Fail Monastery

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Site Type MONASTERY
Canmore ID 42720
Site Number NS42NW 2
NGR NS 42129 28654
Council SOUTH AYRSHIRE
Parish TARBOLTON
Former Region STRATHCLYDE
Former District KYLE AND CARRICK
Former County AYRSHIRE
Datum OSGB36 - NGR

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Architectural Notes

EXTERNAL REFERENCE:

National Library: Uncatalogued MSS of General Hutton Vol. II No. 28. - 1 coloured drawing

Notes and Activities

Archaeological Notes

NS42NW 2 4212 2863.

(NS 4215 2860) Monastery (NR) (site of)
OS 6" map (1967)

(NS 4211 2865) Monastery (NR) (Ruin)
OS 6" map (1911)

The date of the foundation of the house of Trinitarian (Red) Friars at Fail is uncertain. It does not seem to be mentioned before the 14th century, though some authorities state it was founded in (or about) 1252. It was burned in 1349, but continued to exist until 1561 when it was 'cast down' by Reformers. Nevertheless two poor men still lived in the convent in 1562 while four old beidmen of the convent lived outside. The ONB describes the ruins of a rectangular building, of which three walls remained, about 40ft high. Paterson notes this as the manor-house of the head of the monastery; he also mentions that some years before 1863, when lowering the road near the manor house, a number of bones and pieces of sculpture were dug up. They were said to be connected with the burial ground.
I B Cowan and D E Easson 1976; Name Book 1856; J Paterson 1863

The remains of this monastery were removed in 1952.
Visited by OS (JLD) 15 May 1954

Although demolished about 1952, footings of the probable south wall of the rectangular monastery building are visible beneath a brick wall of an outbuilding on the south side of a steading called Fail Castle. The remains of this rubble wall stand up to 1.0m. high at one point, and are traceable for a length of c.30m.
The owner (Mrs G Douglas, Fails Castle, Tarbolton), remembers the structure before demolition and suggests that Paterson's illustration is a view from the west; she indicated the vague line of the buried east wall foundations for a distance of c15m. During the building alterations 'incised slabs' and structure foundations have been found beneath the floor level of the house and in 1965 three burials comprising complete skeletons were found at a shallow depth against the east wall of the house (NS 4214 2866). They were re-buried away from the house to the east and no further action was taken.
There are no recent reports of finds elsewhere. Enquiries at Fail and Fail Mains proved negative.
Visited by OS (JRL) 19 November 1980

All that is now visible at the site of the Trinitarian house of Fail, which stood in the immediate vicinity of the cottage at Fail Mains, are the remains of a 16th-century tower-house. It was possibly the 'domus' of the commendator and comprises a fragment of wall (22m long and up to 1.3m high) revetting the break of slope at the foot of the garden 25m S of the cottage; at a depth of 0.3m below ground level a second wall (lime mortared and 0.9m thick) extends N for over 23m at right angles to the first. The tower is said to have been oblong on plan and to have comprised at least three principal storeys; about 1952 its remains were dismantled and some of the rubble used to form a grotto on the N side of the Roman Catholic church at Annbank (NS 4045 2453). In 1852, during road construction, the burial-ground was disturbed and a graveslab, probably of 14th-century date, was discovered and subsequently removed to Blairquhan House (NS 3652 0546), along with an armorial panel impaled with the arms of Cunningham and Hunter. About 1965, a number of 'decorated slabs' are said to have been found beneath the floor of the cottage and several skeletons were discovered on the E. The monastery was founded about 1252; it was partially destroyed by fire in 1349, but continued in use until 1561 when it was 'cast down' by the reformers.
T Hope 1734; OSA 1797; NSA 1845; Name Book; J Paterson 1863; G Chalmers 1887-1902; K Hewat 1908; J P Wilson 1949; W J Dillon 1957; I B Cowan and D E Easson 1976; RCAHMS 1985, visited (IMS) October 1985

NS 4207 2886 Staff of Strathclyde Archaeology Service visited Fail Mains in response to the erection of a large agricultural building. Contact was made with Mr Taylor, father of Mr Bryce Taylor the present farmer. He stated that he remembered people in the locality talking about the finding of 'bones and the graveyard' when a cutting was being made for the old road. He was able to locate this cutting to the above grid reference. The cutting extends some 25m either side of this. On the date of visit a fragment of oyster shell was found in the exposed eastern face at a depth of 0.45m below turf level, and at the grid reference given. This may reinforce the validity of the new locational information recovered.
Sponsor: Strathclyde Regional Council.
SRC SMR 1994j.

 
Books and References

Chalmers, G (1887-94) Caledonia: or a historical and topographical account of North Britain, 7 vols + index Paisley
Page(s): Vol.6, 491-3, 513, 515-17 Held at RCAHMS C.1.2.CHA

Cowan and Easson, I B and D E (1976) 'Medieval religious houses, Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man', London
Page(s): 65, 109, 112, 113, 179 Held at RCAHMS C.3.2.COW

Dillon, W J (1957b) 'Calendar of documents relating to Fail, Barnweill, Galston and Symington', Ayrshire Archaeol Natur Hist Collect, 2nd, vol.4
Page(s): 90-119

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Charity SC026749