Now mony a club, jocose and
(xi'e a' to merriment and glee;
Wi' sang and glass, they fley the pow'r
O' care, that wad harass the hour."
Then to the inn they a'
To feast on curlers' hamely fare—
On beef and greens and haggis rare,
And spend the nicht wi' glee, O!
And there owre tumblers twa or
Brewed o' the best o' barley bree,
They sing and jest while moments flee,
Around that social tee, O!"
T. S. Aitchison.
"True feelings waken in their
And thrill frae heart to han'
O peerless game that feeds the flame
O' fellowship in man!"
Rev. T. Rain.
The Pillars o' the
Bonspiel—Rivalry and Good Fellowship."
game of rivalry and good-fellowship—has naturally made great progress by the
institution of societies or clubs. (The word club occurs very rarely
in the records of last century. Excepting Dunfermline and Duddingston, the
designation invariably used is Society.) The principle of association could
not readily be taken advantage of in troublous times, and it is not till the
eighteenth century that we find it used for the development of the game.
Societies were then formed in those districts where it had been previously
popular. Curlers in such districts were prepared to appreciate the advantage
of societies in promoting social fellowship and scientific skill. Experience
also fitted them to frame such conditions of membership as would best secure
these ends. It is with the written records of the early curling societies we
have now to deal in the tracing the history of the national game.
The dividing line which we
have already drawn between ancient and modern curling, forces us also in
this chapter to confine our attention to the records of such societies as
existed in the last century. Curling societies which claim to be ancient,
but whose records go no further back than the present century, must not
expect from us more than a passing notice. This is the only course open when
we wish to tread the sure ground of history. As illustrative cases we may
give Linlithgow and Lochleven, where, as we have already said, there are
traces and traditions as to curling " from time immemorial." That a club
existed at the former place in the last century may be gathered from a
chance entry which we have discovered in the minute-book of the Dunfermline
Club, where the sederunt of the annual meeting in the house of James Cupar,
2nd February, 1792, includes:-
"Mr John Gibson, a visiting
brother from Linlithgow Club."
John Gibson and his brother
members at Linlithgow do not appear to have written down their doings, and
by their negligence we have lost a good deal, for curling at Linlithgow in
Gibson's day must have been carried on in the light of long experience. In
the case of Lochleven, the members of the Kinross Club, as faithful
guardians of its curling fame, after a careful inquiry by Sheriff Skelton
and a committee in 1818, decided to carry the existence of a curling society
there as far back as 1668. That there was curling on Lochleven long before
that need not be doubted, and that the Kinross Club deserves highest honour
for the careful preservation of the traditional mysteries of the game will
be apparent when these come to be considered ; but the want of written
records prior to the year 1818 leaves us, as in the case of Linlithgow,
without that information as to the early game on Lochleven, which would here
have been of the greatest interest.
On the present list of the
Royal Caledonian Club we have twenty-eight affiliated clubs entitled to
attention as having been formed in the eighteenth century. We give them in
the order of their institution, with the counties to which they belong, as
it is of importance to note the geographical area of ancient curling.
Of the forty-two societies
thus enumerated, only ten possess written records of the last century, and
in a few cases these do not extend back to the dates at which the societies
are said to have been formed. Through the kindness of the various
secretaries, all the available records have been placed in our hands, and we
have perused them "at some expense of eyesight, and with no small exertion
of patience." In what follows we have tried, as far as possible, to make the
different minute-books speak for themselves, and tell us what they know
about the manners and customs of eighteenth-century curlers and curling
MUTHILL (1739).—The honour of
possessing the most ancient records falls to Muthill. It is awarded,
however, with some hesitation, for the minute-book of the Muthill Society,
though a neat and interesting record, is evidently not so old as the society
itself. At a general meeting of the society, held in the house of John
Bennet, vintner, on 14th January, 1823, [There had been no ice in the two
previous years, 1821 and 1822.] there was:-
"Voted to William Gentle,
clerk, for Looks and drawing out Records and Laws of this society since its
formation as contained in this book, £1 5s."
The minutes are, therefore,
William Gentle's work. This is borne out by the first set of rules entered
in the volume, which bears to have been revised in 1820 and 1821 1 ; but it
is evident that William Gentle had documents in his hands which were written
at the formation of the society, and that other parts of the volume are
transcribed from these. The antiquity of the records may thus be allowed to
pass. The list of members of the society, as "constitute in the year 1739,"
At first the society was not
a large one, and Mr Rally seems to have been its leading spirit. [A drawing
of the stone supposed to have been used by Mr Halle is i given at p. 40. The
parishioners of Muthill were so opposed to Mr Hally at I his ordination in
1704 that they refused to allow the Presbytery to enter the church ; but he
was afterwards much esteemed by their for his good qualities. He died in
1754. Dr Rankin, his able successor, informs us that "Mr Hally was a xnan of
great physical strength, and a good wrestler] as well as curler and
preacher."] By the end of the century, however, we find that 187 members had
been enrolled. A kindly custom on the part of the brethren was to allow
members of other societies to "initiate" into Muthill Society for 3d., being
half the annual fee of ordinary members. Since they are the most ancient
regulations that have come down to us, we may here give the:-
"RULES AND STATUTES to be
observed by the SOCIETY OF CURLERS in MUTHILL,
November the 17th, 1739.
1. That each Member shall
attend the Precess of any Quorum of the Society when called, unless they
have a reasonable excuse, under the penalty of Six Shillings Scots.
2. That no match of curling
shall be taken up with another Parish untill five of the Members of the
Society be previously acquainted therewith, and those that shall be chosen
to play in any such match are not to absent themselves therefrom, under the
penalty of Five Shillings Sterling, and being extruded the Society till
3. That the annual election
of all the officers of the Society shall be upon the first Tuesday of
4. That there shall be no
wagers, cursing or swearing, during the time of game, under the penalty of
Two Shillings Scots for each oath, and the fines for by wagers to be at the
discretion of the Precess and the other members present, and the wagers in
themselves void and null.
5. That every residing Member
of the Society betwixt and the next annual election shall provide himself in
a curling stone, to be kept in this place under the penalty of One Shilling
6. That all the money
received by the Society for the entry of new Members or Fynes be kept for
the use of the Society in general.
7. That every Member shall
pay yearly to the Treasurer Four Shillings Scots, for the use foresaid.
8. That after this date at
taking up any matches betwixt any two parties they are only to have choice
9. That there shall be no
addition or alteration made of the above Rules but at the yearly meetings.
And its recommended to the
Society in general to provide four right leading stones to be equally
divided in all matches, etc., etc., and the Committee to draw up the men for
There is little information
in these as to the manner of playing the game at Muthill in ancient times,
and we have no record in the old minutes of any bonspiel, but sundry charges
for carting stones imply that the society had frequent matches with Ardoch,
Monzie, and other parishes. Under date February 7, 1789, we have this
"To Isabel White for whiskey
for cleaning the ice, £0 1s. 8d."
How the whisky was applied to
such a useful purpose the minutes do not state. At the annual meeting,
December 26, 1789, it was agreed:
"That every stone handed or
mended at the expence of the box is common to all the brethren, or them who
puts on more than one stone if they shall choose to hold it up shall have
liberty to do with it as they please."
Drawings of some of these old
stones may be seen at p. 46. One stone sufficed for each player, but the
records state nothing about the rinks, or the numbers composing them. It is
interesting to notice the prohibition of wagering, cursing, and swearing
(Rule 4). Such a rule is common to most of the old societies, and it shows
how jealously the early players protected the reputation of the game, and
how anxious they were to exalt its position.
when writing his account of curling in 1811, and referring to the tradition
regarding the Town Council's patronage of the game (vide p. 91) in the
beginning of last century, says:-
"Then it was practised
chiefly on the North Loch, before it was drained, and at Canonmills. At
which latter place a society was formed about fifty years ago, and continued
to flourish a considerable time. Of late, however, it has dwindled away to
We have Given illustrations
(p. C4) of stones of the earlier circular type which are supposed to have
belonged to this club, but no trace can be found of any written records of
its transactions. Certain sons composed for the club were, however, printed
in a small volume [Songs for the Curling Club held at Canonmills. By a
Member. Ediu. Printed by J. Robertson, 39 South Bridge.] in 1792, and as
some of these appear to have been written soon after its formation, they
entitle it to notice here. These songs are more interesting than dry
minutes, and give us useful information as to the words in use at the game,
and as to the social habits of the players.
"The CanonmilIs Loch," says
Captain Macuair, [Preface to Curling, Ye Glorious Pastime, an excellent
reprint of the Account of Curling by Ramsay, and the Canoninills Songs, in
one volume, published in 1882.] "on which the members of the club were wont
to assemble, has long since disappeared, having been drained and built over
many years ago. In his plan of the city of Edinburgh and its vicinity,
published in 1837, Hunter places it in the angle formed by the junction of
the roads leading down from Bellevue Crescent and Eyre Place, adjoining the
wound occupied by the Gymnasium, but better known in those days as `the
This situation must have been
very convenient for Edinburgh curlers when deprived of the use of the Nor'
Loch for their favourite sport, and in those days of clubs, they would
naturally form themselves into a company that they might more effectually
enjoy the game and its attendant socialities. III many respects Canonmills
was better suited than Duddingston Loch for the townsmen, and we are not
surprised to find in one of the minutes of the Duddingston Club (8th
December, 1824) this entry:-
"The meeting thought that a
piece of ground night be obtained about Canonmills, which might be
occasionally- used, as more convenient for many members than Duddingston."
As regards the membership we
are left to conjecture---
we have not even the name of
the author or authors of the songs; but while it existed the club could not
fail to be an important one, and as the song set to the March of the
magistrates comes first in the collection, it is probable that the patronage
of the Town Council was bestowed on the Canonmills curlers. The songs are
such as could not fail to be appreciated by citizens of wit and learning who
inclined to unbend the bow at the curlers' feasts, and they are full of that
enthusiasm which always animates the votaries of the game. The Curlers March
is succeeded by The Blast, which calls upon the brethren, now that Phoebus
has wandered south, to rear the "groom standard," for it is only fools that
dread the wintry death of Nature: curlers smile at such fears:-
"As we mark our gog,
And measure off our hog,
To sport on her cold grave stone."
We are next favoured with a
song in which the singer [Sir Richard Broun has, among the notes prepared
for a second edit on of his Memorabilia, which never "came off," appended
the name of Dr 13airnsfather to this song—on what authority we know not. The
title implies that the songs are by one author, but the internal evidence is
against this.] pokes fun alike at the pride of the city and the antiquity of
the national game, and it is easy to imagine the hilarious mirth with which
the Canonmills curlers would receive this account of:
THE ORIGIN OF EDINBURGH
Tune—"AULD LANG SYNE."
I. "On Calton-Hill and Aurthur-Seat,
Great Boreas plac'd his feet,
And hurled like a curling-stane
The Castle wast the street.
"But that was lang syne, dear sir,
That was lang syne,
Whan curling was in infancy,
An' stanes war no fine.
II. "An' lest it should be
mov'd or stole,
(Tho' strange it seems to tell),
The handle loos'd, and left the hole
`which now serves for a well.
"But that was lang syne, dear sir,
That was lang syne,
Whan curling was in infancy,
An' handles no fine.
III. "Next, as a hint lie
meant a fort,
Which Northerns might defend,
He like a flag-staff praped up,
His bosom shaft on end.
"But that was lang syne, dear sir,
That was lang syne,
Whan curling was in infancy,
And besoms no fine.
IV. " Wha, thinks it's fase
that we alledge,
May carefu' search the hole
If he finds not the handle-wedge,
He then may doubt the whole.
"For 'twas there lang syne, clear sir,
'Twas there lang syne;
An' what needs fo'k dispute about
What happened lang syne."
The song which follows this
humorous sally is a melancholy one, and bemoans the long absence of frost:-
I. "I've mony winter seen an'
But like o' this did I ne'er see—
Three open winters in a string—
An' may the like again ne'er be.
Chorus--"Alake my walie
Ha'e no' been been budged thir winters three
'Tween the rain's plish-plash an' a fireside's fash
They have dreary winters been to me.
* * * * *
V. "When I on former winters
How on the ice we met wi' glee,
And cheerfu' swat to clear a rink,
It gars inc sigh right heavylie.
VI. "When we had mark'd our
gob an' hog,
And parties form'd o' four or three, [*]
Ilk ane wi' crampits an' broom scrog,
How anxious yet how blythe played we.
VII. "When we had keenly
played a while,
Brose comes, an' whisky, cawld to flee,
We Sol and Boreas to beguile,
'Tween shots wi' spoon or glass make free.
VIII. "When anes our game or
light was done,
We marched to dinner merrylie,
Wi' saul an' body baith in tune,
Wba shu'd be blythcst a' our plea.
[*] This seems to imply that
the number on a rink was less than in other clubs of the early times.
IX. " When comes the bowl we
drink an' sing,
An' crack o' bonspales till ha' free,
Syne part in peace—a happy thing;
Sic times again I fain wad see.
X. "May Boreas hasten frae the
Gi' silver lokes to bush and tree;
I`d rather he wad plank the Forth
Than Thetis ever on us be.
The lament over Three Open.
Winters is followed by The Welcome Hame, sung to the chorus:-
"There's nae luck about the
There's nae luck at a' ;
What luck can winter days produce
Whan curlers are awa'."
Now that the loch is bearing,
the "deam" is ordered to set her wheel aside and put the house in order; to
"ram the chimley fu'," and "get on the muekle pat," while "mine host"
himself hastens to the "bot" and wails a "breast" to make fat brose for the
curlers, who will readily be recognised as "kin" to the moderns by this
touch of nature-
"Gae, ladie, seek their
For they will a' be here
To get a dram, without a doubt,
Afore the ice be clear."
When everything has been set
in order against their coming—the "substancials" ready, the "muckle room
dusted, and the tables placed—the anxious host breathes a sigh of relief, as
well he might.
"Hech, now I think the warst
Sae they may come their Wa'
May this frost staun thir fortnights four,
Gar beef and whisky fa'."
In the last song of this
ancient and interesting collection, the praises of the game as a
health-giving, innocent, and social amusement are quaintly set forth, and it
would be difficult to find among the thousands of poetical panegyrics of
this century anything better than The Choise of the old Canonmills Club.
This curlers' weather is, I
O weels me on the clinking o't;
Fo'k may good ale and whisky brew,
Well line fun at the drinking o't.
For now we'll meet upon the ice,
Air.' in the e'enin ; blythly splice,
To drink an' feast on a' that's nice,
My heart loops light wi' thinking o't.
By Boreas bund in icy chain,
Fu' weel we loo the linking o't,
Nor xish't to be soon loos'd again,
But rather fear the shrinking o't.
United by his potent hand,
In gleesom friendly social band,
We eith obey his high command,
Nor ever think o' slinking o't.
"The lover Boats on Menie's
His Iife lies in the blinkincr o't,
For if it's languid he maven (lie,
He canno' bear the winking o't.
But curlers wi' unfettered souls,
That ane another's cares controuls,
On ice conveen like winter fowls,
An' please them wi' the rinking o't.
"The sportsman may poor
Thro' snaw, tir'd -,ci' the sinking o't
Or if his bray-hound gi' her chase,
He's charmed ivi' the jinking o't.
But curlers chase upon the rink,
An' learn dead stanes wi' art to jink
When tir'd wi' that, gae in an' drink,
An' please them wi' the skinking o't."
COUPAR-ANGUS AND KETTINS
(1772).—The record-book (as it is entitled) of this club begins rather
abruptly with a genuine sheet of antique writing, which informs us that—
"The silver medal or curling
ston was challanged, played for and gained by the following persons in
Bendochie and Blairgowrie."
Eight names follow, and as a
ninth there conies that of Isack Low, "the brandey or oversman." This is the
first designation of a skip which we have found in the old records. The rink
evidently consisted of nine men. David Campbell was "brandey or oversman" in
the losing (Coupar) team, which also included nine names. The victors on
this occasion were challenged by the parishes of "Alith and Rattray," and
were beaten on 14th February, 1772. The following challenge is then issued
from Coupar-Angus, 11th January, 1774:-
"I take the Liberty to
address your as the Head of a Partie of Curlers who chalanged our silver
medall or Curling Stone upon the 14th Feby. 1772, when you were fortunate
enough to wine it from the united Pairishes of Blairgowrie and Bendochie,
then the Holders of the medall. In hopes of your having complied with the
terms contain'd in the 7th Article of our Table of Regulations, upon which
this medal! can and only can be play'd for by this Society, I hereby am
impowered to signifie to you a resolution of our meeting you and the other
curlers in the Pairishes of Alyth and Ratrey, upon Saturday the 15th
current, by nine o'clock forenoon, leaveing you to fix the place anywhere in
our Pairishes, in order to do our best to regain our medall. Your answer is
expected on Thursday by twelve o'clock."
This challenge was accepted
and the match played, at Welton of Palbroaie, on 22nd January, 1774, Peter
Constable being "brandey" for Coupar, with seven other players on his rink,
against Charles Rae and seven players of Alyth and Rattray. The latter were
victorious, and thus retained the medal.
In the Annual of 1843, p.
122, we are informed that the silver medal thus competed for from 1772 to
the end of the eighteenth century was the gift of Colonel Hallyburton of
Pitcur, and that it resembled "an old-fashioned iron crusie." The winners of
it attached each year a silver plate to the "medal" recording their victory;
but when Coupar was victorious nothing was added, so that these plates
recorded the defeats of the society in place of heralding its victories. In
1836 a fine of one guinea was imposed on David Davidson for having lost the
ancient trophy, but it does not appear from the minutes that the fine was
ever paid or the trophy recovered.
The articles of this society,
like those of Muthill, give little or no light regarding the method of
playing the game. They provide for the annual election of a president with
"the powers which commonly belonged to the presidents of other courts," and
a clerk, whose duty is "to keep a book containing the regulations of the
society, a list of the members, and such transactions as they shall judge
proper to be recorded." There were no other offices, the brandeys or
oversmen in matches being elected for the occasion. Each member was taken
bound under a penalty of ten shillings sterling to supply two "proper
curling-stones" within a year after his admission, and (Rule 7).
"He is likewise to take care
never to appear on the ice with a design of playing without being furnished
with a sufficient broom, under such a. penalty as the first Curling Court
having received information shall think proper to inflict."
If a member left the parish
his stones became the property of the club; and in matches he was not to he
accepted as an antagonist after his removal "out of the Parishes of Coupar
or Ketins." The fine for not providing stones seems to have been rigidly-
enforced, and many " brothers " suffered for their neglect. It was quite out
of proportion to the value of stones in these days, as this is given in the
following items of expenditure :—
The articles of this old
club, like those of Muthill, impose certain fines upon their unruly and
gambling members. It is enacted:-
"Rule 14. That if any brother
in the course of play, or at society meetings, shall be guilty of swearing
or giving bad names to any member, he shall pay two pence for the first
offence, and be at the mercy of the court for repeated acts of said crimes.
"Rule 15. That no brother
shall engage to play with an other brother in this society for above the
value of one shilling sterling for one game, under the penalty of five
shillings, to be paid in to the Clerk of the Court."
Few offences against these
moral laws are recorded in the old minutes, but that such offences were not
uncommon in the end of the century is evident from the following entries in
the treasurer's account :—
In one case, occurring some
twelve years before this, the cash was not received without some trouble, as
these extracts skew:-
"Coupar-Angus, 30th December
"At a meeting of the Curling
Society held here this day—Jno. Bett, Esq., Preses, and James Campbell, junr.,
Clerk—it was reported by some of the members that Jno. Crockett, one of the
members, was this day on the ice curling, and had been guilty of swearing
several tunes, also had lost one sixpence at play, therefor he should be
culled to court and make payment of the usual fines in like cases ; that
after being several times sent for to appear for the above crimes and make
payment of the fines, and never appearing, a part- of the members,
consisting of Chas. Ducatt, Jno. Edward, Jno. Bruce, and Alex. Henderson,
was accordingly sent to bring him; and after having ;one to his house and
asked him to come, he presented a gunn to them, and swore that be would
shoot the first person who should attempt to lay-hands on him, and struck
Chas. Ducatt on the breast.
"The Preses, considering the
conduct of the above Jno. Crockett, hereby dismisses him front being a
member of this society, and hereby secludes and debarrs any of the members
from hereafter curling upon the ice with him until he shall in a full
meeting hereafter acknowledge his faults, and make such compensation to the
society as they shall think the nature of the crime above requires, and
appoint the members present to intimate the above resolution to their absent
"(Signed) Jno Bett."
"Coupar-Angus, 12th January
"The within-designed Jno.
Crockett appeared before the meeting, and made full and ample satisfaction
to them for the faults he committed against their rules ; therefore they, in
consideration thereof, hereby admit him again as their brother, to enjoy the
haill priviledges of a member of this society as formerly.
"(Signed) CHAS. DUCATT."
On the ex-pede-Hereulem
principle, the curlers of Coupar and Kettins, accustomed to use such stones
as we have before described (Ch. II. p. 42), must have been men of great
strength : it was creditable to themselves, and fortunate for their
offending brother, that they did not "sit upon " him more heavily.
SANQUHAR.—The minutes of this
club carry us back to the year 1774, when the society was formed, and with
the exception of blanks between 1809-17, 1819-1829, and 1832-1841, they
contain a careful record of the doings of the society for the long period of
one hundred years. They supply us with more information as to the ancient
game than any we have previously noticed, and as this information has for
some time been available in a little volume which holds a worthy place in
the literature of curling, [History of the Sanquhar Curling Society. By
James Brown, Secretary. Published on the occasion of the centenary of the
society, 21st January, 1874.] Sanquhar has hitherto held an advantage over
the clubs of the last century, and has been better known than most of its
contemporaries. The first minute runs thus:--
"Sanquhar, 21st January 1774.
This day the married and
unmarried men in this parish had an engagement at curling upon Sanquhar
Loch, twenty-seven on each side. The unmarried men gained the victory in
both dinner and drink. In the evening they dined all together at the Duke of
Queensberry's Arms in Sanquhar. After dinner it was proposed and agreed to,
that they should form themselves into a society under the name of the
Sanquhar Society of Curlers, and that a master should be chosen annually,
with several other regulations. Accordingly one of the oldest curlers
present being chosen preses appointed a committee of the best qualifyed to
examine and try all the rest concerning the curler word and grip. Those who
pretended to have them, and were found defective, were fined, and those who
were ignorant, and made no pretentious, were instructed. John Wilson,
Schoolmaster in Sanquhar, was chosen clerk to the society, and Mr Alexander
Broadfoot in Southmains, was chosen master for the present year. The terms
and prices of admission into the society were submission and obedience to
the master, discretion and civility to all the members of the society, and
secrecy. Fourpence sterling to be paid by every one in the parish, and
sixpence sterling to be paid by every one without the parish at their
admission. And liberty was granted to the clerk and some other members to
add what new members, where (sic), and to report them to the society at
their next election of a master."
The Freemasonry of ancient
curling is here for the first time clearly indicated, but we still look in
vain for rules by which curlers were then guided at play. They seem to have
been very chary of committing these to writing—perhaps they had no hard and
fast rules by which they could act. The omission is at any rate a noticeable
feature in all the older records. The Sanquhar Society had, however, a
system of organisation worthy of notice. On the 16th January, 1776,
according to their second minute,
"The society agreed to form
themselves into six rinks of eight players each, and to appoint some of
their number as commanders over them, these six rinks to be kept up as a
standing veteran army: and also to have some of those that remained over
above these six rinks as a corps-de-reserve with a proper commander over
then. Into this seventh rink or corps-de-reserve the young men are first to
be admitted, to be preferred to the veteran rinks as their merit deserves
and occasion requires. These rinks are to be called after the names of their
It was the duty of the
commander of the youths' rink to instruct those under him in the art of the
game, and we believe this kindly interest in the initiation of the young is
still kept up in Sanquhar and surrounding districts. It is a custom, we
fear, "more honoured in the breach than in the observance," but Sanquhar
deserves honour from all who love the game for instituting it. With such
excellent organisation we are not surprised to find that the members of the
Sanquhar Society entered into the game with enthusiasm, and enjoyed the
social intercourse which pleasant matches with other parishes brought about.
"In former times," says Mr
Brown (p. 12), "the periodical bonspiels that took place between parishes
were the source of much pleasure apart from the game itself. In these days
there was little intercommunication, particularly- in winter, in country
districts. Every little country town was shut up as it were in itself, and
out from the rest of the world, social intercourse being confined to the
inhabitants of the place. A spiel between two parishes, therefore, was
looked forward to with much interest as affording the opportunity of seeing
new faces, gathering up some scraps of news, and forming new friendships.
They were the subject of much joyful anticipation, and great preparations
were made for its advent. So great was the flurry and excitement into which
the curlers were thrown that a certain scab used to say of Crawick Mill,
then a spirited and happy little place, 'It was an unto nicht in Crawick
Mill. They were running wi' teapots and razors the haill nicht."'
Among the regulations of this
old society there are only two which may be quoted as interesting:-
"Article V.—The masters are
to give due warning to the players at all times when any game is to be
played either among the rinks, or with a different parish, and in case of
neglect to be liable to pay the sum of One Shilling: and any player so
warned either refusing to come forward, or not giving a plausible reason for
his non-attendance, shall forfeit the sum of Sixpence. The masters are to
have the principal charge of their respective rinks, assisted by such of
their own rinks as they shall appoint, not exceeding two, and every player
is to submit 'without murmur, complaint or reluctance, to the master's
judgment, or those nominated by him. The masters are to use their endeavour
to suppress swearing or abusive language on the ice among their players, and
every person offending shall be fined of a sum not exceeding Twopence.
"Article IX.—At any play
among the rinks the reckoning not to exceed Sixpence each player."
In the former of these
"articles" the right of a master or skip to appoint two assistants on his
rink, and his responsibility for the good behaviour of his players are
worthy of notice. Regarding the latter Mr Brown in his History (p. 19)
"The ninth Article, dealing
with the subject of `reckonings,' points to a custom prevalent at one time
of meeting in the evening at the end of an important play, such as the
playing for the Parish Medal, in a social capacity. In connection with
inter-parochial games, again, this social entertainment took the form of a
dinner with a liberal supply of toddy. These `dinners and drinks,' as they
were called, were for long the stake played for between parishes, and were
grand affairs, the ticket being Five Shillings. This is a rather startling
figure, as money went in those days, and considering that the members of the
societies were, for the most part working men. Still it was so, and it came
to be regarded as a point of honour with every curler to attend these
dinners. Many were reduced to the direst shifts; frequently borrowing had to
be resorted to by way of concealing their poverty from all but the lender..
. . The practice of playing for dinner and drink appears to have prevailed
more or less down to 1830, when at the annual meeting of that year a
resolution was passed on the motion of Mr Hislop, weaver:—`That at all
parish spiels there should be no dinners, which being put to the vote, it
was agreed that dinners should be done away with in a general way, but that
any remember or rink may dine with the challenging party if they agree to
The two brief notes that here
follow prove that the ancient curlers of Sanquhar were not behind their
brethren at Coupar in the exercise of charity towards offenders:-
"Walter M'Turk, surgeon, was
expelled the society for offering a gross insult in calling them a parcel of
"17th Dec. 1788.
The meeting proceeded to
chose officers for the ensuing year, when Mr Walter M'Turk, surgeon, was
Besides covering a multitude
of sins, the charity of the old curlers of Sanquhar soothed the sorrows of
those to whom the frosty season brought misery, when it brought happiness to
the curler's heart. Games were played for oatmeal and for coals to be
distributed among the poor, and this laudable practice is kept up in the
district to this day. Long may it continue: In many parts of the country the
same custom has for a long time prevailed. It is one of the brightest and
best features in the history of our national game, and if it should happily
become universal, curling shall then take even a higher place than it does
now as "a sweetener of life and solder of society."
minute-book of the old curling club of Hamilton—a neat octavo—begins with
"We, Subscribers—curlers in
Hamilton, considering that the lovers of the sport of curling have never yet
incorporated themselves into a society, and are still labouring under the
want of many valuable advantages which might be attained thereby.
"The accumulated benefits
which accrue from an united body, and which are enjoyed by each individual
are priviledges which every social spirit longs to be possessed of.
"Partly animated with the
hopes of attaining those invaluable ends, but more especially excited
thereto by the following circumstance (having formerly each of us severally
contributed to the forming and maintaining of a canal for the purpose of
curling, in the Aluir of Hamilton, upon a liberty being granted by the
magistrates of the said place so to do, and having done the same at a
considerable expense. The honorable magistrates in consideration of which
have been pleased again to confirm the same priviledges to us as a society
by honorary promise, investing us with the exclusive power of managing,
supporting, and employing that canal in all respects as we shall find
necessary for enjoying the sport of curling, and by their authority to
maintain these powers granted to us when occasion requires).
"Actuated by these flattering
inducements we do now hereby constitute and form ourselves into a regular
society for the purpose of managing the above mentioned canal, and likewise
ordering ourselves in other respects as becomes a company of curlers."
The "Articles of Regulation"
that follow the manifesto, like others we have noticed, refer chiefly to the
conduct of business. A. Preses and four "managers" are appointed, to whom
are "committed the executive powers of the society to act agreeable to their
resolution, and in every other respect as they may find necessary for the
interest thereof": the entry-money is fixed at one shilling and sixpence
sterling, to be paid "by way of annual supply," to keep up the canal and
meet other expenses. Members are to be admitted by ballot or general
consent, and in all Baines they are to be "preferred in the draught before
strangers." In the list of original members some are marked "dead" and
others "run awa'," a distinction which we may safely presume is not now
necessary. The society was evidently more cosmopolitan than its neighbours,
for we have under date 1796, December 27, the following admissions:—
The magistrates and the
curlers of Hamilton seem to have worked very amicably together, and some of
the council must not only have been patrons of the society, but proficients
at the play, for several Dailies in the early times held office as masters.
Magisterial protection does not seem, however, to have extended to the loch,
for we find frequent payments for "publishing with the drum," offering
rewards for information as to Parties who destroyed the ice and the bank of
the loch; while the "watching" of the loch by the officer is an expensive
item in the yearly accounts. This personage, destined in the future to be
one of the "institutions" of every well-regulated society, meets us for the
first time in the following minute:-
"14 Nov. 1781. The curlers
met at John Eglinton's, and," inter alia, "appointed Robert Bruce as their
officer, to warn the meetings and attend on the ice, etc., for which he is
to have a pair of shoes annually at Candelmas."
The cost of the shoes was 5s.
9d., rising gradually to 10s. towards the end of the century, and this
leather salary seems to have been regularly paid. To supply plenty of "cows
for the curlers" was one of the duties included in it, besides those
mentioned above: In 1788 an officer's widow gets 6s. by way of a solatium,
as she was doubtless unable to fill her husband's shoes; and in 1792 another
widow (the office must have had some fatality about it) is paid one guinea.
The officer's inner man was not neglected, as several entries of the
following kind show:-
"To drink to the officer when
cutting the loch, 1s."
In the hour of disgrace the
poor fellow is also allowed a "consideration" in which apparently to drown
his feelings, for we read:-
"HAMILTON, 8th Nov. 1791.
"... The meeting dismissed
their officer, and the managers appoint to meet this (lay fortnight at
Humphrey Crearrer's in order to make choise of a new officer. Every member
that chooses is desired to attend, and dinner to be on the table precisely
at 3 o'clock. The meeting agree that the clerk when dismissing the oj7icer
fire him 2s. 6d. to drink for warning extra meetings."
is only indirectly that the Hamilton records furnish any information about
the game as it was then played. Each rink, or rack, as it is called,
consisted of seven, sometimes of eight players, and up till 1836 one stone
was used by each player. The Hamilton player, in delivering his stone, did
not use the hack; in the ice as he now does, but steadied himself on the
crisp, an iron cross with prongs for fastening it in the ice, of which we
have here a specimen said to be 200 years old. The article was certainly not
costly, as appears from this entry in the accounts:-
"1782. April 16. By cash paid
for crisps £0 2 0."
Some years later there occurs
the following reference to some mechanical appliance for describing, the
broughs not unlike that now in use:-
"To Thomas Miller for making
the wood with pricks for marking the toesee and circles on the ice . £0 1
The earliest notice of a
bonspiel occurs in 1792, January 21, when
"Five racks [rinks], four out
of the town and one of the parish, met with five racks from Cambusnethan on
the Dead Waters and played a bonspele, 155 game."
The "box" of this ancient
club was not replenished, as in the clubs we have noticed, by any extensive
system of fines, though fining was at times resorted to, and that even in
the case of members of the High Court.
"12 Nov. 1793. James Mack
never having attended during the whole last year as a manager, it was
unanimously agreed he should be fined. The vote carried 5s."
No rule against profane and
insulting language seems to have been needed. These good old curlers were
evidently true to their original bond of union, and able without the force
of fear to order themselves in all respects "as became a company of
curlers." They had meetings for business and social enjoyment twice a year,
and the different hostelries in the town—"John Klinton's," "The Fox and
Hounds," and about a dozen others—were all patronised in turii, the evenings
being spent, as the records relate, " with the greatest possible
conviviality and hilarity," and "with all the mirth and glee of curlers."
Nor was the sympathy that sweetens the curler's cup of enjoyment unknown to
them, as the following proves:-
"HAMILTON, Jan. 29, 1795.
"This night a quorum of
curlers met in the house of Wm. Clark, and," inter alia, "appointed a
general meeting of the society to-morrow night to take into consideration to
give something to the poor, as a subscription is opened for that purpose in
New members were formally
initiated by the society at these meetings, and had the "word" and the
''grip " communicated to them, the secrecy and correctness of which they
were held bound to preserve.
John Frost in these days, as in ours, was a fickle friend; he would take
offence and not visit Cadzow for a season, and all the arts of the warlock
Taira Pate, and the prayers of Tam's contemporaries, could not avail to
bring him out of the sulks. This will spew how they acted then:
"HAMILTON, 5th April 1791.
"This night met in the house
of John Eglinton, by desire of the Preses, the following persons, and took
their dinner, as they had no bonspel this season, there being no frost."
Were not these ancients wise?
Why should they lose their dinner because they had lost their play?
earliest records of this old club are found in a small volume which covers
the period 1796-1811. The story of its first thirteen years cannot therefore
be told. In the next minute-book of the club, which has been very carefully
kept by the different secretaries from the time of James Duffus to that of
John Bridie, we find, however, an old document that gives indisputable
evidence of the club's earlier existence. This is a reply to a challenge
which had evidently been sent from Coupar-Angus to Blairgowrie, and is as
"To the Reverend Mr
Thomas Hill, , C. Angus.
The curling society of
Blairgowrie present their respectful compliments to Mr Hill, and will do
themselves the pleasure of meeting eight of the Coupar Society on the Loch
Bog in terms of their challenge.
forenoon, ten o'clock, 1784."
A minute-book of the club,
containing records previous to 1783, is said to have been lost; and there is
one amusing tradition which would lead its to believe that the Blairgowrie
curlers played for beef and greens as far back as the Rebellion of 1745.
Both sides on that occasion lost the prize, and the landlord more than
likely lost the reckoning. In an "ode" written by Mr Bridie, and recited at
the centenary celebration of the society in 1883, we have, in the style of
the Address to a Mummy, a history of the Blairgowrie Club, in which a
certain incident of the Rebellion is thus detailed:—
"Tradition tells a story of
About the `forty-five' or still more early,
Of rude invasion, foraging, and pillage
By some bold soldiers following Prince Charlie
Who on a winter evening came to Blair,
And greedily ate up the curlers' fare.
"Ah, who can faithfully depict
How these marauders rallied in a body,
And made a mess of all the beef and greens,
And swallowed rather than discussed the toddy,
And put the innkeeper in consternation,
Awed by the military occupation
"What could he do? Though in
himself `an host'
He was confronted by an armed band
Of hungry fighting men, each at his post,
Obeying his superior in command
What wonder if he got a little nervous,
So cavalierly pressed into `the service.'
"Then who can realise the
Of all the curlers, tired and hungry too?
Winners and losers of the game were there,
Prepared to cline as curlers always do,
And round the festive board to meet, and sink
Their petty quarrels in a friendly drink."
The rules of the Blairgowrie Club were framed in 1796 by the Rev. Mr
Johnstone, minister of the parish—the president, and a committee. An annual
dinner is the first thing to receive attention in the rules, and this seems
to have been of great importance. Members who sent an apology and did not
dine were fined sixpence. Those who neither sent an apology nor came to
dinner were afterwards fined one shilling; and as this did not secure a full
attendance, a fine of two shillings and sixpence was imposed on all
absentees. "The utmost harmony and conviviality,' according to the common
entry in the minutes, prevailed at these gatherings. Tom, Dick, and Harry
were not eligible, for the rule as to membership was this:-
"No person can be admitted a
member of the society unless recommended by one of the members as a person
of good character, who has formerly played on the ice."
But notwithstanding this
protecting clause, it was still thought necessary to enact the following:
"RULES FOR THE REGULATION OF
THE MEMBERS WHILE ON THE ICE AND IN SOCIETY.
"No member, while on the ice
and in society, shall utter an oath of any kind, under the penalty of
twopence teties quoties.
"No brother curler shall give
another abusive or ungentlemanlike language when on the ice and in society,
or use any gestures or utter insinuations tending to promote quarrels:
otherwise he shall be liable to be fined for the same at the discretion of
the members then present."
The utmost conviviality
mentioned above was scarcely consistent with the following rules as to the
quantity of drink to be consumed on special occasions:-
"The members, when playing
among themselves in a birled game, shall not spend more in a publick-house
upon drink than sixpence each for one day. If, however, a regular challenge
is given and accepted by one class of curlers to another, the expense on
such an occasion may amount to but not exceed three shillings each to the
losers, and the gainers half that sum."
Most of the earlier minutes
record sundry fines for failing to observe the rule that each person:-
"Shall be bound within three
months from the date of his admission to provide himself with two
curling-stones, which must be approved of by the society; or in case he fail
to do this within the above period lie forfeits five shillings that the
society may therewith provide stones for him, and lie shall not be at
liberty to carry them away, as they are understood to belong to the
A supply of stones, "not less
than three dozen," was also provided and kept in repair at the expense of
the club. These were got from the Ericht when it was "in ply," and the work
of finding them does not seem to have been very easy, for we read on 15th
July 1799, that a committee at the command of the Preses.
"Proceeded up the water of
Ericht, and they have to report that they found and laid aside a
considerable number of stones out of which eighteen or twenty very excellent
curling-stones may be picked, and the committee request, as they have been
at considerable pains in searching out the stones, that another committee
should be named to bring them home."
The cost of "handling" them
after their home-coming may be reckoned from the following account:—
An inventory of these stones
(of some of which drawings are to be found at p. 41) is now and then entered
in the record, and at one time their number is put down at "fourteen dozen."
They would appear for a long time to have been protected by no covering, but
simply to have been kept together by a chain. In the beginning of this
century, however, a house was erected for theirs at a cost of twelve
shillings and elevenpence, from which cost four shillings fell to be
deducted as "the price of the old chain sold!" [In 1819 a stone and lime
house was built for £7. In 1881 a brick one cost 150. Such is the benefit of
No information is given in
the earlier minutes as to the form of play. But in this, as in other old
clubs, the rink generally consisted of eight, and was presided over by a
director. Grips were used for footing in delivering the stone, and Rule 8
"No member shall be seen on
the ice as a player without a broom, under the penalty of twopence stg."
Members would appear to have
been "initiated," though the traditiont as to "white-headed Jamie Cammell"
and the Coupar-Angus Club having been the means of communicating the sign
and secret to Blairgowrie (Annual, 1842, p. 60), finds no support in the
records. Prompted by that sympathetic spirit to which we have had to refer
in the case of other old clubs, the Blairgowrie curlers in the early part of
this century organised a "charitable fund" for the benefit of members
requiring occasional relief, and for "any other charitable purpose." The
"fund" only continued for a few years, but while it lasted it seems to have
done good service.
MUIRKIRK (1784).—The Rev. Mr
Sheppard, in his Account of Muirkirk, written about the end of last century,
informs us (ride p. 107) that curling was the people's chief amusement in
winter, but he makes no reference to any society of curlers which may then
have existed in the parish. As the minute-book of this society has recently
gone amissing we are unable to do justice to its antiquity, or to give
therefrom extracts illustrative of eighteenth-century manners and customs.
That the Muirkirk people are proud of their old club, and ready to do honour
to its age, is sufficiently proved by an account of the centenary
celebration in the Cumnock Express of date February 16, 1884. At this happy
and enthusiastic gathering, which was presided over by J. G. A. Baird of
Muirkirk and Adainton, the secretary, Alexander Donald, schoolmaster, gave
an interesting account of the history of the society, from which, in the
absence of the records, we may be allowed to quote:-
"The celebration of the
centenary of a society wakens up imagination, and is a particularly
suggestive occasion. In the first decade of the eighteenth century all
Scotland was in agitation over the loss of the Edinburgh Parliament; and as
debate followed debate the fury of the people grew more intense, till at
length the Duke of Hamilton summoned all the Lowlanders to muster to the
fray. Muirkirk made a brave response, and raised a large volunteer corps,
which only awaited the signal to march to Edinburgh. Now, it was the sons of
these patriots who met in 1784 and founded the Muirkirk Curling; Club.
henceforth they believed that `peace bath her victories no less renowned
than war'; they beat their fathers' swords into curling-stone handles, and
studied war no more. lien with such blood in their veins could never sit
through the long dreary winter by the cheerless ingle-cheek in
`The Auld clay biggin'
An' hear the restless rattons squeak
About the riggin'.'
..... These old farmers were
public-spirited, and beguiled the tedium of winter by playing at the kuytiny
stane. A stone was obtained in the channel of the river; a niche was chipped
out for the forefinger and thumb, the stone being partly cuist or cuited
along the ice. Then came large hemispherical blocks, the handle being fixed
at one side.
The earliest historical
document I can get my hands on is of date 1791, when reference is made to a
match between Douglas and Muirkirk, and it is added that nearly thirty years
had elapsed since the two clubs had met, thus carrying the existence of a
curling society back to 1760. . . . . The regular minutes begin in 1783, and
continue up till date."
DOUGLAS (1792).—A neat little
quarto volume, entitled Minute-Book, Douglas St Bride's Curling Club, gives
us a good many interesting notes about the early days of curling, of some of
which we shall defer making use until we come to deal with subsequent
chapters. The organisation of the club, as set forth in the riles adopted by
the ice-players in the parish of Douglas on 25th January 1792, does not
differ much from that of other societies already noticed. The office-hearers
were president, vice-president, six directors, and a treasurer and clerk,
all of which "must execute their respective offices without any salary or
gratuity whatsoever"; and of the two first-named one "must always reside
within a mile of the town." An officer was also appointed "to warn all the
players whenever desired by the president or any of the directors"; his
salary to be five shillings yearly. The entry-money of members (who were
duly initiated on entry by receiving the word and grip) was sixpence, and
the annual subscription threepence. This was a small sum, but it seems to
have been amply sufficient for the society's wants in those days, for the
only expenditure we hear of in the earlier record is at a meeting in the
house of Douglas Sleigh, vintner, on 25th January 1793, when
"Thomas Brown presented his
account for carrying stones to Muirkirk, amounting to six shillings, which,
being examined and approved, orders were given to the treasurer to pay the
same—also five shillings to the officer as his salary. And two shillings and
sixpence to John Brown's daughter at Claydubs, as a small recompense for the
trouble he is at with the curling-stones belonging to the society."
In regard to the arrangement
of players in rinks, Rule 4 thereanent was to this effect:-
"The players shall be divided
by the office-bearers into racks, and places in these racks in all parish
games, and any person refusing to play in the place allotted to him shall be
fined in the sum of sixpence."
The Douglas Society seems to
have kept up a series of matches with certain parishes in the neighbourhood,
such as Muirkirk, Carmichael, Lesmahagow, Lanark, and Crawford-john, the
results of which are faithfully recorded in the minute-book. These seem to
have been looked upon as of the very greatest importance, for it was enacted
in Rule 6 that
"Any person refusing to play
a parish game, when warned by the officer (unless he can give such an excuse
as the majority of his rack shall approve of) shall be fined in the sum of
Previous to such matches
coming off, the racks (eight players each) practised carefully at home among
themselves. It was wisely stipulated that these matches should not cost any
of the players more than two shillings sterling.
The jubilee of the St Bride's
Club was celebrated in 1842 by a dinner presided over by James Paterson,
"On the right of the chair,"
says the minute, was Thomas Haddow, the senior member of the society, being
then in the 80th year of his age, and 63rd as a player: he was a member at
the first constituting of the society in the year 1792, and from
recollection could relate many of the most eventful circumstances that had
occurred in curling duriiia the bygone half century."
In a poem [The Douglas
Bonspiel: A Poem. Though written in 1806 the poem was not published till
1842.] written by Captain Paterson about the beginning of this century are
duly celebrated the deeds of Thomas Haddow (who is said to have been the
prototype of Lazarus Powhead in Scott's Castle Dangerous), and of other
ancient worthies among the curlers "of that loved place called Douglasdale."
Skipper Tam (Haddow) draws the broughs with "knife and string." Another hero
is described as glancing up the rink
"With stone in hand and foot
In attitude of dire despatch;"
while of Bailie Hamilton it
"A better drawer ne'er clapped
foot in natch;
He once, near Bothwell Brig, with dext'rous cunning,
Drew through a ten inch port for three times running
The rink in length was forty yards and nine,
As measured by Tam Haddow with his line;
And when the stone they in the port did place,
On neither side was there an inch of space;
The ice in length was forty-two yards good,
Down from the pass to where the bailie stood;
The plaudits loud from lookers-on and all,
Alarmed `The Douglas' in his castle hall."
Darkness descends on the
players, and when " the fun " is thus ended,
"Reluctantly they think upon
And now in Flecky's barn they lodge their stones;
Then future matches made—wi' muckle sorrow
They all depart, resolved to meet to-morrow."
minutes of the old curling club of Dunfermline extend from 2nd February 1784
to 2nd February 1808. After the latter date the club seems for a time to
have been inactive till 1821, when a new club was formed, into which the few
surviving members of the old club were admitted. The old minute-book was
then handed over to the united club. From the list of members we infer that
the club existed for some time previous to the date of the first minute in
the volume, for we find Adam Paterson and five others entered as members in
1778, and the first meeting recorded is called the "Anniversary Meeting of
the Curlers." The designation of club is used in 1785, and as far as we can
judge this is the earliest use of the word among the old curling societies.
This club ought in our estimation to be held in honourable remembrance
because it was the earliest to recognise the necessity of having a chaplain
among the office-bearers, and to "William Peebles" belongs the honour of
having been the first spiritual adviser of any curling club. The other
office-bearers were president, vice-president, clerk, and treasurer. It
would appear that these offices were objects of ambition among the members,
for in the first minute we find it declared
"That if any member in the
society shall at, or preceding any future election, either ask or solicit,
or employ for them to ask or solicit, a vote for any office herein [the
member] that shall so solicit or employ any for him so to do, shall not only
be declared incapable of any office, but shall be expelled from the society
for so doing, and this regulation shall be a standing rule in future."
The entry-money of members
was fixed at two shillings and sixpence, of which one shilling only was
applied to the society's use, and one shilling and sixpence was spent by the
meeting as usuall—i.e., we presume in enabling members to drink "a few
toasts suitable to the occasion," as they seem always to have done at their
anniversary gathering. While the office-bearers were not allowed to canvass,
they seem to have been allowed to pay cann (a donation to the funds, which
we hear of in no other society), for we have under date February 2, 1795,
the following appended to the minute:-
"N. B.—Praeses cann 2s. 6d.,
vice do., 1s., secretary, 6d., chaplain, 6d. Treasurer being always contd.
pays no cann."
Penalties were inflicted on
those who did not respect the sociality of the club, and any person who did
not attend the anniversary meeting was fined two shillings and sixpence,
unless he had a valid excuse.
"The meeting unanimously
declared their displeasure at so many new entrants neglecting to attend the
anniversary meeting, lays them under the bane of the society, and shall
admit none of them without a satisfactory excuse, or repeating their entry."
Twenty years later we have
the society dealing smartly with three members who had promised to cline,
but did not appear—they were fined "five shillings each, being their
proportion of the bill." Like their contemporaries, these Dunfermline melt
as they (lined did not forget the needy, for it is stated that after dinner
on February 2, 1785, the meeting
"Distributed five shillings to
the boor and other necessary uses."
We look ill vain in this old
record for any news about the method of play. Each "entered curler" was
bound to have two curling-stones of his own property upon the ice, but we
cannot determine whether at that early date these two stones were—contrary
to the custom of the time—used by their owner in the practice of the name.
There is no mention of directors or rinks, or of any "word" or "grip" in
use, and it is not till the minute of 2nd February 1804, that any notice is
found of the implements of war. Then, after passing an account of six
shillings for crampets and for preserving the stones,
"The meeting authorize the
Preses to get the stair on the south side of the pond taken down and
enlarged, and door and lock put upon it to hold the curling-stones, crampets,
brooms, &c., and that the expense be defrayed by the club."
records have been preserved of a curling society which is said to have been
instituted at Duddingston about the middle of last century. The later
society, instituted in 1795, and the minutes of which, with a few blanks,
extend onward from that date to 1853, is by far the most important of all
the eighteenth-century curling societies. Dr Cairnie, writing in 1833, says:
In mentioning societies of
curlers, the Duddingston certainly merits to be placed the first on the list
as containing many members who are highly eminent for scientific knowledge,
wealth, respectability, and worth."
In the strict order of time,
Duddingston, however, falls into the last place in this chapter, though we
cordially agree with Cairnie's verdict. This is not unfortunate, as the
transition from ancient to modern curling is distinctly connected with the
formation of the Duddingston Society. The regulations drawn up in 1795
differ but little from those we have already described; the ideas of our
forefathers as to the high character of the game, and its power to promote
health, mental vivacity, loyalty, and religion, are well expressed in the
Resolutions; while the Laws of Curling adopted by the club are the
embodiment of the collective wisdom and experience of the earlier societies.
These Regulations, Resolutions, and Laws, while shedding light on the bygone
century, open up at the same time a new era in curling, and their influence
is manifest in all the societies which were formed between the time of the
Duddingston decrees and the formation of the Grand Club in 1838, when a
greater than Duddingston arose to guide the destinies of the national game.
The Duddingston Club was, in the end of the last and the earlier part of the
present century, a kind of Grand Club. Its name went far beyond its local
habitation, and it numbered among its members distinguished curlers from all
parts of Scotland. Besides, the old Duddingston curlers did more than
exercise themselves on the ice during the day and meet for dinner and drink
at night—they turned attention to the past, and sought to collect all
available information as to the origin and progress of the game, and under
their auspices the first history [Ramsay's Account of the Game of Curling,
1811. The work was read and approved of by a Committee of the Society before
it was put into the publisher's hands, and on being published its sale was
promoted by the members. Songs and all documents in the society's possession
were handed over to Ramsay for use in the volume.] of it was published. Like
their brethren at Canonmills, they also had songs specially written for
their annual meetings, some of which have perhaps done more than all the
rules and regulations to popularise the national game. As the precursor of
the Grand Club, at whose instance we write, we may therefore well award the
place of honour among last century clubs to the Duddingston Society.
The minutes open with this
"Duddingston, 24th January
"Curling bath long been a
favourite amusement in many parts of Scotland for many ages past. It is an
exercise very conducive to health, tends to promote society, and often
unites its votaries, who come from north, south, east, and west, in the
strongest bonds of friendship.
"The inhabitants of the small
parish of Duddingston have long been famed for their attachment to the manly
exercise of curling; this was greatly promoted by their having a large loch
conveniently situated and near to the Metropiles. Some years ago a society
was formed to keep up the spirit of this diversion, which seemed to be fast
falling into decay. Of late several gentlemen who have already joined the
society, and others who wish to do so, have expressed a desire that a few
rules might be drawn out and laid before them to be inspected by the
society, and, if approved of by the majority of the members, would be
adopted for regulating the future conduct of the society. A committee of
their number was appointed for the purpose of drawing up the rules--viz.,
Messrs Thomas M'Kill, Michael Linning, David Scott, and John Edgar—which
they accordingly did, and were approvers off by all the members present, and
is here inserted as follows, viz.:--
"RESOLUTIONS AND REGULATIONS
OF THE CURLING CLUB OF DUDDINGSTON.
"'1. Resolved that the sole
object of this institution is the enjoyment of the game of curling, which,
while it adds vigour to the body, contributes to vivacity of mind and the
promotion of the social and generous feelings.'
"'2. Resolved that peace and unanimity, the great ornaments of society,
shall reign among them, and that virtue, without which no accomplishment is
truely valuable and no enjoyment really satisfactory, shall be the aim of
all their actions.'
"'3. Resolved that to be virtuous is to reverence our God, religion, laws,
and king, and they hereby do declare their reverence for and attachment to
"The said curling club, in
order to the permanent and regular existence of their institution, have
adopted the following regulations."
The "regulations" which then
follow are, as we have remarked, very like those which have been given from
other clubs. We have our old friend protesting against "strong language" in
No. 4 "He who utters an oath
or imprecation shall be fined in the suns of threepence."
To this is added a new and
salutary prohibition in rule 5
"Any member introducing a
political subject of conversation shall be fined in a penalty of sixpence,
to be paid immediately."
vice-president, and secretary (the last-named receiving remuneration for his
trouble, and having his fees as a member remitted), .Duddingston Club
created quite a number of ornamental and useful offices. They had a chaplain
as at Dunfermline, the first being the Rev. Mr Bennet, minister of
Duddingston, who seems to have been very liberal toward the club in giving a
site on the glebe for a curling- house, and otherwise doing a great deal for
its prosperity. Their "officer" was an important personage, and had, besides
his salary, "a coat with suitable uniform provided for him. When assessments
and fines were imposed, the officer was sent to "the respective lodgings" of
those who had not paid, to collect the same, and he had to see to the safety
both of curlers and skaters; the skating club, which seems to have worked
amicably with the curlers, having provided a ladder and ropes, which, in
case of accidents, were under the officer's care. One of the members was
elected "Master of Stones," and his duty was to see that each member on
entry lodged a pair of stones in the curling-house, which, in the event of
the member's removal, remained the property of the club. There was also a
surgeon to the society (Mr Bairnsfather, Liberton, being the first elected
to that office); a poet-laureate, a medalist, and a body of counsellors
composed of "gentlemen permanently residing in Edinburgh," whose duty it was
to assist the president and judge as to applications for admission to the
Parties who wished for
admission had to apply in writing, and on being approved by the council
their names were submitted to the general meeting. The entry-money was at
first three shillings sterling, and if the entrant did not bring along with
him two curling-stones he had to "pay down five shillings in lieu thereof."
There does not appear to have been any ceremony of initiation, but in 1802 a
motion was carried that a silver medal. "with proper insignia as a badge, to
distinguish the members from any other gentlemen," should be worn, and the
entry-money was thereupon raised to one guinea, which covered the extra
expense of the medal. This badge, under the penalty of one shilling, had to
be worn on the ice and also at the anniversary dinner. Mr M'George having
given the "dye" for the same gratis, "in the most polite planner," was
appointed medalist to the society. Some years after, the price of admission
was raised to three guineas, and as there were frequent extra assessments,
the membership of the society must have been rather an expensive luxury. In
the course of its existence the Duddingston Society seems to have become
very much a legal one, for we find that on one occasion, when no fewer than
seventy new members were admitted, there were in the number twenty-nine
advocates, twenty-two writers to the signet, nine writers, and two
accountants. No society of the kind, notwithstanding this preponderance of
"wig and crown," ever numbered in its ranks such a company of peers,
baronets, judges, and representatives of the different learned professions,
as these names prove:-
"Marquis of Queensberry,
Marquis of Abercorn, Sir Thos. Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, Sir George
Mackenzie of Coull, Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, Sir Alex. Muir
Mackenzie, Sir George Clerk of Penicuick, Sir Patrick Walker of Coats, Sir
Chas. G. S. Menteath of Closeburn, Sir Wm. Gibson-Craig of Riccarton, Sir
Charles Gordon, Sir Charles Douglas, Sir John Hay, Sir William Hamilton, Sir
John Dick, Sir Alex. Macdonald Lockhart, Sir Patrick Walker, Sir Robert
Burnett, Sir John Gillespie.
"Lords Murray, Cockburn,
Ivory, C Moncreiff, Fullarton, Cunningham, Jeffrey, and Gillies, Colonsay
"Major Iamiltou Duudas of
Duddingston, Colonel Macdonald of Powderhall, Lieut.-Col. White.
"Henry Fergusson of
Craigdarroch, John Clerk Maxwell of Middle-hie, Lauderdale Maitland of
Eccles, Robert Dundas of Arniston, James Maidment, Cosmo Innes.
"Principal Baird, Professor
Dunbar, Professor Ritchie.
"Revs. John Ramsay of
Gladsmuir, John Thomson of Duddingston, Dick of Currie, James Muir of Beith,
John Somerville of Currie, James Macfarlane of Duddingston, G. S. Smith,
Tolbootlh, Wm. Proudfoot, Strathaven.
"Drs Cairney, Berry, Dyniock,
Bairnsfather, Dumbreck, Mackenzie, and Stewart."
"In order to prevent disputes
and ensure harmony argon; the members," it was resolved by the society in
1803 to prepare a Code of Laws by which the play should be regulated. Messrs
Home, David Scott, Millar, Linnin„ M'George, Edgar, Trotter, Ewart, and Muir
were the committee appointed to do this work. In presenting their report
they stated that
"The rules had been prepared
with the greatest care, most of which are strictly observed in those
counties in which the game of curling prevails."
When we meet with this first
Code of Curling Laws s we have crossed the border line of the beginning of
the century, for they were not finally adopted till January 6, 1806; but as
the outcome of the experience of the eighteenth-century clubs and the basis
of our present code, these rules will ever be historically interesting to
curlers, and they are therefore given in ertenso:-
RULES IN CURLING To be
observed by the DUDDINGSTON CURLING SOCIETY
"I. The usual length of a
rink is from thirty-six to forty-four yards inclusive ; but this will be
regulated by circumstances and the agreement of parties. When a game is
begun the rink is not to be changed or altered, unless by the consent of the
Majority of players; nor is it to be shortened, unless it clearly appears
that the majority are unable to make up.
"II. The hog score to be
one-sixth part of the length of the rink distant from the tee, and every
stone to be deemed a hog the sole of which does not clear the score.
"III. Each player to foot in
such a manner that, in delivering his stone, he bring it over the tee.
"IV. The order of playing
adopted at the beginning must be observed during the whole course of a game.
"V. All curling-stones to be
of a circular shape. No stone is to be changed throughout a game, unless it
happens to be broken ; and the largest fragment of such stone to count,
without any necessity of play-in- with it more. If a stone rolls or is
upset, it must be placed upon its sole where it stops. Should the handle
quit a stone in the delivery, the player must keep hold of it, otherwise lie
will not be entitled to re- play the shot.
"VI. A player may sweep his
own stone the whole length of the rink; his part%, not to sweep until it has
passed the hog score at the farther end, and his adversaries not to sweep
until it has passed the tee. The sweeping to be always to a side.
"VII. None of the players,
upon any occasion, to cross or go upon the middle of the rink.
"VIII. If in sweeping or
otherwise a running stone is marred by any of the party to which it belongs,
it must be put off the ice; if by any of the adverse party, it must be
placed agreeable to the direction which was given to the player ; and if it
is marred by any other means, the player may take his shot again. Should a
stone at rest be accidentally displaced, it must be put as nearly as
possible to its former situation.
"IX. Every player to be ready
when his turn comes, and to take no more than a reasonable time to play his
shot. Should he, by mistake, play with a wrong stone, it must be replaced
where it stops by the one with which lie ought to have played.
"X. A doubtful shot is to be
measured by some neutral person, whose determination shall be final.
"XI. Before beginning to
play, each party must name one of their number for directing their game. The
players of his party may give their advice to the one so named, but they
cannot control his direction, nor are they to address themselves to the
person who is about to play. Each director, when it is his turn to play, to
name one of his party to take the charge for hint. Ever, player to follow
the direction given to him.
"XII. Should any question
arise the determination of which may not be provided for by the words and
spirit of the rules now established; each party to choose one of their
number in order to determine it. If the two so chosen differ in opinion,
they are to name an umpire, whose decision shall be final,"
Three years after the passing
of the above Code of Laws we find the Duddingston curlers moving quite away
from the past, and originating point competitions, about which nothing is
heard in the eighteenth century. This was alone in 1809, on the ground that
"As no sport was more
deserving of encouragement, and as none seemed to offer a juster or more
interesting competition than curling, it would be proper to the society to
institute a prize medal, which should be played for once every winter."
A gold medal, "with proper
inscriptions and embellishments," was accordingly secured, the winner of
"To have his success
announced in the newspapers, and to be allowed, if he chooses, to append a
small badge thereto, expressive of his having been victor for the year."
It is notable that only three
points were at this time thought worthy of being played—viz., Drawing,
Striking, and Inwicking at each of which competitors had four chances.
The point medal day seems to
have been popular, and Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, a member of the
club, dedicated a poem to its honour, the first three stanzas of which may
be given as indicating the enthusiasm aroused by the annual battle of the
"Let lads darn the water in
ilka how trough,
For cheerin' frost comes wi' December
And curlers o' Scotland on Duddingston Loch
The glorious MEDAL remember.
Strain ilka nerve, shouther, back-bane, and hough.
"Let rogues and let fools rin
to cards and to dice,
And gamblin', sit girnin' and gurlin'
But honest men ken that tho' slipp'ry the ice,
Still fair play an' fun gang wi' curlin'.
"Then ring it round Reekie,
our auld bizzin' byke,
That the rinks are a' measured an' soopit;
And out flee the lads, to draw, inwick, and strike,
Frae plough, counter, desk, liar, and pu'pit."
The Duddingston curlers seem
to have had many of their meetings enlivened by the muse of Sir Alexander
Boswell. These meetings were at first held at the Curlers' Hall, Duddingston,
but they seen to have been removed to Edinburgh, and in the minute of 11th
December 1816, written at M'Ewan's Tavern, we have the following entry:-
"A duet composed by Mr
Boswell was sung to the meeting by that gentleman, and received with
unbounded applause; [the duet] was ordered to be recorded in the minute-book
of the society, and the thanks of the meeting were voted to Mr Boswell."
This is the first we hear of
Boswell's famous duet between Lochside and Damback—one of our classic
curling pieces, the first verse of which, in the best o' braid Scotch, is
enough to justify the " unbounded applause " with which the song was
received by the Duddingston Society.
"Let feckless chiels like
Gae blaw their thums wi' pecks and granes,
Or thaw their fushionless shank banes,
And hurkle at an ingle.
"But lads o' smeddum croose
Whase bluid can thole a nip o' cauld,
Your ice stages in your grey plaids fauld
And try on lochs a pingle.
Chorus—"When straw lies white
on ilka knowe,
The ice stane and the guid broom kowe,
Can warm us like a bleezin' loge,
Fair fa' the ice and curlin'! "
One name among the members of
this old society deserves especial honour—that of James Millar, advocate. At
the meeting in
[The meetings were held there after the society had secured a piece of
ground adjoining for playing the games of quoits and bowls in the summer
8th Dec. 1824,
"The secretary stated that
since the last meeting the society had suffered a severe loss by the death
of Mr James Millar, advocate, one of the presidents. The secretary felt it a
duty incumbent upon him, and die to the memory of a gentleman highly
esteemed by the members, to mention a few of the many services rendered by
their late friend to the Duddingston Curling Society.
"Mr Millar had been a member
for upwards of twenty-three years, during which period he laboured
incessantly to promote the welfare and prosperity of the society. To his
exertions, chiefly, the society is indebted for the excellent rules now
adopted and observed by the members when on the ice. He was among the first,
if not the first, who suggested the idea of a Medal to be worn by each
member and furnished the motto for that medal [Sic Scoti, &c.] He it was
also who first suggested the idea of instituting a gold prize medal to be
played for annually, which has excited a keen spirit of emulation among the
players. The secretary from his official situation had occasion to witness
the unwearied endeavours of the late Mr Millar to have the society
established on the most respectable footing, and he lived to see these
endeavours crowned with success. On the ice it is well known to us all that
he was the life of the curlers."
This statement of the
secretary was approved of by the meeting, who joined "with Mr Ewart in
lamenting Mr .Millar's death." From the account above given of Mr Millar's
work in the Duddingstoit Society, it is evident that lie must ever be
regarded as one of the greatest benefactors of the national game.
On the same evening on which
"Mr Boswell " sang to the society his duct of Lochside anal Damtack, we find
"A poem composed by Mr James
Millar was read to the meeting and received with unbounded applause, and
ordered to he recorded in their minute-book, and the thanks of the society
were voted to that gentleman."
For "feast of reason and flow
of soul" that night must surely have been a memorable one in the history of
the club. A short time afterwards Mr Millar was elected to the high position
of poet-laureate. As a memorial of one who did so much for the game as a
member of the Duddingston Society, we give the words in which Mr Millar
himself, after recounting the various joys of The Scottish Sportsman as
shooter, fisher, archer, and golfer, exalts the joy of the curler above them
"Such, such are my joys, yet
one dearer unsung
The bold Caledonian claims for his own;
'Tis when winter her white robe o'er Arthur has flung,
And the loch at its base under icy chains thrown.
"Then eager we haste, with the
To enter the lists on the slippery vale
Where defiance to combat, or prize to be won,
Prolongs the fond strife until darkness assail.
"How ardent the conflict when
The keen piercing north wind unheeded may blow-
Let the cit or the coxcomb fly trembling his rage
No feeling have those but to vanquish the foe."
"Nor inglorious the wreath
that the victors entwine;
'Tis the meed of sage counsel which brilliant deeds crown
Just eye, steady nerves, active strength must combine
With devotion to toil and a love of renown.
Now the well-polished whin-stone
wins calmly its way
With nicest `momentum' in the ring to repose;
Now strikes like the bolt, as resistless its sway,
Yet, the guidance so sure, it strikes only its foes.
"But who can describe the
still varying game?
New efforts, new schemes, every movement demands,
Tho' each change but augments the enthusiast's flame,
And each crisis loud praise or censure commands.
"And oft it will chance, as
the doubtful war burns,
That victory rests on one high-fated blow
Hope and fear fill the combatants' bosoms by turns
These pray it may hit ; those, that erring it go.
"All eyes bend on him who
decides the great stake
Dread pause! the stone's sped. Hark! 'He has it'. 'they cry.
He has it!' resounds throughout Duddingston Lake,
And the rocks of proud Arthur, 'He has it,' reply.
"Thus passes the day; ah! too
brief. Yet belong
Other charms to the eve; then the feast and the bowl,
Feats recounted or threatened, the laugh and the song,
Till social delights pervade every soul."
It must ever be a matter of
regret that the Duddingston Society, which to Ramsay, when he wrote in 18
I1, seemed "to be fast rising to a degree of celebrity unexampled in the
history of curling," should have been allowed to perish. The success of its
efforts to extend the ganie and make it more than ever national became, how
ever, the society's ruin. The Grand Caledonian Club took up the duty which
the society had so nobly tried to perform, and with the formation of other
clubs in Edinburgh, affording greater facilities to the curling citizens,
the pond at Duddingston was gradually deserted. [We would venture to suggest
to the Coates CIub, which is now the careful guardian of the minutes of this
society, that when the centenary year-1895—comes round, the Iiterature of
curling might be enriched by a small volume containing an account of the
society, and some extracts from its valuable records. Such a publication
would give pleasant glimpses of the social life of bygone times, and
illustrate the development of our national game.]
The records which we have
thus noticed may be held to indicate the nature of those other curling;
societies of last century, whose minutes have not been preserved, and of
many other societies which, without any formal constitution, are known to
have existed in the south and west of Scotland, and more especially in
Galloway, where the game is of great antiquity, and where memories of famous
bonspiels in olden times are still fresh. There is a family likeness about
them which proves that curling had been long practised in Scotland, for in
districts widely separated, when intercommunication was difficult, such
general agreement could only have come about very slowly.
The formation of societies in
the last century had much to do with the development of curling and its
promotion to the dignity of a. national game. Curling-stones, to begin with,
were improved. They might be natural boulders from the channel of the river,
but as we see in the case of those taken from the Ericht at Blairgowrie,
they had to pass examinations in which the fittest only survived, while the
huge cairn and the three-neukit specimens were "plucked" and went to the
wall. The circular type thus gradually came into fashion, and with it
scientific skill became of more importance than mere physical force—a change
which, as we have noted, (lid much to popularise the game. Kindlier feelings
were shewn to the stone when its character was thus improved, and greater
care was taken of it. Instead of being left on the margin of the loch to be
tugged out, as Graeme describes, when frost came, it was comfortably housed
at the expense of the society. Duddingston was not the first to show such
humanity, but the better feeling of the time is reflected in this minute:—
CURLER'S HALL, 7th Feby.
`. . . . . The meeting taking into consideration the reduced situation of
their curling-stories, owing to their being left in a destitute state in the
open field, and no person to look after them when the dame is over, they
therefore crave the sympathy of the members; which being considered by the
meeting, they unanimously resolve and agree to build a house for the stones
at the expense of the society."
Curlers themselves were also
improved by the societies. There were "rough blocks" among them also, if
this sketch of Cairnie's (Essay, p. 89) be true:-
"The Laird of Barr (Hamilton
of Barr) was a curler too. He was a middling player; but he was fond of
hearing himself swear! He was a grand banner [swearer], not from anger, but
out of amusement. He used the following usual form of expression: `Lard,
Gad, conscience, that is a gran' shot.' The curlers felt joy when they heard
the jolly and uproarious laird swear."
In the societies all such
coarse conduct was, as we have seen, punished severely, and the Laird of
Barr would have had to atone for the looseness of his manners by the loss of
his money. The Rev. I)r Somerville of Currie, a distinguished curler, says
in 1830, in a letter to Sir Richard Broun:--
"Amon; those who are truly
imbued with the spirit of the ;acne there exists a degree of punctilio and
etiquette, even among the commonest artizans, which would reflect credit
upon many in a far superior station; and though it is confessedly somewhat
of a boisterous game--a `roarin' play,' as Burns has it---yet I can honestly
aver, to the best of my recollection, I never heard an oath or an indecent
expression made use of upon the ice."
If there are any "blocks"
among us nowadays whose tongues are not so polished as their Ailsas, they
may "aiblins tak' a thocht and mend" as they read the early laws which, to
their credit be it said, were generally framed and adopted by working men;
for in the lists of membership the names of noblemen and gentlemen are at
the first conspicuous by their absence.
Decorum in speech and
behaviour, respect toward authority, obedience to law, and the duty of each
to contribute to the happiness of others were all enforced by a system of
fines which had no respect of persons. Into the pocket of every offender the
brethren put their hands, and took out sufficient to satisfy their
regulations and quench their thirst; and if any one demurred, they simply
extracted more or expelled hint from the society. It is a wonder there were
not more John Crocketts in such times; but "heaven's first law" is often
enforced with penalties to the ultimate advantage of the sufferer, and by
such stern enactments curling and curlers had a character given to them
which they have never lost.
By the formation of societies
not only the stones and the manners but also the style of play was improved.
The society when formed was generally parochial, and if the nobility were
not to the front there was sufficient scope for emulation among the
"ministers, surgeons, writers, blltcliers, fishers, weavers, masons,
wrights, grocers, farmers, smiths, tailors, shoemakers, publicans, and
sinners," who, with a few others that might be added to Cairnie's list,
usually made up the roll of membership. It was their, as it is now, an
object of ambition to be elected a master or director ; and unlike the
feudal baron who, when he made a bonspiel with a rival, stuck himself at the
bead of his vassals, who could generally curl better than himself, or the
cock-lairds, at whose curling broolzies
"Their farming slaves a hail'
And neither whinge nor swither,"
the society acted on the
detur digniori principle, and elected the best man to direct them. The
haughty big-wig and the reckless stone-breaker were set aside, and skilful
players like Deacon Jardine [Deacon Jardine, according to Sir R. Brous,
"'flourished' from the beginning of the eighteenth century downwards, and
was the oldest Preses of the Lochmaben rinks, whose name has survived the
lapse of an hundred and thirty years." "Of Deacon Jardine's forte, it was
said that he could with his stone birse a needle—i.e., he could wick a bore
so scientifically that he would undertake, having first attached, with a
piece of shoemaker's tvax, two needles in the side of two curling-stones,
just the width of the one he played with apart, and upon two stones in
front, similarly apart, and iu the line of direction, having affixed two
birses, to play his stone so accurately that, in grazing through the port,
it should impel the birses forward through the eyes of the needles!"
(Memorabilia, pp. 25 and 60). ] and Tam Haddow took command of the rink, and
kept it as long as they kept their reputation. Promotion in the ranks was
thus the reward of true merit, as it should always be in well-regulated
societies ; and when this was the case the members played their best, that
they might attain honour among their fellows.
While the pillar of i•i ralry
was thus satisfactorily adjusted iii its position, that of good fellowship
was securely and happily set up in the social gatherings that were convened
on the ice and ended in the inn, when the frost paid a visit to the parish,
and in the anniversary meetings of the society, which took place "fither or
no." They might have their political and religious differences and their
social distinctions, but the lines of Norman Macleod were as true then as
they are now:-
"In fine frosty weather, let
a' meet thegither,
Wi' brooms in their haun's, an' a stane near the 'T';
Then, ha! ha! by my certies, t'e'll see hoo a' parties
Like brithers will love and like brithers agree!'
In the High Jinks of the
Curling Court, which were then, perhaps, more common than they are now,
members were all brothered, and in a rough-and-tumble way they were jumbled
together, and all distinctions forgotten in the presence of "My lord" and
his "officer," and and the excitement of "the roupin' o' the stoup."
An honest countryman, when he
was once asked if he was a total abstainer, is reported to have answered in
pious indignation, "'Deed no, sir, 'am the verra opposite." Society
gatherings in the olden time were not cold water conventions, but it would
be defamation of character to say they were the very opposite. Excessive
drinking was prohibited, as many of the records have shewn. The eighteenth
century was the age of clubs, and the vice of intemperance was then common
in clubs and outside of them, but intemperance was not encouraged by the
clubs of the curlers. The reverse was rather the case. They certainly loved
curling more than drinking. Over their pap-in, their cappie-ale, or their
bowl of whisky-punch, they recited the adventures of the day's healthy
amusement and cemented the ties of friendship, and by the song and sentiment
and sociality that graced them, their meetings were redeemed from the
Scottish self-indulgence and debauchery that disgraced the period.
If these old curlers did not
quite conduct themselves as their descendants do in this cultured and
enlightened acre, they were certainly better employed than in cracking
skulls and shedding blood as their ancestors had been accustomed to do. Nor
must it ever be forgotten how benevolence mingled with their conviviality,
and how they often caused the hearts of the widow and the orphan to sing for
joy by their kindly distributions of food and eldin, thus making curling
what we hope it will ever be—a trusted ally of "the charities that soothe,
and heal, and bless."
We are now in a position to
conclude our History of Ancient Curling; by a summary account of the
conditions and customs that have come cinder our notice as we proceeded with
the divisions under which we have seen fit to arrange the subject. In no
separate chapter have we found it possible to detail accurately such
conditions and customs, but from a conjunct view we may, with the aid of
some additional light, present them in outline that they may be compared and
contrasted with those which now prevail.
Nature is so faithful to us
that she never changes her methods, and by breaking the connection between
the present and the past renders useless the little knowledge we have gained
of her ways. So the original patent granted by her to John Frost, by which
to "bind the mire like a rock," has never been improved upon. We may
therefore premise that our forefathers curled on ice similar to ours, with
variations of crunklie and clean, dour and gleg, drug and keen, laugh and
smooth, dauchie and clear, slagie and crisp, according to the
weather—sufficient to test the versatility of the players. But if the
quality was similar, the quantity was greater. When drainage had not sucked
the life away from pits, ponds, dubs, dams, tarns, and pools, and water as a
motive power had not been converted into steam, curlers were, when frost
came, literally beset with glittering temptations of "crystal brigs." And
frost came oftener then than it does now, though wise men tell us that poor
old Sol is growing feebler like ourselves with age. When his rays come forth
no longer and heat is uniformly diffused, we frigid nations will be on a
level with our less fortunate torrid neighbours, and there will then be no
curling and "no nothing." We could reconcile ourselves to the consummation
if only in our little day the lessening of the sun's heat gave us more ice,
but what with gulf-streams, sun-spots, and other "new inventions," we have a
poor time of it compared with our great-great-grandfathers, and never once
in our lifetime have we had such a luxury as the Beith curlers had at Nicol
Buntin's burial, when they "had the drops from their noses frozen like
shuckles." Let us hope that 'John Frost will see it to be his dirty- to work
his patent more effectively, or else hand it over to the Royal Club to make
better use of it.
portion of ice set apart for a curling spiel was called the lead, ran/c, or
rinse (by which last name it is still described), and as it was then shorter
than it is now—its ordinary length being, 30 yards—this partly explains how
early curlers were able to play such heavy stones.
each end of the rink was the tee, toe-see, cock, cockee, wiittyr, gog, or
gogsee, as it was variously called. Then, as now, it was what all aimed at,
the centre of attraction, the cynosure of every eye. A Lawbee, a pinch of
snuff, or a plain button inserted in the ice was enough to mark the
interesting spot, but a later improvement was "a circular piece of iron with
a hole drilled in the centre and having a small prong immediately opposite,
which is pressed down into the ice to keel) it fixed" (Fir;. 39).
We have a relic of antiquity
in the form of a wooden pin about a foot high, which was used the better to
indicate the tee from a distance. It is rather a dowdy edition of the fairy
form which artists are accustomed to sketch hovering over the gog, and looks
not unlike a champagne bottle dying of consumption; but though its
intentions might be good, its existence need not be prolonged, as its
purpose is sufficiently served by a "besom shank."
Bound the toe-sec were
drawn several concentric circles, called the broughs, varying in diameter
from 2 to 12 feet. The space about the tee and the broughs was called the
boardhead. The coal, collie score, hoq, or hog-score, a line (generally wavy
or serpentine, so as to
distinguish it from an
accidental crack in the ice) was drawn at a distance from the tee of
one-fifth or one-sixth part of the whole rink, so that when the rink was 30
yards the hog; was either 6 or 5 yards distant from the gog. The dread
Rubicon was therefore easier crossed when the rink was shorter.
Rink or rack was the terns
applied to a team of players. This was generally composed of eight men,
though the number varied from three to nine, and was presided over by a
brandey, director, master, oversman, hin-haun, leader, or douper, [The
designation skipper or skip is not found in the last century records
examined by us.] as he is variously called, whose duty it was to direct the
gatlie and to play the last stone.
George Harvey's picture of the Curlers in the beginning of this chapter, and
the figures [From drawings by the late James Drummond, R.S.A. (1842), in the
possession of Captain Mlacnair. While the drawings are in many respects
interesting, the " brethren " will detect some deficiencies which lead us to
infer that the artist was not a curler.] on the two foregoing pages (;ire a
good idea of their ordinary accoutrements in the end of the last and the
beginning of the present century. The kowe, cove, or broom, without which no
player [The player is said to be the Rev. Dr Aiton of Dolphinton.] was
allowed to appear on the ice, is conspicuous, and there is a picturesqueness
in the ancient article that we miss in our modern besom.
the stones used we need acid nothing to what has already been said. The one
which has left the hand of the player in Harvey's illustration, and which
"nods in conscious pride" as it moves along the hozaee, attended by the
excited dog, who is no doubt oii his master's side, and by the faithful
sweepers, has, it may be noticed, a ring-handle, and is rather more antique
in appearance than those which are at rest around the tee.
The oldest type of foot-hold
used by the curler for delivering the stone and attending; to the sweeping
was the crampbit, crampct, cramp, or tramp—a piece of iron take some
particular shot. Sketches of a few of these gabions now in the possession of
some of our older clubs are
here furnished, from which it
will be seen that their variety of form was extensive.
hack; or notch in the ice, which some of the best clubs and most skilful
players still prefer before any other, is a later style of foothold. With a
strong knife a longitudinal hollow is made in the ice in which one foot is
fixed as shewn in Fig. 55, which also indicates the relative position of the
other foot. The hack is so simple and so natural that it might be supposed
to be the most ancient form of foothold, but it is really an indication of
further improvement in the mode of play. While
"The trimling player stell'd
Wi' mony a stumping stog,"
and moved about "like a hen
on a het girdle " till lie got into suitable position to take the shot he
wanted, or adjusted the triekers with the same uncertainty, the use of the
hack permitted no such liberties, and the "capering combatants" had to play
from one position and deliver the stones so as to make them cross the tee.
The hack is, however, liable to weaken the ice and let up the water, and it
is unsuitable for the artificial ponds now so common, so that for sake of
uniformity it would be better for curlers generally to adopt the foot-iron.
The game in early times
generally consisted of a certain number of shots, "31" being a common
number, and the bonspiel, which was generally played between five rinks of
eight men each, was in such a case only decided when one side reached the
score of "155," and unless a majority of rinks on one side were uppermost, a
more majority of numbers did not secure a victory. This anomalous custom has
been discontinued, but in the south of Scotland the game of numbers has not
given place to the game of time, as it ought to have done. ["27" (instead of
"31 ") was the old number in Galloway. Later it was "21." Now the game
generally consists of a certain number of "heads" or "ends."]
The great " field-day of the
ice campaign " was the bonspiel, in which parish met to measure strength
with parish and decide which was to look up to the other, for a year at
least, as superior. The curling society, where it was formed, carried out
the preparations for the great event, and took the honour of the parish into
its keeping. Mimic battles were previously fought on the home ice, that the
generals who had been chosen to do battle in naive of the parish might
discipline their forces and test their efficiency before the struggle came
With "the neb o' the morning"
all were astir when the eventful day came which was to decide for another
year their curling fate. The stones had been carted off at midnight, and
after a hurried breakfast the warriors sped over the hills to the scene of
action followed by the good wishes of the whole parish. The gudewives had
(lone their part in preparing a good supply of vivres.
"These consisted of bread and
cheese with porter ad libitrm, and such of the company as chose had hot
pints prepared, consisting of porter, eggs, biscuit, sugar and whisky, of a
consistence as thick as ordinary porridge, and well might be called meat and
drink." [Cairnie's Essay, p. 63.]
These were safely deposited
at the side of the pond, as Harvey's picture does not fail to indicate, and
the artist has not forgotten to assist Mr Cairnie's memory by putting the
"Grey Beardie" at the side of them. With appetites whetted by their early
drive in the crisp morning air, the curlers might have been excused for
falling upon their stores at once, but they must first open war and test the
enemy's mettle with the aid of "only a thimblefu."
"An' are they did the play
Ilk stamock got a canker,
For nane did think it was a sin
Most bonnily to tak' her.
Ahin' the quickly toomed lass
how the wee finger twirled,
Then up in air a bawbee was
For heads or tails hie birled
To lead that day."
Not more keenly did their
forefathers fight for civil and religious liberty than did the "glorious
congregation of incomparable curlers "for the honour of their parish, with
channel-stanes for swords and kowes for spears. Supplesinewed, broad-chested,
brawny-armed young fellows and aged men smit with the eagerness of youth"
alike nerved with the love of conquest, and fired with a desire for glory,
put forth every energy they could command, as if the struggle were one of
life and death. Uncouth and clumsy as their stone-weapons were, they drew
hey guarded, they ported, they brittled, they chuckled with a dexterity
which was simply marv`eIlous. A brief pause hurriedly to despatch the said
vivres by the loch-side; then faster and more furious grew the fray—the one
side anxious to regain what they had lost, the other determined to retain
what they had won. They ran, they soopit, they roared till they were hoarse;
yet with all the uproar there was no disorder, each rink moving with the
precision of a tried regiment under a skilful general. Their ponderous
granites "growled" along the rink; and though the ice "rairded" under their
crampeted tread, they heeded not, as they watched with eagerness the effect
of each shot on the enemy, and plied their brooms and played their stones as
their commander directed. Often, as it happened, fate hung upon the last
shot of all, and as the stone of destiny left the hand of the cident
director, every nerve of every player quivered with excitement till the deed
was done which decided the fortune of the day. Besoms and Kilmarnock bonnets
"cuist " high into the air, with "hollas loud and lang," proclaimed the joy
of a victory more important than Waterloo to its victors; while Edinburgh
after Flodden was no sadder spectacle than the village of the vanquished
parish, when the stragglers came back from the scene to tell in tears the
story of defeat. Thus closed the day of rivalry; but the evening had to
succeed, with its merry gathering around the table in the muckle room," and
its finishing touches of mirth and fellowship, without which no bonspiel was
considered perfect in the olden time. In the steam of "beef and greens," and
the flowing cup of kindness, all unpleasant remembrances of the day's feud
melted away. Heart opened out to heart under the genial glow of sympathy,
and with song and sentiment the winged hours flew past ; the old ties of
brotherhood were strengthened, and new friendships were formed, as the
curling heroes of two parishes met, no longer in rivalry but in
good-fellowship ; and thus the pillars of the bonspiel were established more
firmly than ever.
These parish bonspiels and
their attendant festivities marked the dawn of Scotland's better day. They
were only possible among a free, loyal, and independent people, and so they
brighten up the landscape of Scottish history when religious wars, clan
quarrels, border lawlessness, and Jacobite risings no loner trouble the
land. We have been a fighting nation, and such we are, and will be to the
last but if we could only (rive up the war-cries that cause strife and
bitterness anions us, and confine our energy to such healthy conflicts as
curlers engage in, our fighting would be good for us; it would brace our
nerves and strengthen our sinews, and bring us into a condition of healthy
equality and fraternity.
This story of Ancient Curling
has taken up more time and more space than our first intentions had allotted
to it. When so many old documents and relics were handed over to us by
various clubs, and when fresh interest was aroused in the past by the great
commemorative gathering of curlers on November 28, 1888, it seemed to us
that we should in the circumstances best discharge our duty by preparing
such an account of the gain as would embrace all the new information
furnished to us, and all that writers on the subject since Ramsay's time had
set down. Our desire has been to snake as clear as possible the history of
curling up to the he-ginning of this century. There is for those who come
after us a rich and wide field in the records of later clubs, into which we
shall only enter to take a rapid survey of the ground. Others will no doubt
take up and complete the story of curling, and perhaps by fresh
investigation supplement what we have written about ancient times. It is
enough for its now if, by what we have written, curlers at home and abroad
are brought into closer fellowship with those who, from the time of George
Puthven to that. of James Millar, did such good pioneer work, and even in
far-off times, established for curling the reputation it has ever held as
the best, the healthiest, and the manliest of all Barnes. Truly, they were a
set of noble fellows, and we cannot give them the "word" and the "drip," as
they look out upon us from the dim past, without having our enthusiasm
warmed and our devotion to curling increased. As the Caine increases in
popularity, and finds for itself a home, as we trust it shall, in lands even
more suited for its development than our own, we may look for many further
improvements in the method of play. One thin, however, is certain—and it is
sufficient excuse for the time and space we have given to the subject of
Ancient Curling—we shall never improve upon the good-fellowship of the
curlers in the old times on the ice and by the social board, and we shall
never give a better account of ourselves than did the founders of the
Duddingston Society, when in the name of the brotherhood of the last century
they resolved that "to be virtuous is to reverence our God, religion, laws,
and king"; that virtue, without which no accomplishment is truly valuable,
and no enjoyment really satisfactory, shall be the aim of their actions";
and that "peace and unanimity, the great ornaments of society, shall reign
anion; them." It seems to us that the best we can do is simply to uphold
these ancient traditions of the game, and to be true to the spirit of them.
That we have lifted the veil
of obscurity from the origin of the game, and settled the question in favour
of Scotland, we do not profess. Perhaps it may never be possible to do this;
but that Scotland has been the chosen guardian of curling from infancy to
manhood can never be doubted or denied. Nor can it be denied that the child
of our adoption in its every feature proclaims its parentage. "That sport,"
as Christopher North once truly said, "stirs the heart of auld Scotland till
you hear it beating in her bosom." Our pawky humour, our canniness, our
keenness, our love of independence, our sociality, our per fervidunn
inyenium, are all reflected in our curling, and all at their best—for
curlers are the "wale" of their countrymen, and the truest exponents of our
national character. What it gives of insight into our inner life is,
however, not so important as what it does in return for our fostering care,
in mitigating for us the ills of life, and ministering to us sympathy,
strength, and joy. Curling converts what would otherwise be the bitterest
into the most delightful part of the whole year, and at the very time when
no stranger would think of visiting our bleak shores, in the seemingly
inhospitable season of frost and snow, we are found amusing ourselves
together, and pitying those who have no enjoyments like ours. In curling our
youth have an outlet for their enthusiasm and energy, and a means of
cultivating strength of body and vigour of mind, by an amusement which is in
no way associated with vicious temptations while from are it wards off
disease and infirmity, and gives new life to the stiffening limbs. It conies
to the labourer at the time he most needs relief, when the fields are at
rest and he does not require to work ; it makes him forget the burden of
toil, and cheers his heart, and makes his life more worth living. It draws
the professional man and the man of business away from care and worry, and
removes the wrinkles of anxiety from the troubled brow. It brings rich and
poor together in a way that nothing else does or can do, and without taking
from the one his dignity or from the other his self-respect, it makes them
feel that thew are "a' John Tam son's bairns," and that beneath and above
all social distinctions there is a deeper, higher relationship - that of
sympathy and common humanity.
As something more than "a
mere amusement;" as, in fact, an important force in the development of our
national character, the student of Scottish history may find much
instruction in the history of the national game. The lover of humankind may
also watch with interest its progress and seek its prosperity, and from what
it has done in this country in the past he may infer how much it is possible
for curling to do in helping on the time
"When man to man the world
Shall brithers be an' a' that."
We in Scotland may well be
thankful, as we are, for our inheritance, and proud, as we are, of our game.
Our pride and thankfulness will, however, only be complete. when every
country under the dominion of the ice-king shares the inheritance with
ourselves. Wherever Scotchmen go (and where on earth do they not go?) let
them therefore carry with them their brooms and their channel-stanes, and
give the blessing to every country of their adoption where the old friend of
their fatherland—John Frost—is permitted to visit them. They can take from
auld Scotland no better gift, and keen, keen will be our delight when the
brotherhood is as wide as nature will allow it to be. With those who remain
at home the future of curling is in safe keeping. Not till Scotland herself
passes into oblivion shall any true son of hers allow the noble game to be
forgotten. Together they have prospered and together we wish them
prosperity—the Land o' Cakes and her ain game o' curlin'.
"Lang wave the thistle on the
Lang live this northern land,
Lang rove her burnies to the sea,
Lang live her curling band.
"O Scotsmen, aye be Scotsmen
And on the icy plain
Still joyful swing and bravely fling
The roaring channel-stane!"