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The Batchelors and the Tarbolton Lasses.

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

If ye gae up to yon hill-tap, Ye'll there see bonie Peggy: She kens her father is a laird, And she forsooth's a leddy. There's Sophy tight, a lassie bright, Besides a handsome fortune: Wha canna win her in a night Has little art in courtin. Gae down by Faile, and taste the ale, And tak a look o' Mysie: She's dour and din, a deil within, But aiblins she may please ye. If she be shy, her sister try, Ye'll maybe fancy Jenny: If ye'll dispense wi' want o' sense, She kens hersel she's bonie. As ye gae up by yon hillside, Spier in for bonie Bessy: She'll give ye a beck, and bid ye light, And handsomely address ye. There's few sae bonie, nane sae guid In a' King George's dominion: If ye should doubt the truth of this, It's Bessy's ain opinion.

If you're wondering just what the relevance of the above piece of iambic tetrameter might be, today's date is January 25th.

Still none the wiser? Robert Burns, Scotland's bard, was born on this day in 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire and, being descended from Ayrshire stock myself, it seems appropriate to feature a bygone boozer with a Burns connection. Yes, for the Cymry amongst you, this honorary Welshman does know that it's also Dydd Santes Dwynwen, but I don't think she visited too many pubs. However, you never know, she may well appear in a post on this date in some future year. Now, where was I? Oh yes, Burns. Some of you may remember that there were some Burns-related bygones in this earlier post which featured lost inns that are/were to be found along a stretch of the A76, but this lost local bears the bard's name.

Robert Burns moved, with his parents and siblings, to the village of Tarbolton sometime around May in 1777, and the poem above, entitled The Tarbolton Lasses, was penned whilst he was living there. In October of that year, along with his brother Gilbert and some other local young men, he set up the Batchelors' Club. Meetings of this debating society were held in the upstairs room of John Richard's alehouse. That alehouse has long since ceased serving ale and for a while was in a parlous state. At some point there was even some talk of its possible demolition but, after a period of restoration, it now serves as small museum in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

But it is not John Richard's alehouse that is the subject of this post. Burns had quite an association with Tarbolton so it is no surprise that a pub eventually appeared that was named after him. The Burns Tavern stood on the corner of Cunningham Street and, wait for it, Burns Street.

Burns tavern Tarbolton
The Burns Tavern around the end of the nineteenth century.

Burns Tavern Tarbolton
Looking along Cunningham Street.

Quite when the Burns Tavern first made an appearance has been rather tricky to establish. In fact, I have failed to determine this. The earliest reference to it by name that I've come across is in the 1891 census when Neil and Margaret (Maggie) Murchie are listed as being at the Burns Tavern at 13 Cunningham Street. But was it a pub before that?

Both the 1851 census and Slater's directory of the following year name a James Brown as an inn keeper, but no address is given. In 1861 he's named as a grocer and provisions merchant, but not an inn keeper, at... 13 Cunningham Street. Maybe he was running a pub on the site of the Burns Tavern before Neil and Margaret Murchie had it. Things are made even more complicated in that Margaret's parents, the Olivers, are given in a number of documents as keeping an inn on Cunningham Street. The last of them died in 1877. Did Neil and Margaret take on a pub from her parents?

I just don't know. What I can tell you is that it was going by 1891 and it's not in existence now. If I can't say when it dates from, how about when it closed? I'm sorry to have to tell you that I'm not much better on that front. I know that Margaret took over when husband Neil died in 1885 and continued to run it until her own demise in 1923. Her son, also Neil, continued to run it after her death. I've come across an account from Neil junior's grandson than he recalls visiting his grandad in the pub in the 1950s, so it must still have been going then, but quite when it ceased operating I don't know. Neil junior died in 1960. Did the pub die with him?

Whenever it died, the Burns Tavern had a post-closure date with a wrecking ball. Below are a couple of recent views taken by Mr. Google from similar points where the black and white images above were caught. Where the Burns Tavern once stood there is now a small public garden area.

Looking down Burns Street in May 2021. © Google 2023

Looking along Cunningham Street in September 2021. © Google 2023

So, in celebration of Burns' birthday, having had our haggis – or for those in need, a diet-appropriate substitute – it's time to finish off the evening with a traditional wee dram. Mine's an sherry cask finished Glen Morangie. And before we down it, some more of Burn's thoughts as a toast of sorts. This time an excerpt from A Bottle and a Friend.

Here's a bottle and an honest friend!

What wad ye wish for mair, man?

Wha kens, before his life may end,

What his share may be o' care, man?

Here's a bottle and an honest friend!

Rosser1954's image of the Batchelors' Club is copyright and is reused under this licence.

If you've read this far, then thank you. Possibly, like me, you may have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. Clicking here will take you to a searchable/sortable index which you can use to see if I've already featured any lost locals from your locality. You can also subscribe to ensure that you don't miss any future posts. Simply click here to return to the home page (opens in a new tab), follow the 'Subscribe' link and complete the form to receive an email notification of any future post. Or you could simply follow the link at the top of this page.

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