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Quoiting in Govanhill


The St. Andrew’s Quoiting Club on Butterbiggins Road


From the late 1890s until about 1928, a small patch of ground just off Butterbiggins Road, near what we now call Eglinton Toll, was used to play one of the oldest games in the world – quoits – and was home to one of Glasgow’s most successful teams at the time, the St. Andrew’s Quoiting Club.


The St Andrew's Quoiting Ground, in the centre of this map, lies just south of St. Andrew's Cross, on ground that would later become the Larkfield Omnibus Depot. Copyright: Ordnance Survey 1909, National Library of Scotland.
The St Andrew’s Quoiting Ground in the centre of the image lies just south of St. Andrew’s Cross, on ground that would later become the Larkfield Omnibus Depot. Ordnance Survey 1909 © National Library of Scotland.


Quoits, pronounced ‘kites’ in many parts of Scotland, was a hugely popular game at this time, not just in Glasgow but across the country. There were around 40 clubs in Glasgow and about 200 clubs in Scotland affiliated to the Scottish Quoiting Association, with an average of 80 members each.

In those days, when heavy industry was prevalent in Glasgow, the game was very popular with working-class men, many of whom had moved to Glasgow from small towns and rural areas and had brought their enthusiasm for the game with them.


Illustration of quoits in Scotland (Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, October 27, 1888; British Newspaper Archive)
Quoits in Scotland (Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, October 27, 1888; British Newspaper Archive)


It was inexpensive to participate, could be played almost anywhere, and there was often a chance to win money. For instance, the winner of the 1913 Scottish Championship took home £100, a prize worth several thousand pounds now.

Games drew large crowds, eager to see their favourite player succeed, and to socialise, drink and gamble on the result. Due to its popularity, quoiting also attracted considerable press attention, often as much, if not more than other sports.

Away from the spotlight at the very top of the game, the sport was enjoyed by thousands of ordinary players. In 1901, the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News reported that – “Possibly the game may lead occasionally to the consumption of a great deal of beer, but he who is an enthusiast at quoits must surely be moderate if he is to play his best game.”


Eglinton Toll, January 2023. The barrier between Pollokshaws Road was erected in 1946. Previously, it was an almost unique intersection where it was possible to travel in, at first 4 directions, then later when Maxwell Road was constructed, 5 directions.
Eglinton Toll, January 2023. The barrier between Pollokshaws Road was erected in 1946. Previously, it was an almost unique intersection where it was possible to travel in, at first 4 directions, then later when Maxwell Road was constructed, 5 directions. © Bruce Downie


The St. Andrew’s Club took their name from an earlier name for Eglinton Toll, St Andrew’s Cross, so-called because of the saltire shaped intersection which was created there when Victoria Road was constructed in 1862 to connect Queen’s Park with Eglinton Street and the city.

The name Eglinton Toll was also in use in this period, possibly to distinguish other buildings from the triangular shaped gushet-building that stands between Eglinton Street and Pollokshaws Road, which to this day still has the name St. Andrew’s Cross engraved prominently on the outside wall.


A close-up of the St. Andrew's Cross building at Eglinton Toll, built around 1878. Photo taken in January 2023
A close-up of the St. Andrew’s Cross building at Eglinton Toll, built around 1878. January 2023 © Bruce Downie


In 1946 a barrier was erected between Pollokshaws Road and Victoria Road to ease the flow of traffic and the possibility of being able to travel in multiple directions was lost. The name St. Andrew’s Cross persisted for a few years and was still used on maps in the 1950s. Gradually however, the alternative name Eglinton Toll became more prominent and more commonly used.

One school of thought suggests that quoits originated in ancient Greece and was closely related to discus throwing. Arguably, a version of the sport that became known as quoits could have been played at the first Olympic Games, around 1453 BC, when the athlete who threw the disc or ring furthest was declared champion. Another theory is that the quoits developed from the game of horseshoe throwing, where the object was to pitch a horseshoe around a ring.

Henry V of England was known to have disliked quoits, probably because it distracted men from the business of sword fighting or archery. It was said ‘he as cordially hated the game as the devil did holy water’.

Mary I of England, Mary Tudor, was known to be a keen quoiter but her tutor Roger Ascham, author of ‘Toxophilus: The Art of Archery’ discouraged her, believing the sport to be ‘too vulgar for scholars’.

By the mid-nineteenth century the game had evolved into throwing the quoit – a heavy steel ring weighing at least 11 pounds, often much more – at a pin, often called a ‘hob’ or a ‘mott’ which was is in the middle of a clay or sand pit 18 yards away, sometimes 21 yards away.

According to J. M Walker, in ‘Rounders, Quoits, Bowls, Skittles and Curling’ (1892), there was considerable strength and skill involved in throwing a quoit – ‘In pitching it, the player should endeavour to put on a slight spin with his wrist, so that the missile may pass smoothly and at an angle of about 30 degrees horizontally through the air, the great aim being to make the quoit pitch, so as to ring or encircle the hob pin, or failing that to get as near as possible. Strength in the arms and shoulders, and quickness of sight, with a capacity for measuring distance, and dexterity of wrist are indispensable requisites for this game.’

While it is impossible to say exactly where or when people started to play quoits in Glasgow, there is evidence that it was already a popular and well-established sport in some quarters of the city, as far back as the 1840s. It was almost certainly a popular sport in small towns and rural areas for many decades prior to this time. No doubt the advent of the railways in the 1840s enabled players from far flung places like Paisley and Ayrshire to travel more easily to Glasgow and for Glaswegian players to compete outside the city.

There are newspaper reports in the Glasgow Herald and other newspapers in 1844 of a match played at Weir’s Curling and Quoiting Green in Tradeston near present-day Kinning Street for the princely sum of 100 sovereigns, more than £10,000 in today’s money, between David Weir of Glasgow and a Mr Smith from Mauchine in Ayrshire. David Weir, the proprietor of the Green, was a farmer from Mauchline originally, but his talent for quoits earned him a quoiting green in Glasgow and some degree of fame.

The game took place over five days in the middle of winter and attracted national attention. Eddowes’s Shrewsbury Journal reported that –

‘On no match at quoits ever played in Glasgow was there so much betting, or half the amount of excitement as to the result. In Liverpool, where heavy bets were pending, the result was anxiously looked for’.

‘This game, in the month of December – usually devoted to the sport of curling – was somewhat out of season; but the weather was highly favourable, and the spectators were numerous. The betting at first was even, but after the first day’s play Smith was the favourite, and slight odds were offered and freely taken. Latterly however, three to one was offered on Smith with no takes. The games were frequently so prolonged that, although the players commended each day at eleven o’clock, it was quite dark before they finished, and an artificial light was not allowed. In the dark, Smith, although alleged by his supporters to be short-sighted, had always the best of the play; and on Wednesday night displayed more skill, and played far more successfully, than he had done during the day.’

Weir’s Green also played host to a benefit match later that year, featuring ‘the most celebrated players from around Scotland’ to raise funds for the widow of a player killed by a quoit in Port Dundas, so it is reasonable to assume there was also a quoiting ground located there.

That same year, elsewhere in Tradeston, on Centre Street, a Mr John Norris became proprietor of Tradeston New Washing Green and Quoit Ground. Watchmen patrolled the ground day and night, to protect property left by clients and quoit playing was permitted within the grounds at ‘a very low charge’. The price for season tickets was described as ‘moderate’.

There was a ground in Shettleston belonging to Mr Paton, another on Garscube Road, sometimes referred to as the Springfield Grounds, belonging to a Mr Melaugh and other clubs in Pollokshields and Pollokshaws.

Pub landlords were often more than happy to allow the game to be played on vacant ground outside their premises. There was known to be a quoiting ground outside the Black Bull Inn on Argyle Street.

One particular quoiting ground came to prominence in the 1860s, on Greendyke Street next to Glasgow Green, which was already the focus of most sporting activity within the city. Open, public space within the city boundaries was limited and increasingly difficult to find, so the Green attracted players from many different sports, many would-be sportsmen, and occasionally women, eager to test themselves and try something new…


Map showing St Andrew’s Baths and Washing House on Greendyke Street, next to Glasgow Green. Ordnance Survey, 1860, copyright of National Library of Scotland
St Andrew’s Baths and Washing House on Greendyke Street, next to Glasgow Green. Ordnance Survey, 1860 © National Library of Scotland


James Banks McNeil, a boatbuilder, swimming instructor and one of the proprietors of the St Andrew’s Baths on Greendyke Street, saw an opportunity and provided space for a dedicated quoiting ground outside the baths, which became known as the St Andrew’s Baths Quoiting Ground.

In June of 1865, the inaugural competition at the new ground attracted Robert Walkinshaw, from Carlops in the Borders, who was then British Champion. He defeated all the best players from Glasgow and then afterwards graciously declared that the new ground ‘…is not surpassed by any other in Scotland, either for practice or match playing’.


Detail from Thomas Suliman's epic panorama of Glasgow of 1864, showing St. Andrew's Baths and other buildings on Greendyke Street in 1864. Copyright of University of Glasgow
Detail from Thomas Suliman’s epic panorama of Glasgow of 1864, showing St. Andrew’s Baths (just right of centre) and other buildings on Greendyke Street in 1864 © University of Glasgow


The St. Andrew’s Baths closed in the early 1870s and was converted to a clothing warehouse. The closure likely came about because more and more people were moving westwards, and southwards, out of the city, to escape overcrowding and pollution and newer, more modern bathing facilities were being built or would soon be built. Byelaws and regulations also began to restrict what was able to happen on or near the Green, so the quoiters on Greendyke Street would have had to find another place to play.

A connection between those players and the club that would later emerge in Govanhill, called St Andrew’s, is tempting to imagine but unlikely; the shared name is probably just coincidence. Many clubs and organisations were keen to use the name St. Andrew’s to reinforce their Scottish credentials.

The opening of Queen’s Park Recreation Grounds in 1862 began to ease the pressure on Glasgow Green. This new public park would provide the opportunity for popular and emerging sports to be played and enjoyed. One of the earliest known organised events on the grounds was a pony race in 1864. By the end of the decade, many other sports including golf, cricket, bowling, rounders and of course football would gravitate towards this new space which was at the time outside the city boundaries, almost in the country.

Modern association football was in its infancy and Queen’s Park, the oldest football club in Scotland, played all their early matches on the Recreation Grounds before sectioning off part of the estate and building their own stadium, the first Hampden Park.

It soon became impossible to accommodate every fledgling sports club, would-be-athlete, or group of lads just looking for a kick-about on the new Recreation Grounds. Many vacant patches of ground in the rapidly developing southside were transformed into places to play, some temporarily, just for a few hours on a particular day, some permanently, for several years, into proper sports fields.

Prior to building the first Cathkin Park, Queen’s Park’s great rivals, the Third Lanark Rifle Volunteers, played on Victoria Park, on Victoria Road, located somewhere between Calder Street and Allison Street. A long-forgotten team called Crosshill Athletic played their matches on Coplawhill Park, just north of Calder Street. Another team called Glasgow Wanderers played on Eglinton Park, where Inglefield Street and Govanhill Park is today.

Whether quoiters found space in or near Queen’s Park Recreation Grounds at this time is unknown. The area on the north side of Butterbiggins Road was still private land but given the popularity of quoits at the time, especially amongst working men, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that it was being played in the area slightly to the north and east of the park known as Fireworks Village in the Lands of Govanhill, which lay outside the municipality of Glasgow and was home to a significant population of mineworkers, ironworkers and agricultural workers.

Those workers were known to have enjoyed their recreation. There was a reservoir at the junction of Cathcart Road and Aikenhead Road which was designed to provide water to Govan Iron Works, better known as Dixon’s Blazes, just to the north. That reservoir or Dixon’s Pond as it became known, was a favourite swimming, fishing and skating spot for the denizens of Fireworks Village. If they were enjoying those loosely organised pastimes, they were no doubt playing other unregulated games as well.


Map showing Dixon's Reservoir or Dixon's Pond, at the junction of Cathcart Road and Butterbiggins Road. Ordnance Survey, 1860, copyright of National Library of Scotland)
Dixon’s Reservoir or Dixon’s Pond, at the junction of Cathcart Road and Butterbiggins Road. Ordnance Survey, 1860 © National Library of Scotland)


In 1877, the population of Fireworks Village and the surrounding area had increased sufficiently, earning the district the status of a ‘populous place’, which allowed the Burgh of Govanhill to be formed. Around the same time, the western portion of the Larkfield estate on the north side of Butterbiggins Road was sold. The area was not instantly transformed but a new railway junction was constructed that year, linking the Glasgow, Barrhead and Neilson line, with the Polloc and Govan Railway line, which became known as the Larkfield Junction.

The Scottish Quoiting Association was formed in 1880, with over 60 member clubs from across the country, including 10 clubs from in and around Glasgow, the Gardner Street Club, the Camlachie Club, the Clydesdale Club, based in Kinning Park. Two clubs from Barrhead, the Caledonian Club, the Arthurlie Club and other clubs from Whiteinch, Pollokshields, Pollokshaws and the Govan Manse Club.

There was not yet a registered club near St. Andrew’s Cross but the Larkfield Junction was greatly expanded in the late 1890s, and other manufacturing businesses had set up in the area, including a ropeworks, a cooperage and even an organ builder, so the number of working men in the vicinity of Butterbiggins Road would have increased and inevitably they would look to play sports in their free time, including quoits.

The St. Andrew’s Quoiting Club and the ground on Butterbiggins Road, is first mentioned in the press in 1898, in a match against Springside Kilmarnock. The Kilmarnock Club won convincingly on that occasion by 100 shots to 44.

Despite that early defeat, the St. Andrew’s Club would go on to become one of the most successful clubs in Scotland in the early twentieth century, regularly competing in the Glasgow League and regional and national competitions, and notably in the most prestigious individual tournament open to Glasgow, Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire players, the Wylie Cup, dubbed ‘Glasgow’s Premier Competition’ and the winner was considered the Champion of Glasgow.


Old newspaper advert previewing the 1914 Wylie Cup competition (Scottish Referee, August 1914, British Newspaper Archive)
Advert previewing the 1914 Wylie Cup competition (Scottish Referee, August 1914, British Newspaper Archive)


The Wylie Cup competition was organised and hosted by Stanley Club, based on Scotland Street in Kinning Park, from 1901. This prestigious trophy was the gift of Baillie Wylie, an enthusiastic player, who donated this valuable prize in order to promote has favourite sport.

Unfortunately, the Stanley Club disbanded in 1909 and so care of the trophy and the honour of hosting the competition transferred to the St Andrew’s Club at Butterbiggins Road. One of the members of St Andrew’s, whose name only appears in results as J. Dalrymple, won the Wylie Cup at least 5 times between 1903 and 1914.


Olf newspaper photo of The Wylie Cup, presented to the individual quoiting champion of Glasgow (Scottish Referee, August 1914, British Newspaper Archive)
The Wylie Cup, presented to the individual quoiting champion of Glasgow. (Scottish Referee, August 1914, British Newspaper Archive)


Many of the members of St. Andrew’s could have been iron workers employed at the nearby Dixon’s Blazes or locomotive builders, working for the North British Railway Company at the Queen’s Park Yard, tram workers employed at the recently opened Coplawhill depot, workers from the nearby St Andrew’s Cross Electricity Station or even miners working in one of several local collieries.

Quoits were available commercially but amongst the ranks of enthusiastic players, there would have been skilled metal workers, capable of crafting a metal ring, suitable for playing quoits and well-matched to the hand of the individual. Also, many former footballers, keen to continue competing, and to supplement their wages, took up quoits after retiring from football.

In 1912, the Scottish Referee reported that:

‘…the game is the oldest of our sports and has undoubtedly the most skilful. Not only that, but it requires stamina to last a match playing sometimes for six hours at a stretch with quoits weighing anything up to twenty-four pounds. This is perhaps the reason why some of our well-known professional footballers have taken so well to the game.

Many of them play regularly, one notable personality being A. Brown, late of Tottenham Hotspur and Middlesbrough, who, while playing football, was capped for Scotland against England in seasons 1902 and 1904. He plays second to Matthew Park in the Glenbuck Club and had much to do with the defeat of East Calder in the Scottish Cup a week ago. The Glenbuck team also includes Tom Bone, the champion of Britain, and pitching enthusiasts have a treat in store list have a treat in store when Glenbuck visit Glasgow on 6 July to oppose St Andrew’s in the semi-final round of the Scottish Association Cup.’


Photographs from the 1921 Scottish Quoiting Championship, held at the St Andrew's Ground Butterbiggins Road. The final was contested by William Watters from Lochgelly, who also held the title of World Champion at the time and Robert Walkinshaw from Greenock. Watters won by 61 shots to 36.
Photographs from the 1921 Scottish Quoiting Championship, held at the St Andrew’s Ground Butterbiggins Road. The final was contested by William Watters from Lochgelly, who also held the title of World Champion at the time and Robert Walkinshaw from Greenock. Watters won by 61 shots to 36.


The St. Andrew’s Quoiting Club was known to still be active in 1927, but within a year the club would probably have had to disband or relocate when the Larkfield estate was taken over by Glasgow Corporation, the chosen site for a new bus depot which was, when it opened two years later, the largest of its type in Glasgow.

What became of the club after this time is unclear; the exploits of other clubs continued to be reported on in the press throughout the 1930s but no reliable reports or even results for the St Andrew’s Club have yet been discovered.

There was, unexpectedly, a brief mention of a club called St. Andrew’s in the press in 1937 playing a match against the Parkhead Forge team but whether this club had any connection to the one based in Govanhill is impossible to know for certain.

Traditional quoiting is very much a minority sport now, but there are accessible, safer variations of the game still played around the country and abroad. The old game, sometimes called the long game, enjoyed its greatest moments in the industrial era, in the days of large workforces, when many men were engaged together in manual labour, and strength and skills like dexterity, and hand-eye coordination, were highly valued.

Social and cultural changes since those days have seen the sport suffer a near-terminal decline. The Scottish Quoiting Association has been disbanded for many years, but a handful of clubs survived until the 1990s, including the Tarbothie Club from Shotts, near Glasgow.

Now there is just one solitary club left in Scotland, the Dunnotar Quoiting Club from Stonehaven in the northeast of the country, still competing with clubs from England and Wales, and who are valiantly striving to keep the old game alive.


Published: 7th February 2023

About the author: Bruce Downie
Bruce has been a board member of South Glasgow Heritage and Environment Trust since 2019, and chair since 2021. He is the author of ‘Loved and Lost: Govanhill’s Built Heritage’ first published by Govanhill Baths in 2019. Then in 2021, he wrote ‘99 Calder Street: A History of Govanhill Baths and Washhouse‘. A second, revised and expanded edition of ‘Loved and Lost: Govanhill’s Built Heritage’ was published in 2022. Bruce also runs a walking tour company called Historic Walking Tours of Glasgow.


Setptember 2023 update: you can now listen to an audio version of the blog read by Bruce Downie here on our new podcast show Southside Chronicles on Glad Radio!



British Newspaper Archive
National Library of Scotland, Maps
‘Rounders, Quoits, Bowls, Skittles and Curling’ by J. M. Walker (G. Bell, 1892)


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