Westport Well, Old Town, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 2511 7322

Archaeology & History

Like many others in the city centre, this old well has long since passed into history.  Said by Stuart Harris (1996) to have been “about twenty-five yards east of the eastern corner of Lady Lawson Street”, the Victorian writer Alison Dunlop (1890) told it to be by “a narrow close and an outside stair gave (which) entrance to the Court-house.”  It was the focus of much social activity in ages past; and although a number of public wells could be found in this part of the city, south of the Castle, the Westport Well was the most renowned.  Miss Dunlop told that,

“…its waters (were) of excellent repute (and) had to satisfy the necessities of all the inhabitants of the district.  The early morning never failed to see a long line of water-stoups stretching from it in either direction like the queue at a French theatre door.  Not so quiet, however, for tongues, mostly feminine, wagged freely, and the ‘Waal’ news and gossip were then the equivalent for a racy morning newspaper.”

According to her account, the patience of the people collecting the water was exemplary:

“All crowding-in was fiercely resented; gentle and simple had to stand their turn; only the water-caddies had the abiding right of precedence, and satisfied their customers at the moderate rate of two stoupful for a penny. We have already mentioned these ancient aquarian vessels peculiar to Scotland. In the event of a marriage taking place—in which case the bride was responsible for an amount of house plenishing not considered incumbent or even fashionable now-a-days—the ‘stoups’ were invariably purchased by the intending husband.  Indeed, the Weetin’ o’ the Stoups was the synonym for the last bachelor supper prior to matrimony.  Such festivities are understood to be hilarious, happy, hopeful; and the weetin’ o’ the stoups in Old Portsburgh, as in Old Edinburgh, was sometimes very wet indeed.”

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA 2017.
  2. Dunlop, Alison Hay, Anent Old Edinburgh and some of the Worthies Who Walked its Streets, Somerville: Edinburgh 1890.
  3. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh: Their Origins and History, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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