The Early History of Airthrey Castle Curling Club
In around 1790 Robert Haldane, owner of the Airthrey Estate which lies between Bridge of Allan and Causewayhead, was completing the construction of his new mansion house and the landscaping of the grounds. As part of this project he formed the sheet of water known as Airthrey Loch. Almost ninety years later in 1878 the then owner of the estate, Lord Abercromby, gave permission for the newly formed Airthrey Castle Curling Club to enjoy their sport on the Loch.
Airthrey Estate subsequently passed into the occupation of the Graham family and then the Donaldson family before it ceased to be a private residence and became firstly the maternity hospital for the Stirling area and then a part of the new University of Stirling. In recent years the new buildings of the University have spread over much of the Estate with the loch forming the centrepiece of the landscaping and gardens which give the University such an attractive setting.
The inaugural meeting was held in the Wallace Arms at Causewayhead and the first Annual Dinner was at the same venue. However the headquarters of the Club were soon transferred to The Royal Hotel at Bridge of Allan where they have remained for most of its subsequent history.
At the first meeting Lord and Lady Abercromby were appointed as Patron and Patroness and Mr Laurence Pullar of The Lea, Kenilworth Road, was appointed President. Rev. David Imrie, the minister of Logie Kirk, became Chaplain to the Club, the first of three Logie ministers to occupy this office from 1878 to 1949 all of them being active curlers. Mr Pullar ran the dyeing branch of the well-known family firm which had works at Keirfield in Bridge of Allan and at Ashfield near Kinbuck. While he served as President for only four years he remained a member, and later an Honorary member, for over forty years.
The new club was not slow to get into action on the ice and the Stirling Journal of December 1878 records a game played for a medal presented by the Chaplain and another for a pair of curling stones presented by Mr John Peat of Manor.
In 1879 the Club was admitted to membership of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (RCCC) at its Annual Meeting in the Cafe Royal in Edinburgh with a membership of twenty regular and nineteen occasional members.. Thirty-one other Clubs were admitted at the same meeting including Darlington, Manchester Bellevue, Clandeboye, Mount Ida (New Zealand), and Manitoba (Canada). Curling at that time was a fast growing sport and not just in Scotland. It was reported that Lord Dufferin, then Ambassador at the Court of the Tsar in St. Petersburg, was trying to inaugurate a club in that city in addition to the one already operating in Moscow. Curiously, the family seat of Lord Dufferin was at Clandeboye in County Down.
An account was opened at the Union Bank in Henderson Street but in the early years it seems that this was frequently overdrawn, a situation regularly blamed on the consumption of refreshments at Club matches.
There can be no doubt that the winter weather in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first twenty years of the twentieth was vastly colder than that which we experience today. As a result, curling on the frozen Loch at Airthrey and at other suitable sheets of natural water in the area was a regular occurrence. As evidence of this, the Grand Match was held on no less than thirteen occasions between 1880 and 1910 whereas in more than fifty years since the end of the war in 1945 it has been played only three times, the last being in 1979 on the Lake of Menteith.
Members of Airthrey took full part in both their own club games and in matches against other clubs. That they were also competitive can be judged from the speech given by Mr Greenhorn at the Annual Dinner in 1884 when he said that "with twelve men from Airthrey he would not be afraid to curl against twelve men from any other club in the world". The local paper records that at this dinner "there was musical talent in abundance" and "the meeting throughout was hearty and harmonious and broke up at a seasonable hour".
In 1889 the Airthrey Estate passed into the ownership of Donald Graham of Airthrey CIE. Any worries about continued use of the Loch were quickly set at rest by the new Laird when he indicated that "he counted it a pleasure to place the Loch at the disposal of curlers and skaters and intended to experiment with the level of the Loch, the more to ensure the safety of the public".
In January 1895 the very first international curling match was played between Scotland and England at Talkin Tarn when sixty-nine rinks took part. Dr Haldane, a local G.P. and a leading member of the club for many years, skipped a rink from Airthrey but lost to a rink from Newcastle upon Tyne. Scotland however won the match by a large margin. To reach this match the members boarded a train at Bridge of Allan at 6am on a bitter morning complete with their stones and crampits. Three hours later they reached Carlisle where they changed trains for Haltwhistle where horses and carts conveyed them and their gear to the Tarn. Following the game the same journey in reverse faced them to get home.
The year 1901 was to prove a tragic one for the Club. In January their Patron Donald Graham of Airthrey died and there soon followed an event which brought curling on Airthrey Loch to an abrupt end. On Friday 15th February curling was in progress on one part of the Loch while skaters were enjoying their sport in other areas. A young lady from Bridge of Allan, Miss Kate Rutherford, crashed through a thinner area of ice into the freezing water. Other skaters and many of the curlers, rushed to help and several more went into the water and had themselves to be rescued. Members of Airthrey Castle attempted to drag a boat over the ice from the boathouse and launch it into the water. Dr Haldane was sent for urgently but sadly both Miss Rutherford and Mr Fred Pullar, only son of the Club's founder President, drowned.
No curling took place on the Loch for many years after this sad event but in 1979 members played a game there a few days after the Grand Match on the Lake of Menteith.
Following the loss of Airthrey Loch as a venue for curling, discussion turned to the provision of an artificial outdoor pond and in 1907 this was completed on the Logie Glebe, roughly where Pathfoot Drive stands today. The cost of over two hundred pounds was subscribed by the members and artificial lighting was added within a couple of years. A rent of four guineas a year was payable to the Minister. Unfortunately the pond, which comprised two rinks, was never entirely satisfactory and required frequent attention and repair. Some blamed tree roots and others inadequate foundations. Despite this it continued in use but only a few games were played there after 1945 and it was eventually abandoned in 1950.
Curling is an ancient, and particularly Scottish, game and Airthrey is by no means the oldest of clubs. It does however have a proud record of sportsmanship and fellowship and it is sincerely to be hoped that the club trophies will continue to have engraved upon them the names of winning skips for many a year to come.
(Adapted from a published History of the Club compiled by the former Secretary, Alex. R. Campbell)