The Origins of Curling – From Medieval Scotland to the Winter Olympics

Curling seems to have started as a fun Scottish pastime of throwing rocks across ice, played informally on frozen lochs and ponds in medieval times. Today, every Olympic curling stone is made from granite cut from a quarry on the island of Ailsa Craig off the Scottish coast of Ayrshire, and their size has been standardized. But the first curling stones were made from a variety of different stones and came in all shapes and sizes. “Players would choose the most useful variant to weave through a gap on the ice or cover the target, all with the aim of strategizing for victory,” according to the Beijing 2022 website. curling stone in the world dates from 1511 and is today in the collection of the Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

The oldest reference to curling, written in Latin, dates from 1541, “when the notary John McQuin recorded a challenge which occurred in Paisley, Scotland, between John Sclater, a monk from the local abbey, and a certain Gavin Hamilton,” writes Jeff Wallenfeldt. for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Apparently Sclater made three practice throws with a rock on the ice and then the contest started.”

Paintings by 16th-century Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569) appear to depict “an activity similar to curling played on frozen ponds”, according to the Word Curling Federation. And poets throughout the ages from the Scottish regions of Kirkcudbrightshire, Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire have celebrated the game in published poems.

‘Hunters in the Snow’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In the lower part of the pond in the background, there appear to be several people playing a game resembling curling. (Photo by Art Media/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Curling even features in the poetry of Scottish national bard, Robert Burns. The opening lines of his 1785 poem “The Vision” read as follows:

The sun had closed the winter day,

The Curlers quit their roaring game…

Meanwhile, two stanzas of “Tam Samson’s Elegy,” written by Burns the following year, read:

When winter wraps up its coat,
And bind the mud like a rock;
When the curlers flock to the loughs,
With lightning speed,
What will they place on the rooster?
Tam Samson is dead!

He was the king of a’ the Core.
To keep, or draw, or wick a bore,
Or on the rink as Jehu roars
If needed ;
But now he’s trailing on Death’s hog-score,
Tam Samson is dead!

There is even evidence that Burns himself participated in a “bonspiel” (a curling tournament) in January 1789.

Robert Burns

Portrait of the Scottish National Bard, Robert Burns. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

The Grand Caledonia curling club

Records show that in the 18th century curling was played in the lowlands of Scotland. Different forms of the game existed – the most popular rinks involved seven, eight or nine curlers throwing only one stone. Curling clubs and societies sprang up across the country, and by the 1830s curling had become so popular and widespread that there was demand for the foundation of a national club to regulate the Game.

The Grand Caledonian Curling Club originated in 1838 and became the sport’s governing body. Established for the purpose “of regulating the ancient Scottish game of curling by general laws”, the club officially adopted the “four-by-two” form of play (i.e. four people in a rink, each throwing two stones) as the standard, explains the official Scottish Curling website. “By the early 1860s this form had crowded out all others.”

Curling has been dubbed the ‘game of the roar’, with the ‘roar’ referring to the sound of granite stone as it moves across ice.


Listen: Author Juliet Nicolson tells the story of the freezing winter of 1962. As Britain shivered under a blanket of ice and snow, new political and cultural forces emerged that would shake the nation


Is it true that Queen Victoria loved curling?

Yes! During a visit to Scone Palace near Perth in 1842, Queen Victoria witnessed a demonstration of the game by the Earl of Mansfield – who was chairman of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club – on the polished floor of her ballroom . “The Queen was so fascinated by the game that in 1843 she authorized the club’s name to be changed to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. [RCCC]», Explains the World Curling Federation.

According to The Curling History Blog, “Her Majesty herself ‘tried her hand’ at throwing stones, although they proved too heavy for her delicate arm. Her Majesty and the Prince [Albert] expressed surprise when told of the usual length of a “skating rink”, and seemed to imagine that it took a very great force to propel the stones such a distance.

Scone Palace, near Perth, Scotland

Scone Palace, near Perth, Scotland. (Photo by Robert Plattner/Oneworld Picture/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

During the visit to Scone Palace, the Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, received a number of personalized curling stones. The silver handles were engraved: “Presented to His Royal Highness Prince Albert. By the Grand Caledonian Curling Club on the occasion of His Royal Highness’ first visit to Scotland. Edinburgh, 1st. Sept. 1842.

The stones are now in the Royal Collection at Frogmore House.

When was curling first played indoors?

From 1838 the game exploded in popularity – by the last decades of the 19th century every county in Scotland had at least one club affiliated with the RCCC, and almost every parish had its own bespoke curling pond, according to the Scottish official. Curling venue.

Curling was traditionally played outdoors and could draw large crowds at gatherings known as ‘Bonspiels’. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club helped organize “big matches” which divided the players into teams representing the north of Scotland and the south (an imaginary line was drawn between the River Forth and the River Clyde to decide the two sides ). The first Great Match was held on Penicuik Loch on January 15, 1847, and 300 curlers took part, according to the Scottish Curling website. The next Great Match was held on Linlithgow Loch in 1848, with 680 curlers showing up to play.

Two curlers taking part in a major curling match at the Royal Caledonian Curling Club on Loch Leven

Two curlers taking part in a grand Royal Caledonian Curling Club curling match on Loch Leven, Kinross, Scotland, January 28, 1959. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But the weather had to be cold enough for the ice to form in order to play – and as these conditions were not always guaranteed, indoor ice rinks were introduced to Scotland in the early 20th century (the first being built in Manchester and at Southport in the latter part of the 19th century). Scotland’s first indoor ice rink – Crossmyloof in Glasgow – opened in 1907, followed by ice rinks in Aberdeen and Edinburgh in 1912.

The 1960s saw a boom in ice rink construction and today Scotland has 21 ice rinks with facilities for curling. Unfortunately, the Crossmyloof ice rink closed in 1986.

A curling match at the Manchester Ice Palace, 1934

A curling match between Belle Vue and Preston at the Manchester Ice Palace, where the Ice Palace Championship competition was taking place, November 7, 1934. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

How did curling become an international and Olympic sport?

In the 19th century, the game was “exported wherever the Scots settled in the world in cold climates, including at that time in Canada, the United States, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and New Zealand », Explains the World Curling Federation. The game was particularly popular in Canada, where today the Royal Montreal Curling Club – founded in 1807 – claims to be the oldest active sports club in North America. Curling in the United States is thought to date back to the 1830s, when Scottish soldiers and settlers brought the game to Michigan, according to Sports Heritage Scotland.

International curling events took place in the 19th century in Europe and North America, but it was not until the first Winter Olympics in 1924, in Chamonix, France, that any form of official international competition took place. for the men’s teams. However, curling then went on a 56-year Olympic hiatus until it was brought back as a demonstration sport. [a sport which is played to promote it, rather than as part of standard medal competition] at the 1988 and 1992 Winter Games. It then returned as an official medal sport at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, with both men’s and women’s competitions.

The British curling team at the Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix, France, 1924

The British curling team at the Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, 1924. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Curling was only reintroduced to the Winter Olympics in 1998 and as such has only featured as a medal sport at nine editions of the Games (1924, 1932, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 , 2014, 2018 and 2022). To date, Canada is the most successful curling nation in Winter Olympics history with 11 medals, including six gold, followed by Sweden with eight medals. The British team – made up mainly of Scottish curlers – have won just four Olympic medals for curling in their history. It remains to be seen which nation will be most successful at the 2022 Games.

Britain's Phil Wilson during the men's curling preliminary round between Japan and Great Britain at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. (Photo by Boris Horvat/AFP via Getty Images)

Britain’s Phil Wilson during the men’s curling preliminary round between Japan and Great Britain at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. (Photo by Boris Horvat/AFP via Getty Images)

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