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Racquet Hall, Eglinton Country Park, Irvine

A Category B Listed Building in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire

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Latitude: 55.6419 / 55°38'30"N

Longitude: -4.6722 / 4°40'19"W

OS Eastings: 231920

OS Northings: 641945

OS Grid: NS319419

Mapcode National: GBR 38.KLXL

Mapcode Global: WH2NX.6GF5

Entry Name: Racquet Hall, Eglinton Country Park, Irvine

Listing Date: 16 August 1989

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 339525

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB7582

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Kilwinning

County: North Ayrshire

Electoral Ward: Kilwinning

Parish: Kilwinning

Traditional County: Ayrshire

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Early 1840s. Rectangular, covered former racquet court with simple pilastered pedimented entrance elevation to the north. Predominantly rubble with coursed stone to the north fa├žade and ashlar margins. Central 6-panelled timber leaf entrance door to north with pilastered pedimented doorway.

There are grey slates to the roof. There are window openings to the north elevation and roof lights. The window openings to the ground have timber shutters and the 3 upper storey windows are 3-over 3-pane timber sash and case. There is a later, adjoining single storey and attic cottage to the south.

The interior was seen in 2014. There is an entrance vestibule and a large open space with a replacement timber roof and replacement gallery, dating from the 1980s.

Statement of Interest

The racquet hall at Eglinton dates to the early 1840s and is the oldest surviving racquet court in the world. The building has a decorative classical entrance elevation and is one of a cluster of ancillary buildings which form part of the former, once wealthy, Eglinton Castle Estate. Internally, there has been some refurbishment but the original large open quality of the original building remains. The original large granite floor slabs are also thought to be in situ, under the current timber flooring. The hall is used currently as an exhibition centre (2014).

The racquet hall at Eglinton Castle was built in the early 1840s (circa 1842) by the 13th Earl of Eglinton and was the first covered racquet court in the world. The first recorded match at the court was in 1846. The Earl also started the first racquet club in Glasgow at 285 Bath Street (a building which has been demolished).

The sport of racquets began in the 18th century as a pastime for the prisoners in London's debtors' prisons, initially playing against the prison walls. The game gradually spread to schools and some purpose-built courts were built. Harrow School in London was the first school where the game was played in the second half of the 18th century.

The sport is played in a 9.1m by 18m court with a ceiling of at least 9.1 m high. The walls are usually dark, in contrast to a light coloured ball. A player uses a wooden racket to hit a hard white ball. The sport is still played, mainly in private schools and clubs in England, the United States and Canada and there are a number of different championships. The game of squash derived from racquets.

Owned by the once powerful Montgomery family, Eglinton Estate was one of Scotland's wealthiest estates in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The family moved out of the estate on 1925 and the estate was sold in 1948 to Robert Howie of Dunlop. By this time, many of the buildings, including the castle were in a ruinous condition. By 1981 the Irvine Development Corporation began to redevelop parts of the estate and in 1986, around 1000 acres were set aside as Eglinton Country Park.

The 13th Earl of Eglinton is perhaps best known for his extravagant medieval-style pageant and tournament of 1839. This event was an excessive display of medieval chivalry at Eglinton Castle, with jousting, parades, medieval costumes a banquet and ball. Around 100,000 people attended the event and the cost was prodigious. It rained during the event and the huge cost was one of the contributing factors to the decline of the family wealth.

Listed building record updated, (2014).

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