11 JULY 1863, Page 12


IT is a fact that fire-engines have become more fashionable than knights. Last week there was a tournament of steam fire- extinguishers at the Crystal Palace, and this week there was a con- test, of men in armour at Cremorne, and of the two the former was decidedly the more aristocratic, both in performers and spectators. His Grace the Duke of Sutherland, accompanied by a host of noble- men, personally superintended the fixing of the leather hose ; while His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and numerous other illustrious visitors carefully examined the pumps and water- bags, testifying by their presence to the interest of the spectacle. The tournament of fire-engines proved an aristocratic success ; far more than the tournament of belted knights, got up, regardless of expense, by Mr. E. T. Smith, the British Barnum. Cremorne was not besieged on Wednesday, when the first performance of the "Grand Tournament of Ashburnham Hall" was announced to take place, at five shillings per head, for the special benefit of the crime de la crime of London society ; but the attraction proved rather unaristocratic, although Barnum had appealed to a curious public for many months previous in flaming advertisements defiant of grammar and syntax. Readers of the Times were in- formed that "the tournament would consist of 300 persons, with dresses, appointments, armour, accoutrements, weapons, banners, horses, &c., as near as possible to represent the days of ancient chivalry and notions of feudal grandeur. . . . the whole produced under the entire superintendence of Mr. E. T. Smith." It seemed worth while to us to expend five shillings to get an idea of the "notions of feudal grandeur" at Cremorne.

A thin stream of people guided us from the King's Road, Chelsea, into " Ashburnham Hall," a lofty barn-like building, ornamented for the occasion by scores of cheap flags of all nations, and paste- board medallions of knights and kings. •A barrier divided the centre of the hall, and opposite to it was a kind of platform with five rows of wooden benches, covered with red cloth and sawdust. "Are these reserved seats ? " we asked of a kindly-disposed police- man, engaged in dusting his boots with his pocket-handkerchief. "Oh no !" he exclaimed, "they are for the royal family."— " What? You don't mean to say that the Prince and Princess of Wales, or even the Queen, are coming to the Grand Tournament. In that case it would be well to take the sawdust off the seats."— "Ah !" he retorted pettishly, " I know nothing of Queen Victoria ; I speak of our royal family." If Barnum has any sense of his own dignity and the eternal fitness of things, he will, we hope, increase the salary of that man out of armour. But the barn was filling meanwhile, and the people who had come to see the Grand Tournament were getting impatient as the appointed hour for the meeting of the knights passed by, and no signs of chivalry beyond the policemen in the arena were visible on the horizon. The stamp- ing of heels on the floor, by which a British audience is in the habit of expressing its feeling of disappointment, was becoming fast and furious, when at length the sound of distant kettledrums was heard, and the head of a gorgeous procession was seen issuing forth from a side door into the field of sawdust. There were no end of heralds, trumpeters, banner-bearers, pages, guards, halberdiers, buffoons, knights, squires, and men-at-arms, all clad in shining array of tin and tinsel, most dazzling to behold. More numerous than any other class were the prim pages, evidently picked from the corps de ballet of the minor theatres, with a fair sprinkling of what seemed to be distressed needlewomen. Every knight had his two or three female attendants, habited in exceedingly close-fitting garments, anything but middle-aged in style. In forcible contrast to the look of these fair representatives of chivalry were the men in armour, particularly those on horseback. They appeared to be, most of them, Chelsea pensioners, who had left their wooden legs at home to be furnished with brass pegs instead. Never before was such a crowd of woebegone faces gathered together in one lot and stuck into block tin.

In the centre of the procession rode a king and two queens, who, with their large retinue of fair pages, took seat on the benches pre- pared for our royal family. It was, no doubt, a feudal notion t) give two wives to his Majesty, besides no end of handmaidens and Amazons in gauze jackets. The high and illustrious personages having made themselves as comfortable as the hard benches allowed them to do, the signal was given for the beginning of the "tour- nament." In consideration, probably, of the age of the knights and that of their horses, personal encounters were dispensed with, and "the days of ancient chivalry" were illustrated by such classic per- formances as tilting at the ring, throwing darts, and turning the popinjay. The gentlemen in tin unfortunately did not succeed well in any of these amusements, being wholly absorbed in the primary duty of keeping in the saddles of their refractory steeds. Uncom- fortable as the tin-and-paper covering appeared to be to the human performers, it was evidently still more so to the horses, who did not seem to like the idea of having their heads put into a tea- kettle with the spout upwards, and their tails into a saucepan with the handle at the bottom. So, like good cab horses who know right from wrong, they remonstrated by kicking, and a few all but succeeding in flinging their knight-pensioners down into the saw- dust. Against so extreme a proceeding the riders pardonably secured themselves by clinging with hands and feet to the belly of their jades, after the fashion of the immortal Sancho Panza and his renowned master. This made the tilting at rings and throwing of javelins an affair of immense difficulty, if not physical impossibility. The little boys who manage these things at fairs, in roundabout horse-swings, generally succeed in getting off every other ring from the suspended loop ; but the antique chivalry at Cremorne did not pluck one laurel leaf in a dozen. What little was plucked, however, was brought in great pomp to the King and his two wives, whose smiles went far to compensate the woe- begone knights for all the dangers of their campaign. The dropping of pitchfork-like javelins at a target, lying nearly flat against the ground, seemed an easy thing enough ; but even in this undertaking the men in armour were sadly unsuccessful. What they did best was to turn the popinjay, erected in front of the royal platform. All that was necessary here was for each rider to give a good stroke to the figure at such convenient times as his steed might happen not to kick, which occurred at intervals of from five to ten minutes. This part of the Grand Tournament, therefore, ended to general satisfaction, increased by the final performance of the antique chivalry. The knight-pensioners actually allowed the top of their lances to come in contact with each other ; in such a manner, however, that the high wooden barrier remained between the war- riors and their horses. This was a most wise and prudent arrange- ment, for the consequences might have been fatal in case of bodily contact between the restive bearers of the rival teakettles and saucepans. As it was, all ended well, without any other accident than the loss of a few pieces of heavy armour, which the wind blew through the arena. Immediately after, the gorgeous pro- cession was reformed, the medivreal Majesty and his wives de- scended from the platform, the host of fair pages fell into rank and file, and the sorrowful faces of the ancient knights turned away from the field of battle. So ended the first Grand Tournament of Cremorne.