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
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,
The Churchyard contains a
plain little monument to William Sherilaw, a farm servant, who in
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
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." ,
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
removed from Ayrshire to London, and in 1537 went to New York. Died there
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
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.
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