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Issue 41 - the ‘roaring game'

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 41
October 2008

 

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the ‘roaring game'

While curling is today recognised as an international team sport, there can be no dispute that it was invented in medieval Scotland, with the earliest record of it being played dating from 1541. The popularity of the sport spread rapidly throughout countryside districts and, in 1636, we find it on record that the Bishop of Orkney was put on trial by the Church of Scotland for the grievous sin of “Curling on the Sabbath Day.” When rural life was limited by snows and winter frosts, the frozen ponds and inland lochs of Scotland created a perfect opportunity for communities to indulge in sociable outdoor exercise. However, no records of the rules governing the earliest games survive, only that a mark was set upon the ice and small flat-bottomed river stones thrown towards it from a given spot.

This is how the ‘roaring game,’ so called because of the noise made by the stones as they moved across the ice, evolved.

To begin with, it was normal to have eight players on each side, but this changed when team numbers were universally reduced to four in the first half of the 18th century.

Having been formed in 1716, and still in existence, Kilsyth Curling Club lays claim to being the oldest curling club in the world.

In 1777, the hard frost lay on Fenwick Moor, and many of the players arrived for the first time with circular stones into which handles were fitted. This enabled a twist of the hand to encourage the stone to travel in a curve and thus a new dimension to the sport began.

Today, each team member takes it in turn to slide a heavy polished granite stone across the ice towards a target which is known as the ‘house.’ Two sweepers, equipped with brooms, accompany each stone on its journey to clear away the path in front.

The first mass-produced stones were produced by Andrew Kay at Mauchline in Ayrshire during the Victorian era. During this period, different styles of stone emerged – Burnocks, Tinkernhills, Grey and Red Hones, Silver Greys, Carsphairn Red and Crawfordjohns, Muthills, and Giells, Grey Ailsa Craigs, Red Ailsa Hones, Grey Ailsa Hones, Crawfordjohns, Burnock Waters, Earnock Moor, Blantyre Blacks, Blantyre Silver Greys, and Douglas Water.

As the popularity of curling increased, clubs were formed across Scotland, and specially allocated areas of flooding were created within sluice gates which would be shut in October to allow freezing, and opened again in the spring to allow summer grazing to proceed. With improved communications, railways and roads, competition between local clubs escalated north to south, and, around 1833, Dr John Cairnie built the first curling rink made of bitumen and stone at Largs.

The sport continued to prosper throughout the central belt of Scotland, and as Scots emigrated to the New World, to North America and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the pastime traveled with them. Scots also introduced curling into Scandinavia and Northern Europe.

The Men’s World Curling Championships was launched in 1959 with the ‘Scotch Cup’ held in Edinburgh and Falkirk. The first World Title was won by the team from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. The Women’s World Curling Championships were launched in 1979, with Mixed Men plus Women Championships starting in 2008.

Canada has consistently dominated these championships although there have also been winners from Switzerland, Sweden, West Germany, the USA, Norway and Scotland.

Curling became an official Olympic Games sport at the 1998 Winter Olympics.

However, in 2006, the International Olympic Committee concurred that the unofficial curling competition held at the Semain de Sports d’Hiver, the International Sports Week of 1924, qualified retrospectively as an Olympic event. Thus, the winner of the gold medal that year was Great Britain and Ireland, the winner of two silver medals, Sweden, and the winner of the bronze, France.

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club is located at Cairnie House, Avenue K, Ingliston Show Ground, Newbridge, Midlothian, Scotland. The website is: www.royal caledoniancurlingclub.org Scotland is also the home of the world governing body on curling, The World Curling Federation, 74, Tay Street, Perth, PH2 8NN. Found at: www.worldcurling.net