The Royal Caledonian Curling Club

The Royal Caledonian Curling Club

National Governing Body for Curling in Scotland

1929 Grand Match

Held at Carsebreck – that Perthshire Loch – the 1929 Grand Match was widely reported in the Press, and included in the ruminations of an English Pressman – which seemed to cause a stir. He it was who took a tally of the estimated weight on the ice which, following a snow fall the night before, immediately turned to slush and pools of water which quickly seeped through most forms of footwear present.

That weight! 200 tons resulting from 2,500 competitors (and all their stones) evidencing an entry level at record level up to that time – even although 40 of the 656 rinks did not put in an appearance, together with between 2,500 and 3,000 spectators – so there were upwards of 10,000 feet on the ice! Later the English Pressman was heard to remark that his weight estimate did not include the Bottles of Whisky!

For some members of the Press the event became ‘The Plus Fours Bonspiel’ as the wearing of the tartan seemed in large part abandoned for Plus Four Suits and Balmoral Bonnets – this made for a ‘duller’ event without the bright colours of the tartan – much lamented in the Annual.

Nonetheless there was great excitement; the previous Match had been in 1925 and the one before that in 1912 – indeed this Match was the 29th in 80 years – a triad of 29’s as it took place on the 29th of January, 1929. The previous season had been a case of ‘almost’ but had been washed-out due to a thaw and indeed some had had the foresight to arrive with their Fishing Waders for this event – the third attempt this particular January to hold the Bonspiel. As they watched the many Bonfires brewing tea, coffee and broth ready for Laird and Tenant alike as, in the true spirit of curling, competitors came from all walks of life, other Members of the Press described the event as a ‘Curlers Carnival snatched from failure’, although I doubt the enterprising vendors selling (‘very miniature’) pies at sixpence each would have considered it a failure!

It turned out to be a game for ‘the strong man’ as the going was decidedly heavy requiring ‘super-human exertion’. Some rinks were required to quit the game before the finish due to their location on the ice! This did not dull the spirits of the first-ever Ladies’ Rinks present – both from Kilconquhar in Fife in the shape of Hercules Ladies. They created quite a spectacle, some wearing the kilt ‘and proud of it’. The Ladies were not the only point of interest however, as the throngs of curlers were joined by two Manchurian gentlemen, Mr. V. T. Yang, the Commissioner for Education from China – Manchuria Province, and Mr. Chang. Mr. Yang, fluent in English, having cancelled a visit to George Watsons in order to see the spectacle, proclaimed such a strong interest in this game, (similar to one played in his homeland on the ever present ice of sparkling sun Chinese winter months, also with stones, but pushed with feet), that he announced his intention to procure a copy of the Royal Club’s Rule Book and take this back home! For Members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, for whom ‘England is only a Province’ the presence of these gentlemen must have been a rare sight indeed.

The day before, the ice had been declared to be six inches, and William Angus and his team had cut 600 ‘heads’, so it was third time lucky for this Season as the warning gun rang out disturbing the quiet of the surrounding hills at 11.25 a.m. to be followed by the second gun to announce the start of the game heard promptly at 11.30 a.m.. These signals sent the stones through the water and slush with the resulting spray ‘flying like a fountain’ but not before ‘a thousand brooms waved aloft, and players and spectators cheered till the hills echoed.’

The Royal Club’s President of the time Sir Henry Ballantyne, was not able to join the Bonspiel due to ill health – in his absence Mr. T. B. Murray, Senior Vice-President of the Club officiated; but the Royal Club Secretary, Mr. Andrew H. Hamilton SSC, was there issuing the score cards from his hut which followed-on from the good work of Willie Angus, proclaimed ‘the hero of the match’ as it had been he who had kept a watcheye over the growing and thickening ice, and launched his 30 strong team to mark the ice and keep the Loch free of Geese and Swans by dint of a long cord stretched over the ice and pulled as necessary!

The event, proclaimed ‘the biggest event of its kind ever held’ (something which would still ring true for present-day Grand Matches) was from the outset going to be the North Side’s game, using, as they do, smooth round-bottomed stones which suited the ice conditions better than the ‘cupped stanes’ of the South.

The North side included in its number the Earl of Elgin skipping the Broomhall rink; also on the ice was Lord Semphill who for the first time in 30 years had been able to join the event. Other well-known names included Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Lord Kinnaird, Lord James Stewart-Murray and Sir Arthur Grant of Monymusk all on the North side.

Of course, also included on the North side was the rink of James McLeod, Strathspey, with team members P. Grant, W. Sinclair, and A.Clark, together with fellow-Skip – J. Leslie, with team members P. McNicol R. Hastilow and A. Phemister.

The South side is described as ‘more democratic, choosing its leaders from among magistrates and other civic dignitaries.’ Mr. Mark Sanderson, an 86 year old veteran of the Duddingston Club – ‘the old Royal High School Rugby ‘star’ had played at Carsebreck away back in the ‘sixties,’ – he went out with his rink, but like many a much younger man found the ice too heavy for him.’ He lamented former much colder winters – more suited to a Grand Match.

The day wore on to shouts of ‘soop, soop’ and with team mates playing as though their lives depended upon it – largely ignoring the steadily worsening conditions as trivial; with breaks for the inevitable wee dram and to gaze at the spectacle in wonder and delight with all aware that due to the vagaries of the weather they should aim to enjoy to the full.

‘The final minutes were big with excitement, but when at last the gun again boomed, this time to mark the final shot, the cheer that swept across the ice told of a hard day’s curling cheerfully played, with adverse conditions forgotten in the knowledge that the great bonspiel had at last been held, fought and finished.’

And so the North won! ‘Possibly, as suggested (in the Media coverage of the event), the Southrons found themselves handicapped on such drug ice with their cupped stones. Anyhow, the hefty Highlanders pulled off a victory.’

The Results of the Grand Match state that : –

‘Play, which lasted three hours, concluded at 2.30 p.m., and at night it was announced by the Secretary of The Royal Caledonian Curling Club from Edinburgh, that the result of the Grand Match was as follows: –

North: 3321 shots
South: 2889 shots

Majority for the North: 432 shots’

‘In the Grand Match the Challenge Trophy awarded to the Club on the winning side having the highest average majority of shots per rink was won by Strathspey (Grantown) with an average of 21.5. James McLeod’s rink were awarded the four gold badges which go to the rink in the winning club having the greatest majority of shots. A second trophy, awarded to the club on either side (other than the one which has gained the Challenge Trophy and Badges) having the greatest net majority of shots, was gained by Wanlockhead, with an aggregate of 77 and the four gold badges given to the highest-up rink in that club went to William Stevenson’s rink. Symington won the medal awarded to the Club on the losing side (other than the club which has gained the second trophy) having the highest average majority of shots per rink, Symington’s average being 25.5, and Highland (Inverness) Club won the Strathcona Medal, that club’s rink skipped by Mr. John Birnie having the highest majority of shots in the President and President-Elect Match. Mr. Birnie’s rink received the gold medals.’