William Blackwood


William Blackwood was born at Afton Bridgend on Christmas morning 1875, son of John Blackwood, roadman and Flora Rankine. After his school years William followed in his father’s footsteps working on the roads under the auspices of the Ayr County Council. Away from work William, like his father, was a keen bowler and joined the New Cumnock Bowling Club as a teenager.

Scottish Single-Handed Bowling Champion 1898

William Blackwood

In 1898, William now 22 years old and as the New Cumnock Bowling Club champion, represented the club in the Scottish Single-Handled Bowling Championship. William progressed to the last eight and the finals at Titwood, Glasgow where he faced fellow Ayrshireman and Black of Galston. Black fresh from victory in the prestigious Govan tournament was clear favourite, however young Blackwood raced to an early lead

 ‘Throwing long jacks and sedately grouping his bowls around them, Blackwood ran up 10 without once allowing his opponent to score’

Although Black finally broke his duck the young New Cumnockian continued to play well and after a 21-13 victory progressed to the semi-final where he saw of William McNay of the Northern Counties by a convincing margin of 21-12.

Mr. William Blackwood, whose photo we give to-day, has covered himself with honour, by defeating all the champions, and being declared the champion bowler of Scotland. On Saturday he defeated W. McNay of the Northern Counties, by nine shots in the semi-final, and J. Mitchell, of Bonnybridge, in the final by two shots 21-19. Great interest was naturally enough manifested in the match by the large crowd of spectators who surrounded the green, and as both contestants had shown remarkable form in their tie. It was confidently expected that their meeting be a veritable “battle of the gods”. And so indeed it proved to be. Mitchell led off by scoring 3 in the first two ends against his opponent’s nil, and in the couple that followed each competitor scored a point. The men were playing a careful and steady game. Things progressed pretty evenly until the tenth end, when the Bonnybridge player made 4 and brought up his score to 10-6 in the lead. Blackwood scored 3 from the next two rounds, but his figure remained at 9 until Mitchell had reached the substantial score of 15, and to this the latter added three singles, while his Ayrshire opponent put on 2 1 3 1 1 2 which left the score 18-17 in Mitchell’s favour.

The 26th head was productive of one of the tit-bits of the game. Blackwood was lying three, with the apparent prospect of counting two at least when Mitchell with a strong swift bowl sent the jack out of play and a “burned end” resulted. At the 27th head Blackwood added two to his score thus taking the lead for the first time during the game, but the Bonnybridge player secured a point at the next head, and the score stood 19-19. With the likelihood before them of the game being decided by the next throw, the contestants were more than usually careful in what proved to be the last head. Mitchell led off, but failed to draw his bowl sufficiently, although it was jack high, whereas Blackwood his first three bowls in beautiful position, two beyond and one directly in front of the jack. Mitchell’s last shot was a finely drawn bowl but proved rather heavy, and as it glided past the jack it was seen that his chance was gone; and the spectators were already enthusiastically congratulating the new champion. Lying three shots with only two needful, Blackwood did not play his last bowl. The spectators were unanimous in affirming that never was seen a better contested match. Both men were deservedly cheered at the conclusion of the game. J. Mitchell, the runner-up, is a middle-aged, stoutly built man with grey moustache, while W. Blackwood is only 22 years of age, though of tall and wiry build.

The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Friday August 19, 1898.

The newspaper report continues with an interview with the champion –

On being interviewed after the match the champion stated that he was a native of New Cumnock, and had been six years a bowler. In the local club he won the championship prize two years and this year he is a finalist in the competition. The champion, it may be stated, has been a most excellent and consistent bowler on local and other greens for several years and has been recognised as a champion for the last five years. He comes of a bowling family, his father having been champion of New Cumnock, while his three brothers have all distinguished themselves on the Manchester greens.

The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Friday August 19, 1898.
Scottish Single-Handed Bowling Prizewinners 1896Prizes
1. Mr. W. Blackwood, New Cumnock£20 and gold badge
2. Mr. J. Mitchell, Bonnybridge£10 and gold badge
Mr. W. McNay, Berwick
Mr. A. S. Harvey Edinburgh (West End)
£5 and gold badge

Celebrations then followed –

On the arrival of the news the flag at the Bowling Green was hoisted, and great rejoicing was everywhere evident. There was a large crowd present at the station to witness the arrival of the train that brought home the champion and his friends, and a very hearty welcome was accorded to our hero. He was carried shoulder high and placed in a machine that was waiting for him, the horse was taken from the shafts, and the machine drawn by willing hands, who greatly rejoiced that their brother bowler had won the championship. The Brass Band headed the procession, playing “See the Conqueror Hero Comes” the streets at the same time being lined with people, who cheered lustily as the procession marched on. Arriving at the entrance of the Bowling Green, the champion was conveyed – again shoulder high – to the pavilion, where his health was pledged in a bumper. After Mr. Blackwood had been congratulated by the president (Mr. John Gibson) and others, the proceedings terminated. Not in the history of the oldest inhabitant has such a reception been given to anyone as that given to Mr. William Blackwood Champion Bowler of Scotland.

The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Friday August 19, 1898.

Wedding Bells

The following year William married Jeannie Reid daughter of John Reid stone-mason in Mauchline and Agnes Kennedy. They lived at Afton Place and together had five children – John, Hugh, Nancy, Flora and Mimy.

Produced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland

Scottish Rink Champions 1900

In 1900 the New Cumnock Rink of Messrs. John Nisbet, William Currie, William Blackwood and James Blackwood defeated Halkshill, Largs 20-11in the final at Queen’s Park Bowling Club, Glasgow. The New Cumnock Rink brought home the McEwan Cup and £20 prize money.

Scottish Single-Handed Bowling Semi-Finalist 1906

In 1906 William Blackwood progressed to the final stages of the Scottish Single-Handed Bowling Championship and reached the last four where he lost out to eventual runner-up A. Goldie of Kilmarnock by 21-15. William’s 3/4th place finished earned a gold badge and £5 prize money.

Scottish Single-Handed Bowling Prizewinners 1906Prizes
1. Mr. T. Logan, Whitevale£20 and Rosebury Cup
2. Mr. A. Goldie£10 and medal
Mr. W. Blackwood, New Cumnock
Mr. A. Ramsay
£5 and medal
Courtesy of Cathernine Binbreck (nee Blackwood)

Scottish Single-Handed Bowling Champion 1908

William Blackwood

The annual event in the bowling world took place on Queen’s Park greens, Glasgow on Friday and Saturday last. From each of the sixteen divisions of Scotland the champion rink and the champion single-handed were included in the first round ties, and the play was of a very high order/ The prize for the winning rink is £30 and the custody of the “McEwan” Cup for a year, while the single-handed first prize is £20 and possession of the “Roseberry” Bowl for a year.

The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald , Friday, August 14, 1908

New Cumnock Bowling Club was in District VIII which also included clubs from Sanquhar, Thornhill, Lockerbie, Dumfries, Annan, Maxwellton and Moffat.

Having progressed to the final stages William Blackwood made light work of the first two rounds defeating J.F. Williamson, Airdrie by 21-6 and then J. M. McAinsh, Clackmannanshire by the same score-line.

New Cumnock bowlers have, for many a long day, been regarded as tough nuts to crack. Their record this year has truly been a good one, but the crowing point was attained on Saturday when William Blackwood again won the championship of Scotland, thereby creating for himself a record unprecedented in the annals of bowling.* A large crowd on Saturday to watch the semi-final, Mr. Blackwood drawn against Mr. Wilson of Irvine in this game, and in him the New Cumnockian had a very able opponent, but his score only amounted to 13 shots.

In the final struggle Mr. Blackwood’s opponent was Mr. William Brownlie of East Kilbride. In the opening stages Mr. Blackwood had most of the luck, and with the score 5-1, Brownlie cleverly trailed and got two. Blackwood played steadily, and was generally not far off, while his opponent seldom managed to have more than one close shot, the result being that at the fourteenth the score stood 13-6. Brownlie secured three shots at the next two ends, and at three-quarters game the score was in favour of Blackwood by 16-12, after which an unopposed run to 20 shots, when Brownlie to get in another shot, which finished his scoring, the New Cumnock man placing the necessary shot which gave him the championship. The scoring was as follows

Blackwood 1013010021210100111003101 – 21

Brownlie….. 0100201100001012000210010 -13

At the conclusion, the Rosebury Cup and money prizes were presented by Mrs Miller, President A.R. Miller congratulating the various players on their fine performances and expressing his satisfaction at the good weather which had prevailed during the finals.

The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald , Friday, August 14, 1908

*Note G. Sprott, Wishaw was Scottish Single-Handed Champion in 1894, 1896

Scottish Single-Handed Bowling Prizewinners 1906Prizes
1. Mr. W. Blackwood, New Cumnock£20 and Roseberry Cup
2. Mr. W. Brownlie, East Kilbride£10 and gold badge
Mr. G.B. Niven, Galashiels
Mr. W. Wilson, Irvine
£5 and gold badge
Courtesy of Cathernine Binbreck (nee Blackwood)

The celebrations followed –

The reception home of the champion was one of the most noteworthy events which has ever been witnessed in New Cumnock. Arriving by the 9.50 train, nearly 2000 New Cumnockians accompanied by the Silver Band, were awaiting him at the Station, and whenever the train steamed into the station the enthusiastic crowd gave vent to prolonged cheering. Without delay he was placed in a chair, and, preceded by the band playing “The Conquering Hero,” the enormous mass of humanity marching at good pace to the Town Hall, which was speedily filled, and was incapable of accommodating one-half of those who sought admission. For a long time cheer upon cheer rent the air, interspersed by renderings (in various keys) of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” On this subsiding the worthy president of the club, Mr. John Nicol, in a few words gave an account of the day’s play and begged of the honorary president of the club, Mr. William Hyslop, to accept the custody of the handsome Roseberry Bowl. Mr. Hyslop suitably replied. He mentioned the great pleasure it gave to act as custodian of this valuable trophy for the ensuing year, and hoped at the conclusion it would return to New Cumnock. Mr. Blackwood was then called upon for a speech. In his modest way he informed his audience as they were well quite aware speaking was not in his line, but he would thank them for the grand reception they had given on his success. On the motion of the vice president Mr. A. Mackay, three hearty cheers were awarded and then when Mr. Blackwood had been personally congratulated by his many friends, he was conveyed in triumph to his home.  

The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald , Friday, August 14, 1908

William Blackwood bowling record –

Mr Blackwood entered on his bowling career sixteen years ago, when only a lad in his teens, and in that time has won every coveted prize in the bowling world. On his own green he is always up in the prize lists. It may be mentioned that before he was 20 years of age he carried off the green championship, and has often repeated that achievement since then. Four times out of five he has been district champion in the Scottish single-handed competition. Ten years ago he surprised every one by winning the Scottish Championship and his record therefore works out thus:- Two Scottish Championships, seven open tournaments: Sanquhar (three times), Dreghorn, Thornhill (twice), and New Cumnock. Not withstanding his many successes, Mr Blackwood is a man of a very modest and unassuming nature, and a more honourable bowler never stepped onto a green.

The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald , Friday, August 14, 1908

Mr and Mrs William Blackwood

Mr and Mrs William Blackwood (Courtesy of Cathernine Binbreck (nee Blackwood)


Many thanks to Catherine Binbreck (nee Blackwood), great granddaughter of Mrs and Mrs William Blackwood for kindly sharing the family photographs.


Reproduced with the Permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey:Ayrshire, Sheet XLII (includes: New Cumnock; Old Cumnock).Survey date: 1857 ,  Publication date: 1860
The British Newspaper Archive
The British Newspaper Archive
The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Friday August 19, 1898.
he Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald , Friday, August 14, 1908