Friday, 16 August 2019

Midlothian Province Bonspiel, 31 January 1900

Norman Nicol has unearthed a fascinating story about Balerno CC and he provides us with a real glimpse into the past in the following article.  Many thanks to Laura Barr, who did a lot of the "leg work" research to bring the story to life.  Enjoy the read...

Margaret Barr (the surname is purely coincidental, and she is no relation of any of the many Barrs in our club!), contacted us about an old photograph she had found in her father’s belongings.

The photograph depicted eleven gentlemen, dressed in their ‘Sunday Best’ behind a plethora of Curling Trophies and Medals.  “Where’s the photograph?”  I hear you ask; just be patient as the story unfolds!

So, what do you do when you receive an old photograph?  You hope you recognise someone it, when or where it was taken or what is going on.  It came with a few clues.  Margaret knew it was of a curling club, either Currie or Balerno.  She was also able to identify some of the personalities in the picture.

When was it taken?  Judging by the gentlemen’s attire it must have been between 1890 and 1920.  The trophy was the big clue; it is the magnificent Midlothian Province Bonspiel Cup.  Once the cup had been identified, it was a simple matter of tracking it down and having a look at it to determine when either Currie or Balerno won the Bonspiel.  We discovered that it was Balerno CC that had prevailed in season 1899-1900.  Furthermore, extracts from the year book highlighted the club membership and the bonspiel result.

Here is the extract from the year book pertaining to the Midlothian Province Bonspiel held on 31st January 1900.

“The bonspiel in connection with this Province of the RCCC took place at Cobbinshaw on the 31st January last. The bonspiel was favoured with fine weather, the ice being splendid condition for the “roaring game”.  Mr. Peter Shaw, who acted as umpire, carried out the arrangements of the rinks in a highly satisfactory manner.

There were altogether 80 rinks forward, representing 320 curlers.  The number of clubs in the Midlothian Province is twenty-nine, twenty-eight of which entered for the Bonspiel.  After nearly three hours’ play gunfire announced the close of the contest.  It was found that Balerno Club with three rinks forward, with an average of 8 1/3 up per rink, had carried off the RCCC Province Medal and the Midlothian silver Trophy for the year.  Messrs. James Fairbairn Snr (skip), Thomas Horsburgh, James Fairbairn Jnr and William Wood, the players in the highest (Balerno) club received gold badges.  The President of the Province, Sir James H Gibson-Craig, Bart., who unfortunately was unable to be present, gave a pair of curling stones and handles as a prize to the rink making the greatest majority over its opponents, under condition that the members of the winning rink play off for same at points.  This prize was won by a Penicuik rink with 24 shots up, the players being Messrs. Charles Buchanan, skip; John Fleming, James Steele and John Hunter, and the pair of silver-mounted handles given by the Vice President Mr. Alex Fairley, were won by the rink skipped by Mr. James Fairbairn, Balerno, with 23 shots up.  This makes the ninth Midlothian bonspiel that has been played since this fixture was instituted in 1879, and the following are the winners in their order:- Corstorphine, Dalkeith, Temple, Glencorse, Rosslyn, Lasswade, Merchiston, Whitehall and Balerno.  The general arrangements were carried through in a most satisfactory manner by the club’s secretary, Mr Colin C. Moffat. S.S.C., Edinburgh.”

Another interesting point was the number of curlers who were members of both clubs back in the early 1890s to 1910, a foretell of what lay ahead.

Going off on a slight tangent here, for those of our club members who participated in the outdoor curling in Princes Street Gardens, you may remember a magnificent set of curling stones which had a pair of silver-mounted handles.  Could they be the silver-mounted handles referred to in the extract from the year book?  Indeed, could they have been the curling stones in the photograph?  If anyone has any further information please let us know.

And now for the Photograph.

Balerno Curling Club
Winners Midlothian Province Bonspiel
Cobbinshaw
31 January 1900


We have identified a few of the curlers in the picture.  John T Campbell from Shothead is standing at the far right hand side in the back row.  Next to him is his brother-in-law, David Wylie from Pilmuir - the very same Pilmuir that was farmed by the Holmes family until the house was demolished to make way for Cala houses about fifteen years ago or so.  The club's own Tom Holmes of course farmed there for many years. 

In the front row, second on the left is John Campbell, possibly from Goodtrees.  Goodtrees is again in Balerno and is owned by Sir David Thompson. 


Further research has unearthed that David Wylie (1864 - 1953) was Margaret Barr's great-grandfather's younger brother.  He had moved to Balerno as recently as 1894, when his parents moved from Castlemains in Gifford. 

John T Campbell (1871 - 1940) married David's sister, Barbara, in 1896.  They lived in Starr, Kilmary.  Margaret assumes that John Clifford is John T's father.  

Margaret thought that some of the curlers featured in the picture would have included
David Wylie senior
David Wylie junior
Robert Wylie, all of whom farmed Haughhead in Balerno (now farmed by the Wardlaws)
Thomas Horsburgh, blacksmith, of Glenbrook Road, Balerno.  Nook and Alistair Weir now live in the old Smiddy
There are Campbells, including Charlie Campbell, who were members of both Currie and Balerno CCs around this time
John Potts, who farmed at Bankhead, Balerno was a curler with Currie CC in the 1880s.

A number of the curlers featured were at the Balerno Burns Club, "Let it Blaw" dinner in 1881.


If anyone has any additional information about any of these gentlemen, please let us know.


Finally, one of the gentlemen featured in the photograph is the famous Balerno blacksmith of the time, Thomas Horsburgh.  He is deserving of an entire and separate article.  Look out for that in the coming months!

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