TARBOLTON, a parish, in the district of Kyle, county of Ayr; containing 2612 inhabitants, of whom 1083 are in the village, 8 miles (S.) from Kilmarnock. The word Tarbolton or Torbolton, written also in ancient records Thorbolton, is derived from a round hill near the village, called in the Celtic language Tar, and from Bol, the name of the god of the Druids, whose worship was formerly celebrated here; the three syllables together, Tar-bol-ton, consequently signify "the town at Baal's or Bol's hill." In that part of the parish of Barnweill, suppressed in 1673, which was annexed to Tarbolton, was situated the monastery of Fail, founded in the year 1252, and belonging to the Red Friars, who were called Mathurines from the establishment of this order in Paris, dedicated to St. Mathurine. They were also named Patres de Redemptione Captivorum, it being a part of their duty to redeem captives from slavery. The chief of the convent was styled "Minister," and was provincial of the Trinity order in Scotland, in consequence of which he had a seat in parliament; and to the institution were annexed the churches of Barnweill, Symington, Galston in Kyle, Torthorwald in Dumfries-shire, and Inverchaolain in Argyllshire. The only remains of the monastery, however, are a gable, and part of the side wall of the manor-house of the "Minister."
   This parish measures in extreme length seven miles, and four miles in breadth, and comprises 12,500 acres, of which 10,868 are under cultivation, 960 are in natural wood and in plantation, and the remainder meadowland, morass, and waste. The surface is undulating throughout, rising in some parts into eminences about 400 feet above the level of the sea, from which there are prospects of a range of very interesting and beautiful scenery. The great valley of the Ayr, reaching from the Doon to Ardrossan, a distance of nearly twenty miles, stretches itself below, and is ornamented by the picturesque windings of the river, pursuing its course along the southern boundary of the parish, between banks clothed with a variety of trees; while further off are seen the Cumnock hills, with those of Carrick, the Frith of Clyde, Ailsa, the hills of Argyllshire, and the heights of Kilbirnie, with occasionally, in the distance, Cairnsmuir in Galloway, Fair-head promontory, Ben-Lomond and Ben-More, and the strikingly-beautiful isle of Arran. Besides the Ayr, remarkable for the deep and dangerous places here called "weels," which are hidden from view by the sable hue of the stream, there are several small rivers, the chief of these being the Fail, which rises in Lochlee, a lake recently drained. This water, after passing the monastery, flows through the loch of its own name and that of Tarbolton, and, enlivening by its passage the pleasure-grounds of Montgomerie House, falls at last into the Ayr at a place designated Failford. The two lastnamed lochs are merely plains flooded during the winter months to turn two small mills. These mills are still under the system of thirlage; but as the Duke of Portland exonerated his tenantry from their obligation to use the Millburn mill, in consequence of which Lochlee loch was converted into good arable ground, it is expected that the other lochs will shortly, under the extension of the same enlightened system of parochial economy, yield to the operations of the plough, and that their fine rich loamy soils will ere long exhibit fruitful and abundant crops.
   The parish partakes in the extreme humidity and rainy character of the climate of the county in general, forbidding the extensive cultivation of wheat; but other kinds of grain are raised, to the annual average amount, in value, of £8965; and the green crops, including £200 for gardens and orchards, are returned at £14,754, making a total of £23,719. The farms that are cultivated under the rotation system, averaging about sixty acres in size, produce considerable crops of turnips; and rye-grass is sown on many lands, for the sake of the seed. Tile-draining is general, and subsoil-ploughing is coming into practice; most of the farms have threshing-mills, some of them driven by water-power; and there are four corn-mills, a flour-mill, and three tile-works, the last of great advantage to the advance of husbandry. Great attention is paid to the dairy. The average rent of land is £1 per acre, and the leases usually run eighteen or nineteen years. The substrata in Tarbolton consist chiefly of red sandstone, trap, and coal, which together produce annually about £4000. The coal was wrought so early as the year 1497; and the mineral lying in the south-western, and a small portion of that in the north-eastern, quarter, belong to the Ayrshire coalfield. The rateable annual value of the parish is £12,125. The principal mansion is Montgomerie House, the property of William Paterson, Esq., an elegant modern residence situated on the southern bank of the Fail, and shrouded in beautiful woods. There are four other residences, named respectively Enterkine, Smithston House, Drumley, and Afton Lodge.
   The village is about six miles from the sea-coast; it contains many persons engaged in various manufactures, which have been rapidly increasing here during the last half century. About the year 1794 the weaving of muslin was commenced; and the articles produced in the parish consisted principally of jaconets and lawns till the year 1825, when silks were introduced, comprising persians, sarsenets, bandanas, satins, and velvets; and within the last few years, challes, made of silk and wool, victorias, a fabric of silk and cotton, and mousselins de laine, woven of cotton and wool, with several other varieties, have been added. These branches employ together about 140 looms, the work being all supplied from Glasgow. Many females, also, are engaged in "sewing," who were once occupied at the spinning-wheel; and the fabrics here wrought are in general beautifully executed. At the hamlet of Failford, two and a half miles from Tarbolton, is a manufactory for razor-strops; and hones are prepared at Stair-Bridge; the famous hone-stone, called the Water-of-Ayr stone, being plentiful here. There is a daily despatch of letters from the village; and the road from Ayr to Edinburgh, by Muirkirk and Douglas-Mill, runs through the parish from west to east, and that from Kilmarnock to Dalmellington from north to south. The farmproduce is sold at Ayr and Kilmarnock; coal is procured at the Weston or Crawfordston colliery, three and a half miles from Tarbolton, and cannel coal can be obtained at Adamhill, two miles from the village. A fair is held on the first Tuesday in June, and another on the second Tuesday in October, both Old Style, and chiefly for the sale of dairy-stock. The lands of Tarbolton, by a charter of Novodamus of King Charles II. to John Cunninghame, Esq., of Enterkine, were constituted a free burgh of barony, with the power of holding within the burgh a weekly market on Thursdays, and two fairs annually. Two bailies and twelve councillors are elected by the householders on Christmas-eve, and there is a town-house, and also a lock-up house, erected in 1836 by subscription.
   The parish is ecclesiastically in the presbytery of Ayr and synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and in the patronage of William Paterson, Esq.: the minister's stipend is £244, with a manse, and a glebe valued at £6 per annum. The church, finished in 1821, at a cost of £2500, is a handsome edifice containing 950 sittings, and is ornamented with a spire ninety feet high, and a clock having four dials. The parochial school affords instruction in the usual branches; the master has a salary of £30, with a dwelling, and £16 fees. The parish contains two subscription libraries: there is a savings' bank; also two or three friendly societies. A range of almshouses was erected and endowed, by a bequest of the late Alexander Cooper, Esq., of Smithston, at Failford, near the junction of the Ayr and Fail rivers, for eight persons, who have each a weekly allowance and an allotment of garden ground. The hospital is spacious and handsome, and is designed for inhabitants of Tarbolton and Mauchline, in indigent circumstances, upwards of forty years of age, and who have never solicited alms. The chief relic of antiquity, besides the ruin of the ancient monastery, is a circular mound, inclosed by a hedge and planted, and called King Coil's tomb; it is situated to the south of Montgomerie House, and is universally stated by tradition to be the depository of the remains of Coilus, king of the Britons, who was slain here in an engagement with the Picts and Scots. The tomb was opened in 1837, when, at the depth of about four feet, were discovered several urns, some ashes, and burnt bones, with many stones, all disposed in order. On the Hill, already mentioned, a beautiful green mount with a moat at the summit, an annual festivity takes place on the eve of the Tarbolton June fair, resembling, and supposed to be derived from, the religious rites of the Druids formerly celebrated here. A piece of fuel is demanded and given from every house, and all that is collected is carried to a spot on the hill where there is a turf altar three feet high; a large fire is kindled, and the more youthful and robust leap upon the altar, after the manner of the ancient worshippers of Baal, numerous spectators standing around. A stone celt, used by the Druids for cutting the mistletoe, and probably also for the slaughter of victims, was discovered a few years since in the process of forming a drain in a field; it is made of hard clay-stone, and is ten and a half inches long, with one end narrow and blunt, and the other broad and sharp. This celebrated hill, about a mile from which the celt was found, was subsequently the court-hill of the barony of Tarbolton; and a hall once situated on the summit was the chief messuage of the barons. At Park-Moor are the vestiges of a Roman camp, with trenches; and numerous urns have been found in the parish, as well as several warlike instruments.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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