Curling Connections

Curling at Craighlaw near Kirkcowan
Curling at Craighlaw near Kirkcowan

A new exhibition which reveals the unique contribution to the development of the game of curling by the people and players of Dumfries and Galloway opens at Dumfries Museum today (Friday, April 18).

Timed to coincide with the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship and World Senior Men’s and Women’s Curling Championships which are taking place at Dumfries Ice Bowl, the exhibition boasts several remarkable exhibits, including the world’s oldest dated curling stone, the first Olympic gold medal to be won for curling, and uniforms worn by local competitors at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi this year.

Scotland was the cradle of three popular games - curling, golf and football - yet curling remained uniquely Scottish throughout its heyday. From the mid eighteenth century onwards the game was highly popular in this area, it was a sport in which all levels of society could participate and unusually involved both men and women. Many of the parishes of Dumfries and Galloway had a curling club, and their matches or bonspiels attracted great numbers of participants who would often travel considerable distances in wintry conditions to compete.

The exhibition will run until 15 June 2014. Admission is free and Dumfries Museum is open from 10am – 5pm Monday to Saturday and 2pm – 5pm Sunday

For further information contact: Siobhan Ratchford, Museums Curator - East

Telephone: 01387 253374 Fax: 01387 265081


Early Curling Clubs

Curling was originally organised on a parish basis. In the 1700s and early 1800s road travel was difficult at the best of times, and particularly so during good curling weather. Matches were generally played with neighbouring parishes, although even this could involve the participants walking great distances in hazardous conditions.

As curling was a local event there was great variation in the rules of play. In the late 1700s curlers began to form themselves into clubs in order to regulate the game - and also the behaviour of players.

Two of the earliest recorded clubs were Sanquhar, formed in 1774 and Wanlockhead, formed three years later. Further reasons for forming clubs were the social dinners which followed each match and the common cause shared by curlers, reinforced by initiations, and the curlers’ ‘word and grip’.

The strength of this bond is illustrated in the minute book of the Sanquhar Society of Curlers. In January 1782, Walter McTurk, Surgeon, was expelled from the Society, for offering them a gross insult in calling them a parcel of damned scoundrels. Nevertheless, in December 1788 he re-appears in the minute book, and this time he is elected as President of the Society!

Lochmaben was famed for its curling skills. Its team of souters or shoemakers were so famous that the term ‘to souter’ passed into the language of curling, meaning to win without allowing the other team to score.

In 1830, Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia was published by Sir Richard Broun and dedicated to the office-bearers and members of the Lochmaben Curling Society. This is one of the earliest books on the rules, techniques and lore of the game. The title means, ‘Memorable Curling at Lochmaben’. In one chapter the author describes Lochmaben’s prowess at the game. It would be tedious were we to give an outline of the numerous parish matches in which Lochmaben curlers have engaged. It is sufficient to say, that they have been successful over Tinwald, Torthorwald, Dumfries, Mousewald, Cummertrees, Annan, Dryfesdale, Hutton, Wamphray, Applegarth, Johnston - and perhaps Kirkmichael might have been added to the list, but for the occurrence of a most disastrous accident, by which six individuals were drowned, and a termination the most melancholy put to the bonspiel. Those drowned were spectators, not curlers.

Women in Curling

Many of the first references to women curling originate from Dumfries and Galloway. A curling match was played in 1739 or 1740 on the Water of Scaur between the married and single women of the parish of Tynron. This was reported in the Belfast News Letter and the Ipswich Journal. The article concludes, ‘the Maids showed a good deal of Dexterity in handling the Stones, and will, no doubt, be very expert in Time; but they were defeated by the more experienced Wives, after a Trial of a great many Hours.

By the early 1800s reports of womens’ curling matches are more frequent, but they are generally written in a tone that implies that these events were curiosities. Interestingly, many of these references also originate from Dumfries and Galloway.

The Dumfries Weekly Journal of 7 January 1823 recounts a game at Sanquhar in which,

the sides were pretty numerous, and composed exclusively of women - the wives against the lasses. After the match the women curlers followed tradition and retired to the local inn,

How the husbands relished this unusual display of masculine prowess, and convivial dispositions, on the part of their wives, need not be enquired into. A similar occurrence has not happened since.

Other reports of local womens’ curling matches occur at Loch Ged, in Keir and Loch-hill in Buittle. In the latter match the married women of Buittle parish challenged the unmarried and the match was played twenty a side.

Despite these early pioneers, in 1890 the Rev John Kerr of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club wrote, Ladies do not curl - on the ice. The Rational Dress Association has not yet secured for them the freedom that is necessary to fling the channel stane. However he was to be surprised during the first Scottish curling tour of Canada in 1902 when the team he captained not only met with women curlers but were beaten by them on three occasions!