Welsh Curling: A History

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Here is a brief, and incomplete, history of Welsh Curling. For details of past competition winners, please see the Honours Boards.

Fresh Ice – fresh players

The Ice Rink at Deeside Leisure Centre opened in Autumn 1973, and the first curling happened under instruction from the Rink’s first Manager, Neil Slaughter on Thursday evenings.

A diagram of a Curling sheet, with centre line, hog lines, free guard zones and other important features marked

Diagram by Nightwish62, available under CC-BY-SA.

The small band of players were introduced to the game, with new terminology (see right) and the Alyn and Deeside Curling Club was formed. The first committee meeting was on the 14th February 1974, where David Powell-Edwards was elected Chairman and Don Cowen General Secretary. With some teams already going, plans were made for a limited competition until the end of the season.

Coaching from Ron Thornton of the Preston Curling Club helped players hone their new skills, with a couple of limitations:

  • Gouges were left by skaters who were on beforehand
  • the sheets of ice were marked out three feet too long.

The First Annual General Meeting of the Alyn and Deeside Curling Club was on 16th May 1974. Both David Powell-Edwards and Don Cowen were re-elected. From this, the Welsh Curling Association was formed on 4th July 1974, with Alyn Valley, Hope, Shotton, Hawarden, Kinnerton, Denbigh, Connah’s Quay and Gresford Curling Clubs the original members.

Welsh Curling Association: Early Steps

In a bit to improve ice quality, the rink managers were asked to switch curling to Mondays at the same time, and this happened as Neil Slaughter’s place as Ice Rink Manager switched to Hugh Meikle.  Hugh was co-opted on to the Association’s Committee as the Centre representative.

Both the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in Edinburgh and Preston Curling Club were invited to play competitions and friendly matches at Deeside, and the first friendly match against Preston took place on 27th January 1975. In a bid to attract new curlers, Round Tables were invited to challenge matches, and Don Cowen drew up a design for the first metal and cloth Association badges.  He also made contacts in Scotland and pursued the idea of affiliating the Association to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

Sadly as the Association took its first major steps it had to suffer the loss of Chairman, David Powell-Edwards. An enthusiastic member and experienced in Committee work and organisation, his qualities were sadly missed during the ensuing months.

The 1975-76 season saw Don Cowen as President, David Whomsley as commit­tee Chairman and Pauline Powell-Edwards as General Secretary.  The Committee prioritised an amended Constitution for the WCA, plus the state of the ice, and discussed with Deeside Leisure Centre how it could be improved. Contact with the Sports Council for Wales led to recognition as the Governing Body for the Principality, despite not yet being affiliated to the RCCC.

Mainly through the efforts of the President, contacts in Scotland were built up and the first official Welsh team played North of the Border as the Association accepted an invitation from Gaflac to play a competition in Perth on the 18th and 19th October 1975.

The first visit of teams from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club happened shortly after, on 8th December.  It was at this point the first thoughts of an International Bonspiel came about, and a new set of stones were sought from Scotland, albeit without much initial success by the end of the season.

There was inevitably friction over how teams for repre­sentative matches were selected and around payment of expenses for those representing Wales in Scotland. By the summer of 1976 the Association had gained affiliation to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and the President had to attend Council Meetings to represent Wales, setting a precedent in Scotland!

Coaching, Defeats, Extra Hacks & the Germ of an Idea

At Deeside, the staff efforts improved the ice to a reasonable standard, and after realising there were some left-handed players, holes were drilled for left-handed hacks. New stones eventually arrived in the 1976-77 season, and competitions continued with a welcome increase in membership.

In October Gaflac came back to Deeside and their match ended in a draw, but Preston visited in February 1977 and left victors by 3 to 1. That April, a return visit was paid to the RCCC at Perth Ice Rink, and the experience of the Scottish curlers won through with a 9 games to 1 win.

In April 1977, coaches Chuck Hay and Bill Muirhead provided some coaching at Deeside, and the first plans were laid for an International Bonspiel, scheduled in May. The plans had to be dropped given lack of time to get the job done, but it was a sign of what was to come.

The office of Chairman was removed in time for the AGM on 16th May 1977, where John Stone took up the new position after a year as Committee Chairman under Elizabeth Jones as President.

“Big Bertha” is born – and lost

The 1977-78 season saw a trophy up for grabs in the now-traditional annual match against the RCCC, this time at Deeside. One of the ancient and original curling stones was decorated by Wendy Griffiths, mounted by Hugh Meikle, and promptly won by the Scots.

As new Games Secretary, Margaret Meikle announced at least 12 teams would be competing for the League Trophy that coming Season.  An invitation to the Haig Senior Trophy was taken up, while entering a team to the European Championships at Aviemore was left for another year.

The Welsh Bonspiel Begins

Decoratively-painted curling stone

The ceremonial trophy from the 2012 bonspiel

Some tuition at Hamilton Ice Rink on the art of pebbling was useful, as during John Stone’s Presidential Year the first Welsh International Bonspiel was set up, for the Autumn of 1978.  Only Wales, Scotland and England were to be represented, but it was still a significant achievement for an Association that had not existed 4 years earlier.

The Bonspiel ran from 30th September to 2nd October 1978, although the quality of the stones were a concern and eventually stones had to be hired from Edinburgh Ice Rink. Despite this slightly embarrassing situation, which was pointed out to the Sport Council for Wales, the Bonspiel was a great success and established the reputation of the Welsh Curling Association in both England and Scotland.

A tall disc of granite, with a red mount and grey handle on top

Curling stone. Photo by Bjarte Hetland, edited by Vearthy.

By the end of the 1978-79 season, entering the European Championships looked feasible and it was clear a second International Bonspiel would take place in 1979.

Wales go Truly International

In the 1979-80 season, the International Bonspiel truly lived up to its name, with teams from outside the UK. Wales also entered the European Championships with a team made up of John Stone, David Humphreys, Peter Hodgkinson, Gordon Vickers and Scott Lyon, and by 1980 Wales were represented in Europe by both a men’s team and a ladies team.

In 2007, Wales won the European Mixed Curling Championships in Madrid, Spain. The team composed of Adrian Meikle, Lesley Carol, Andrew Tanner, Blair Hughes and Chris Wells defeated Denmark 6:5 in the finals at Palacio de Hielo and won the country’s first ever European title!