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Arbirlot is located in Angus
Location within Angus
OS grid referenceNO602407
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtDD11
Dialling code01241
EU ParliamentScotland
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
56°33′26″N 2°38′48″W / 56.557153°N 2.64675°W / 56.557153; -2.64675Coordinates: 56°33′26″N 2°38′48″W / 56.557153°N 2.64675°W / 56.557153; -2.64675

Arbirlot (Gaelic: Obar Eilid) is a village in a rural parish of the same name in Angus, Scotland. The current name is usually presumed to be a contraction of Aberelliot[1]:467 or Aber-Eliot [2]:147- both meaning the mouth of the Elliot.[a] It is situated west of Arbroath. The main village settlement is on the Elliot Water, 2.5 miles from Arbroath. There is a Church of Scotland church and a primary school. The school lies 1 mile further west in the approximate geographic centre of the parish.

Falls at Arbirlot

Geology and Landscape[edit]

Arbirlot village, sometimes known as Kirkton of Arbirlot, lies in the Kelly Den, formed by the Elliot Water. The principal underlying rock formation is Old Red Sandstone and Arbirlot attracted the attention of early geologists because of the exposed rock formations in the Kelly Den. Hugh Miller describes the rock formations in the "pastoral village of Arbirlot" in detail in his highly influential 1841 book Old Red Standstone.[5]:168–170

A nature trail by the Elliot Water links Arbirlot with the former railway junction of Elliot on the Angus Coast. Arbirlot holds host to a spectacular 23 foot waterfall.


Prehistoric and Early Christian[edit]

There is extensive evidence of prehistoric occupation of the Arbirlot area. The First Statistical Account refers to the recent demolition of a "druidical temple" in the parish, the finding of a "Pictish crown", and the presence of numerous stone cairns.[1]:476 Historic Environment Scotland's Canmore database interprets the reference to the "druidical temple" as possibly referring to a stone circle and based on place-name evidence gives a possible location near to Cairncortie in the north-west of the parish.[6] The Second Statistical Account mentions the finding of many stone arrowheads in the parish.[7]:333 There is a cup and ring marked boulder near Craigend.[8][9]:13A short cist burial, of a type normally associated with the early bronze age, was excavated near Greenford Farm in 1957[10], close to where an ancient fortified enclosure was reported in 1910[11].

There are cropmark indications of a possible Roman marching camp to the west of Grahamston Cottages.[12]:336

The date of the foundation of Arbirlot Kirk, dedicated to St Ninian is unknown, although dates as early as the first decades of the 400s have been proposed.[13]:93,94[14]:52,54 The current manse garden contains a standing stone (illustrated) with what are thought to be medieval[15] carvings, although much earlier dates have also been suggested[16]:83.84[14]:94. The stone was retrieved from the foundations of the parish church during re-building works in 1831.[15]

Monastic records give some support to the tradition of a Culdee religious house or "college" in Arbirlot, that was suppressed sometime after the founding of Arbroath Abbey in the late 12th century. The Culdee title of Abbe of Arbirlot continued to appear in records for some years until about 1207 but apparently as an honorific rather than an actual position of authority over a religious community.[4] The First Statistical Account of 1792 relates the demolition of the ruins of a long revered religious house[1] and early Ordnance Survey maps show the location of the "college"[17] by the Rottonrow Burn.


Prior to the founding of Arbroath Abbey, the church of Arbirlot belonged to the diocese of St Andrews and the bishops held lands lying to the east of the Elliot Water. Bishop Roger de Beaumont granted the church to the new Abbey around the time of its foundation, but retained the lands in Arbirlot for the diocese.[4]

The parish suffered from the effects of the First War of Scottish Independence in the late 13th and early 14th centuries as evidenced by the relief granted to the vicar of Arbirlot in March 1323 who was then twenty years in arrears in paying the two merks[b] due annually to the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey. The relief was granted on the grounds of "the poverty, sterility, and destruction of the parish and its inhabitants, occasioned by the late war".[4]:201

Kelly Castle (sometimes Kellie Castle or Auchterlony Castle),[18] which overlooks the Elliot Water, comprises a four-storey tower of the late 15th or early 16th Century, set within a 19th-century courtyard. It was a stronghold of the Mowbray family until forfeited to the Stewarts in the early 14th century and was restored from a semi-ruined state [18] by the Earl of Dalhousie in the 19th century.


By the 17c, the barony of Kellie (or Kelly), which included the castle and much of the parish, was in the hands of the Irvines of Drum, who in 1629 committed themselves to annual grants of 8 bolls of meal[c] to the schoolmaster of Arbirlot and a further 12 bolls to the poor of the parish.[19]:486 In 1679 Alexander Irvine, who had built up unsustainable debts during his support for the Royalist cause during the Civil Wars, sold the barony to George Maule, 2nd Earl of Panmure for £11,000 sterling.[19]:486

In the 18th and 19th centuries Arbirlot was principally occupied by handloom weavers and farmers, Arbirlot once had a meal mill, a slaughterhouse, two schools, a post office, a savings bank, an inn, a parish library as well as a number of shops.[1][7] In 1830 Thomas Guthrie, later to become a well known theologian, social reformer and a founder of the Ragged School movement was appointed to the charge of Arbirlot by the heritor the Hon William Maule. Guthrie severed as Minister of Arbirlot for eight years. As well as divinity, Guthrie had studied medicine at Edinburgh and in Paris which knowledge was to be called upon when the parish suffered an outbreak of cholera.[20]:46

Clan Elliot[edit]

The parish is believed[2]:147 to be the original home of Clan Elliot, which was transplanted in the Scottish Borders to defend the newly crowned Robert the Bruce's Scotland from English invaders through an intricate network of peel towers. The Elliots joined the clans of Armstrong, Scott, Douglas, Kerr, Nixon, Hepburn and Maxwell in this effort.

Notable natives and residents[edit]

  • George Gladstanes c.1562 – 1615, minister in Arbirlot c.1592 - 1597, afterwards Bishop of Caithness and later Archbishop of St Andrews
  • John Guthrie c. 1580 - 1649, minister in Arbirlot 1603 - 1617, afterwards Bishop of Moray. Supporter of Charles I's religious policies.
  • Alexander McGill c.1680-1734, mason and architect. First City Architect of Edinburgh.
  • Rev Thomas Guthrie 1803 – 1873, divine and philanthropist, minister in Arbirlot 1830–1837[20]
  • Rev John Kirk 1795–1858, divine and biographer (of Susannah Wesley mother of John Wesley, The Mother of the Wesleys, Jarrold, London 1868), Church of Scotland minister in Arbirlot 1837 – 1843 and later first Free Church of Scotland minister in Arbirlot
  • Alexander Carnegie Kirk 1830 - 1892, engineering innovator - particularly of the marine triple expansion steam engine. Elder son of the Rev John Kirk
  • Sir John Kirk 1832 – 1922, physician, naturalist, companion to explorer David Livingstone, diplomat, slavery abolitionist and photography pioneer, lived with his parents in Arbirlot as a young man. Younger son of the Rev John Kirk.
  • Margaret Fairlie 1891–1963, academic and gynaecologist. The first woman to hold a professorial chair in Scotland.
  • Eileen Ramsay born 1940, novelist
Standing Stone in New Manse garden, by Arbirlot


  1. ^ a b c d Statistical Account of Scotland, edited by Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, Edinburgh 1791-99
  2. ^ a b The Annals of a Border Club (The Jedforest) and Biographical Notices of the Families Connected Therewith, George Tranced of Weens, T S Smail, Jedburgh 1899
  3. ^ History of Arbroath, George Hay, Thomas Buncle, Arbroath 1876
  4. ^ a b c d Arbroath and its Abbey, David Miller, Thomas Stevenson, Edinburgh 1860
  5. ^ Old Red Sandstone, Hugh Miller, Fairly Lyall & Co, Edinburgh 1841
  6. ^ "Canmore". Canmore. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  7. ^ a b New Statistical Account of Scotland, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland , Edinburgh 1834-45
  8. ^ "Canmore". Canmore. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  9. ^ "Tayside & Fife Archaeological Journal Volume 1 1995" (PDF). Tayside & Fife Archaeological Committee. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  10. ^ Wilson, Elsie (1966). "Survey of the Archaeological Sites in the Parish of Arbirlot, Angus". Aspects of Antiquity. Abertay Historical Society. 11: 9.
  11. ^ Hunter, Douglas G (1910). "Notice of an Ancient fort at Greenford, near Arbroath". Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. xliv: 112-117.
  12. ^ Jones, Rebecca (2011). Roman Camps in Scotland. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. ISBN 9780903903509.
  13. ^ Scott, Archibald B (1918). The Pictish Nation, its People and its Church. Edinburgh & London: T N Foulis.
  14. ^ a b Simpson, W Douglas (1935). The Celtic Church in Scotland. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.
  15. ^ a b Coutts, H (1970). Ancient Monuments of Tayside. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland. p. 68.
  16. ^ Anderson, Joseph (1881). Scotland in Early Christian Times. Edinburgh: David Douglas.
  17. ^ "OSXLVI.13 1865". National Library of Scotland. Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  18. ^ a b RCAHMS Canmore Database - see External Links
  19. ^ a b Jervise, Andrew (1861). Memorials of Angus and the Mearns. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black.
  20. ^ a b Towill,Edwin Sprott (1976). People and Places in the Story of the Scottish Church. The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh. ISBN 0 7152 0252 9.

Further reading[edit]

  • Angus or Forfarshire: the land and people, descriptive and historical, A J Warden, Alexander & Co, Dundee, 1880-85
  • Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh, 1882-85
  • The Celtic Church in Scotland, W Douglas Simpson, Aberdeen University Press, 1935
  • The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, G Hay, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1957
  • The parishes of Medieval Scotland, I B Cowan, Scottish Record Society, Edinburgh, 1967
  • Medieval religious houses, Scotland, I B Cowan & D E Easson, Longman, London 1976
  • Celtic and medieval religious houses in Angus, D G Adams, Brechin, 1984


  1. ^ However alternative spellings used in the past may not support the "mouth of the Elliot" theory. Timothy Pont's map 26 Lower Angus & Perthshire east of the Tay ca 1583-1614 gives the name of the village as Ardbirlet Kirktoun as does the Blaeu Atlas of Scotland of 1654. This spelling would suggest a different origin for the name. The spelling of historic placenames in the area is notoriously unreliable, for example Hay's History of Arbroath[3] notes that the monks of Arbroath Abbey spelt the name of their own town 32 different ways in a single document - Registorum Abbacie de Aberbrothoc. Miller's Arbroath and its Abbey[4] lists Abereloth, Abireloth, Aberheloth, Aberhelot, Abrellot, Aberellot, Abberellot, Abbirlot, Abbirellot, Abirloth, Arbirloth, Abyrelloth, Arbirlot as samples of the variations in the spelling of Arbirlot in monastic sources.
  2. ^ A total of £26 13s 6d Scots
  3. ^ approximately 960 pounds or 430 kilograms

See also[edit]

Arbirlot Railway Station
Arbirlot Primary School
Elliot Water
List of listed buildings in Arbirlot, Angus

External links[edit]