QUOITS is an ancient game that has been played all over the United Kingdom.

Originally a heavy metal ring or a horseshoe was used, and the target peg was stuck into the ground with the ring to hit near it or preferably encircle it.

John Rennie from Alva became well-known for his quoit achievements in the mid-19th century.

In the early days of the game, a heavy stone was thrown at the target, but by the 17th century, this had changed to the more traditional metal ring.

The ring, made from cast iron or steel, would weigh around seven or eight pounds with the peg set at around 20 yards from where the competitors would throw quoit underhand. This was known as the long game.

Most points were given when it ringed the peg, but points were also given when it was near it. The game was played between two people each throwing two quoits from a small square bed of clay.

It was mostly played by miners, weavers, blacksmiths and factory workers. Teams were formed in local pubs and one of the earliest of these matches in Scotland took place between Falkirk and Stirling.

Quoiting areas were nearly always found close to pubs and although matches usually began early on Saturday afternoons, it was not unusual for it finish in the early evening.

In 1850 woollen weaver John Rennie, who had become Scottish champion in 1847 aged 25, and later became British champion, played Mr Heywood from Oldham in Lancashire at a match organised near Newcastle railway station. The stake was £100.

Rennie had already been noted, as by the age of 20, he was winning most of the time as part of the Alva Juvenile Quoits Club. This junior club was made up of boys aged between 14 and 20.

Now the quoit weighed between 8 and 16 lbs. Rennie himself, standing at 5’ 7” had a quoit weighing 13 lbs and it measured 8” in diameter.

Endurance and fitness were key, and he was accomplished in making sure that both quoits he threw at each ‘end’ scored points. Two points were awarded for encircling the pin and one for the quoit nearest it.

In 1842, Rennie was chosen to give a demonstration of the game to Queen Victoria on her first visit to Scotland. The game, however, was never finished due to fading light.

Her ancestor Mary Queen of Scots was a keen player, but her personal tutor Roger Ascham persuaded her to stop as he saw it as extremely vulgar.

IN THE 14th century, King Richard II of England banned the playing of quoits due to the popularity of the sport.

He believed the labourers and servants were having too much fun when they played it. Yet it remained popular until the 1960s.

Rennie later competed against William Hodgson, a miner from Lancashire, in Edinburgh in 1854 where the stake was £200. This is the largest known wager in Scotland for quoits.

This was the year that saw him lose his British title, but he remained Scottish champion for a number of years afterwards.

At Bruntsfield in Edinburgh in 1851, around 600 spectators each paid sixpence for admission to the match between Rennie and a Mr Ewing of Pollokshaws. It is reputed an Edinburgh innkeeper won £300 by betting Rennie would win by at least 20 shots.

Between the early 1840s and August 1851 Rennie competed in 30 paid matches in both Scotland and England and lost only one.

He won a considerable amount of cash as he usually played for stakes at either £25 or £50. His last significant match took place in 1858 when he contested the championship with William Lindsay of Glasgow.

Rennie continued to compete until 1858 and watched the sport until his death in 1888 aged 66 but did not participate from 1864.

Rennie was not the only Alva player of note. In 1879, it is recorded that a march took place between Adam Hunter of Alva and Alexander Kirk of St Ninians at St Ninians where it cost the spectators tuppence each to watch the match.

At an Alva handicap tournament on 7th, 14th and 21st July 1871, two hundred spectators watched on the first day, a large number the following Saturday, and a good turnout on last day, despite the pouring rain. It was managed by the proprietor of the Crown Hotel.

In 1878 Hunter competed in four paid contests within a four-month period and won all his matches.

By the 1890s quoit grounds had been established for playing the game semi-professionally and pre-World War II was at its height.

In 1953 the only company making quoits in Scotland, the Johnstone Forge run by the Houston family, closed its doors.

This led to the game dying out almost completely and the Alva quoits pitch was soon abandoned.

Today there are only three quoits teams in Scotland. These are in Prestwick, Larkhall and Stonehaven.

It was a man’s game and it is known there have been no professional or semi-professional female players to date.