Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Falkirk Ice Rink and the British Open Competition

It is good to see that the old 'British Open' trophy is being played for next weekend at the Peak, Stirling. The trophy's history is worthy of mention. It was first played for at the Falkirk Ice Rink in 1945. That rink had opened on Wednesday, November 30, 1938, the Earl of Stair doing the honours, as shown in the image above.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1939-40 records, "Indoor Curling in Scotland has been gaining ground rapidly, last season closing with artificial ice available at Crossmyloof (Glasgow), Haymarket (Edinburgh), Perth, Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Falkirk and Ayr, whilst new rinks have been built during the close season at Paisley and Dunfermline. It is right to say that the development of ice hockey has been mainly responsible for the rapid increase of the artificial ice rinks in Scotland, but our game of curling stands a good second and provides a steady groundwork of support to the Ice Rinks."

The Falkirk rink had six sheets of ice for curling, but only on certain days of the week. In season 1939-40, the curling days were every Tuesday and Thursday, with three sessions each day: 10 am - 1, 2 - 5 pm, and 6.30 - 9.30 pm. But in the 1940-41 season, just two three-hour sessions on each of these days were advertised, from 4.15 - 7.15 pm, and 7.30 - 10.30 pm.

Of course, there was a war on. The Falkirk Herald of Saturday, August 24, 1940, had the following report:

"The bombers may threaten, but dancing continues merrily at the Falkirk Ice Rink every evening except Sunday. The patrons continue to be enamoured of the hot music purveyed by Joe Gibson and his London Band. Every Thursday evening there is a departure from syncopation, and patrons, young and old, engage in the traditional dances of Scotland. It’s a great night for all. Patrons are requested to take note of the big charity concert to be held at the Ice Rink on Sunday, 1st September. For further particulars, see our advertising columns."

Throughout the war, the Falkirk ice rink proved to be a popular entertainment venue, despite the blackout restrictions. Skaters, dancers and curlers all patronised the facility. There was even an ice hockey match between the Royal Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy in December, 1942.

In April 1943 the Falkirk Ice Rink Curling Club organised a competition in aid of the Scottish Branch of the British Red Cross Society. 

The war was still ongoing when the Falkirk Herald ran this promotional article of interest to the country's curlers on Saturday, December 2, 1944:

Arrangements have been made to hold the British Open Curling Championship at the Falkirk Ice Rink in the week commencing 5th February, 1945. It is anticipated that entries will be received from all over Great Britain. Most of the leading British players have already played over the Falkirk Ice and have congratulated the management on its quality. It is a fitting reward for all the work which has been done to obtain this standard, that the British championship is to be staged on the Falkirk Rink. Mr Festus Moffat, who is acting as secretary of the tournament, informs us that the championship trophy is open for competition to any four curlers. The winners, in addition to retaining the trophy for a year, are made the recipients of individual prizes, and the runners-up also receive individual prizes. During the championship week, a curlers’ dinner is to be held on the Tuesday, and an ice hockey match is being staged for the Wednesday, and on Thursday a dance, which will consist largely of old-fashioned dances, with Harold M'Ardle and William Hannah and his band, will help to make the championship week of greater interest."

The Falkirk Herald on February 3, 1945, had a photo of the trophy which was to be played for. The caption stated, "The photograph reproduced above is of the British Open Curling Championship Trophy to be competed for within the Falkirk Ice Rink next week. It is a 15-in diameter solid silver bowl of Queen Anne design, fluted pattern, on an ebony plinth. During the present week it has been exhibited, along with the other rink trophies, in the shop window of Mr W Callander, jeweller, 130 High Street, Falkirk, the whole making a most attractive display, in which a keen public interest has been evinced, the handsome championship trophy being generally admired. It is to be presented to the winning rink by the Right Hon. Thomas Johnston, PC, MP, at the final session next Saturday afternoon, when the ceremony is to be recorded for broadcasting." 

The competition duly went ahead with seventy rinks taking part. There were three sessions each day, and each evening had 'special attractions' for the entertainment of visitors and the general public. The participants included a Canadian side. The Falkirk Herald on February 7, 1945, reported that the Canadian Sports Service had sent a rink, representing the Maple Leaf Club. "Many of the players from the Dominion had never been in Scotland before, and to them, at least, their visit to Falkirk was full of interest. None of the Canadians had met previously, but they soon teamed-up as a rink determined to make a bid for the honours of the tournament. The arrival of the Canadians was marked by an interesting incident. The visitors were rather crestfallen to find that the old-fashioned broom used in Canada seemed no longer to find favour in Scottish curling, brushes now being substituted for the handy broom. The disappointment of the Canadians did not last long, however, for their needs were attended to almost at once. Mr Alexander and Mr Waddell, Dollar, procured a supply of the necessary brooms, and the Canadians were thus enabled to play the game with their favoured equipment."

The Daily Record had the results of the final game.

The Falkirk Herald made much more of the event as an article in the edition of Wednesday, February 14, 1945, shows. Here it is in its entirety. The report gives an insight into what curling was like in 1945, how it was perceived generally, and also the significance of the British Open competition.

 "The British Open Curling Championship, play in which was conducted at the Falkirk Ice Rink throughout the whole of last week, was undoubtedly one of the best organised and most successful competitive events of the kind ever held in Scotland. At the final tie, for instance, on Saturday afternoon, there were fully 1500 spectators, probably the largest crowd ever to have witnessed a single rink curling game in this country. It was evident at least, that the indoor curling game on artificial ice is increasing in popularity in Scotland, and the directors and management of Falkirk Ice Rink, by their enterprise and initiative in organising and carrying through so successfully the British Open Championship, have played an important part in creating public interest in this social but skillful recreation.

The final tie was between rink teams skipped by Mr J Wardlaw, Laurieston, Falkirk, and Mr William Scobie, Corstorphine. To reach the final both clubs had overcome some formidable opposition from all over Scotland, and even further afield. Play in the final was over 16 ends, and although the time occupied in the contest was three and a half hours, so keen was the interest manifested that the crowd waited until the end of play, and the presentation of the prizes by Mr Thomas Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland.

PLAY DESCRIBED. Both teams gave a capital display, and the many good stones sent down brought out loud and prolonged applause. The personnel of the respective rinks were: Laurieston— George Strang (lead), A Baird (2), D Maxwell (3), and J Wardlaw (skip). Corstorphine—J A Aitken (lead), A Davies (2), G. M'Clung (3) and W. Scobie (skip).

There was a cautiousness on the part of both skips at the start. The first six ends were generally in favour of Wardlaw, the score at this stage being five shots to one in favour of the Laurieston skip. From a local point of view, this was indeed promising, but the seventh end saw a transformation that was startling when compared with the previous ends. By skillful play and exceedingly meritorious placing of their stones, Scobie’s rink gained half a dozen shots, to take the lead by 7-5. This seemed to be the crux of the whole game, for Scobie always endeavoured to build up a strong well-guarded end, and when in the tenth end his tactics brought a collection of five shots, his rink never looked back. After that it was a battle royal between the two skips, but superior generalship told.

Wardlaw at times was splendid, but could not, nor would not, knock out his opponent's guards. At the 12th end, Wardlaw pulled up with three shots, and from then on until practically the end, Scobie never appeared to be really anxious about the outcome, and the game ended in victory for Scobie by 17 shots to 13 for Wardlaw. Both teams are undoubtedly in the championship class, but on the day’s showing Scobie's rink had just that something extra that carried them through."

The newspaper recorded that the individual members of the winning rink had each received silver salvers, and the runners-up, brandy flasks. A speech by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Thomas Johnston, was reported in full. He had presented the prizes, and the Falkirk Herald noted that "He did not take a gloomy view of the future. He was one of those who believed that a nation which could face up to the perils of Dunkirk, a nation that could face up to Hitler's Wehrmacht with a Home Guard armed with sporting rifles and walking-sticks, was a nation that was not going to go down in discordance. If we maintained among ourselves a modicum of goodwill resembling the ice team rink spirit, we need have no fear of the future of our country."

The Scottish Curler magazine was first published in 1954, by which time the British Open at Falkirk was well established as a major curling competition.

This photograph was on the front cover of the March 1954 issue of the Scottish Curler. It is captioned, "A Full House ... and Willie Young and his rink look for a way in. In this grand head, the 6th end in the 'British' final, 14 stones are grouped round the tee and Willie Young has the last stone. Note the spectator pointing out the shot to play. It's always easy from the bank!" 

Here we see the trophy, filled with whisky (as once was a common tradition) and passed around. John Miller is drinking from the cup, and looking on are John Pearson, Willie Young, John Robertson, George Lindsay, J Scott, J Gilchrist and Bob Young. The tenth British Open competition had been won by John Robertson's Glasgow rink who beat Willie Young's side 17-9 after fourteen ends.

In 1955 Jimmy Sellar was the winning skip, with his wife Rena as the lead on the team, the first woman to have her name on the trophy.

Falkirk Ice Rink rink closed as an ice sports venue in 1977, the British Open then being played at the old Stirling rink thereafter, before that rink also closed, and it moved to the Peak, Stirling.

I suspect this must have been one of the last times the trophy was competed for, in 2011. I reported on this here in the Skip Cottage Curling blog. The photo of the winners, above, was courtesy of Tony Flisch. L-R: Annie Laird, Lorna Vevers, Anna Sloan, Kelly Wood.

Here's to a great future ahead for the trophy, see here.

Other images are from the British Newspaper Archive, as indicated, or from Scottish Curler magazines.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The search for the earliest curling photograph

It is easy to ask a question, but often rather more difficult to find the answer. This I found out when, some time ago, I wondered, "When was the first photograph of curling taken?"

I knew there were some old photos of curling and curlers out there. But what was the earliest? I narrowed it down to two candidates. One, which showed curling on Smeaton Loch in East Lothian, had been printed in David Smith's book, Curling: an illustrated history, and the other of curling on Raith Lake, Kirkcaldy, was in The Curling Companion by W H Murray. Both these books were published in 1981, and the captions on both photographs suggested the original images had been taken circa 1860. I have been unable to find anything as yet to date these more precisely.

However, there is a third candidate - in fact two photos, different views but of the same occasion - on the ornamental pond(s) in the walled garden at Dunmore Park. Neither David Smith nor Bill Murray knew about these photos when they were writing their books. There is good evidence of exactly when they were taken, December 31, 1860! What is more, a passing reference in an old newspaper confirms that a photographer was present on the day.

Here is one of these photos, reproduced courtesy of Falkirk Archives. It shows curlers belonging to the Airth, Bruce Castle, and Dunmore curling club on the ornamental pond at Dunmore Park, near Airth.  The curlers in the photo are using broom 'cowes' rather than brushes, and the stones all seem to be of the modern type, with centre goose-neck handles. The ice appears somewhat wet! Two sheets are in use.

The photo's history is that the original was lent to Falkirk Museums by a private individual in 1989, where it was photographed, and a copy then found its way to Robin Welsh, the Editor of the Scottish Curler magazine, who printed it in the September 1990 magazine, with the heading 'The earliest curling photograph'. Discovering this reference in the magazine led me to the Falkirk Archives, now in Callendar House, and to The Pineapple, the National Trust for Scotland's property here.

Here is the pond today - it still exists, more than 150 years later in the walled garden at Dunmore, near the famous 'Pineapple'. It's not a curling venue anymore, but a wildlife pond, and much changed, with trees all around. But the little island in the curling photograph is still there!

Here's the background to the players and the curling club involved in 1860.

The Airth and Bruce Castle Curling Club was founded in 1841, and admitted to the Royal Club in 1842. Airth is a village on the south bank of the River Forth (near the Kincardine Bridge), and the 'Bruce Castle' references the nearby ruins, see here. It was one of the first clubs to join the Grand Caledonian Curling Club. Its joint presidents were William Graham and Patrick Maxwell Stewart MP. The secretary was Robert Towers, who would remain in that post until 1856. Forty-four regular members are listed in the Grand Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1842-43. Of particular note is that Dowager Lady Shaw Stewart, of Carnock, is the Patroness, and the Earl of Dunmore is listed as the Patron.

Incidentally, the Grand Caledonian Curling Club received its Royal patronage in 1843, to become the Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club for one year (1843-44), and then the Royal Caledonian Curling Club thereafter, the 'Grand' being dropped.

The inclusion of a Patron and/or Patroness in a club's membership return in old Annuals often, but not always, means that the club's pond was on the Patron's or Patroness's estate. For a club to be a member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club it had to have a place where they could play. Each club had to have 'a sheet of Ice for its operations', as stated in the General Regulations!

In the Annual for 1844-45, the following can be found, "On the 17th January 1843, our much-respected Patroness, Dowager Lady Shaw Stewart, presented to the Airth and Bruce Castle Curling Club a very handsome Silver Medal, to be annually competed for by our Members; which competition took place on Carnock Pond, on the 24th February 1844, when 20 Members appeared, and showed a dexterity in 'Scotia's ain game'."

So the curling pond on the lands of Carnock estate was used by the Airth and Bruce Castle Curling Club, and likely explains why Lady Shaw Stewart was the Patroness. It is in the Historical Curling Places database, as Place No 0548. This may well have been the club's home ice in the 1840s.

The Earl of Dunmore, the Airth and Bruce Castle CC Patron when it was founded, was Alexander Edward Murray, the 6th Earl. He died in 1845, and for the next three years (1845-48) the club only had Lady Shaw Stewart as a Patroness. She died in 1849. In the Annual for 1849-40, the Countess of Dunmore became the new Patroness of the Airth and Bruce Castle club. It was her husband who had died in 1845. They had four children. The third of these was born on March 24, 1841 - a son, Charles Adolphus Murray who would become the 7th Earl of Dunmore. He is the key to understanding the reason behind the old photograph, as we will see.

In 1853, John A Stewart Nicolson, the new owner of Carnock, became the club's Patron. The Countess of Dunmore continued to be Patroness alongside John Nicolson, until 1862.

But in 1859, the Earl of Dunmore became the club's President, and is listed as an 'Occasional Member'. Charles Adolphus Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore, had grown up! He had been four years old when his father died, and in 1859 would have celebrated his 18th birthday.

By the following year, 1860, the 7th Earl had become a keen curler. The Annual for 1860-61 records:


The Earl of Dunmore, on the occasion of his joining the Airth and Bruce Castle Club, having most handsomely given a Massive Silver Challenge Cup for Annual Competition in the Club; on February 1st the Club met in force, on the Ornamental Pond in Dunmore Gardens, for the First Competition.

No less than 32 Members were present, and 8 skips being chosen, the rinks and order of play were decided by ballot. After a keen contest of three hours, the following result was obtained:

J A Shaw Stewart's Rink 29, John Turnbull's Rink, 17
Archibald Malcolm's 25, Earl of Dunmore's 20
William Carmichael's 24, Robert Bowie's 19
Thomas Callendar's 23, William Russell's 13.

The Challenge Cup was then presented in due form to Mr Shaw Stewart, the skip of the victorious rink, and its goodly proportions were oft replenished with genial libations, and as speedily quaffed in honour of the Noble and Generous Donor, the fortunate Possessor, the Club, and the Ladies who honoured the Match with their presence, amongst whom were the Countess of Dunmore, Patroness of the Club, and the Ladies Murray.

In honour of the occasion, the Members of the Club determined that in future the name of the Club should be changed to Airth, Bruce Castle, and Dunmore."

The ABC curling club was to become the ABCD curling club!

The Annual records formally that the decision to change the name was approved at the Annual Meeting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, held in the Waterloo Rooms, Edinburgh, on July 25, 1860, the Airth and Bruce Castle CC being allowed to change its name to the Airth, Bruce Castle and Dunmore CC.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1861-62 records the following match held on December 31, 1860. This is the occasion that has been photographed.


The Members of the above Club, met on the 31st December 1860, on the Ornamental Pond in Dunmore Gardens and competed for a magnificent Gold Challenge Medal, bearing on the one side the following inscription: 'Presented to the Airth Bruce Castle and Dunmore Curling Club, by the Earl and Countess of Southesk, 1860'.

And on the edge: 'To be played for annually, till won three times successively by the same person, to whom it will then belong'. The other side being left blank for the names of the winners.

Thirty-two members entered the competition, divided into four Rinks. The following were the skips:

No 1 R Bowie 31 D M'Laren 26
No 2 W Russell 27 A Malcolm 14
No 3 Earl of Dunmore 13 W Carmichael 32
No 4 J Turnbull 32 T Callander 21

There was thus a tie between Messrs Turnbull and Carmichael, and the Umpire having appointed three ends to be played, Mr Turnbull scored 6, and Mr Carmichael 2. The former was therefore declared the winner of the Medal.

During the competition, the Earl and Countess of Southesk visited the Pond, and after its conclusion, the President of the Club, the Right Hon the Earl of Dunmore entertained the members to dinner at Dunmore Park. The Earl, who occupied the chair, was supported on the right by the Rev C Hinxman, and on the left by the winner of the Medal. The Earl of Southesk, A Malcolm, Vice-President, and John Turnbull, secretary, officiated as croupiers. After the usual loyal and patriotic toasts, the healths of the Countess and Earl of Dunmore, the Earl and Countess of Southesk, and the Ladies Murray, were given with all the honours. The remainder of the evening was spent with the utmost hilarity."

It is interesting to note that it was 'shots scored' rather than 'shots up' that decided the winning rinks.

The match was recorded in the Alloa Advertiser.

Why had the Earl of Southesk presented a medal to be played for by the club? The answer most probably lies with the fact that he had married the Earl of Dunmore's oldest sister, the Lady Susan Catherine Mary Murray, on November 29, 1860.

 The Hogmanay match was also reported in the Stirling Observer. On particular note is the following, "While the match was being played, the Right Hon the Earl of Dunmore, with his warm heart to curling, had an eminent artist present, who took both front and profile views of out knight of the broom; as also the spectators, in photography." This I believe is the first newspaper reference to the sport of curling being photographed, and confirms the origins of the Dunmore photographs to the cited dates! Just who the 'eminent artist' was is not stated.

Here is the second of the Dunmore photographs, again courtesy of the Falkirk Archives. At first sight it might look the same as the one above, but it is not. It is looking in a different direction. Again, the players are occupying two rinks.

In the earliest Ordnance Survey map, the ornamental ponds at Dunmore can be clearly seen.

Zooming in to the map, there appears to be two ponds close together. The photographer would have taken the photos from a position between the two ponds. The top photo is looking to the west (and is of the pond on the left) and the other is looking to the east (the pond on the right). 

The ponds are just one today. But standing in the middle, where it it narrowest, this is the view of the east side of the pond today. It is definitely the same place.

Considering the two old photos together, with two games on each of the ponds, there should be thirty-two players on the ice, and that is indeed what the photographer has captured, plus some spectators. We know the names of the skips, and indeed it can be surmised that everyone on the ice will be listed in the membership of the Airth, Bruce Castle, and Dunmore curling club in the Annual for 1860-61. I think we can even pick out the Earl of Dunmore in one of the photographs.

This could well be Charles Murray, on the right with his broom over his shoulder. He's the youngest looking player on the ice, and is in the forefront of the photograph! Play would have stopped, perhaps only for the shortest of time, for the photographer to take his photographs without any movement.

Given that the Earl would have been just nineteen years old, this is the earliest known photo of a 'young curler'! There's a little more about his later life here.

As the original photos were not donated to Falkirk Museums back in 1989, only allowed to be copied, it is not possible to say exactly what the originals were like. Most probably the photographer used the wet plate collodian process, see here. For an idea of the sort of camera that might have been used, see here. I do not know if the originals have survived, or where they are now.

There may well be other older photographs of Scottish curling awaiting discovery. Do let me know of any other candidates. However, the two taken at Dunmore Park on December 31, 1860, are remarkable in that we know so much about why, where, and when they were taken, and the players depicted therein.

The Airth, Bruce Castle and Dunmore CC was to survive for many years. Willie Young, one of Scotland's greatest curlers - some would say 'The Greatest' - was a member. Willie skipped his team of third John Pearson, second Sandy Anderson, and lead Bobby Young, when they represented Scotland in the 1959 and 1962 Scotch Cup matches. They curled out of the Airth, Bruce Castle, and Dunmore Curling Club. The notice of the club's resignation from the Royal Club can be found in the Annual for 1998-99. I wonder what has happened to the club's trophies and medals, and if the Earl of Southesk's gold medal, for which the photographs at Dunmore record a match, has survived anywhere?

My thanks go to the helpful staff at the Falkirk Archives at Callendar House, especially Jean Jamieson. The two photographs are reproduced here courtesy of Falkirk Archives. The newspaper clippings are as noted, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive, and the map clippings are from the National Library of Scotland's online maps website, here. The two photographs of the Dunmore pond today are my own. It was Lindsay Scotland who set me off on the trail of both these old photos after I had assumed there was just one. Thanks Lindsay!