Page 6 - History 2020
P. 6

            Lord Eglington’s great joust; Joseph Paxton (the Crystal Palace), August Pugin (the
            Medieval Court); Sir William Armstrong (Cragside)

            At Lord Eglington’s castle
            Last season, we ended with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and British
            reactions to experiencing it. We found. to a surprising degree, a culture of dislike and
            denial. Critics like John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle attacked it not just for the ugliness

            of the new industrial towns like Birmingham, but also for its spirit and philosophy, its
            new emphasis on profit and efficiency and individual gain. They attacked its
            “utilitarian” philosophy, attributed to the reformer Jeremy Bentham but in fact
            dating back to the 18  century Enlightenment. It judged policies and institutions on
            whether they promoted “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”; this could
            be worked out rationally, even calculated numerically. It inspired Bentham and his
            followers to pursue rational change and reform.

            But at the turn of the 18  and 19  centuries there was a backlash against this ethos.
            The violent excesses of the French Revolution turned people off radical change, or
            even reform of any kind. Many turned their back on the Enlightenment and the 18
            century “age of reason”. This merged with the backlash against the Industrial
            Revolution. The “Romantic Movement” emerged instead, preaching feeling rather
            than reason, tradition rather than change, community rather than the individual. Part
            of this was an escape to the past, summed up in the medieval novels of Sir Walter

            Scott, set in a largely fictional “Merrie England”.

            Its most visible expression was in the 19  century Gothic Revival, a rejection of the
            classical architectural style in favour of the Gothic, medieval style. Pugin was its
            leader and as the 19  century advanced, our towns and cities were filled with Gothic
            churches and public buildings. In 1834 Parliament burned down and the Gothic

            Revival achieved its greatest triumph: a lavish new Palace of Westminster was
            commissioned in the Gothic style, with interior decoration by Pugin.*

            *For more on the above, see last year’s notes on the History Page:
            #p=148 )

            To further illustrate the “Merrie England” theme of escapism from the Industrial
            Revolution, we need to look at an unlikely event: the great joust of the 13  Earl of
            Eglington in August 1839. Archibald Eglington, aged 27, was a wealthy Tory aristocrat
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