Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY Robert Burns Cottage, Alloway, Ayr
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Sunday, 27 June 2010

13 Jun 2010 - Dean Castle Visit

A beautiful June evening saw 23 of our members assembling in the imposing courtyard of Dean Castle, Kilmarnock, prior to our eagerly awaited tour of the Keep and the Palace.

The lands here were bestowed upon the Boyd family in recognition of their support at Bannockburn and the original Keep was built around 1350. For the next 400 years generations of the Boyds lived here, adding the palace building around 1460. In 1899 the 8th Lord Howard de Walden inherited the property and spent many years and much of his fortune restoring it after the two centuries of neglect which had followed the devastating fire of 1735. In 1976 the Dean Castle was gifted to the burgh of Kilmarnock and its present appearance and vitality are due in no small measure to the efforts and support of East Ayrshire Council.

Our tour began in the Great Hall of the Keep with its impressive collection of weapons and its dominating armoured figure on horseback. Climbing a spiral staircase and viewing the dreaded bottle dungeon en route, we reached the more comfortable upper chamber with its intriguing showcases of historical musical instruments, many of them beautifully and ornately decorated. A careful return down the staircase led us to the kitchen. The sight of a small patch of distant blue sky made us realise just how far we had climbed and descended. Well done, everyone!

The second part of the tour took us to the palace. Like many of his era, the 8th Lord Howard de Walden was fascinated by the rich tapestry of the historical past and inspired to revive and reinvent the medieval past. He even had a suit of pseudo medieval armour made for himself! It is said that “ the last great endeavour of the Gothic Revival” was the Eglinton Tournament held in 1839 on the Eglinton estate between Irvine and Kilwinning. Many hundreds flocked to compete and over 100,000 spectated. What an incredible, yet wonderful spectacle it must have been! There must have been a lengthy procession of knightly competitors, jousting in various forms, brightly coloured shields and an ever-moving kaleidoscope of colour and noise. And all this followed by a splendid banquet and ball. Fortunately for us, East Ayrshire Council have acquired the complete set of the Eglinton Watercolours by James Henry Dixon and there before our eyes in the gracious, wood-panelled room, hung with replicas of knightly banners, was every part of this mad, wonderful recreation of a medieval tournament.

This was a fascinating and enjoyable visit and our thanks go to our two splendid castle guides and to Barbara Finlay for having arranged it.

Sheila Dinwoodie

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