Prior to the formal foundation of the Scottish Gymnastics Association on the 24th May 1890, Gymnastics in Scotland had a clear link with the British military, specifically the Army Physical Training Corps.
Viewed by many European countries at this time as exercises to develop the male physique for service, Gymnastics was primarily undertaken in order to build strength whilst also increasing levels of agility and flexibility amongst soldiers. In 1872, in discussions over the British Education Act, it was decided that an amendment should be made that included,
'The introduction and teaching of physical drill and gymnastics'.
Following the amendment, six army officers were sent to have specific training at the Oxford Gymnasia in sports coaching, to become members of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps which was led by Scottish born Archibald Maclaren. Those officers went on to teach at a number of military stations across the United Kingdom. One of these locations was the Physical Culture College in Aberdeen, and artistic style gymnastic training began to be taught alongside the other sports such as athletics, military drill, swimming, wrestling & boxing all under the Gymnastics Association structure. The officer in command during this change was Lieutenant George Cruden, from Banff, who went on to judge at national gymnastics events in Britain in the early 1900's. In addition to this military connection, Colonel George Malcolm Fox of the 42nd Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) was inspector of gymnasia at the Aldershot Garrison barracks, between 1890 & 1897, in this role, he was responsible for determining which skills should be put together to form the set routines for competitions in Scotland. He played a major role in the training of gymnastics in Britain, and the gymnasium building in Aldershot where he taught others still bears his name.
Aldershot is still the home of the R.A.P.T.C, and keeps a number of artefacts related to early gymnastics. During the early years of gymnastics, events such as weightlifting, hanging ladders, rows of rings, hanging hoops, suspended beam, club swinging, still rings, horizontal bars, parallel bars, pommelled horse, broad & high jump, free drill movement and dumbbell exercises were all used to ensure that the desired outcomes of physical ability were achieved.
After the establishment of the association, the Scottish Amateur Gymnastics Association as it was then known, was split into 3 smaller district associations by the 22 affiliated clubs in order to create new competitions and training structures. The new districts were Eastern, (including Edinburgh & Leith) Western, (including Glasgow) & Dundee District (which incorporated Dundee & Aberdeen).
The first president of the sport, Mr Walter McGregor from Dundee, developed Scotland’s national organisation for gymnastics, creating a strong competition arrangement and the first Scottish Gymnastics competition was held on the 10th April 1891, in Kinnaird Hall, Dundee. It was attended by the Lord Provost and local city magistrates with teams of eight members from a number of Scottish Amateur clubs taking part. The first competition lead to a profit for the association of £14 11S & 16D (which equates to approx. £5,300 in modern terms). Following this, a three nations competition was held which later became known as the Celtic Cup, but was initially coined,
'The Annual Triangular International Gymnastics Contest'.
At this competition, the prize was a shield presented to highest scoring team provided by Mr William Adams. For the first five years, Scottish teams won the title, with Dundee winning twice, Leith Gymnasium winning twice and Carnegie Gymnastics Club winning once.
Early equipment was considered at best ‘unscientific’ with the parallel and asymmetric bars made of a solid run of ash wood. The high bar had no tensile spring quality and rings hung from the roof by ropes. The balance beam was solid fir timber which was not covered and floor routines were performed on the solid floorboards or the landing mats made of coconut fibre. This as well as being fairly dangerous to the participants also made it far more difficult to perform any of the skills that we would expect to see in modern competition routines.
During this period, individual champions were awarded the silver challenge cup by Honourary President John Martin White, a founding member of the association, who was also awarded an illuminated address alongside a diamond / ruby wedding ring at his wedding in 1899 in Balruddery, Forfarshire, to thank him for his services to the sport by representatives from a number of sport governing bodies.