of the parish boundary with adjacent Penpont. A map showing Scottish parish boundaries can be found here, on the National Library of Scotland maps website.

At least one other newspaper ran the identical story. John Burnett in his book Riot, Revelry and Rout: Sport in Lowland Scotland Before 1860, published by Tuckwell Press in 2000, reports that the story appeared in the Belfast News Letter in 1739. Burnett comments, "In the period before evangelical seriousness limited the behaviour of women there is a range of references to women enjoying sport. It was not common for them to do so, but it was probably widely known." 

Is John Burnett correct to say that 'it was not common' for women to enjoy a game of curling back in 1740, at least in the parish of Tynron? I'm not sure I agree with him. He may well be correct for other sports, but perhaps not for curling. Two things in the report suggest otherwise. The description of the curling match between the married and unmarried women indicates that it went on for some time ('a great many hours'), and that is unlikely to have been the case if the players were new to the sport. Even though the unmarried women (the 'Maids') were beaten on the day, the author of the piece says that they 'will, no doubt, be very expert in time', suggesting that there would be future opportunities for the women to play. Life in a rural community in early eighteenth century Scotland would have been very different to that today!

Let's not forget the men. Their matches may not have been newsworthy back in 1740, but it is not too big an assumption that they played too in Tynron parish whenever they could. Incidentally, in the nineteenth century there are reports of matches between bachelors and married men from many places throughout Scotland.

Did any Scottish newspapers mention the Tynron match? A date of 1740 is well before the founding of the Dumfries and Galloway Standard. I have searched, without success, for a mention in the Caledonian Mercury, first published in 1720 and available in the British Newspaper Archive, and in the Scotsman, available in the National Library of Scotland.

Who was the original author? We don't know. It is likely that the report was written for one paper, and picked up by others, often months later.

A curling match featuring two teams of women may well have been newsworthy, but the very mention of curling, without any explanation, in these English and Irish newspapers, does suggest that the sport was already well known as being played in Scotland, even to local readers.

David B Smith, when he wrote his 1981 book Curling: An Illustrated History, could find no written or printed references to curling in the years 1724-1771, despite that being the era that tradition suggests when the first curling societies were founded. The 1740 reference is thus rather significant. As I've mentioned above it is the earliest reference to the sport I've found in the titles so far digitised in the Britich Newspaper Archive.

We can but speculate on how the game was played on the Water of Scaur back then. It may well have been eight or nine aside, with each player delivering one stone.

The first Ordnance Survey 6 inch map of this part of what is now Dumfries and Galloway was not published until 1861. The newspaper report does not mention where exactly on the Scaur Water the match took place. The location may have been the frozen river itself, or where it had flooded onto adjacent land. You can find some lovely photos of the area here.

I will leave it to students of history to place the year 1740 into historical context. Suffice to say that King George II was on the British throne, and Robert Walpole was 'Prime Minister' (although this term was not in use at the time). The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46 was still in the future, as was the Seven Years War with the French, with the decisive battle, the fall of Quebec, in 1759. (The legend that Scottish soldiers melted down cannonballs to make iron curling stones around this time must certainly be taken with a pinch of salt!) The Treaty of Paris (1763) saw the French cede to the British all North American possessions, and a hundred years later, in 1867, the Dominion of Canada was formed.

Women curlers were making the news in Britain in 1740, and they are still making the news today! 

This spread, about the Eve Muirhead team in the run up to the Sochi Olympics, is from the Scottish edition of the Sun, from December 24, 2013. I wonder what curling historians will make of it when the article is found in the archives two hundred and seventy-three years from now, let's say in the year 2286?

The Ipswich Journal images are copyright The British Library Board, all rights reserved. The screenshots are reproduced from the British Newspaper Archive.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Curling Christmas Card

by Bob Cowan

At this time of year, I'm always on the lookout for Christmas cards with a curling theme. Over the years I've sent, and received, quite a few. And I've kept some although I hesitate to call these 'a collection'. I will not be surprised to learn that 'out there' there someone has a large thematic collection of curling Christmas cards. Here are just a few of my own.

In the heyday of the postcard, in the early years of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for regular postcards to be overprinted with a Christmas greeting. Although the one above is a Swiss card, promoting a large Grindelwald hotel, it is interesting to note that the overprint is in English, as at that time, the majority of winter tourists to the alpine resorts were Brits! There is another example of an overprinted Christmas card, this time from the UK, in this post.

For many years, the Scottish Curler magazine sold a Christmas card. These first appeared in 1967, when a scene of curling on Duddingston Loch was reproduced on the cards, from the painting by Charles Lees. An order form was inserted with each magazine, and in 1967 the cost was 15/- per dozen, including envelopes.

The pink tinted illustration above was the Scottish Curler Christmas Card for 1973. By this time the cost had risen to £1.25 per dozen. 'The Curlers' is probably the most famous painting of a curling scene. Sir George Harvey painted the original in 1834-35, although I should probably say 'originals', as more than one version of the painting is known to exist.

The most impressive version now belongs to the National Galleries of Scotland, see here.

This unusual card was sold by the US Women's Curling Association, artist and date not stated.

This card was sold by the Province of London Curling Club. The artist is not named.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club for a number of years marketed Christmas cards to raise funds. This is the first of three examples I've picked out. The drawing is by Malky McCormack from a design by Beth Cashin.

This is another Royal Caledonian Curling Club card. The image is by the late Rod McLeod, a well known cartoonist whose work could be found in the Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Express and the Evening Times. He was a keen curler, a member of the Nondies CC, and is fondly remembered by many.

This is another card marketed by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in association with Cameo Fine Arts of Peebles. The image is entitled 'Christmas Post' by Eve Coote.

Ian Rodney, who devised a cartoon every month for the Scottish Curler magazine in the years 2002-09, drew Santa for this Alternative Curling Club card.

The image on this card is 'Curling Fun' by Canadian artist Terry Ananny.

This card, which was sold in aid of the National Trust for Scotland, uses part of 'The Curling Match' by Charles Altamont Doyle, and is credited to City of Edinburgh Museums and Art Galleries, Scotland/ Bridgeman Art Library, London.

David and I wish all followers of the Curling History blog, and indeed all curlers everywhere, 'Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year'!

Monday, December 09, 2013

'A termination the most melancholy put to the bonspiel'

by Bob Cowan

I came across this cartoon recently. These days it would be seen by many to be in bad taste. It was published in Punch in 1958, and drawn by J W Taylor. Taylor was not one of the more famous Punch cartoonists, but he has at least one big fan, see here. His university education was in Manchester, and he became a school teacher in Stoke. One has to conclude it is unlikely that he had ever personally experienced the joys of curling outside on a deep water loch. I wonder what prompted him to draw this cartoon. However, there is just a nod to the dangers - one of the figures in the background is rushing to the rescue with a ladder!

Of course, if we go back to the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, long before indoor rinks, and before the first artificial outdoor rinks had been invented, curling was only ever played on natural stretches of water. I quote from David B Smith's 1981 book Curling: an illustrated history, "The advantage of such lochs was their size, their responsiveness to the roar of the stone, their picturesque beauty." David goes on to mention that the disadvantage of deep water is the time it takes to freeze, and that there was a real risk of drowning, should the ice break.  

One of the first questions ever posed to David and I when we began this blog back in the summer of 2008 was, "How common was drowning in the years gone by?" David responded to the question with this post.  Therein he recounted that he had found only one report of death by drowning at a curling match. The reference is in Sir Richard Broun's Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia, which was written in 1830. The author describes how successful the curlers of Lochmaben had been in matches with neighbouring parishes. Broun writes, "It is sufficient to say, that they have been successful over Tinwald, Torthorwald, Dumfries, Mouswald, Cummertrees, Annan, Dryfesdale, Hutton, Wamphray, Applegarth, Johnstone - and perhaps Kirkmichael might have been added to the list, but for the occurrence of a most disastrous accident by which six individuals were drowned, and a termination the most melancholy put to the bonspiel." He then goes on to give details of the battles between Lochmaben and Closeburn, with no further mention of what appears to be a 'curling disaster'.

In searching the British Newspaper Archive for instances where curlers had come to grief on outside ice, I had found no mention of any accident at Lochmaben when curlers had been drowned. I found a number of stories of curlers falling through the ice, all over the country, but without loss of life. But what struck me - forcibly - was just how many tragic stories there were during the nineteenth century about people who had been skating or sliding on the ice, and died! Local newspapers throughout Britain regularly contained reports of fatal ice accidents during the winter months.

I had come to the conclusion that the reason there was so little information in Broun's book was that the accident had all occurred way back in time, and that the occasion had been passed on simply by word of mouth. But then I got the opportunity to study the original reference, in Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia. It occurs in Chapter VI of the book, which is entitled 'Bonspielana'. In the paragraph before that about Lochmaben's bonspiel successes, there is reference to famous Lochmaben curlers who had been at the top of their form during the time of the 'French War'. This was a reference to the Napoleonic Wars, which finished with the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Broun's reference to the Lochmaben tragedy likely dated to the early nineteenth century, a time well covered by papers in the British Newspaper Archive. It then struck me that Broun does not say explicitly that it was curlers who had drowned, only that there had been 'a most disastrous accident'. I searched more generally in the BNA for ice accidents at Lochmaben. No success. Had there been any ice accident in Kirkmichael parish? Eureka! There had ... and it was the one referred to in Broun's book. The story was all well recorded in The Scots Magazine of February 1, 1813, and the Caledonian Mercury of February 4, 1813.

So, we need to go back two hundred years. At that time, travelling any distance was not easy, and curlers from one parish were somewhat restricted to playing against those of neighbouring parishes. Lochmaben's first curling club, the Lochmaben Curling Society, was not constituted until 1823, as Lynne Longmore has recorded in detail in Minutes of Note, see here. Ten years before that date, the curlers of Kirkmichael parish had received a challenge from those of Lochmaben parish and they had met on one of the Lochmaben lochs on Friday, January 29, 1813. The home side was successful and the two groups of curlers agreed to meet again the following day, Saturday, January 30, on Cumrue Loch in Kirkmichael parish. There was 'a vast concourse of spectators' when the match got underway in the morning. By two o'clock 'the ice had become so soft and wet, that it was agreed to change the board, and a few of the young men then attending, went in search of another; they immediately pitched upon one, and while the curlers were carrying their stones towards this new rink, they perceived the ice to give way, and in one moment saw the whole group of young men and boys sink.' Ten persons went in the water, which was around twelve foot deep. Five were rescued, one of the rescuers taking off his coat and holding its edge to use it as a rope, linking hands with others on the ice behind him.

The bodies of the others were recovered later using two ladders tied together to bridge the hole in the ice. All five who died were under 23 years of age. They were William McGill (Corshill), James Paterson (Auchenclurehill), James Dalzell (Parkgate), Robert Muirman (who was a servant in Dalfibble, married with two children) and Peter Carruthers (also a servant in Dalfibble). Singled out for praise for their part in the rescue of the others were James McGill (Corshill) and James Roddan (Pleasance). Presumably William and James McGill were related.

I wondered if all those who died had been locals. Dalfibble is a farm to the west of Cumrue Loch. Parkgate may refer to the farm or the community, again west of Cumrue. I have found old references to 'Pleasance, Kirkmichael', but don't know exactly where this was. And where were Corshill, and Auchenclurehill? I cannot yet find these names on old maps of the area, although Corsua farm is close by.

The story recounted in the newspapers differs in one respect from that in Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia. The news reports say that there were only five fatalities, whereas Broun indicates that six died. However, it would seem from the newspaper accounts that those who died had not been engaged in the curling match, but were spectators who had tried to help the curlers by seeking out a new place on the loch where a new rink could be laid out. The reports do not mention if the curlers were involved in the rescue attempts, but it is quite apparent why play was abandoned, and why Broun wrote, " ... and a termination the most melancholy put to the bonspiel."

The Lancaster Gazette also ran the story on February 6, 1813, omitting the detail of the curling bonspiel, and putting the blame on two skaters. The report reads, "On Saturday last, as two persons were amusing themselves skaiting on Camrew Loch, in the parish of Kirkmichael, one of them made a dextrous wheel round a number of spectators, who happened to be collected at one place, when the impression of his skaits so weakened the thawing ice, that it instantly gave way, and ten persons were plunged into the water where it was about eleven feet deep." This report also indicates that five were saved, and the rest perished.

Cumrue Loch can be found on modern maps just west of Templand. The grid reference is NY 061860. Lochmaben and Kirkmichael are adjacent parishes. Cumrue Loch is just inside the south east boundary of Kirkmichael parish. It is not (yet) recorded as a 'Curling Place' on the Historical Curling Places database and website. Perhaps because it had been the scene of such a tragedy, the curlers chose not to return there after 1813.

This is Cumrue Loch as it appeared today, a grey December morning in 2013. It sits in the middle of a large dairy farm. My thanks to Brendan, the farmer, for his help in getting me to a spot from where I could take this photo.