Club and Curling History - Stewarton Heather Curling Club

Rather than launch straight into the history of Stewarton Heather I decided to go further back and try
to find out the origin of curling. This became quite interesting as you will find out as we go through the
history of curling and the club and combine the two. I uncovered information that the name Stewarton
Heather is in historical records long before the club was “Instituted” in 1842 read on.
I have decided to start with a history of where curling came from and how it became the National sport
of Scotland and then spread throughout the World.
In the case of the game of curling it is as well however, to bear in mind that while it is a game which
can be traced back for nearly 400 years, it was only about the middle of the 19th century that it began
to take on the dignity of a truly national game. Unlike its neighbour—golf, which, has been played in
much the same method from the beginning, and unlike lawn tennis, which is simply the revival of a
game played centuries ago in a form that required as much skill as the present—curling has so
completely developed out of its ancient node, that it is only by the help of an evolutionary theory,
which requires great faith on our part, that we can trace connections between the modern and the
ancient. With no authentic facts, to determine accurately the history of curling, my enquiry into its
origin resolves itself very much into a question.
No other nation has attempted to filch from us our reputation or lay claim to the origination of curling.
Perhaps no other would care to do so; but, the Scots have certainly not agreed to the statement that
the earliest words in use at curling prove it to have been imported into our country by the Flemings.
The following information is taken from the History of Curling by John Kerr
Rev. John Ramsay (1777-1871), who has given the earliest account we possess of the history of
curling. [Ant Account of the Game of Curling. By a member of the Duddingston Curling Society.
Edinburgh, 1811.] Ramsay, no doubt, found a difference of opinion on the subject among curlers
before he wrote, but the opinion as to the Continental origin of the game was first distinctly
formulated in his work.
Powerful etymological evidence supports its foreign origin. The terms, being all Dutch or German,
point to the Low Countries as the place whence we, at least, derived our knowledge of is
supposed that the Flemings were the people who, in the fifteenth or about the beginning of the
sixteenth century, introduced Curling into this country. "—A Descriptive and Historical Sketch of
Curling," &c. Kilmarnock, 1825.
I find this interesting on a personal basis because on tracing the family name Whiteford or
Whytefoord as it was originally known, came from Flemland (Belgium). The Whytefoords were “a
war like nation” brought to Scotland by the Stewarts of Scotland to fight in the Battle of Largs 1263.
According to the Paisley Abbey records the first Whytefoord was given land on the river Cart,
Renfrewshire, for his services at the Battle of Largs.
No further evidence is forthcoming to prove that Curling was introduced into this country by Flemish
THE ORIGIN OF CURLING STONES (taken from the History of Curling)
(2.) The ROUGH BLOCK (with handle).
FIRST TYPE: THE KUTTING-STONE.—Curling, when first practised, appears to have been a kind of
quoiting on ice. The stones had no handles, but merely a kind of hollow or niche for the finger and
thumb of the player, and they were evidently intended to be thrown, for at least part of the course, the
rink being shorter than it is now. It seems natural to infer that they were not delivered after being
drawn straight back, but swept round from behind, and sent toward their destination by a curving
sweep. As might be supposed, they were much smaller than stones of the handle type, minting front 5
or 6 to 20 or 25 Ibs. in weight. They would seem to have been picked up from the channels of the
rivers (Hence the term channel-stanes, though this may have been given to them because of the
channel or hove made for them in their course on the ice). Mactaggart, in his amusing work, [The
Scottish Galloridian Encyclopedia (1824), 1). 130.] says that "when curling first began it was played
with flat-stones or loofies." [Loofie, a flat or plane stone resembling the palm of the hand.
Curling stone
This granite curling stone is from Bathgate in West Lothian. It dates from around 1700. This type of
curling stone is known as a 'loofie' and was held by the hole in the top of the stone.
Of the description of stone that marks the second stage of ancient curling, there are innumerable
specimens "of all sorts and conditions." An ordinary human being when he gets a handle to his name
is thereby lifted into greater importance, and certainly acquires more power if he makes a proper use
of his title; so, when the leverage of a handle was applied to the channel-stare it completely left
behind the puny piltycock, and developed enormously in bulk and weight. In its development,
however, it did not follow the curves of the beautiful. Another century and a half must elapse before
the rough block is into proper form, and the curler realises that scientific skill is higher than brute
force. The corners have to be rubbed off, the angularities have to be rounded, the wild diversity has to
be reduced, and it takes time to do it. Yet, withal, this bulging, unshapely, heterogeneous age of the
curling-stone, when the curler took the hinge from the gate-post, soldered it into the big boulder, bent
incumbent under the weight, swung the block in the air, and hurled it up the rink with great strength, is
an interesting one. "All affectation of minute accuracy," some wise writer says, "in cases where in the
nature of things accuracy is impossible, is always a suspicious feature in a historian." In dividing our
study of stones as we have done, we do not presume to draw a distinct line--saying here the Handle
type begins and there the no-handle type ends. The Dunblane stone and the Tyndrum stone, while
veritable loofies in other respects, had evidently been played with handles in the period of our handleless type of stone. Sometimes, as we shall see, the handle was an after-addition to an old stone that
had been played without it; and it is plain that handles were in use before the finger-and-thumb stone
was discarded. We find also among stones of the later period many as diminutive as any of the Kuttystanes, their weight being under 20 lbs., pigmies among the giants. This granted, we can, however,
mark off a second period of 150 years, from about the middle of the seventeenth century on toward
the end of the eighteenth, when the stone in common use was in some respects as unlike the early
Kuting-stone, as it is to its polished and aristocratic descendant of modern times. In this period stones
(and handles also) were of infinite variety and shape. Sir Richard Broun, in describing those in use at
Lochmaben, describes generally the stones of the period.
BLAIRGOWRIE and DELVINE Clubs both claim an interest in the set of ancient stones here presented,
these having, we are informed, been formerly in the keeping of Blairgowrie, but presented or sold to
the Delvine Club, in whose custody they have been for many years. Fig. 10,
"The Soo," weighs 79 lbs., and measures 161 x 11 inches. Fig. 11 is "The Baron," weighing 88 lbs., and
measuring 14½ x 14 inches. Fig. 12 is called "The Ego," and weighs 115 lbs. It measures 17 x 12
inches. Fig. 13, "The Fluke," weighs 52 lbs. and measures 12½ x 11 inches. Fig. 14, "Robbie Dow,"
weighs 34 lbs. and measures 9 x 9 inches. This last and least was called after one of the Baron
Bailees, a, son of the parish minister of the time. They were all doubtless taken in a natural state
from the famous Ericht Channel, and they seem to have done a good deal of work in
the hands of their strong masters. Their double handles are noticeable. A metrical account of these
and others is found in Mr Bridle's Centenary Ode of the Blairgowrie Club:-
THIRD TYPE: THE CIRCULAR STONE.—The acquisition of a "handle" by the typical mortal to whom
reference has been made, with the consequent power and influence, does not at first bring polish and
refinement: the angles or corners have still to be rubbed off; and this is the next stage of development
entrusted to the forces of civilisation, culture, and society.
We do not hear of any earlier; while specimens linger on upon the field of battle—antiquated and
doomed--till the formation of the Grand Club in 1838. It may be said, however, as marking the
transition, that, at the beginning of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the circular stones were
novel lies, and by the end of the first quarter of this century the boulder-stones were antiquities on the
ice. Cairnie says:
"Forty years ago the stones were generally selected from dykes in the neighbourhood; but on one
occasion a player borrowed a shoemaker's lap or beating-stone, which gave him such an advantage
in playing that the others declined playing with him unless it was laid aside."
The old boulders were not without a polish of a kind. Mr Wilson of Chapelhill tells us that the old
curlers, when they got a likely stone from the sea-shore, dug a place for it in the stable entry, and
after the horses' hoofs had polished the stone sufficiently, they took it out to do duty on the ice.
Who started it, how it started and what stones were better will always be debated but as there are no
true records we will never know, what we do know is that in the early 1800’s the game changed and
became more unified in the type of stones used and in the rules.
Clubs that were in existence before this time were usually called Societies and had their own rules on
the size of the rink used and the size of the stones.
No mention is made of the game of curling by any of our Scottish historians and poets
previous to the year 1600
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 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 an early list from 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.
On reading further into the history of the game I unearthed some very interesting information
regarding Stewarton Heather and its early existence.
In most parishes the curling club became a recognised necessity. Masons, weavers, and workpeople
generally were never more devoted to the game, and the nobility and gentry gave it their heartiest
support. Literary men extolled its praises in song and story, and at last we get one genuine blink of
Royal patronage in the fact that His Majesty King William IV., "Through Sir Andrew Halliday, gave a
commission to Principal Baird to send several pairs of curling-stones to Bushy Park."
With all this progress and enthusiasm there was, however, much confusion. Curlers are conservative,
and the advanced methods and rules of Duddingston were only slowly adopted: the barbarous tribe of
natural boulders, crunching crampits, and movable triggers lingered on. The local mason did his best
to ridge the local block, but there was neither beauty nor uniformity among the stones. Many players
still used only one stone, and the number in a rink ranged from 4 to 16. The style of play was
altogether more varied than in the previous century, and before parish battles could be fought a
number of questions had generally to be settled, and numerous conditions made by which to regulate
the play.
The progress of curling in this period and its distribution throughout Scotland may be understood from
the following list:AYR [CIubs printed in ordinary type either are or have been affiliated with the Royal Club, and an
asterisk distinguishes those that joined the Royal at its formation in 1838. Clubs in italics have not
been so affiliated.]
There are many more clubs listed but the main one I was interested in is listed above so Stewarton
Heather was in existence in 1835 but not as we know it today I will come back to this later.
The “Parishes” were split into groups
WESTERN GROUP.—Ayr, Renfrew, Lanark, Dumbarton.
Curlers may well keep their eye upon AYR, as the county that contains within itself the chief
storehouse to which future generations must come for their implements of war. Besides, no other
county is richer in curling literature or more honourably associated with the development of the
national game. Of its three divisions, Cunningham had the lead, with its memories of Covenanter
Guthrie, and of Tam Samson, who with his retainers kept court in Sandy Patrick's a century later.
Tangy was now "deid," but Tam the second was the honoured presses of one of the many clubs that
bound the curlers of Kilmarnock together at this period.
And no wonder, for the young men of the Morning Star met on the ice at 7 AM, and had two hours'
play before they began work. Keen as they were, they spared some of their time to the literary side
of their game, and from the Kilmarnock press a collection of curling songs, with a treatise on the
game based on the work of Ramsay, was issued in 1828.
The Craufurds of Craufurdland have always done their utmost to keep alive the enthusiasm of the
Kilmarnock players, and a silver trophy given by the lady of the castle in 1829 brought Kilmarnock into
competition with Fenzcick, whose players were then in possession of the scientific secret which has
made them famous.
Mauchline, Galston, Sorn, Loudon, and such parishes could at this time each turn out a quota of 130
or 150 players. From these and the other Ayr parishes we have no written records, but the minutes of
the Ayr Club formed in 1820 illustrate the customs of the county clubs. Here the rules were those of
Duddingston, but the usual number of players was eight in a rink—it was never to exceed ten. The
use of crampits attached to the feet was forbidden, as they injured the ice, but a pair was placed at
each end to be used there, and in order to perform his sweeping duties with safety, the player was to
have "carpet shoes or something similar."
That patron of all manly sports, the Earl of Eglinton, was by this time leading Kilaainnin y curlers with
his redoubtable henchman, Hugh Conn. In Beith there were many keen and good curlers who flocked
down to Kilbirnie when the "icy chain" was safely thrown over it.