Wednesday, 2 November 2016
I was just reading a reprint of the 1900 Baedeker Guide to London, as you do, when I got to its description of the contents of the armouries in the Tower of London. It states that on display are (or at least were in 1900) a couple of suits of armour that were made for the 1839 Eglinton Tournament, one of which was worn by the future Napoleon III.
The tournament took place at Eglinton Castle, which lies on the outskirts of my home town - Kilwinning - hence my interest.
The castle ruins that can be seen today belong to a rebuild of the late 18th, early 19th Century. There was a much older castle on the site - seat of the Earls of Eglinton. It was burned down in the 16th Century, and took the form of a typical medieval Scots fortress. The new castle was built in grand gothic style - similar to those at Inverary or Culzean.
The Victorians had a great love for all things medieval. Just take a look at the decoration for the post fire Houses of Parliament, or for the Earl of Bute's Cardiff Castle. Arthurian figures with big Victorian mustaches abound.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the 13th Earl of Eglinton decided to stage a re-enactment of a medieval joust in the grounds of his castle in 1839. There was a great deal of excitement about the event, and the nearby railway line was even opened in advance of its planned date to accommodate the crowds.
Sadly, the typical weather of the region - relentless rain - made a bit of a damp squib of the occasion.
Now, once upon a time, the BBC's Blue Peter programme used to do a report on the tournament every year - back in the golden era of Valerie Singleton and her co-hosts. It was always a thrill for me as a child to see mention of this local landmark on national television. Sadly the story was always told from the studio in White City, using art work. The presenters never came up to Kilwinning to report from the location itself.
The castle fell into disrepair when the family fell into straitened circumstances (due to death duties) in the mid 1920's.
It was then used by the commandos for training in WWII, which was when it was reduced to the state in which you see it today.