Deep in the bosom of a wood,
* * * * * * * * *
An antique Castle towering stood.
In Gothic grandeur rose the pile.
SKELMORLIE castle is the property of the Right Honourable the Earl of Eglinton, but it was for a considerable time previous to his death, which occurred during this present year (1829,) the residence of Major General James Montgomerie, of Wrighthill, M.P. for Ayrshire, brother to the late, and granduncle to the present Earl. Though still inhabited it is a structure of great antiquity, supposed to have been erected about the end of the fifteenth century, a period when strength and security from aggression were of more importance than internal comfort or accommodation. The original tower which forms the most ancient portion of the building, was not of great extent though of considerable height, but as the wealth or importance of the early possessors encreased, it appears from time to time to have been both improved and enlarged. The most important of these enlargements, is said to have been made about 140 years after the erection of the original structure. The walls of the old tower are of great thickness, and must have completely defied the rude assaults of former times. In front of the Castle there is a large court-yard surrounded by a high wall, the entrance to which is under an arched gateway.
The entrance to the Castle from the court-yard is by a low arched door, which no doubt was well secured in ancient times. The rooms on the ground floor are all arched with stone, and were formerly used only as cellars. From the doorway a narrow staircase ascends which leads to the upper portions of the Castle. The ancient baronial hall was on the first flat, of which it appears to have occupied the whole extent. It is now used as the dining room. On the roof are still to be seen the arms of the Montgomeries of Skelmorlie, the ancient possessors, with the date 1672, at which time it seems to have been newly decorated. The drawing room is in the additional part of the building, and has still an antique appearance. The old chapel of the castle still stands at one end of the court-yard; it is now occupied as a servants’ hall.
The ancient proprietors of Skelmorlie were, as we have mentioned, a family of Montgomeries, one of the most powerful branches from the original family of Eglinton. They were descended from George Montgomerie, third son of Alexander first Lord Montgomerie, who died in 1461. They held extensive possessions in Renfrewshire, and Buteshire, besides the estate of Skelmorlie. Cuthbert, the grandson of George, was killed at the battle of Flodden in 1513; his grandson Robert was deeply engaged in the feuds which for so long a period existed between the powerful names of Eglinton and Glencairn. He killed Alexander, Commendator of Kilwinning son of the Earl of Glencairn; and in 1584 he himself and his eldest son were in revenge killed by Maxwell of Newark, whose mother was a Cunningham. His eldest son, Sir Robert of Skelmorlie, carried on the feud against the ancient enemies of the house with great acrimony, accompanied with much bloodshed. Indeed, about this time the Cunninghams had created renewed hatred against them with all of the name of Montgomerie, having murdered Hugh the fourth Earl of Eglinton, a young nobleman of great promise, who personally had never injured them, and whom they did not allow to retain his honours a full year. Sir Robert was created baronet in 1628, and died in 1651.
He appears in the latter part of his life to have been visited with great remorse for his cruelties committed on the Cunninghams, and in the spirit of the times, in expiation of his offences, he performed many acts of charity, and of bodily mortification. In the sepulchral vault of the family, below one of the ailes of the old church of Largs, he frequently immured himself, passing the night in prayer and religious exercises. This vault he is said himself to have constructed, and his body and that of his lady are still to be seen within it in leaden coffins.
Sir Robert Montgomerie of Skelmorlie, grandson of the above Sir Robert, was governor of a garrison in Ireland. He died in 1731, without leaving male issue. His eldest daughter Lilias, who succeeded to the estate of Skelmorlie, married Alexander Montgomerie of Coylsfield, another branch of the family of Eglinton more recently descended. Their eldest son Hugh of Skelmorlie and Coylsfield, succeeded in 1796, to the title of Earl of Eglinton and to the greater part of the family estates, in consequence of the death of Archibald, the eleventh Earl, without male issue. The present Earl of Eglinton is grandson of Earl Hugh; and thus represents the principal family of Eglinton, and also the great branch of Skelmorlie.
The grounds around Skelmorlie are beautifully laid out, and covered everywhere with rich and luxuriant woods. The principal disadvantage of this fine old mansion as a modern residence, is certainly the difficulty of the ascent to it, from the steepness of the hill on which it stands; but otherwise it is still an agreeable, nay, delightful summer retreat.