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January 30th 1623

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The Rattray silver ball

There are still some traditional ball games played annually in Scotland from the Boarders right to the Northern Isles. Unfortunately the ball game of Rattray no longer takes place but the Rattray silver ball which was the trophy retained by the winners is still in existence. It was almost certainly donated by Sylvester Rattray of Nether Persie who became minister of Rattray in 1591 and continued there until his death in 1623.

He donated a silver arrow, a silver ball and a silver curling stone. The silver arrow is in private hands, the curling stone has unfortunately been lost but the silver ball may be seen at Perth Museum together with a replacement ball gifted after the original was “carried off by force rather than skill.”  An early example of the players disputing the referee’s decision?

The game was played in a field behind the Old Parish Kirk and though the actual nature of the ball game is unclear it was probably played with teams of six players each representing some village or parish. The winners were required to present a small shield containing their initials within six weeks of the game taking place, and this was attached to the silver ball.

A number of shields are still in existence and may be seen in the Museum, but there are many gaps in the dates. It is difficult to know whether some winners were unable to find the money to commission a new shield, whether at certain times there was a lack of interest and contests were only held occasionally or just how many shields have in the course of time been lost. Even the dates marked on the shields would seem to indicate that the contests were held any time between April and September.

The last known shield is dated 1766.

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