Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – NT 25084 73618
Also Known as:
Along the more western end of Princes Street, looking up at the castle, wander into the park below and walk towards the railway line. There’s a foot-bridge over it. Once on the other side, turn right and walk along the path for just over 100 yards until you’re just about beneath the cliffs. There, in front of you, a ruinous stone building and carved faded plaque reads “St Margaret’s Well.”
Archaeology & History
The bedraggled architectural remnants we see of St. Margaret’s Well today, is not where the waters originally emerged. We must travel 2-300 hundred yards west of the present edifice, along old Kings Stables Road near St Cuthbert’s Church, for its original position. Long since gone of course…
The history of this holy well tends to be found scattered in a number of sources—but none give us a decent narrative of its medicinal or traditional lore. Perhaps the best was conferred in W.M. Bryce’s (1912) lengthy essay on St. Margaret’s chapel where he told:
“Of the fountain in West Princes Street Gardens, also known as St. Margaret’s, and for the protection of which the Well-house Tower was erected in 1362, no legend of a similar nature seems to have survived. It was a little flowing stream of pure water, and down to the year 1821 was utilised for drinking purposes for the supply of the garrison, in supplement of the ancient draw-well of the Castle. The earliest notice of this fountain appears in a charter by David I in favour of the Church of St. Cuthbert, dated circa 1127, in which he conveys the land under the Castle from the fountain which rises close to the corner of the King’s Garden, and along the road leading to the church. It was here, in this royal garden, beside the pellucid waters of the well which was afterwards to bear her name, that Queen Margaret, in the company of her husband and children, spent many a sunny afternoon under the shade of the rugged old Castle rock.”
The carved plaque in front of the old tumbled-down well-house sadly hides no water anymore; merely some trash and heroin-addicts needles at the back. Best avoided.
This Scottish Queen and consort of King Malcolm Canmore, ‘St Margaret’, had several days in the calendar on which she was commemorated. Mrs Banks (1941) told how, traditionally, her day is June 10:
“This day was appointed for her festival by papal decree, but in Scotland her day is that of her death, November 16. The festival of her translation was commemorated on June 19th.”
W.M. Bryce (1912) cited St Margaret’s Day to be generally accepted as June 19, which is closer to Midsummer and could easily be accommodated into local heathen traditions.
- Banks, M. MacLeod, British Calendar Customs: Scotland – volume 3, Folk-lore Society: London 1941.
- Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA: Alva 2017.
- Bryce, W. Moir, “Saint Margaret of Scotland and Her Chapel in the Castle of Edinburgh,” in Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, volume 5, 1912.
- Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh: Their Origins and History, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.
- MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
- Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
- Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of the Ancient & Historical Monuments of the City of Edinburgh, HMSO: Edinburgh 1951.
- Skene, James, “Remarks on hte Well-House Tower, Situated at the Foot of the Castle Rock of Edinburgh,” in Archaeologia Scotica, volume 2, 1822.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian