Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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Home Old Views New Views Tarbolton 1837 Tarbolton 1846






The Bachelor's Club view By Kenny Monaghan 


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Google Map of Tarbolton


Notes on the way through Ayrshire - 100 years ago


East of St. Quivox, Ayr. The town of Tarbolton stands near the centre of the parish, seven miles east-north-east of Ayr, four miles west of Mauchline, and one mile and a quarter north of its own railway station; was made a burgh barony in 1671, and retains interesting features of antiquity; has Established, Free, and United Presbyterian Churches, two public schools, a post office (with telegraph, money order, and savings bank), shops, two inns, and a number of blacksmiths’ and joiners’ shops. Population in 1871, 829; in 1881, 922.

The Churchyard contains a plain little monument to William Sherilaw, a farm servant, who in 1685 suffered martyrdom, and was buried here, at the early age of eighteen. The Rev. Alexander Peden, the prophet, in his youth was schoolmaster, precentor, and session-clerk here. The Mason Lodge, Tarbolton, enjoys the singular honour of having made Burns a freemason; and its records in the young Poet’s own hand are a treasure. We humbly suggest to the "brothers of the mystic tie," in Tarbolton and Ayrshire, the erection of a Burns Memorial here, in the shape of a Masonic Hall. It should be small, like the town, but a costly gem of mason work. The first movement of Burns as a leader of men was the formation of a debating society, called the Bachelor’s Club, at Tarbolton. The following extract is from the history of its origin:-" We held our first meeting at Tarbolton, in the house of John Richard, upon the evening of the 11th of November, and after choosing Robert Burns president for the night, we proceeded to debate on the question - ‘Suppose a young man, bred a farmer, but with-out any fortune, has it in his power to marry either of two women, the one a girl of large fortune, but neither hand-some in person, nor agreeable in conversation, but who can manage the household affairs well enough; the other of them a girl every way agreeable in person, conversation, and behaviour, but without any fortune: which of them shall he choose? ’ " Burns, as might be expected, did not take the side of the ugly, disagreeable, rich girl. David Sillar (Davie, a brother poet), became a member of the society six months later. He was born at the farm house of Spittalside, half-a-mile north-west of Tarbolton; first tried shopkeeping, and afterwards became a schoolmaster in Irvine. He is author of a volume of poems, in the Scottish dialect, published at Kilmarnock, 1788. He composed the music to Burns’ song--"A rosebud by my early walk; " was a violinist, and as such is immortalized in the inimitable lines-

" Hale be your heart, hale be your fiddle ; Lang may your elbuch jink and diddle  To cheer you through the weary widdle O war’ly care, Till bairns’ bairns kindly cuddle Your auld gray hair."

Fully half-a-mile beyond Spittalside are the ruins of Failford Monastery, founded in 1252, where - an old rhyme says- ! " The Friars of Fail made gude kail  On Fridays when they fasted ; And they never wanted gear enough As long as their neighbour’s lasted." Henry the Minstrel speaks of it having been visited by Thomas the Rhymer, who was born about 1219 ; died 1299 :-" Thomas Rimour in to the Fail was than, With the mynystir, quilk was a worthie man : He wsyt offt to that religious place." , 

Willie’s Mill, in the scene of "Death and Doctor Hornbook," is Tarbolton Mill, on the Water of Fail, about a quarter of a mile from the north end of Tarbolton, on the road to Lochlee and Mossgiel. Dr. Hornbook was Mr. John Wilson, schoolmaster and grocer in Tarbolton. There was no member of the medical profession in the parish at that time, and the schoolmaster, with the assistance of " Buchan and other chaps " (Buchan’s Domestic Medicine, and other works of the class), undertook the responsibility of giving medical advice and supplying medicines. This was nothing very unusual in those days. But, unfortunately for himself, Mr. Wilson, with all the enthusiasm of the successful young amateur, and ready tongue of the teacher, aired his hobby so ostentatiously at a Mason meeting as to rouse in the wakeful mind of Burns a sense of the public danger to be apprehended from quack doctors, and supply a theme for his muse on the way home. The Poet recited the piece to his brother Gilbert on the fields next day. When publishing the first edition of his poems, Burns withheld this masterpiece from the printer, evidently out of respect for " Dr. Hornhook;" but it appeared in the Edinburgh edition two years after it was written. Mr. Wilson, finding himself surrounded with laughter and ridicule, abandoned both shop and school, and took up his abode in Glasgow, where, it is satisfactory to know, he obtained a respectable appointment as session-clerk of

Lochlee farm is about three miles by road north-east of Tarbolton, in a rather bleak, unpicturesque landscape. Burns’ father removed with his family to this farm in 1777. The Poet, in his narrative to Dr. Moore, says:-" For four years we lived comfortably here, but a difference commencing between him and his landlord as to terms, after three years tossing and whirling in the vortex of litigation, my father was just saved from the horrors of a jail by a consumption, which, after two years promises, kindly stepped in and carried him away to where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." During these seven years of Tarbolton life, the national Poet developed from an "ungainly, awkward boy," to a very able man. "At the plough, scythe, and reap-hook," he says, "I feared no competitor." He also learned to get his plaid and steal out to see the lasses. It was here he composed " My Nannie, O." " Her face is fair, her heart is true, As spotless as she’s bonnie, O : The op’ning gown wat wi’ dew, Nae purer is than Nannie, O."   Nannie, so far as can be ascertained, lived at the farm of Coldcothill, half-a-mile north of Lochlee; but he flitted her in imagination, first to the Stinchar, and then to the Lugar, that the " charming, sweet and young" creature might be connected with a sweeter sound. He loved lassies and daisies and " mice and men " in general ; but there was one, a kindly, sweet-tempered, intelligent, virtuous girl, whom he loved with a sacred love - Mary Campbell, his " Highland Mary." She lived at Montgomery Castle, one mile south-east of Tarbolton, where. she had charge of the dairy. They were engaged to be married; and before going home to stay with her parents. for a few months, and get her things ready for the wedding, they "met by appointment on the second Sunday of May, in a sequestered spot on the banks of Ayr, ‘to live one day of parting love.’ " " How sweetly bloom’d the gay green birk ! How rich the hawthorn’s blossom ! As underneath their fragrant shade, I clasp‘d her to my bosom ! The golden hours, on angel wings, Flew o’er me and my dearie ; For dear to me, as light and life, Was my sweet Highland Mary. " Wi’ monie a vow, and lock’d embrace, Our parting was fu’ tender ; And, pledging aft to meet again, We tore oursels asunder."

Their final parting vows were solemnized by the presence of the Bible. Burns’ pocket Bible was in two volumes. On the boards of the first he wrote, "And ye shall not swear by me falsely; I am the Lord-Levit., chap. xix.,, ver. 12 ; " and on the second he wrote, "Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oath-St. Math., chap. v., ver. 33." And on a blank leaf of each was written, "Robert Burns, Mossgiel." This Bible he gave to Mary in exchange for her Bible while they parted, standing on opposite sides of a small running stream, in which they had laved their hands as an emblem of purity. They never met again. Mary went on a visit to some friends in the West Highlands, and, returning in blooming health to her parents at Greenock, she was seized with fever, and died. Some of Burns’ loving letters to her, and one of condolence addressed to her mother after her death, were allowed to lie in Mary’s chest, until one of her brothers destroyed them, for the reason, he said, that his mother always shed tears when she read them, and he could not bear to see his mother weeping. An interesting memorial has been erected over " Highland Mary’s " grave in Greenock Churchyard.

" Ye banks, and braes, and streams around The Castle o’ Montgomery, Green be your woods, and fair your flowers, Your waters never drumlie ! There summer first unfald her robes, And there the langest tarry ! For there I took the last fareweel O’ my sweet Highland Mary."

  *James Thom, sculptor, was born near Lochlee, Tarbolton, 1799. His first and greatest work is his life-size group of "Tam o’ Shanter and Souter Johnny," said to be hardly surpassed by the great masters of ancient or modern times. This famous work of art was accomplished by Mr. Thom during spare hours, while working at his trade as a stone mason, and when he was only 26 years of age. Another remarkable work of this highly gifted artist is his "Old Mortality and his Pony." The statue of Sir William Wallace, in a niche of the Wallace Tower, Ayr, is from the same chisel. Mr. Thom removed from Ayrshire to London, and in 1537 went to New York. Died there in 1850.

Annbank is a large mining village, three miles south-west of Tarbolton, occupying a lovely situation, surrounded with green cosy scenery on the winding Ayr. It has a railway station, a post office (with money order and savings bank), an Established Church, and a public school. Population in 1871, 1151; in 1881, 1309.

Failford, a small hamlet, where the Fail joins the Ayr, is famous for its hones. The Castle o’ Montgomery, already mentioned, was called Coilsfield until it was renamed by Burns after its proprietor, Colonel Montgomery, afterwards Earl of Eglinton. Its grounds contain Roman trenches, and the reputed tomb of "Auld King Coil." Besides its love-hallowed groves, both house and grounds are enchanted as the scene of the "‘Twa Dogs " 

The seat of Afton Lodge, one mile and a half south-west of Tarbolton, is interesting as the residence of Mrs. Stewart, the first lady of rank who sought the friendship of Burns ; but it is not the scene of-the song "Afton Water."  

Enterking and Drumley House are seats about a mile further. 

Smithston House is three miles east of Tarbolton.

The coal seams worked in the west are supposed to underlie the whole parish ; but at too great a depth to be of any use in our day. 

The surface of the parish, though not low, is nowhere too high for the plough, and much of

 * He was a son of James Thom and Margaret Morrison of Tarbolton area.
He went to the U.S.(1837) to collect a debt owed him.
While in the U.S. he was there he was commissioned to work on the 1849 Trinity Church and N.Y. City Court House. 
He owned a residence in Rampo, N.Y.
One son became a artist, painter James Crawford Thom b 1835 d 1898, who gained some small fame in N.Y. and London. 

Further Information on James Thom contributed by  Todd Theis theistn@yahoo.com


The Death of Old King Coil

.......the fight which he fought in Ayrshire, consists in the discovery of relics of the fatal field, at Coilsfield in the parish of Tarbolton. Of course it is quite possible that the relics referred to may be those of some other warrior king of the shadowy epoch ; but we prefer to believe that they are indeed those of " old King Coil " himself, the redoubtable king of the Britons.


1791-99 and 1845 Statistical Accounts


  Photographs of Headstones in Tarbolton Churchyard

By Kenny Monaghan kennymonaghan@btinternet.com contact him here



Map of Tarbolton today

This Link takes you to the MULTIMAP website where you will find a map of the town and the surrounding area as it is today. You can zoom in and out and move around in all directions.


StreetMap of Tarbolton

This Link takes you to the STREET website where you will find a street map of the town as it is today. You can zoom in and out and move around in all directions.


Old Maps of Ayrshire Place Names

This link goes directly to the OLD MAPS website for an Ayrshire Index to detailed old maps of most Ayrshire Towns around 1860. You can explore out to all sides by using the arrows at the top of the page. These maps are ideal for finding the locations of areas such as farms.



Tarbolton is a place of considerable antiquity, and was erected into a Burgh of Barony by Charles II, in 1671, and granted to John Cunninghame, Esq., of Enterkin. In burghal constitution it was held to be governed by two Bailies and twelve Councillors, elected annually by the householders. The town-house was erected by subscription in 1832. Near the village is a mount called Hood's Hill, which strikingly exhibits the appearance of an old Danish encampment or fortification, and has given rise to the suggestion that Tarbolton was probably a station of the Danes at the remote period of our ancient history when these people possessed all the northern and western isles adjacent to Scotland. The inhabitants of Tarbolton are principally employed in weaving cotton, woollen, and silk fabrics, for the manufacturers of Glasgow; and at one time there were a few stocking-makers in the village. At present there are upwards of fifty hand-loom weavers employed, the webs being chiefly plain silk............................




Tarbolton Websites


Tarbolton Books


Tarbolton Maps


Pathfinder Map 0468 (NS42/52): Tarbolton, Mauchline & Auchinleck Ordnance Survey

To Order or More Information


Ayrshire Books  Some books for the Ayrshire researcher

Burns Books  a Selection of interesting books about Robert Burns and his work 

Help needed to source old pictures, postcards or photographs, interesting articles or the history of Tarbolton. If you would like to help please contact me at address below






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