When Preston was home of winter sport

Preston Curling Club in action in winter 1933
Preston Curling Club in action in winter 1933
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With winter sports show The Jump set to hit our television screens local historian Keith Johnson recalls the days when Preston had its own curling club

When those long, dark, cold and freezing winters of Victorian days came along no group of Preston folk were more delighted than the members of Preston Curling Club.

Curling in Preston in 1925

Curling in Preston in 1925

This sport wherein players slide stones along sheets of ice came to public prominence in recent times when Team GB’s women twice won medals at the Winter Olympics.

It is said to have its origins in medieval Scotland in the 16th century and is nowadays governed by the World Curling Federation.

The enthusiasts of the game in Preston, no doubt inspired by the Caledonian Curling Club, held a meeting in the Red Lion on Church Street, in Preston, in mid-September 1871 to establish the sport in Preston.

Those hardy souls had, by January 1875, managed to get a rink at Farringdon Park and arranged a fixture against the Rose and Thistle Club from Blackburn.

Preston Curling Club members in 1909

Preston Curling Club members in 1909

Two years earlier the Preston team had been vanquished at Blackburn, but this time they were triumphant.

The day was cold, and the ice keen, but dry and Preston skips Messrs. D Jardine and Wm McKie led their quartets to victory. Once the match was over both teams were conveyed to the Mitre Inn in Preston for a cordial reception.

During the cold spell of December 1878 the Preston Curling Club enjoyed local contests at both Farringdon, where the Preston Pleasure Gardens had been formally opened in 1877, and a rink at Ashton besides competing home and away for the Caledonian medal with visits to the likes of Ulverston.

Many a frosty day followed in the decade ahead and the local enthusiasts increased in numbers. By late December 1887 they were able to announce that after reaching agreement with the management of Preston North End football club they were to rent at £30 per annum a patch of low lying land suitable flooded as their new Deepdale rink.

A team from Southport providing the opposition on a suitably freezing afternoon. This Southport side had their own glaciarium opened in 1879 and proved to be formidable opposition in a drawn fixture.

Few severe winters pleased Lancashire’s Victorian curlers more than that of 1895 when weeks of frozen rivers, lakes and ponds saw participation flourish particularly at their Deepdale rink.

Internal competitions and organised club fixtures increased each year and by the dawn of the 20th century the Preston Curling Club was a competitive team with upwards of 30 curling clubs having become established in England. This led to intense competition and often visits to Scotland where conditions were more favourable for longer in the season.

One of the highlights of each season for the Preston club was their annual dinner which always had a Scottish flavour to the menu.

At their dinner in late January 1902 they looked forward to the forthcoming fixtures in Scotland to which they would send four rinks - 16 players - to compete with the finest teams.

With a playing membership of upwards of 90 the club was popular and respected. By 1909 the club had moved to a rink at Ribbleton and by the 1920s they took over the Fulwood Old Reservoir as their curling pond.

Ever keen to practice and perfect their winter sport they often took to the road and played at the Manchester Ice Palace that had opened in 1910.

Their dedication was rewarded in April 1920 when they won, guided by skip William Kerr, the coveted Newall Cup by beating Belle Vue 8 - 7 at the Manchester Ice Rink following earlier victories over Leeds and Huddersfield.

One year later they celebrated the club’s 50th Anniversary with their 45th annual dinner held at the Bull and Royal Hotel.

The winter of 1933 was a curlers’ dream when an extended cold spell meant a number of practice sessions could be played on the Fulwood Old Reservoir for the first time in years.

The Fulwood Old Reservoir was in perfect condition for practice although their fixtures would still be played away from home. That frosty spell seemed to serve them well because by December 1934 they were travelling to the Edinburgh Ice Palace to compete in the World Curling Championship with a quartet skipped by William Kerr.

Kerr, a regular England international, had twice led Preston to the final of the I’Anson Cup the blue riband of English curling.

Competing with 100 teams they won through to the last 16 where Galashiels beat them after an extra end following a tied match.

In the years prior to the Second World War the Preston Curling Clubs annual dinner was one of the social highlights of the year attended by not only the curlers, but a number of local dignitaries. The Lancashire Evening Post’s celebrated cartoonist Furnival was often among those present and captured the enjoyment of the occasions with larger than life sketches of the proceedings.

With its roots in Victorian days it was originally an exclusively male dominated sport, but these days the thrill of competing on ice is enjoyed by members of both sexes with male, female and mixed events the order of the day.

Those early pioneers of the sport of curling in Preston laid solid foundations and the Preston Curling Club is nowadays a member of the English Curling Association.

Their secretary is Phil Barton who has represented England at World Championship level and has been involved in arranging fixtures for the team which plays fixtures at Lockerbie and other far flung venues and the prestigious I’Anson Cup is still competed for.

With plans for a curling rink within the new multi-purpose leisure complex at Barton Grange the sport might well flourish once more in Preston.