Monday, January 04, 2021

Local Medals

In 1839, a year after its formation, the Grand Caledonian Curling Club (as it was then called) made the decision to award medals to encourage the sport of curling amongst its member clubs. There were District Medals, see here, and Local Medals. The latter were for individual play, in Points competitions.

The rules for the Local Medals were first published in the Annual for 1839-40. These rules, and the various shots to be played, were essentially those that had been used by the Currie CC, see here.

Sixteen Local Medals were allocated in the first year, but the Annual for 1840-41 only included one report of a club having played off its competition. That club was the Abdie Curling Club.

The umpire, James Ogilvie Dalgleish, provided a report which read, "Accordingly, the 7th January proving a clear hard frost, with fine ice, and a prospect of continuance, and a large muster of the members being present, it was agreed that the Grand Caledonian Medal should be competed for next day, and expresses were despatched to apprise the absent members. The 8th, however, wofully (sic) disappointed the previous day's expectations, being a thick fog, and ultimately a thorough thaw with rain. Notwithstanding, members having come up at considerable inconvenience, it was resolved that the medal should be played for, and at half-past twelve o'clock, nineteen competitors took the field, and played the first two points at 36 yards, but the ice becoming more and more dull, the rink was successively reduced to 32, and finally to 24 yards." 

The medal was awarded to Andrew Brown, a banker from Newburgh. He scored twelve points, out of a possible maximum of 32.

There was some controversy over whether the umpire should have reduced the length of the rink. The report notes, "The representative member takes upon himself the responsibility of reducing the rink below the distance specified by the regulations. He did so believing the intention of the representative committee to be, that the local medals should be gained by skill and science, not by strength, and the minimum distance there specified to apply to the commencement of competitors; but where one has been commenced, as in this instance, and the great majority of players unable to reach the hog's score, and yet where it was necessary that the match should be decided, he conceives that he acted quite in the spirit of curling, and trusts that the representative committee will approve of his deviation from their general rule."

The general rules for curling did allow for the rink to be shortened in specific cases, for example, "The Rink shall be changed in all cases when, from the springing of water, the majority of players cannot make up." However, shortening the rink was not to be a precedent in Points competitions, as the Annual report notes, "With reference to the above report the Club resolved that in future the second rule for the local medal competitions be strictly attended to, and that in no case the rink shall be reduced to less than 32 yards. This rule having been framed with the sole view of affording the means of comparison between different Clubs, the competitors, if not able to play up, must break off for the day."

The Annual for 1841-42 contains two tables with the results of Local Medal competitions. There were those medals which had been awarded, and played for, in the season 1840-41, and then there were those of some which had been awarded in the first season but not played for until the winter of 1840-41. Here is one example:

The table records that on January 25, 1840, thirteen members of the Blairgowrie club competed for their Local Medal. The length of the rink was 42 yards, and the ice was 'keen but biassed'. The winner was James Anderson, with a score of nine points.

The umpire was David Inches. In addition to the information in the table, his comments on the competition are recorded, "The ice was tolerably smooth and keen. There was a considerable bias in several different directions, and a slight ridge or elevation running along the centre of the rink throughout its entire length, which rendered it somewhat difficult to take many of the nice and measured shots."

I have included the above report to show that, on outside ice, scoring well was sometimes extremely difficult or even impossible. Indeed, a high score of twelve points was the highest recorded in any of the 35 local medal competitions recorded in the Annual for 1841-42. The Dumbarton CC turned out the highest number of players, 27, for its competition on February 8, 1841.

The following season saw many Local Medals competed for. The table in the Annual had been expanded to include the average number of points gained by each competitor, and the time it took for each competition to be played. For example, on January 10, 1842, eighteen members of the Kinnoughtry CC competed on Kinnoughtry Loch, on 'excellent' ice accordng to Mungo Murray, the umpire. The winner was Charles Robertson with ten points, and the average number of points scored by all the competitors was just over four. The competition took two and a half hours to complete.

Andrew Blair, the umpire, penned this report, "The Kinnoughtry Curlers met this morning with more, if possible, than their usual keenness for the manly sport; and the ice was such as to please the most fastidious son of the broom. The rink was measured, and the prescribed angles made, with mathematical accuracy and precision, by Mr Charles Robertson, when the playing began. Old age, middle life, and youth mingled together to contend for the prize of the day, with that friendly feeling and cordiality for which Curlers are so proverbial - the Fates seeming to favour now one, now another, till about the middle of the game, when they fairly fixed down upon Mr Robertson, and pertinaciously stuck by him till its close, when he was declared by the umpire, Mr Murray, to be the winner of the Medal, which was hung around his neck, amid the smiles of ladies of distinction, and the plaudits of neighbouring Curlers, who honoured us with their presence on the occasion."

The Annual for 1843-44 included a table of results from 1842-43 which now had the height of each venue above sea level, and the distance from the sea itself.

John Adamson reported on the competition which the Abdie CC held on Lindores Loch on February 15, 1843. "The competition for the honour of the day commenced very favourably, with excellent ice, keen and straight; but in a short time a thick snow began to fall, and continued during the game, accompanied with a strong wind from the north-west, which cast a gloom over the eager expectants. Nothing daunted, however, they pursued their favourite sport for three hours, when Mr George Buist of Ormiston, and Mr A Brown (a medal holder), stood equal, each counting 11 shots. After a further trial at outwicking, in which neither party scored, Mr Buist counted one in guarding, and was proclaimed the victor. The ice was swept at the commencement of each round, but soon the parties found a difficulty in reaching the desired mark, the snow frequently adhering to the sole of the stone, and leading it aside from the point aimed it." 

This report shows that even playing the outwick was sometimes not enough to decide the competition winner. And it is of interest to read of the conditions that curlers had to overcome on outside ice. 

Perhaps the last word on that comes from Michael Pottie's report of the Duntocher CC's competition, "The day was so wet that the members had some hesitation in playing for the Medal upon the 17th January, and, when not throwing their stones, they used umbrellas."

What were these Local Medals like? There were identical to District Medals on the obverse, but the reverse had 'Local Medal' rather that 'District Medal'. David Smith wrote about District Medals here. The design shown above was by Sclater. This image is of a Local Medal that was sold by Lockdales Auctioneers some years ago. Note that the surround has been lost. It went for a hammer price of £95. Unusually for Local Medals it has not been engraved with the winner's name. It could be that it was never competed for.

Graeme Adam has an even earlier Local Medal in his collection. Note that this is a medal of the Grand (not Royal) Caledonian Curling Club. The winner, William Muirhead, was a member of the Denny Curling Club, and his success was recorded in the Annual of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club 1842-43. The Local Medal was played for on Denny Pond on January 10, 1842, on a full length sheet of 42 yards. William scored seven points, the best of the fourteen members who took part.

Note that the words 'Local Medal' do not appear on the reverse of this early medal. There is some evidence to suggest that the early Local Medals AND District Medals, as issued by the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, were identical, and it was only after the Club gained its Royal patronage that Local and District Medals were distinguished from each other.

Any early Local Medal is a rare find at auction nowadays, and one issued by the 'Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club' (from 1843) would be a real treasure!

By 1845, the popularity of Local Medals was already very much second in importance to District Medals, and in that year the regulations of these competitions for individual curlers stated that they would just be awarded 'to Clubs which, in the opinion of the Representative Committee, are too far distant from any other Club to compete for a District Medal'. The Reverend John Kerr writes in the History of Curling, published in 1890, "For a time reports of these (Local Medal) competitions were inserted in the Annuals, but the difficulty of making satisfactory comparisons, owing to the different conditions under which the medals were competed for, caused the club to give the practice up, and to cease encouraging point play by medals, although the diagrams and the rules remained."

By the time the design of the District Medal and Local Medals was changed in 1870, few of the latter were being given out to clubs.  One such was won by Charles Gibson on February 7, 1876. He may have been a member of Pitlochry CC. This medal came up for sale in a Dix Noonan Webb auction recently.
Local Medals occasionally went to overseas clubs that were affiliated to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The Annual for 1875-76 notes that a Local Medal had been awarded to the Moscow Club. This club had been founded by William Hopper, a Scottish engineer, in 1873. David Smith wrote about the club, and of finding the medal above in an 'online auction', in the February 2004 Scottish Curler magazine.
J Russell Hopper, one of William's sons, was Secretary of the Moscow CC for many years.

David notes in his article that this medal may be the only surviving relic of curling from pre-Revolutionary Russia.

Other medals went to Canada and to New Zealand. In August 1877, Thomas Callender, the Secretary of the Dunedin Curling Club, wrote to the RCCC Secretary.

"Dear Sir - It affords me great pleasure to send you a list of office-bearers and members for the forthcoming Annual, and to report that since the 24th of this month, our Club have had curling every day from 8 o'clock am till dark; and that on Saturday the 28th, fourteen members put in an appearance to compete for the Royal Club Local Medal. Play began at 12 noon, and ended with the result as enclosed. The competition was very keen, and until the last end it was impossible to say who would win. I send you the Otago Daily Times and the Guardian, giving you the scores of the competition. The frost still holds, members curling this morning, and every prospect of holding."

Any mention of Local Medals had disappeared from the Royal Club rule book by the mid-1960s, and only District Medals and Provice Medals are still awarded. 

The information in this article mostly comes from Royal Club Annuals. The image sources are as indicated. Thanks to Graeme Adam and Lindsay Scotland for information about the William Muirhead medal.

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