Monday, November 10, 2014

The Stone Collector

by Bob Cowan

Most involved in Scottish curling will have come across the name of Andrew Henderson Bishop. The trophy he presented and which bears his name is played for as the premier ladies' event in Scotland each season, aside from the Scottish Championship. That's him above, the rather grainy photograph from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual of 1911-12, at which time he was a Vice-president of the Royal Club.

Andrew Henderson Bishop was born on May 19, 1874, the son of Thomas George Bishop and Elizabeth Henderson. Young Andrew is described in the census return for 1890 as a 'science student'. He married Mary Gibb McAlpine, daughter of Sir Robert McAlpine, in 1897. In the Edinburgh Evening News of February 16, 1904, it is reported that his father, who had founded the successful grocery business, Cooper's, had purchased the estate of Thornton Hall, near Busby, and this was to become the home of Andrew and Mary.

At Thornton Hall, Andrew laid out gardens in which, according to this website, there was a floodlit curling rink. He extended the railway station platform and kept a private carriage which could be coupled to the Glasgow train. His involvement with the family business gained him considerable wealth, and allowed him the time to pursue an interest in archaeology. He collected extensively and amassed one of the largest prehistoric collections in Scotland. In 1951, Andrew Henderson Bishop gifted his collection of prehistoric artifacts to the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow, see here.

After his wife died in 1935, he moved to Switzerland and lived there until his own death in 1957.

The University of Glasgow has a painting of him from 1950 by Hermione Hammond, see here.

Andrew Henderson Bishop's curling career seems to have begun as an occasional member of Haremyres Curling Club in the 1905-06 season. Three years later he was a regular member and was on the Council of Management of that club. He was secretary of the Thornton Hall Curling Club when it was formed in 1907, and two years later, its president. He curled in Switzerland too, and in the 1910-11 season is listed as a Vice-president of the Villars Curling Club.

Off the ice, Andrew Henderson Bishop was an enthusiastic student of the history of curling, and amassed a large collection of artifacts. He was responsible for putting together the curling history display at the Scottish Exhibition of National History, Art and Industry, at Kelvingrove, Glasgow, in the summer of 1911, see here.

The Royal Club Annual for 1911-12 notes that "The Historical Exhibition in Glasgow has been very successful, and one of its most interesting features was the extensive collection of curling curios brought together by Mr Henderson-Bishop of Thornton Hall, who is known to the brotherhood as one of the keenest of keen curlers and is at present an active and useful Vice-President of the Royal Club."

The 'Sports and Pastimes' section of the catalogue of exhibits for this exhibition lists 146 items of curling interest, 65 of which are described as 'lent by A Henderson Bishop'.

Here is a photo of part of the South Gallery of the Palace of History at the 1911 Scottish Exhibition. You can see many curling stones lined up on the floor on the left of the picture. 

This old postcard shows what the outside of the building looked like. It contained six separate galleries, the South Gallery also having space in a balcony area. Exactly where the Palace of History was constructed on the exhibition site can be seen in the plan here.

Back in the 1970s, David B Smith had wondered what had happened to the various items that had belonged to Henderson Bishop, that had been exhibited in 1911. Writing in 1989, David recalled, "In 1978 I was discussing with Stuart Maxwell, then assistant keeper of the National Museum of Antiquities, when he told me that he seemed to remember coming across a large number of curling stones in the basement of the Highland Folk Museum at Kingussie. A telephone call to Ross Noble, the very helpful curator of that museum, confirmed that the stones were still there, and that it was thought that they had come in some way from Henderson Bishop."

Shortly afterwards, I received a very excited call from David about this 'find', and before too long David, Willie Jamieson and I were heading north in my wee Datsun Cherry!

This was the sight that greeted us when we were shown into the cellar of a building at the Folk History Museum at Kingussie. There were old curling stones everywhere. Exciting? You bet! The Henderson Bishop collection had indeed been found!

David and Willie examine the stones. A few were selected to be brought up from the cellar.

Here David is cleaning up one of the stones at a sink in the museum's kitchen!

Washed and dried, six of the stones were laid out on the grass to be photographed.

In the years since 1978, the stones have been safely cared for by the museum at Kingussie, although most were stored out of public view.

The story of how the Highland Folk Museum came into being, and of its founder Dr Isobel Grant, is fascinating and can be read here. Additional space to allow the museum to expand was purchased and a large site at Newtonmore opened in 1995. Among the many memorable features of this open air museum is a curling pond and replica curling hut (see here) in which a small number of artifacts from the Henderson Bishop collection are displayed.

You can find out more about the Highland Folk Museum on its website here.

Some years ago when I was still editor of the Scottish Curler magazine I enquired of the museum the status of the rest of the Henderson Bishop collection, particularly the large number of stones that we had seen back in 1978. These, I was reassured, were still safely in store, and that the museum had plans for a new building on the Newtonmore site, which would give more space for the museum to store and preserve its considerable collections. In this past year, this vision became a reality.

This is Am Fasgadh, at Newtonmore, the Highland Folk Museum's wonderful new facility, with space to store and conserve the various items in the collections, as well as offices, study areas, a conservation laboratory, a library, and meeting spaces. It's quite separate from that part of the museum which is usually open to the public in the summer months, currently closed for the winter.

Am Fasgadh's primary function is to house the Highland Folk Museum's core collections - 10,000 objects ranging from teaspoons to tractors! The name 'Am Fasgadh' is Gaelic for 'the Shelter', and comes from the original name given to the Highland Folk Museum by its founder, Isabel Grant, and reflects her philosophy that the Museum was a safe haven for her collection.

Rachel Chisholm is the present Curator, and here she is with some of the Henderson Bishop stones in the background. We counted 122 on the new shelves, and there are others in the replica stone hut, as already mentioned.

This channel stane jumped out as an 'old friend'. You can see it in the photo above of the six stones taken in 1978. Who 'DW' was is not known. Indeed, the notes that Henderson Bishop must surely have made on the provenance of all the items in his curling collection have been lost. It is to be hoped that one day these records might be found.

However, some of the stones can be identified from their descriptions in the catalogue from the 1911 exhibition. These two are numbers 106 and 107 in the group of 'Curling stones more or less circular in shape, used from about 1750'. Their descriptions say, 'Hammer-dressed curling stone, initialled 'R C' and dated 1781, from Cumbernauld' and 'Stone initialled 'R C'. This stone was probably made to match No 106 when pairs of stones came into use about 1840, and the screwed tubes to receive the handles may have been inserted at the same time.'  Both had been lent to the exhibition by Henderson Bishop himself.

No 121 in the 1911 exhibition catalogue is this 'circular, hammer-dressed stone, engraved 'THE PIRATE', JAs Orr, 1831. This stone, along with 118, 119 and 120, shows an endeavour to preserve the identity of the stone after they had lost the peculiarity of shape from which, in the days of the boulder stone, they often took their name'.

Interestingly, this stone had been 'lent by James Waldron'. Most of the items borrowed from various clubs and individuals would have been returned after the exhibition closed. We can assume that at some point after the 1911 exhibition 'the Pirate' became part of Henderson Bishop's own collection, in which it remains! We do not know exactly how and when the Henderson Bishop collection came into the possession of the Highland Folk Museum. Was it given to Dr Grant? Was it a bequest? The two must have known each other. More research to be done.

Not all of the collection was kept together. Some stones were presented by Henderson Bishop to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1938, an example here.

There is so much more research to be done on this collection of stones, and the various other curling items in the museum's care. The 130 or so stones make up the most significant collection of seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century curling stones in any museum collection anywhere in the world! I am extremely happy to have seen them at Am Fasgadh last week.

Thanks to Rachel Chisholm for allowing me to visit Am Fasgadh to view the Henderson Bishop collection. The Scottish Curler of October, 1989, published an article about the visit to Kingussie remembered above. The photos here are all by the author, or from his archive, except as indicated. The top pic is from the Royal Club Annual for 1911-12, and was by T and R Annan and Sons, Glasgow, and the photo of the inside of the South Gallery has been scanned from the Catalogue of Exhibits of the 1911 exhibition, which was published in two volumes by Dalross Ltd.


Unknown said...

Can't get enough of the history!!

J A M Bishop said...

I am the Great Grandson of Andrew Henderson Bishop (son of the late Dr TJH Bishop) and I have two curling stones that I would like to donate to a worthy institution such as yours. I live in London. Could you give me an email address so that I can send you some photos.

Many thanks

Joel AM Bishop

Bob Cowan said... (as indicated on the sidebar to the blog)

I would love to see photos of the stones.


Unknown said...

This is an incredibly insightful article that has helped answer a lot of questions. I am keen to locate the Kilbride stones and will be contacting the museum shortly. I am very keen also to speak with the relatives of Henderson Bishop if they are monitoring this reply thread as I will be in the future authoring a history of East Kilbride in which the history of Thorntonhall and Bishop's time there will feature prominently. Any details/records/photographs can significantly enhance such a book and preserve the information in an enduring form in a way not otherwise normally considered. I should add that during renovation of Bishop's old gardens at Thorntonhall in the 1970, a moss-covered half buried crate was found by the gardeners within which were found several curling stones. I am unaware of their fate but I imagine they may have been preserved within the gardens where the modern luxury flats now stand. It may be worth contacting them.

Unknown said...

My great-great Grandfather was James Waldron. He is listed in many documents(births, marriages, etc.) as “curling stone maker”. I’m excited to think this may have been one of his! I hope to someday visit the museum to see in person something tangible my ancestor touched. :)

Bob Cowan said...

Dear Unknown We now have a lot more information about your ancestor James Waldron's curling connections. Please get in touch by email ( and I'll share what we know. Rgds. Bob