Thursday, December 31, 2015

Curling at Hogmanay

The British Newspaper Archive is the project to digitise some 40 million pages from the British Library's large collection of newspapers. It launched in November 2011 with 4 million pages, and four years later over 12 million pages from over 540 individual titles are now online.

The BNA is a wonderful resource for those interested in social history. It is proving invaluable to the curling historian too. News clippings with evidence for those places where outside curling was played in years past now grace the subsidiary pages of many of the entries in the Historical Curling Places website.

Aside from using the BNA specifically for 'pond hunting', there are many, many entries therein which give a glimpse of what it was like to have been a member of a curling club in Victorian times.

This being Hogmanay, 2015, with no sign of sufficiently cold weather here in Scotland, all one can do is dream of curling outside. So perhaps an article from the Dundee Courier of January 8, 1869, will serve as a prompt!

Curling by moonlight at Braemar! How wonderful. With candles burning at the end of each rink.

The story continues:
Note that play carried on until 01.30, but with a break at midnight to celebrate the incoming year, with suitable refreshment!

A Happy New Year to all curlers everywhere.

Bob Cowan

The images are screenshots from the online paper and are reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive. The images are © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

David Chalmers: The Curling Butler at Fingask

by Bob Cowan

In the centre of the photo above is Fingask Castle, near Rait in Perthshire. The castle dates from 1594. It remains a family home and is a romantic venue these days for weddings, see here. You can read about the castle's history here and here.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Fingask was home to Sir Patrick Murray Threipland, the fifth baronet. Sir Peter, as he was called, was head of the household with three older sisters, Jessie, Eliza and Catherine, all unmarried, and their mother, Lady Murray Threipland.

The census in March 1851 shows that the Threipland family had a staff of seven: a housekeeper (Jean Oswald); a ladies maid (Mary Gray); a cook (Margaret Stewart); Sir Peter's own housemaid (Mary McLagan); a butler (David Chalmers); a footman (John Bertram); and a coachman (Andrew David).

The Fingask Curling Club was founded in 1843 and admitted to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club the same year. Sir Peter was the driving force. The club's membership, as at November 1, 1849, is recorded in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1849-50. Sir Peter was the President, and his mother, Lady Murray Threipland, was the 'Patroness'. David Chalmers, a regular member since 1844, was also on the club's management committee. There were nineteen regular members, and six occasional members. The club even had an 'Extraordinary Member', James Young, 'Civil Engineer to the Club'.

David Chalmers was Sir Peter's butler. In 1851 Sir Peter was fifty years old, and David thirty years of age. David kept a record of his activities at the castle and this has survived. A booklet, The Butler's Day Book 1849 - 1855, is the source of the information here. It's subtitled 'Everyday Life in a Scottish Castle'. It is a collection of short diary entries and was privately published by Andrew Threipland  in 1999.

This my own copy of The Butler's Day Book, with its image of Fingask Castle on the somewhat faded front cover.

Curling gets many mentions and the entries clearly show that the sport played a significant role in everyday life at Fingask in the winter months. Over five winters from 1849 to 1855, David records playing on the Fingask pond(s) on over one hundred occasions. The winter of 1850-51 was poor, with only six days play that he mentions. But in the other years, it seems that ice could be found regularly from December through February, and occasionally in November and March.

Typical entries are that of December 24, 1849, "Sir P. and I curling all day," or January 5, 1850, "Sir P. and I went to the curling and had a fine game." Two days later there was, "A fine turn out of curlers and fine ice."

The pond was inspected often in the hope that play would be possible, for example, on December 4, 1852, "Sir P., Robertson and I went to the pond but the ice would not do." So David went shooting pigeons that day. Four days later, "I and Charlie went up to the curling pond and had a fine game."

January 19, 1853, "Sir P., Robertson and I curling. Ice very watery today." The following day, "Ice all gone."

March 10, 1855. "Began curling this morning at 6 o'clock and gave it up at 10 o'clock. Came on a heavy fall of snow."

Curling went on even if conditions were not perfect.  January 21, 1854, "Sir P. and I curling. Came on rain. Sir P. left us and went home for the wet. I stopped and had a fine game."

It was not uncommon to play all day. But perhaps March 4, 1852, was exceptional, "Sir P. went to the curling after breakfast, the rest of us started early in the morning. Fine ice till 10 o'clock pm."

Where were these games taking place?

At the time that David was recording his curling exploits, the Fingask curlers had two ponds, both to the north west of Fingask Castle itself. These are clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map published in 1867, although surveyed several years earlier. Play on the 'upper pond' is recorded occasionally in The Butler's Day Book. But mostly play was on the 'lower pond', that shown in the bottom of the image above, nearer the castle than the other.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1853-54 records the following in an article about artificial ponds. "The Fingask Pond, which was made by that distinguished landlord and keen Curler, Sir P. M. Threipland, is in many respects similar, with this advantage, however, that it is 6 or 700 feet above the level of the sea, which will insure ice at an earlier and much later season of the year than in any other Curling Pond in the kingdom."

This refers to the 'lower pond'. We know from The Butler's Day Book that there was a curling house beside the pond, for example, January 1, 1854, "The curling lodge broke into last night and some Aqua taken out of it." Evidently, it was used for post-game refreshments! It was also big enough to host meetings of the club, for example, August 28, 1855, "Sir P. at a meeting at the curling bothy of the curlers. A good turn out."

Indeed, a building is evident on the old maps. The curling house (or lodge, or bothy) is the pink square on the north side of the pond in this clipping from the OS 25 inch map of 1867.

The pond had to be maintained. On August 30, 1852, David records, "Thomas Mitchell repairing it." On December 7, 1853, "A new rope put on the flag staff at the curling pond."

February 17, 1853, was a special day on the Fingask pond. "Sir P. curling. Lady Threipland's medal played for today. Gained by the secretary Mr. Morrison, took it at 7 points. The Miss Threiplands all up and a fine turn out of ladies. Had a splendid luncheon sent up to the pond from the castle. Everyone very happy and all had a fine dancing on the green after luncheon in which the ladies and onlookers took great delight in. But the curlers set to work again to play for other two prizes and very sorry they were that Mr. John Frost would not allow them to get their feet shaken. The Misses Threipland gave a very handsome curling vest to be played for. It was all wrought over with curling stones and besoms all though it. Everyone eager to get it and especially the bachelors. And Sir P. gave a pair of curling stones to be played for at the same time and after the points was all played and the books added up Mr. Sprunt counted 7 points, and Mr. Scott 6 points, the two highest. Mr. Sprunt got the vest and Mr. Scott the stones, both married men. Bachelors far back."

Lady Treipland's medal was the Fingask Club's premier competition for singles play 'at points'.

That day in February 1853 was the subject of an article about curling which appeared in the Illustrated London News on January 7, 1854. This was accompanied by an engraving of the scene - it would be fifty years before photographs of curling appeared in newspapers. The image shows the curling house, with smoke coming from the chimney, and the hills behind. There are people dancing outside. A coach is drawn up at the door. A group of three ladies is seen standing on the ice. The play looks odd - but the artist is trying to show that it is not team vs team curling that is going on, but points play. The odd looking handles on the stones perhaps suggest that the engraver, in copying an artist's sketch, had not himself ever seen an actual curling stone!

Whatever the flaws, the newspaper image conveys the excitement of the occasion and brings the day to life. One can only imagine though just what the prize 'curling vest' was like.

The Fingask Club competed against neighbouring clubs, sometimes on their own pond, and sometimes elsewhere. The Fingask pond was used as a neutral venue when neighbouring clubs competed for a Royal Club District Medal. And Fingask Curling Club was represented by three rinks at the 1853 Grand Match, the first to be held at the Royal Club's new pond at Carsebreck. All these events were recorded by David Chalmers in The Butler's Day Book.

On December 31, 1852, he records the purchase of baskets for his curling stones. "Paid 8/6d for them."  (That would be around £40 today.)

There are many entries that leave the reader wanting more information! On March 10, 1849, David writes "Me and Willie went up to the curling pond about 2 o'clock but got no curling. Mr Souter and two or three more there drinking toddy. Mr Souter and some of the rest fell out and had a regular sprawl. I kept free of them."

One has to wonder what the stramash was about. The 'Mr Souter' is undoubtedly Andrew Souter, who had been a regular member since the Fingask club was formed. Indeed, he had even been on the management committee in 1846. For whatever reason, Souter is not listed as a member of the club after 1849, nor is he mentioned again by David Chalmers in The Butler's Day Book.

On August 1849, David records, "Sir P and I went up to the curling pond and brought down our curling stones to get polished. Willie went into Perth to the Court about a ferret and gained the day." What was the story about the ferret, I wonder?

The last mention of curling in The Butler's Day Book is dated December 31, 1855. This says, "A very dull day and very fresh. There has been a great deal of curling this year but the Fingask Club, I am sorry to say, has been very unlucky in all their matches, always beat, very bad."

Sir Peter died in 1882 aged 81, but not before he had constructed an artificial pond within the castle's grounds. The ponds on the hill fell into disuse. David Chalmers remained as Sir Peter's butler. He was sixty years old at the 1881 census, and presumably was at Sir Peter's side when he died. He continued to be a member of the Fingask CC long after the records in The Butler's Day Book finished. He even won Lady Murray Streipland's medal in 1867, as recorded in the Dundee Courier on February 1 that year. His name is listed on the Fingask club's roster of members as at October 1891, although just as an 'occasional member'. In fact, he died in November of that year, aged 70.

The Fingask Curling Club is still in existence today.

There is one last curling connection which can be made from entries in The Butler's Day Book. On August 14, 1850, David records, "Mr Rees, portrait painter, arrived here to take Sir Peter's likeness for a painting he is painting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club." The 'Mr Rees' was in fact Charles Lees, well known for his painting of 'The Golfers' (see here) from 1847. Lees was now working on a painting to commemorate the Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch. He stayed at Fingask until August 16.

The Linlithgow Grand Match had taken place on January 25, 1848. Thirty-five northern rinks played an equal number of southern rinks, with a further hundred southern rinks playing matches amongst themselves. Charles Lees's large painting includes images of various notable curling personalities of the time, even those who were not present at the Grand Match. It is believed that Lees travelled to the homes of curlers to sketch those to be included. The Butler's Day Book contains the evidence that he did.

After years in private hands, the painting was bought by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1898 and has belonged to the curlers of Scotland since then. It's a long story but, happy to say, the painting has recently been restored and is now on loan to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and is on display in Edinburgh, see here. Sir Peter is highlighted in the detail from the painting above.

Lastly, it should be said that The Butler's Day Book contains much of interest other than curling! There are copies in the National Library of Scotland if you want to read it for yourself.

Top photo: Fingask Castle from the air, taken from a hot air balloon just east of Rait. The image is © Mike Pennington and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. It is from the Geograph website here.

The map images are courtesy of the National Library of Scotland, and are screenshots from maps on the library's maps website here. If you want to find out more about historical curling places, go here.

The image from the Illustrated London News has been widely reproduced and can be easily found on the Web.

The detail from Grand Match at Linlithgow is from an old reproduction of the painting in my collection of memorabilia. As noted above the original is owned by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and is currently on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street, Edinburgh.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

The Sheriff

David B Smith, my friend and mentor, died on November 30, 2015, at a nursing home in Ayr. He had many interests in life, but I got to know him because of curling. That was in the 1970s, and we were taking part in the 'Under-35s' at the Haymarket rink in Edinburgh. In the years that followed, his interest in the sport's history became one that I shared. He taught me, and he encouraged me. We shared adventures together, one of which is described in this post.

David wrote extensively about the history of curling, and about collecting curling memorabilia. In the seven years I edited the Scottish Curler magazine, he was the most reliable contributor, ensuring that each issue contained a suitable article. When he faced a hospital admission, and was unsure how quickly he would recover from his operation, he even made sure I had an extra article in hand!

His book, Curling: an illustrated history, published in 1981, remains the best source for information on the sport's early history, even now.

He wrote several 'academic' articles, for example this one in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the premier journal covering all aspects of Scotland’s archaeology and history.

Together we set up this blog as an outlet for his writings about curling. Recently he didn't feel able to write much, but has encouraged me to write articles for the blog myself. Here are some photos of David taken over the years for you to remember him by. His funeral was on Friday, December 11, 2pm, at Masonhill Crematorium, Ayr.

There cannot be many photos of David without his beard! He's on the left of the group above, when he organised an experiment in 1968 to see how old stones would perform on the ice of the Haymarket rink in Edinburgh. There's a story about a similar experiment here.

I am not sure when this photo was taken, but I'm sure David is doing what he most enjoyed - talking about curling, with several old stones as his 'props'.

David's home rink was Ayr. He was a great supporter of the Eglinton Jug competition. The trophy, which David is presenting here, is the most prestigious trophy contended for by Ayrshire curlers.

David wrote regularly for the Scottish Curler magazine for more than thirty years. Robin Crearie, when he was the magazine's editor, used this photo of David on the cover of the October 1998 issue.

David often helped out by umpiring... in his own inimitable style, as can be seen in this photo taken at the Greenacres rink!

David organised many exhibitions celebrating curling's history. Most recently, in 2012, he put on a display of artifacts from his own collection on the occasion of the World Curling Federation's inaugural annual congress at Turnberry.

David had a passion for curling outdoors. He infected others with his enthusiasm. Here he is demonstrating a classic crampit delivery at Coodham in 2010, which was, I suspect, the last time he played outside. Story and more pix here.

David was always willing to talk!

Playing for Scotland: The Making of Modern Sport is an ongoing exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street, Edinburgh. You can still listen to David on the video Scotland: A Sporting History accompanying the exhibition. Watch that online here. (The curling content starts at just over five minutes in, after a chapter on golf.)

A favourite photo, this one, taken at the Lagoon Centre, Paisley, when David was there as a fan at the World Women's Championship in 2005.

My life is richer for having known 'The Sheriff'.

Bob Cowan

Photos are from my archives. Apologies if photographer credits are not included.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Curling Minutes Online

Review by Bob Cowan

Ethnology is 'The study of the characteristics of different peoples and the differences and relationships between them'. A short video, here, from the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore explores 'What is European Ethnology?' The European Ethnological Research Centre, based at the University of Edinburgh, is engaged in a study of the ethnology of Dumfries and Galloway, the south west region of Scotland, see here. The Edinburgh group is transcribing diaries, memoirs, account books and journals for their research, as well as recording the spoken memories of people alive today.

The reason for this article is that the Centre has published online the full text of The Minute Book of Lochmaben Curling Society 1823-1863.

In times past, particularly in the late eighteenth and in the nineteenth centuries, the sport of curling was an important social activity during the winter months. Curling club minute books contain a fascinating record, not just of matches won and lost, but of interactions between members and the club's patrons, the difficulties of maintaining a place to play, the interactions with other clubs, and the costs involved in playing the sport. Curling club minute books can contain much information about everyday life.

But early minute books are not easy to access. Some, from clubs long defunct, have found their way into national and local archives. Others may still be in the hands of clubs that have survived and have long histories. Many others have just disappeared. Depending on the hand of the club secretary, they may not be easy to read. Some club historians have gathered material from old minute books to publish within club histories, usually to celebrate significant anniversaries. Cameron McKiddie's 'Celebrating Curling - The Roarin' Game', published to commemorate the bicentenary of Kirriemuir Curling Club, is a good example, see here.

But, until now, no complete curling club minute book has gone online, to become a readily accessible resource for researchers of the future. That it has happened is all due to the diligence and perseverance of Lynne Longmore.

Lynne had used club minute books when researching her MPhil in Decorative Art and Design History at the University of Glasgow. Her dissertation was on the subject of silver curling medals including those still held by the Lochmaben Castle Curling Club. At the time (2004) she realised just how significant were these minute books which provided first hand accounts of the historic Scottish sport. At a personal level it was all the more fascinating for Lynne as she had grown up in Lochmaben. After completing her masters degree, she made it her mission to transcribe the earliest minute book, covering the period from 1823 to 1863. This took four months over the winter of 2004-2005. Lynne says, "I worked away slowly deciphering the various styles of flourishing handwriting combined with the fading ink, unfamiliar old Scots terminology and often Latin phrase used, but enjoying every moment of it."

Having completed this task, Lynne presented the Lochmaben curlers with their own copy for any member to read, as a thank you for allowing access to the minute books.

Lynne then began to think that a summary of the more notable minutes would make easier reading. This led to the publication in 2012 of 'Minutes of Note', above, and reviewed in the Curling History blog here.

Alison Burgess, the Dumfries and Galloway Local Studies and Information Officer at the Ewart Library in Dumfries, suggested that Lynne contact Mark Mulhern of the European Ethnological Research Centre about the Sources of Local History project which was in its infancy. From that approach, Lynne was put in contact with Dr Kenneth Veitch. A meeting was arranged in Edinburgh, and the effort to put the Lochmaben minutes online was underway.

Lynne notes how important it was to obtain permission from the current Lochmaben Castle Curling Club committee and members, and the proposal was discussed at the club's AGM in 2013. Lynne says, "The club has been very supportive in all my work regarding the club’s history and this was no exception. They conveyed great pride at being the first to lead the way in the new online Local Studies Written Word series and full permission was granted."

Lynne and Kenneth worked through several drafts over a two year period, checking and rechecking details, and then they worked together on a Foreword and Editorial.

The Foreward shows what can be uncovered in the fully transcribed minutes: "The book will naturally be of interest to historians of curling. The carefully set out minutes and regulations in themselves show the extent to which societies organised and formalised the local game in the early nineteenth century, and so ensured not only its continuance, but also its development. Details, such as the decision of the Lochmaben curlers to incorporate their rules with those of the Duddingston Curling Society, highlight how societies also helped to create both an awareness among their members of curling as a national game, and the organisational framework for it. The move towards standard rules and equipment was also encouraged by their promotion of local and, in particular, inter-parish spiels (the latter aided by ever-improving transport and communications). The minutes are replete with records of such matches, including a proposed inter-province spiel between Dumfriesshire and the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright."


"That the curlers of Lochmaben repeatedly voted against adopting the two stone rule is a reminder that the creation of a uniform, national game was nonetheless a gradual process, with regional variations persisting even after the founding of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club in 1838. Indeed, it is revealed here that at the beginning of the 1860s the rinks from the neighbouring parishes of Lochmaben and Dryfesdale were playing different forms of the game."

The full publication can be downloaded from this page.

The front cover for the online minute book was a collaboration between Lynne and designers at Edinburgh University!

Congratulations go to Lynne Longmore and Kenneth Veitch on all their efforts to date. And there's more to come. The European Ethnological Research Centre Written Word project is keen to continue with the transcript of the second Lochmaben minute book 1863 to 1891, so this may be the next to go online.

Lynne has also completed the full transcript of the other Lochmaben curling club, the Royal Bruce Curling Club. These minutes begin in 1831 and continue through to 1897.
The top photo of the original Lochmaben minute book is used courtesy of Lynne Longmore. The Lochmaben Castle CC has a Facebook page here.

Thanks to Lynne for her help with this article. Some of her MPhil dissertation research has been published: 'Curling Medals in Nineteenth Century Scotland: Their Historical, Social and Cultural Significance within Rural Parishes of Dumfries and Galloway' by Lynne J M Longmore, Review of Scottish Culture, Volume 26, 2014, pp87-108.

Friday, August 07, 2015

The day the house got smaller

(or 'Sheet Seven at Crossmyloof')

by Bob Cowan

The World Curling Federation has clear instruction on the size of the house, the circles, on a sheet of curling ice. Of course, the colourful circles are not really necessary. What is relevant to the game is the edge of the outer circle, as this defines the 'counting area'. According to the WCF's 2014 rules booklet (which can be downloaded here), the outer edge of the outer circle must have a radius of 1.829 metres (6 feet). This wasn't always the case. The 'counting area' used to be much larger!

For some 80 years, from the middle of the nineteenth century, the rules of the game, as published by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, stipulated that stones should not count if they were clearly outside the seven-foot circle. The house had a diameter of fourteen feet.

The rules section of each Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club contained a diagram to assist with the laying out of the curling rink. The legend noted, "Around each tee draw a circle having a radius of 7 feet. [Inner circles may also be drawn.]" And the accompanying rule was "A rink shall score one shot for every stone which is nearer the tee than any stone of the opposing rink. Every stone which is not clearly outside the seven-foot circle shall be eligible to count."

The above is taken from the 1937-38 Annual.

All was to change on July 27, 1938, when the representative members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club gathered in the North British Station Hotel in Edinburgh for the Club's Annual Meeting. Thomas A Gentles, the Club's President, was Chairman, and had to apologise for the small size of the room, the meeting being so well attended. Probably most of the delegates would have been looking forward to the evening where they would attend a dinner to celebrate a significant milestone in the Club's history. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club was one hundred years old!

But first the business of the day had to be covered.

Towards the end of the meeting, William Henderson of Kinnochtry Lawton got up to propose a motion. He had recently returned from North America as Captain of the 1937-38 Tour. He said, "Mr. President, lady and brother curlers, as the result of our experience in Canada and the United States I have put down this motion, with the unanimous approval, I think, of the Council, and, I think, also of the team, but if any of them think otherwise they can say so. In all the rinks in Canada and in the United States the rings are twelve feet, and I think I am correct in saying that we had gone a considerable distance on our journey before some of us realised that we were playing to twelve feet instead of fourteen feet."

The motion which Henderson was now proposing was, "The Tees shall be 38 yards apart, and with the Tees as centres, circles having a radius of not less than six feet and not more than seven feet shall be drawn. Additional inner circles may also be drawn."

The motion was seconded by John Wanliss of the Cowden Club.

Henderson explained, "My main reason for putting forward the motion is that there is not a single rink in Canada that is larger than twelve feet. That is their only transgression of the Rules of the mother club, and I do feel, and our brother curlers there feel, that they would like to be put in order and that the rule might be as I have suggested, namely, that the ring may be not less than twelve feet and not more than fourteen, and anyone can choose as they like between these limits."

The Royal Club President spoke in favour of the motion, "I may say, gentlemen, that this proposal of Mr Henderson's was discussed in a full meeting of Council, and we took the view that while we do not desire to encourage the abolition of the seven-feet radius, or its restriction in anyway, we support Mr Henderson's proposal, with a desire that we should legalise what is the practice in Canada."

It is interesting, is it not, that what is implied here is that the North Americans were breaking the rules of the game by having twelve foot circles. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1938 was the 'mother club' and still thought of itself as the world authority on the sport.

At the end of the day, the motion was passed, but not before there had been considerable discussion.

This was the diagram which appeared in the Annual following the 1938 meeting. The legend had the compromise statement, "Around each tee draw a circle having a radius of not less than 6 feet nor more than 7 feet. [Inner circles may also be drawn.]" The applicable rule was now, "A rink shall score one shot for every stone which is nearer the tee than any stone of the opposing rink. Every stone which is not clearly outside the outer circle shall be eligible to count."

Henderson had not based his arguments in favour of his motion simply on persuading the representative members that the Royal Club should fall into line with what was the norm on the other side of the Atlantic. By 1938 much curling in Scotland had moved indoors. The main arenas in which the sport was played in the 1937-38 season were the Edinburgh Ice Rink in Haymarket, the Central Scotland Ice Rink in Perth, and the Scottish Ice Rink at Crossmyloof, each of which offered six sheets of ice for curling. The Dundee, Kirkcaldy, and Falkirk rinks were to open in late 1938, and Ayr, Aberdeen and Dunfermline the following year. Although used for curling, it was the demand for watching ice hockey, as well as for skating, that was the stimulus for these arenas to be constructed.

Here is the advert that the Scottish Ice Rink Company ran in the Royal Club Annual for 1937-38. The Crossmyloof arena then had only one sheet of ice which could accommodate six sheets of ice (with 14 foot diameter houses), and which was also used for skating and ice hockey.

It should be pointed out that many different curling clubs rented ice at the facility at different times and on different days, as well as competing in the many open competitions advertised.

It was the demand for curling ice that prompted the Scottish Ice Rink to build a £20,000 extension, a separate single story rink adjacent to the main arena, and this was completed in 1938.

The opening of the annexe provided a further six rinks, in addition to the six that could be accommodated in the main arena. Note that, in the main rink, there was an 'end ice' area reserved for skating, even when curling was going on. This advert is from the 1938-39 Annual.

At the 1938 AGM, Henderson had argued, "One main reason for the lesser ring than the one we are accustomed to, the fourteen-feet ring, is the fact that you get more rinks in the building. In Canada and the States, as you know, all the curling takes place under a roof, and it is coming to be that way in Scotland too. One can see the number of rinks that are going up all over the country, and I think it would lead to cheaper games. I think instead of three shillings probably two shillings and sixpence will be the result; at least, I hope for that, although I get no guarantee. If you get seven rinks into very slightly more than is at present required for six rinks, it is obvious that there would be a very considerable increase in the earning capacity of the area. You then get in 56 curlers instead of 48; and you must not forget when curlers go to these rinks it generally is not what they pay for the rink but what they do for the general good of the house."

The thought that the cost of their sport might be reduced if ice rinks had more sheets available for them to play on may well have been persuasive for the representative members to vote in favour of the resolution! I am sure that the ice rink owners would have welcomed a change of rules that allowed more curlers to play on the same sheet of ice than before, although this did not happen immediately. A World War intervened.

It took a while after the war for curling demand to return to pre-war levels. However, by 1950, the Scottish Ice Rink could accommodate 14 rinks, seven in each of the main rink and the annexe, as seen in the advert above, from the 1950-51 Annual. This of course could only be accomplished with houses of twelve feet in diameter, rather than fourteen. This is how I remember Crossmyloof when I began my curling career in the early 1960s. On some evenings, seven sheets were in action in the main rink, and seven in the annexe, although the latter was called simply the 'curling rink', as a new four-sheet ice pad was soon to be constructed, which would be known as 'the annexe'. For more on Crossmyloof, see here.

My subconscious mind has always wondered why the curling rink I started to play on had seven lanes of ice. Why not six, or eight? Seven is a rather odd number, in more ways than one! But we know now that it was the change in the rules of the game in 1938 that allowed for more lanes to be included in the building which had once held just six!

Sheets six and seven on the curling rink at Crossmyloof are shown in this old photograph. The Carmunnock and Rutherglen CC is at play in the early 1970s. Nearest to the camera, on sheet 6, Norman Crosthwaite is delivering the stone with Russell Chambers ready to sweep. Behind, on sheet 7, a young Ken Horton is skipping against his brother David. Their father ('Mr Horton') watches behind the rink, alongside Johnny Hibberd.

Circles fourteen feet in diameter were still in use on outside ice into the 1960s. It was not until the Royal Club's Annual Meeting in the summer of 1963 that the rule was finally rationalised. Robin Welsh, the Club's Secretary, brought the matter to the attention of the meeting: "Rule 44: That this rule be altered to read as follows, 'The tees shall be 38 yards apart - and, with the tees as centres, circles having a radius of 6 feet shall be drawn'."

Willie Wilson (St Boswells) explained, "During the year the Competitions Committee, of which I am Convener, held a meeting and the chief purpose of that meeting was to discuss this rule which was brought up by the Swedish Curling Union and we decided this. It was approved by Council and it was sent to all the Overseas Associations and was approved by a large majority."

And curling circles have been 12 feet in diameter even since, indoors AND on outside ice!

The Crossmyloof photo is from the author's archive. The adverts are scanned from Royal Club Annuals in the author's library.

Friday, March 06, 2015

The WW1 internees who curled at Murren

by Bob Cowan

In the early years of the twentieth century, mountain resorts in Switzerland became popular as winter holiday destinations. There was as yet no downhill skiing, but cross country, skating and curling were much practised. British visitors flocked to the resorts, many of which established curling clubs. St Moritz and Davos had led the way in the late nineteenth century, but other places soon became destinations where keen curlers could be sure of finding excellent ice in January and February each year.

In 1905 Sir Henry Lunn established the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club to popularize winter sports. Enthusiasts travelled with Lunn's company to such resorts as Adelboden, Montana, Villars, Wengen, Murren, and Engelberg. 

By 1914, there were eighteen Swiss curling clubs listed in the Annual of the Royal Curling Club. The 1913-14 Annual contains reports of competitions held in Morgins, Grindelwald, Adelboden, Leukerbad, and Murren. The last mentioned features in the old postcard at the head of this article. The postcard is postally unused, and so is difficult to date, but is probably from the 1920s. There is a large sheet of ice in front of the Palace Hotel, part for skating and part for curling.

In the 1914-15 Annual lists the Murren CC with 46 regular and 13 occasional members. The office bearers are shown above.

When the war began, tourism to Switzerland, albeit a neutral country, was much affected. However, that country was to play an important role during the war years.

An agreement between the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government with the warring parties was signed in 1914. POWs who were too seriously wounded or sick to be able to continue in military service were to be repatriated through Switzerland, with the assistance of the Swiss Red Cross. By November 1916 some 8,700 French and 2,300 German soldiers had been returned home.

Further agreements were eventually signed concerning sick or badly wounded POWs who might still be capable of military work away from the front line if they were repatriated. If repatriation could not be countenanced, the agreements allowed for them to be interned in Switzerland, this aiding their recovery without furthering the enemy’s war effort. Groups of Swiss doctors visited POW camps to select potential internees. Once a POW had been selected, he would be brought before a board comprising two Swiss Army doctors, two doctors from the country holding him captive, and a representative of the prisoner’s own nation.

By the end of 1916, some 27,000 former POWs were interned in Switzerland, about half of whom were French, one third German and the remainder mostly British or Belgian. By the end of the war, nearly 68,000 men had been interned in Switzerland.

Much information about the British who were interned in Switzerland can be found in a book The British Interned in Switzerland by Lieutenant-Colonel H P Picot, published by Edward Arnold, London, 1919. It is available to download or to read online, here.

This website about Switzerland and the First World War is an excellent read.

One of the main centres for interned British was at Châteux d’Oex. The first interned British ex-POWs to reach Switzerland, about 300 officers and other ranks, arrived there on May 31, 1916. Some 700 British internees were eventually held in the vicinity. Leysin was used for British tuberculosis sufferers.

Another camp for British internees was at Murren, which held 600 men and 30-40 officers. This village was high up in the mountains, and difficult to reach for much of each year. Although the situation was beautiful, many of the internees were so badly ill or wounded that they were confined indoors when it snowed.

I was curious to find if the curling facilities, so prominent before the war, were used by the internees.

A first hand account of life at Murren was made by John Harvey Douglas, in a book published in 1918, entitled Captured: Sixteen months as a prisoner of war. This was serialised by a number of North American newspapers. Douglas was a Canadian officer who was captured after being wounded in June, 1916, during the Battle of Mount Sorrel (see here). His account of his experiences on the front line and as a POW is extremely interesting. He arrived in Murren with a party of nine officers and two hundred men. Although he was only to be there for a short time he does describe how the officers were all billetted in the Palace Hotel and the rest of the men in seven other hotels. They were all treated as guests, their board being paid for by the British Government. Although this was a small amount, apparently the hotel keepers were grateful for the income and it allowed them to keep their establishments operational during the lean war years. Douglas mentions that several of the officers had family members permanently with them. All the internees continued to receive medical treatment. Those needing operations were transferred to hospitals in the major cities, the expenses again being paid for by the British Government.

At Murren, a school was established, and several workshops, and a print shop. There were classes in foreign languages, and there were dances and dance lessons. Sport too played a part in keeping internees active. Douglas says, "Everything possible was done to entertain the men and make their lot more pleasant." Football was popular in the summer. In the winter a hockey team was organised from the fifty or so Canadians, even though all who played were handicapped by injury in some way or other. The internees got the local bob run back in operation. And skiing was enjoyed by those who were able. Douglas bought himself skis, and his first efforts resulted in broken ribs!

Tantalisingly, curling is mentioned just the once, before Douglas left Murren to go to Lausanne for further treatment on his arm injury. He writes, "Things were very pleasant in Murren; the skiing and curling were good, and I would have gladly stayed on til the snow left, but my arm was giving me trouble ..."

Douglas was eventually repatriated and his story of his journey back to Montreal and his family is moving indeed.

Recently I came across this photograph which purports to show 'English officers curling on the Palace rink'. This originated appeared in a publication of the Kandahar Ski Club in 2007, written by Andrew Gunz, but I have no other details of its provenance, or indeed when exactly it was taken.

But the very existence of this photograph suggests that there may be more evidence of internees curling at Murren still to be found. Perhaps, reading this, you can help? I would be interested to learn if there are further sources which elaborate on the activities of the Murren internees in the final years of WW1. Given recent efforts to make curling accessible to all, it would be interesting to know how severely injured soldiers coped with the sport and indeed, if this recreation helped in their recovery.

After the war, Murren again became a popular winter holiday resort. See here to read about its role in the development of downhill skiiing. And curling is still a feature of the resort in winter, here.

There is a useful timeline of British visitors to Switzerland here.

Photos from the author's archive. Thanks to Erwin Sautter for the extract from the Kandahar Ski Club Review.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Railway Station

by Bob Cowan

The possible advantages of railways in transporting curlers and their stones to compete in bonspiels had been recognised as early as 1846, as an article in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1846-47 shows. Just a few years later, by 1853, the Club had constructed its own pond at Carsebreck, served by a halt on the Scottish Central Railway at what was grandly called the 'Royal Curling Club Station'. Later it would become just 'Carsebreck Halt', but at this station many thousands of curlers would disembark trains from all over the country to compete in twenty-five Grand Matches in the years from 1853 to 1935.

What do we know of the origins of the Royal Club's pond at Carsebreck?

The Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club was held in Tait's New Royal Hotel, Edinburgh, on July 27, 1852. The previous year, Sir John Ogilvy had been appointed convener of a committee with the remit of obtaining a 'Grand Pond' for the Royal Club. At the 1852 Annual Meeting, Sir John reported the activities of that committee and indicated that they had found a possible site. The meeting was delighted with the progress. The committee was re-appointed with 'full powers to carry out and complete the proposed scheme of a Pond at Greenloaning, or in any other locality deemed most suitable and convenient by the Committee'. Sir John was to continue as Convener.

It was indicated that the cost and expenses of procuring the pond would be met by voluntary subscriptions from clubs and their members. At that time, the Royal Club listed more than 250 clubs in Scotland.

By the time the Annual for 1852-53 went to press a few months later, much had been achieved. The preface in the Annual says, "In the first place, then, it is with no ordinary pleasure that we direct the attention of the Members of the Royal Club to the statement of the proceedings of the Committee which was appointed to procure a Grand Curling Pond. From that statement it will be seen that the Committee have completed the duty assigned to them, and have realized the long-cherished wish of the Royal Club to have an arena for its hard contests, where the great Captain, 'John Frost', might summon his forces to combat on the shortest notice, and where they should have no dread of ambush in the depths below."

This last phrase shows that there was real concern about holding Grand Matches on natural bodies of water, with considerable depth below the ice. Prior to 1852 there had been three such bonspiels, at Penicuik in 1847, Linlithgow in 1848, and Lochwinnoch in 1850. A draw had been made for one to be held on Lindores Loch in 1851, but this did not go ahead.

The committee had investigated a number of possibilities for a location of the Royal Club's own pond. The site near Greenloaning, mentioned at the 1852 meeting, had looked promising and had been surveyed, but the 'claims of the tenants were so excessive as to prevent farther procedure upon their farms'. An area near Carstairs, served by the Caledonian Railway, was also looked at. That did not work out, and so another site not far from the rejected place at Greenloaning was investigated. The committee report tells the story, "A meeting was held at Carsebreck on 31st July, when the following Members attended, viz., the Convener, Lord Kinnaird, Major Henderson, Messrs Moubray, Smith, King, Stirling, Williamson, Sharp, C. E. Macritchie, Drummond, and the Secretary. Mr Drummond submitted a Plan of the grounds at Carsebreck, and the meeting having inspected the lands, they were of opinion that these were well adapted for a Pond, and that the proximity of the site to the Scottish Central Railway rendered it a most suitable and desirable place for the Pond. They then waited upon Mr Taylor, the tenant of the farm of Carsebreck, who agreed that they should have the site for the entire months of November, December, January, and February at a rental of £15 per annum."

Taylor was a tenant of Mrs Home Drummond Stirling Moray of Abercairny who gave her permission for the pond to be constructed.

The 'Mr Drummond' was Alexander Drummond, a land surveyor, who had his office at 7 Charlotte Street, Perth. He was instructed to complete his plan of the Pond, and to obtain estimates for the work. The Convener agreed 'to wait upon the Directors of the Scottish Central Railway, as to the fares to be paid by Curlers going to and returning from the Pond - and also as to the formation of a siding and ground for erecting a house for the use of the Royal Club'.

It was hoped that the pond would be ready for the coming winter, that of 1852-53. It was!

Estimates for carrying out the work were obtained. Above is the advert in the Perthshire Advertiser in August. The successful tender was made by 'Mr Falshaw, contractor, of Perth'. This is probably James Falshaw, Craigie Bank, who is listed in the Post Office Directory of 1852-53 as a 'contractor' and as a 'railway contractor' the following year. His company had done much of the work on the Stirling - Perth section of the Scottish Central Railway.

There was further negotiation with Robert Taylor of Carsebreck who had claimed for ground not included in the original negotiations, and this was solved by paying him £20. Agreements had to be made with another local farmer, Mr Ross of Westertoun, for the use of some of his ground, and to another, Mr Taylor of Netherton of Buttergask, for access to the pond. In terms of 'access' here, in the days before the invention of the motor car, or even of the bicycle, we are talking about travel on foot, or on horseback, or on a horsedrawn cart or coach. But it was access by the railway that was to ensure the success of the venture. The section of the Scottish Central Railway between Perth and Stirling had been formally opened on May 22, 1848.

The contractor experienced difficulty from 'the nature of the soil', but eventually the embankments and cuts were finished, and the pond was filled with water. The Committee met again at Carsebreck on November 24, 1852, and found the Pond covered with a splendid sheet of ice. The
Royal Club Secretary (Alex Cassels) was authorised to make an interim payment of £150 to Mr Falshaw. The 1853-54 Annual records a further payment of £200, and notes that the total cost of constructing the Grand Pond, with the surveys and rent, had amounted to just over £573 (equivalent to some £69,000 today). By a year after the pond was completed, donations from clubs and individuals amounted to £388, and the cost of the pond was well on the way to being covered.

The Ordnance Survey had not produced a map of the Carsebreck area by 1852. The area covered by the OS 6 inch to the mile and 25 inch to the mile maps was not surveyed until after that date, so we don't know exactly what things looked like prior to the pond's formation. Above is how it looked on the 25 inch map, surveyed in 1863 and published in 1866. And of course, there was no photography back then! How the area looks today can be seen here.

It does seem that the ground on which the pond was formed had been cut previously for peat for use as fuel, and the base of the pond was described as being of a retentive clay. The altitude of the pond was found to be 280 feet above sea level, and the site area was some sixty-one acres.

The depth of the pond when full varied from 6 inches to 5 feet 9 inches - the greatest depth being at the western corner, where the sluice was located. It was intended that the rinks for curling would be formed over the shallowest parts of the pond, it being noted that if the water level was reduced by one foot, none of the rinks need be upon water of more than three feet in depth.

The report in the 1852-53 Annual concludes, "It only remains to be observed that the Directors of the Scottish Central Railway have in the handsomest manner met all the desires of the Committee. Besides agreeing to reduce the fares to and from the Pond, they have constructed a siding and a station for the Pond, and they have allowed the Station to be called 'The Royal Curling Club Station'."

The first use of the station and the pond would come in February 1853. That will be the subject of another 'Carsebreck story'.

The map images are screenshots from the Ordnance Survey maps available on the National Library of Scotland maps website here. The image from the Perthshire Advertiser is © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, and reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Gilmour Trophies

by Bob Cowan

In a previous post (here) I wrote about Lady Henrietta Gilmour, a pioneer of women's curling in Scotland at the end of the nineteenth century. In this article we move forward to the season of 1912-13. Her husband, Sir John Gilmour, above, has just completed his year as President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Although suffering from rheumatism, he still curled at Montrave whenever he could.

Sir John had wished to present a trophy to commemorate his year as Royal Club President. It was suggested that he might consider presenting a trophy for women's play. Hence at the Annual Meeting of the Representative Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club on Thursday, July 24, 1913, in St Margaret's Lecture Hall, Dunfermline, the following was announced:

"Sir John Gilmour, as President, should present to the Royal Club a Trophy, value £25, open only to the Lady Members in Scotland and England. The Match to be played either in the open or in an Ice Rink. The Trophy if won three times by the same Club, not necessarily in succession, becomes the property of the Club. The further conditions of play are to be fixed by the Council of Management of the Royal Club."

In addition, "Lady Gilmour, wife of the present President, who is a Canadian lady and has always taken the greatest interest in the game of Curling, and especially in Canada, desires also to present a Trophy to the value of £25, to be played for by the Lady Members of the Royal Club in Canada. The terms to be the same as above. In presenting these Prizes both Sir John and Lady Gilmour have in view the hope that as a result, greater interest may be taken in the game by ladies."

Was £25 a large sum in 1913? Using the Bank of England's Historic Inflation Calculator, here, £25 back then would be the equivalent of approximately £2,500 today. Donating two such trophies was generous, certainly.

The first competition for the Sir John Gilmour Cup was played at the Haymarket Ice Rink in Edinburgh, January 21-23, 1914. Eight teams took part in a straight knockout format.

First round results:
Miss Baxter (Hercules Ladies) 15, Miss Jean Marshall (Balyarrow Ladies) 12
Miss Brander (Braid) 12, Miss Robertson (Scotscraig) 9
Miss Brodie (Balerno) 12, Miss Scott (Dundee West End) 10
Miss Ogilvy (Broughty Ferry) 21, Miss Curror (Raith and Abbotshall) 12

Provost Husband of Dunfermline presided at a luncheon for the competitors, recognising that it was the first time that a competition for the women had been played under the auspices of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

In the semifinals, Braid beat Hercules 12-9. Balerno beat Broughty Ferry 16-11.

In the final, the Balerno team (skipped by Miss Brodie, with Mrs Menzies, 3rd, Mrs Sang, 2nd, and Miss Bruce, lead), beat Braid (skipped by Miss Brander, with Mrs Armour, Miss Macintosh and Miss Taylor) 16-11.

The Reverend John Kerr presented the trophy.

Here is a photo of the winning Balerno team: (L-R) Mrs A L Menzies, Miss N Bruce, Mrs J H Sang, Miss Brodie (skip).

All those involved in curling in January 1914 could not have imagined the horrors of war that were to unfold in the years ahead. It was not until 1925 that the competition for the Sir John Gilmour trophy was held again at Haymarket. Balerno won again, the team skipped by Miss Brodie with Mrs Menzies, 3rd, Mrs Sang, 2nd, and Mrs C M Cowan, lead. Only three clubs took part - Balerno, Edinburgh Ladies, and Hercules Ladies.

Miss Brodie and her Balerno team returned in 1926 to try to win the trophy outright. Four clubs - Balerno, Hercules Ladies, Edinburgh Ladies, and Breadalbane Tummel Bridge - took part. Edinburgh Ladies beat Balerno 17-9 in the final. Mrs Crabbie was skip of the winning team.

In 1927 the same four clubs competed for the trophy, and again an Edinburgh Ladies team, skipped by Mrs Crabbie, was successful, defeating Miss Baxter's Hercules Ladies team 18-10 in the final. In 1928, eight teams entered the competition, although Balerno scratched before the first round tie. The other clubs were Edinburgh Ladies, Breadalbane Tummel Bridge, Holyrood, Waverley, Hercules Ladies, Bearsden, and Abington. Mrs Crabbie again skipped the Edinburgh Ladies team, defeated Holyrood 28-5 in the semifinal, and Hercules Ladies 19-5 in the final. The games were of sixteen ends.

By the regulations, that third win allowed the Edinburgh Ladies club to keep the trophy.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club had already considered what should be done if the Gilmour Trophy was won outright. At the Annual Meeting of the Club on Wednesday, August 3, 1927, in the Central Station Hotel, Glasgow, Andrew Henderson Bishop offered to present another trophy to encourage women's play. He carried through with this offer. The Ladies Challenge Trophy which he presented was first played for in 1929 (and won by Mrs Crabbie with her Edinburgh Ladies team) continues to be played for today as the premier ladies' event in Scotland, aside from the Scottish Championship.

What happened to the Sir John Gilmour trophy? In 1970, it was re-presented by the family of Mrs J E Crabbie to the Edinburgh Area of the Ladies Branch of the Royal Club for annual competition. It now goes, appropriately, to the winners of the Edinburgh area playdowns for the Henderson Bishop competition.

That's the trophy above. One side of the trophy has an image of Lundin Tower. The other says, "Presented by Sir John Gilmour Bart, President RCCC 1912-13. To be played for by all lady members of all local clubs connected to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in Scotland and England and to become the property of any such club winning it three times (not necessarily in succession)."  

This season it was won by Jenny Barr and her team. That's them above with the trophy, (L-R) Fran Stretton, Jenny Barr, Morna Aitken and Susan Kesley, on December 4 last year. They will now take part in the Henderson Bishop finals at Kelso in February.

But what happened to Lady Gilmour's trophy that went to encourage Canadian women's competition? It was played for in the 1913-14 season by eight clubs, with the Heather CC defeating Montreal in the final 18-11. The trophy is still played for ...  but as a mixed competition, see here on the Quebec curling website. One has to assume that it was won outright at some point, and then re-presented. Its history remains to be unravelled. Can you help?

Added later: I've discovered that Robin Welsh talked about the Gilmour trophies in Scottish Curler magazines in 1986. Apparently, Lady Gilmour's trophy which went to Canada was won three times by the Montreal Heather Club, and that club got to keep it in their trophy cabinet. The March 1986 Scottish Curler printed this information from the Canadian Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club: "No doubt, when the Heather Ladies moved on to become the St Andrews Ladies of 1920-21, they took their trophies with them. At some point, between then and 1939-40, the St Andrews Ladies gave the trophy to the Canadian Branch, probably in their first year of 1935. It is known that the trophy was used in connection with the wonderful Charity Bonspiels of 1920 to 1932 and later became the second flight trophy of the Royal Victoria Jubilee Competition. It is now the main trophy of the Canadian Branch Mixed Championship. It may well be the only important trophy ever competed for by ladies, gentlemen and mixed rinks."

What is the 'Canadian Branch'? See here, and follow the interesting 'Branch History' links on that page. What happened to the 'Lady Gilmour' trophy? That is succinctly stated here.

The top photo of Sir John Gilmour is from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1912-13, by Lafayette, London. The photo of the first winners of the Sir John Gilmour trophy was by Balmain, Edinburgh. It was used on a greetings card published by the Edinburgh Curling Club on the occasion of the club's centenary in 2012 and entitled 'Early Haymarket Curling'. This image is what is reproduced here. The other photos are by the author. Thanks for help go to Robin Copland who first drew my attention to Balerno CC's success, see here. Also to Jenny Barr, Debbie Kerr and Iain Baxter at Murrayfield, and Barbara Watt.

Postscript. What happened to the Gilmour family? Sir John Gilmour died in 1920. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Lieutenant colonel John Gilmour DSO, who was MP for Pollok and became Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926. Lady Henrietta died on January 2, 1926, having outlived her son Harry only by some days. He had been wounded in the Boer War, and died on December 24, 1925. The Gilmour's youngest son, Douglas, was killed in WW1, at 26 years old, serving with the 7th Seaforth Highlanders. Netta Gilmour married Captain R W Purvis in 1904. Maud Gilmour married James Younger in February 1906.