Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve 1935

It's Christmas Eve today. I wonder what everyone is doing? Looking back to December 24, 1935, many of Scotland's curlers were on the ice at Carsebreck for a Grand Match!

This was the 35th Grand Match to be held, and the 25th to be held on the Royal Club's own pond at Carsebreck.

The winter of 1935-36 was severe. December 1935 was the coldest month since 1927. The month began with mild weather. After heavy rains in mid-December, roads in many districts became ice-bound on the 16th. From then until the 24th - the date of the Grand Match - frosty conditions continued.

On December 18 it was reported that the ice on the pond was three inches thick in most places and about two inches in other parts. On December 19 a disappointing telegram was received by Andrew Hamilton, the Secretary of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, stating that the thickness of the ice varied from one inch to two inches.

The Scotsman on December 20 had this image with the caption, 'GRAND MATCH HOPES - Mr William Angus of Carsebreck Farm measuring the ice on Carsebreck Loch yesterday before reporting conditions to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in connection with the possibility of a bonspiel'.

It was reported on the night of December 20 that there was a good sheet of ice on the pond.

On Saturday, December 21, Andrew Hamilton sent postcards to clubs with the information, "If the frost continues, the Grand Match will be played at Carsebreck on Tuesday, December 24, commencing at 11.30 am."

On Sunday, December 22, the safety minimum (of the time) of five-inch thickness was attained, and by Monday, December 23, Carsebreck was all set for the national bonspiel, and the marking and laying supervised by David King, who had prepared the rinks for all the bonspiels which had taken place during the previous thirty years. The photo above, from the Dundee Courier, shows some of the forty LMS railway employees who helped prepare the rinks and score the circles on the ice.

The December 23rd edition of the Dundee Evening Telegraph ran a column with the heading "Carsebreck Bonspiel To-Morrow. Christmas Eve will be grand occasion for curlers all over Scotland." And this stated, "The great Carsebreck Bonspiel is definitely fixed for to-morrow."

The article noted that the surface of the ice was fairly rough, but reported the view of 'a veteran curler' that 'a curler wants ice, and it doesn't matter so much whether it is fine or rough', with the qualification that 'they generally liked fine'."

Some 2600 curlers headed for Carsebreck early on Christmas eve. Reportedly, only half of them travelled by train, although the LMS Railway Company had again made special cheap travel arrangements for curlers and spectators. By 1935, others were able to reach the pond by motor car or bus.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal of December 26 had this photo, captioned 'The Trek to the Loch'. There was a short walk from the railway sidings (Carsebreck Halt) to the loch itself. It was a much longer walk in from the roadside if travelling by car.

The official reports of the match, as recorded in the RCCC Annual for 1936-37, are informative.

The North beat the South by 5102 shots to 4266, a majority of 836. Just how many curlers were on the ice is uncertain. According to the Table of Grand Match Results published in the Annual in 1936, and thereafter, there were 322 teams on each side, making the 1935 Grand Match the biggest ever in terms of participation. However, only the scores of 309 matches are recorded in the eleven pages of results published in the Annual for 1936-37. Perhaps not all scorecards were handed in at close of play! Or it could be that the Table of Grand Match Results lists the rinks which had entered for the bonspiel, and some, for whatever reason, had failed to turn up on the day.

The Challenge Trophy, awarded to the club on the winning side having the highest average majority of shots per rink, went to the Monzievaird and Strowan Club.

Four gold badges were awarded to the rink in the winning club having the greatest majority of shots, and went to Major Graham-Stirling’s side. They overpowered their Duntocher opposition 46-2, a winning margin of 44 shots. The other Monzievaird and Strowan team, skipped by Robert Stewart, also beat Duntocher opposition, 24-11.

Here are the two Monzievaird and Strowan teams. The woman on the front row is Mrs Boothby who played lead for Major Graham-Stirling. One of the gold medals has survived. David wrote about this back in 2013 here. The image above was from his own collection then, and must now reside with the Scottish Curling Trust.

Winners of the Second Trophy, awarded to the club on either side (other than that which gained the Challenge Trophy and badges) having the greatest net majority of shots, was the Drummond Castle Club.

The Craigielands Club won the medal awarded to the Club on the losing side having the highest average majority of shots.

The Strathcona Medal was won by the St Martin's Club, which had the highest majority of shots in the President and President-Elect Match. This match is for surplus rinks or clubs unsuccessful in ballot for places in the main Grand Match. In 1935, this match involved 32 teams, sixteen on each side.

The scores in all the games of both the main Grand Match and the President v President-Elect Match can be found in the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1937-37, listed over twelve pages.

The Royal Club account of the day noted some of the players who took part in the match. Sir Colin MacRae, President of the Club (above, from the Annual) had skipped a Clan MacRae rink. Also on the ice were the Earl of Stair, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and Sir John Stirling-Maxwell.

A spectator at the bonspiel was Ernest Brown, MP for Leith and Minister of Labour. It was his first visit to Carsebreck.

Among the players was John Brown, of the Dundas Club, South Queensferry, who had taken part in the Grand Match on six occasions. He was seventy-nine years old, but still active enough 'to play a whole-hearted game'.

The Annual report noted that 'not a few women curlers' had taken part in the match. 'One rink consisted of four sisters - the Misses Carnegie, from Colinsburgh, Fife, skipped by Miss Pat'. They were well-known players, and their play was 'on a standard equal to that of many skilled men'. It is to be noted that these women are not in fact listed as members of the Colinsburgh Curling Club in the Annual, but can be found in the ranks of the Hercules Ladies CC. It was under the latter club that they competed at Carsebreck where, for the record, they lost to Charles Bruges and his team from Craigielands CC, 27-3.

Also mentioned was Mrs A M Cook, Elie. She was the skip of the other Hercules Ladies CC team, which also lost to a Craigielands side, skipped by Gilbert Scott, 29-6.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal had this photo of Miss Lois Muirhead 'in curling kit at the famous Scottish bonspiel on Christmas Eve'.

Who was she? There is a Lois Muirhead listed in the Annual as a member of Glasgow Ladies CC, but if this is her photo, it is unclear for whom she was playing, as Glasgow Ladies were not represented as such in the 1935 Grand Match. I suspect it may have been for the Bridge of Weir CC. She was also a member of the Kandersteg Curling Club, so she was a keen curler indeed. Another Glasgow Ladies member, Mrs Jane S Glen, is also mentioned in the Annual report.

And, as mentioned above, Mrs Boothby was a member of the Monzievaird and Strowan CC, the champions on the day.

An amusing account of the match can be found in the Dundee Courier, by a 'Special Correspondent'. I've reproduced this in full here. Enjoy!

"A Gale-Swept Carsebreck - But Nobody Cared. Bearded Men Forgot They Were Old. 2800 Curlers in a Glorious Christmas Party."

"Carsebreck was a glorious Christmas party. I could not have asked for better. The setting was one from fairyland. White fields and hills; silvery trees; white roof-tops ... in the midst of these a glistening floor of ice. Every second person one met on the ice looked like Santa Claus in fancy dress. Jolly old men with beards of all sorts and sizes pranced gaily about flourishing broomsticks.

I enjoyed every minute of our big Christmas party, and I didn't notice I was cold until I got back to town. But let me tell you more about the old men. Hundreds of them came gambolling down to the ice full of boyish fun and pranks. Thinking it might be interesting to discover the oldest among them, I set out on my voyage of discovery. I started somewhere about 75 years, and moved on - 77, 78, 80. 82, 83 . . . until I came to a rubicund old gentleman who was sitting on his heels, bawling jocular remarks to a companion whose nose was a matter of three inches away from his own.

"Are you the oldest man on the ice?" I inquired. The jovial one sprang to his feet, pulled off his jacket, and dashed the icicles from his beard. "What meanest thou?" he cried (these were his very words). "I'm only 104. Begone!"

The outstanding quality of our Christmas party was its complete cosmopolitanism. Peers played with miners; all were perfectly at ease. A Cabinet Minister - Mr Ernest Brown - could be seen trying a slide. He had come to see what Carsebreck was like, and its rejuvenating influence had infected him.

I found Lady Marjory Dalrymple taking snapshots of her brother, the Earl of Stair. "There no need to go out of Britain for winter sports while places like this exist," she said.

I saw John Bannerman, one of the greatest figures of post-war rugby, responding as vigorously to the call of "Soop! Soop!" as he used to do to the call of "Feet! Feet!" Another rugby internationalist, Alf Wilson, of Dunfermline, was cheering his local rinks on enthusiastically.

(And here is rugby internationalist John Bannerman, as captured by an Aberdeen Press and Journal photographer.)

I stopped to watch Sir Colin MacRae pause his game, and, shaking a finger waggishly at a comrade whose shot had stopped short, declare, "When you are only halfway up, you are neither up nor down."

I saw a minister from the far and Puritan north point his broomstick skywards and scream (literally scream) "Don't touch it! Don't touch it!" All this to a continuous chorus of "Soop! soop!" which tempted me to the improvised luncheon where I clamoured "Soup! soup!" and felt very clever and jolly.

In the afternoon a gale swept across the loch, carrying off tam o' shanters and setting beards streaming in the wind. But nobody minded.

Something like 2800 curlers engaged in the Grand Match of the Caledonian Curling Society.

The men from the south were attempting to turn the tables on those from the north who won at the last Christmas party six years ago. Oh, yes, the old fellows remembered there was a match on. One had only to get in the way of a curling stone (as I did) to realise that. Then one would have thought the heavens were falling. Beards exercise restraint on language.

Everybody one met knew for a fact that the North or the South was winning. The reason was meticulously explained. The North had keen curling stones which went better on the rough ice. The South had dour curling stones which went better on the smooth ice.

The bewildering thing was the ambiguity which seemed to exist about the state of the ice. When I came away all I knew was that whichever side won I knew what the reason would be.

There is this fashion note to be added. The sartorial daring of these curlers knew no limits. From the Dunblane tailor, who appeared on the ice in a bowler hat, the weird and wonderful tammies one encountered at every rink, the headgear of the curlers of Carsebreck overwhelmed anything Paris could have produced.

Our Christmas party vanished like a splendid dream. A gamekeeper fired two shots from a nearby hill, and the throngs on the ice thawed into the waiting trains. The last glimpse I caught of Carsebreck as my train steamed into the dusk was of solitary curler drawing his train of curling stones across the empty expanse of ice. That was a merry Christmas."

And a Merry Christmas to everyone in 2019 too! If you have some time to spare over the next few days, do watch the seven minutes of (silent) film of the 1935 Grand Match which can be found in the Moving Image Archive of the National Library of Scotland, online here. (There's a surreal moment in the middle of the video when a women on skates passes the end of one rink!) Here's a link to an article about a Grand Match that almost came off, and here's the story of how the Carsebreck pond came about, and its association with the railway. More on the 1935 Grand Match is here.

The image above is a detail from the Scotsman photo that was published in the 1936-37 Annual. The images in the article were sourced as indicated in the text. The British Newspaper Archive was an invaluable reference as always. The results and report are from the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1936-37.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Curling in Stanley

Curling in the USA has expanded rapidly in recent years, thanks to the Olympics, and the realisation that multi-sport ice arenas can host curling clubs. Idaho, a state in the north-west of the country, got its first curling club, the Boise Curling Club, in 2006. This five-sheet club uses ice at Idaho Ice World. It has some seventy members, who hope to have their own dedicated ice in the future.

In January 2020, the club will host its eighth outdoor bonspiel at the small community of Stanley, Idaho, some 140 miles north east of Boise. In summer, Stanley is the gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains, and a centre for all sorts of summer pursuits. It is a spectacular part of the world, especially if you like mountains. There are other outdoor bonspiels in North America, but the Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel has now been 'immortalised' in a full length documentary film. 

'Curling in Stanley' by Kelly Curtis and John P Marsh for Liberty Films, documents the 7th Annual Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel which was held in January 2019 in Stanley, Idaho. There were 16 teams, 64 competitors from eight states. It was produced by Rob Smith and Jared Belsher for the Boise Curling Club and the Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel.

The film had its premier on YouTube on November 29, 2019. Be warned though, this is not a watch for those with limited attention spans, or those of the Twitter generation. It requires commitment - seventy-nine minutes of commitment. So, pour yourself a coffee, or something stronger, put your feet up and get comfortable before you begin to watch it, and enjoy it, here.

Those who have curled outside in Scotland may well be taken aback by the sight of a Zamboni preparing the rink! And the individual sheets were cut with an Ice King, and pebbled! As you can see above, the rink was lit for curling at night, and in the early morning. At 7am, with the temperature at just 6 degrees Fahrenheit (or minus 15 degrees Celsius), these US curlers are hardy souls!

The film does not attempt to show how individual games were won and lost. Rather, it attempts to highlight the fun and camaraderie of the occasion, and for anyone who has experience of American curlers, their passion, their friendliness (and their eccentricities) will find that these are well captured. I rather liked the names of some of the teams taking part, for example,

'The Wasted Stones'
'The Bambi Killers'
'Slide and the Family Stone'
'Stanley Lawn Chairs''Brush with Greatness'
and, my favourite,
'Bob Rocks'.

The actual quality of the film is 'interesting'. I was somewhat put off by the use of various filters at different times. It reminded me of when I first encountered Photoshop 'effects' on my own computer. It made the film seem somewhat surreal. Perhaps that was the intention!

Is there a main character? Well, Daniel 'The Villain' Richard, who plays lead for the Wasted Stones, seems set to have a future career in front of the camera, if not on the curling rink. Way to go, Dan!

"The fog is turning the ice into velcro," has to be the best line from the film.

But kudos for the soundtrack, and the occasional appearance, such as Jeff Crosby and the Refugees. above.

So does this reviewer recommend 'Curling in Stanley'? Absolutely, although it will have a niche following. Look out for the rather random appearances of various dogs throughout the film.

I trust the 2020 SOB will be as successful as that in 2019.

There have been other curling documentaries, for example, 'Gone Curling' (see here), 'An American Curling Story' (here), and the film by which all other curling documentaries should be measured, the Grand Match at the Lake of Menteith in 1979, see here.

The images are screenshots from watching on my laptop.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

A Young Skip

You will find this wonderful painting, an oil on canvas entitled 'A Young Skip', at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. The painting is a large one, 204 cm x 109 cm excluding the frame. It's more than six feet tall if you prefer the old measurements. A young man is shown on the curling rink, standing on the ice with a 'broom cowe' above his head, signalling for a guard. He is wearing a Murray tartan kilt. It was painted by Charles Martin Hardie in 1907, and was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1908. Its inclusion among the 539 paintings in that exhibition is described by the Dundee Courier critic, "A Young Skip, a portrait of a boy with curling broom raised over his head and curling implements at his feet, is exhibited by C Martin Hardie and is rich in colour and happy in effect."

The boy's name is John Darg Laing, who was born on December 29, 1897, so he was nine years old in 1907 when his portrait was painted. He was the only son of John Thomas Laing of Crossrig, Berwickshire, who is noted on the birth record as a 'landed proprietor'.

John Darg Laing was educated at Loretto School, from 1907-1916. He went from Loretto to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, but injured his knee there and was invalided out. He then received a commission in the Royal Flying Corps, in July 1917, aged 19. He was killed three months later, on October 24, shot down by Walter von B├╝low-Bothkamp, just two months before his 20th birthday. Second lieutenant John Darg Laing, of the 19th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, is buried in Linselles Communal Cemetery, see here, and his name is listed on the war memorial at Lasswade.

John Darg's father, who presumably commissioned the painting of his son, was a keen curler. In the early years of the twentieth century, the family resided at Hollycot, Lasswade, a substantial property with three sitting rooms and five bedrooms, plus two more for the servants. There were six acres of land, and in 1906, John's father constructed a three lane tarmac curling rink in the grounds. 

This newspaper clipping indicates that the rink was ready for the winter of 1906-07. The first game thereon was on December 12, 1906. It is likely that young John would have been on the ice at Hollycot, before he went off to school.

The rink at Hollycot was much used by the Lasswade Curling Club. One can find the results of games played there in the local paper, such as that above, from 1909. John (senior) was very much to the fore on his own rink. Later that year he skipped a Lasswade team at the Grand Match at Carsebreck, on November 24, 1909. He was Vice-president of the Lasswade CC at the time. But on December 13, 1909, he died suddenly at his home at Hollycot. He was 39 years old.

Mary Peterson Anderson Laing outlived her husband and her son, dying at Eskbank in 1955.

Why might the portrait been painted? It may well have been that the family wanted a portrait of their son before he went off to boarding school. Or it may have been a way of 'celebrating' the construction of the curling rink.

What can we say about the artist? Twenty-nine of Charles Martin Hardie's paintings are listed on the ArtUK website here, although his output was much greater. Curlers will know of him from his painting 'Curling at Carsebreck'. David Smith wrote about it here, and I have discussed the two women in the painting here. There are two versions of the Carsebreck painting. One is owned by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and is currently displayed at Scone Palace. The other smaller version, now thought to be a preliminary study, is with the National Galleries of Scotland, which also cares for several of Hardie's sketches of those notables which were to be included in the big composite painting. The Carsebreck paintings date from 1899.

Charles Martin Hardie had an 'interesting' life. He was born in 1858 in East Linton, see biography here. He married Mary Lewis, an American, on April 23, 1889, in St Giles Cathedral. Charles was 31, Mary still in her teens. In 1891 they were living in Edinburgh, with a seven month old son, who later died. They then had a daughter, Constance.

In February 1895, Charles was elected member of the Royal Scottish Academy, but in that same year his marriage fell apart. Mary had an affair with Curtis Pounds, an opera singer, and Charles sued for divorce at the Court of Session, before Lord Moncrieff. The salacious details of the 'Edinburgh Society Scandal' (as one paper had as its headline) are recorded in various publications, see for example the Dundee Advertiser, Saturday, December 14, 1895.

The divorce was awarded, and Charles got custody of the daughter, Constance.

Charles remarried on November 22, 1899, to Margaret Somerville Smart (known as Mysie), who was the daughter of a Scottish artist, John Smart, who had died earlier that year. The couple, bought Garth Hill, in North Queensferry, and lived there with Constance until Charles died in 1916.

Looking at the dates of the Charles Martin Hardie paintings that I have been able to track down, it would seem that the artist's output slowed in the early years of the twentieth century.

'A Young Skip' was not painted until 1907, when Charles was 49. Such is the unique composition and sensitivity of the painting that surely the artist must have been a curler himself. Just look at the broom that young John is holding. Such a sweeping implement would not have been in regular use at the time of the painting, but Charles must have been aware of the history of the sport, and decided that John Darg would look better holding a traditional 'broom cowe' than a hair brush! And showing young John clearly indicating a guard shot to be played, also implies an understanding of the game.

Indeed, Charles Martin Hardie WAS a curler. It is recorded that he competed in the Grand Match of January 31, 1899, around the time he was commissioned to paint the Carsebreck painting for the Royal Club. Thanks to Lindsay Scotland, we now know that he was able to enjoy the sport after his move to Garth Hill, playing with the local St Margaret's (Inverkeithing) Curling Club for several years, before becoming Vice-president in 1903, and President in 1907. Thereafter he reverts to being an ordinary member of the renamed Inverkeithing CC, and the final time he appears on the club's roster, as an 'occasional member', is in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1912-13.

The stones that Charles has included in his composition are of interest too. That in the foreground, for which John Darg is asking for a guard, is an Ailsa Craig 'Blue Hone'. The two dark coloured stones are likely to be Burnock Waters. The pink coloured stone is the most interesting. It has an inscribed silver handle, and is a presentation stone, perhaps a 'Red Ailsa' or a 'Carsphairn Red'.
'A Young Skip' was painted in the year that Charles Martin Hardie became President of his curling club. It is of interest too that this painting is the artist's last recorded work that I have been able to find. I wonder if Charles had met John Laing (senior) on the ice at some point?

Did Charles travel to Hollycot to do preliminary sketches of young John, before completing the painting elsewhere, for example, in his studio? He could not have asked young John to pose for long holding the broom above his head!

What happened to the painting after John Laing (senior) died? Mary Laing outlived her husband and son for many years. It is tempting to assume that having the portrait of her son was a small comfort.

The painting came up at an auction of Paintings of Scottish and Sporting Interest at Sotheby's in Glasgow in November 1976, where it was bought by a well known curling family, who have since lent it to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Do visit! You will find it in the 'Heroes and Heroines' room on the top floor of the gallery.

Thanks go to Imogen Gibbon (above), Deputy Director and Chief Curator Portraiture, National Galleries of Scotland, who also supplied the top picture, from which the two detailed images are cropped. I am also particularly grateful to Lindsay and Sue Scotland for their help and support. The image of the painting on the wall with Imogen is by Sue Scotland.