Burns’ Night Celebration

Trousers, skirts, ties and even wallpaper – tartan is everywhere.  As you begin the search around the house for the outfit you put on once a year to celebrate Burns’ Night, here’s a brief history of this colourful check clothing, which may help jog your memory…

For several centuries tartan was the material used for everyday wear by Highlanders.  It was worn in other parts of Scotland, but in the Highlands your tartan was a symbol of your clan.

Tartan was of course used to make items of traditional Scottish dress, including the philabeg, or kilt,  and of course the trews or trousers. The highly ornamented leather sporran  worn in front of the kilt was a useful purse.

Early tartans were simple checks  of just two or three colours.  The colours were taken from dye-producing plants, roots, berries and trees,  local to the immediate area and that pattern was worn by the people of the district, or the local clan.

As the quality and range of chemical dyes improved, weavers were able to introduce elaborate patterns including more vivid and varied colours. Newer clans evolved their own tartans by adding an overstripe onto the basic pattern by the parent clan.

This all came to an end after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. In an attempt to crush the rebellious clans the government in London passed an Act of Parliament banning the carrying of weapons and the wearing of tartan. By the time this Act was repealed in 1785 the Highlanders had lost all their enthusiasm for wearing tartan, many of the weavers had died and with them the old patterns.

All was not lost however.  Tartan started to come back into fashion in 1822 when George IV visited Edinburgh and asked people to wear their tartans to official functions. The loss of the original patterns gave tailors free range to start again.

The craze for tartan increased when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built Balmoral Castle and the Prince designed The Balmoral Tartan in red and grey and Queen created the Victoria tartan with a white stripe.

The Burns’ Check tartan is quite distinct. The request for a Robert Burns’ tartan originated with The Scotsman newspaper to celebrate the bicentenary of the poet’s birth. The first idea had been to base it on the Campbell – a clan connected with The Burns family, but it was eventually decided to base it on the Shepherd’s Check with a green overtone.  In June 1959 the Burns Federation accepted the design on condition that all goods should be made in Scotland.

At Wivenhoe House we will be celebrating Burns’ night with a traditional four course dinner in the historic main house. Tickets are £44.50 per person and can be purchased by calling 01206 863666 or emailing events@wivenhoehouse.co.uk


find us, however you travel
By car:

Whether approaching Wivenhoe House from London and the South or Ipswich and the North via the A12, take the exit marked Colchester (A133). Follow the A133 towards Clacton, ignore the entrance to the Knowledge Gateway, continue along the A133 then take the B1028 for Wivenhoe before turning right into Boundary Road, then right again into Park Road. The entrance for Wivenhoe House is shared with the University of Essex but Park Road leads you through Wivenhoe Park and you will be able to see the glorious house from the road.

For Sat Nav please use CO4 3FA.

Download our PDF Map

By train:

Colchester station, Colchester Town station, Wivenhoe station and Hythe stations are all between 10-15 minutes from Wivenhoe House by car. Trains run between London (Liverpool Street) and Colchester station every 10-20 minutes. The journey takes around an hour. Also connect with Colchester from Norwich, Ipswich, Felixstowe & Harwich. Some trains from London (Liverpool Street) also stop at Wivenhoe Station. When travelling from the Clacton/Walton direction, alight at Wivenhoe or Hythe Stations.

By plane:

Stansted airport is approximately 45 minutes from Wivenhoe House by car. Helicopter pad coordinates are 603200/223900.