Healing Well (lost): OS Rid Reference – NS 579 884
Archaeology & History
One-and-a-half miles east of Balfron, this curiously-named well could once be seen – and indeed may still be there. Mentioned just once in D.S. Buchanan’s (1903) Guide as a well-known place, I’ve been unable to locate it and can find no other accounts of the place. He wrote:
“A little beyond Dailfoil there is a road to the right, down which, about 200 yards, there is a stile over the fence, only a few feet from the famous Gerchew Well, on the banks of the Endrick. Here the visitor can repose for a time under the shade of the trees, and quench his thirst in its pure, cool, and bubbling waters.”
His directions seem to indicate it as being just off the small road that runs to the ruins of Easter Gerchew, but there is nothing of note hereby. A half-mile away was Wester Gerchew house, which seems contrary to his directions —and there’s nothing in evidence there either. And so I enter it here in the hope that someone might be able to relocate this healing well. (the grid reference is an approximation based on Buchanan’s description)
Buchanan, D.S., Buchanan’s Popular Illustrated Guide to Strathendrick, Aberfoyle and District, J. & C. Buchanan: Balfron 1903.
Healing Well (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SP 166 350
Archaeology & History
This is one of several iron-bearing wells (chalybeates) that used exist in and around the village. Mentioned briefly in Alfred Soden’s (1875) history of the parish, he told that,
“years ago, there were several chalybeate springs here, very strongly impregnated. One of these was at the lower end of Westmacott’s Lane: of this spring there is now no visible trace, it having been built over.”
Although Mr Soden said nothing about the healing properties of this well, due to the mineral composition of chalybeates they always tend to be good fortifiers or pick-me-ups, being good for the blood. And in this case, as the waters were “very strongly impregnated” they would have possessed some considerable local renown.
Soden, Alfred J., The History of Blockley, J.W. Parbury: Coventry 1875.
Healing Well (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SP 163 347
Archaeology & History
It would seem that there’s no longer any trace of a healing well of some renown that once existed on the south side of Blockley village. It is mentioned briefly in Alfred Soden’s (1875) history of the parish, where he wrote:
“At the back of what is called “Bath Orchard,” now belonging to Mr. John Herbert, there was a well called “Blind Well;” the medicinal properties of the water being considered to be remedial in cases of weak eyesight. The writer has been informed that persons would come from a considerable distance to fetch water from this well for the purpose of bathing the eyes.”
Soden, Alfred J., The History of Blockley, J.W. Parbury: Coventry 1875.
This long-forgotten site was found just by the old roadside several miles northwest of Aberfoyle, up the B829 Loch Chon road. Shown on the first Ordnance Survey map of the area in 1866, subsequent visits showed no remains of it and we must assume it had fallen back to Earth. When we visited the place recently, although there were no remains of any water trough, the spot where the well was shown on the map was very boggy with a small trickle of water running out of the slope. There is the possibility that, if the soaked soil just above the trickling water was excavated a few feet into the ground, that the original spring might be retrievable.
Obviously, its name tells of the tradition that this was a place where Rob Roy was known to drink. A number of places in this area bear his name. Surely this is a site that is worthy of bringing back to life, so to speak, and place it on the Scottish heritage map, where it belongs?
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.
In days of olde, before folk had taps to turn to get water, they’d have to go to the nearby wells and streams. Many of these places were never written about, even to the point where no place-names were recorded, simply because the writers and surveyors either didn’t talk to the right people, or the right people didn’t talk to the surveyors! In many cases, the latter is all too true. Such is the case with this long forgotten healing well, whose memory is only preserved through the pen of a local man who, in the 19th century, was fortunate to have been able to write…
We know that old wells were mainly the province of women in most cultures through history; and Isaac Binns (1882) intimated this in his brief notes about the Wood Well. There’s nowt much to tell to be honest, but its location and lore need to be preserved.
Lamenting the loss of trees, Mr Binns told of the Wood Well’s proximity to Carper Wood: shown on the first OS-maps, but long since destroyed by the ignorance of modernity. In his day, the water from here was fresh “clear water.” This alone was good, but something extra in the water gave it that added healing ingredient. It was used medicinally,
“good yet, the old women say, for sore eyes.”
But not long after he wrote those very words, the Wood Well was destroyed…
Binns, Isaac, From Village to Town: Random Reminiscences of Batley, F.H. Purchas: Batley 1882.
Descriptions of this site are few and far between, despite it having a meaningful name. First recorded on the 1852 OS-map, in the folklore of our ancestors this was a well that local people frequented to wash their face and it was said that the waters would take away the ills of those suffering poor eyesight or other ocular problems. Rags were left hanging over an old rowan tree as offerings to the spirit of the water, in return for curing the afflicted eyes.
When I first came looking for this as a boy, I was frustrated to encounter the water authority’s metal cover ruining the site completely, leaving nothing of the old well as it once was. Around the metal-cover was evidence of a small rock enclave that would have defined the spring as it emerged from the earth—although it was barely noticeable. The remnants of a small path just to the right of the main footpath that reaches up the hillside is apparent, leading to the well. Below it were the remains of a large, water-worn flat rock, with other stones set to its sides, where the water used to flow and be collected, but today everything’s dried up and there’s little evidence of it ever being here.
Shepherd, V., Historic Wells in and Around Bradford, Heart of Albion: Wymeswold 1994.
First mentioned in the 1715 magnum opus of Ralph Thoresby, this old healing well has long since fallen victim to the careless Industrialists. In his day, the well was there for all to use, saying:
“Eye-bright Well on a declining Ground, near the Monk-Pits, discovers its Virtues in the Name, being, long-ago, esteemed a Sovereign Remedy against Sore-Eyes.”
This note was subsequently copied in in Hope’s (1893) classic survey, with no additional comment. In all probability, the name of the well derived from the presence of the herb Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) which, as is well known, is the best herb for ailments of the eye. The water from the well, in combination with the herb that grew around it, no doubt increased its ocular healing abilities.
By the middle of the 19th century, the rise of Leeds city brought an end to its ancient flow and its location was eventually forgotten. In Bonser’s (1979) survey of Leeds’ wells, he told how,
“the position of this well can be accurately determined: it was situated on sloping ground between Wellington Street and Aire Street, as clearly indicated on the 1847 (1850) OS 5ft to 1 mile (map).”
However, in the much earlier survey of Leeds, Edward Parsons (1834) told us that this well was a hundred yards to the south, “near the line of the new road to the iron bridge across the Aire at the Monk Pits.” And although it isn’t named, it should be noted that immediately across the River Aire, where Parsons stated, the 1852 OS-maps showed the “Site of an Ancient Well.” This is very likely to be where it was. Parson’s also echoed the local lore of the time, telling us that the Well was “a sovereign remedy for soreness of the eyes.”
Bonser, K.J., “Spas, Wells and Springs of Leeds,” in The Thoresby Miscellany – volume 16, Leeds 1979.
Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
Parsons, Edward, The Civil, Ecclesiastical, Literary, Commercial and Miscellaneous History of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Otley – volume 1, Frederick Hobson: Leeds 1834.
The ruins of this little-known site, dedicated to the legendary Sir William Wallace, can still be seen in the form of an overgrown stone ruin just off the footpath that runs through the Pittencrieff Glen out of the town centre. In earlier times the waters were evidently of some repute, as a Council meeting in May 1773 reported with some disdain the closure of the waters by a Mr Chalmers:
“This Day the Council considering that the entry from the Town to the Well of Spaw is now shut up by Mr. Chalmers, which was a particular privilege to ye Inhabitants of the Burgh, Do hereby appoint the Provost to intimate to Mr. Chalmers that the Town will not give up that privilege, and to require him to oppen an entry thereto as formerly.”
We don’t know whether the miserable Mr Chalmers gave access to the well, as there seem to be no Council meeting notes telling us the outcome. My guess would be that the local people got their way, hopefully at Chalmers expense! More than 70 years later, another Mr Chalmers (1844) wrote about the well in a more respectful light:
“On the north edge of the rivulet, a little below this bridge, at the foot of the Tower Hill, there is a famous well, named the Wallace Spa, or well of Spa, which was formerly much resorted to by the inhabitants of the town for its excellent water, but which has been long since disused. It is noticed here simply on account of the traditionary antiquity of its name, Sir William Wallace, it is said, having once, in the haste of a flight, drank a little of it, out of the palm of his hand.”
In spite of there being local folklore of William Wallace, the local historian Ebeneezer Henderson (1879), in his giant work on Dunfermline, thought there was a more prosaic origin to the well’s name. He told,
“This well is still in existence, about fifty yards south of the ruins of Malcolm Canmore’s Tower — Tower Hill. The water is reported as being “very cold at all times.” The water should be analysed. The well during the period of its being used was known as the “Spaw Well,” and the ” Well of Spaw,” and, by and by an easy, natural transition, ” Wallace Spa;” and thus the name of the well has sometime been connected with that of the great Scottish hero.”
By the end of the 19th century, the well had become almost buried by earth and foliage, but was subsequently brought back to life following architectural improvements of the glen around the turn of the 20th century. In Patrick Geddes’ (1904) work he gives us “before and after” portraits (attached here) showing how it had been restored. He also mentioned “its tradition of medicinal value”, but could give no further information regardings the ailments it was reputed to cure…
Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.
Turn right off the A93 at Cargill onto the side road by Keepers Cottage and up the hill to Gladsfield Wood at the top on your right. Park up at the top side of the Wood and walk straight along the narrow track for around 450 yards until you get to where another track crosses it and turn left along this track and head for the electricity pylon. The well is immediately to the left (north-east) of the pylon.
Archaeology & History
On my first visit I got the impression this weed-choked pool may once have been a holy well. There are stones on the north east side of the pool, some of which look to have been shaped, which may have formed part of a walled enclosure or part of the adjacent Roman road; or they may only be field clearance boulders. There is the tell-tale gnarled hawthorn tree with the thick stump of a what has been a much larger hawthorn next to it. And folklore of a hangman to explain the ‘Hangie’s’ name.
Andrew Jervise, writing in 1863, told that,
“About three hundred yards from the Parish schoolhouse, an old well, now partly filled up, Hangie’s Well, near which, it is said, the parish hangman dwelt, and where, some fifty or sixty years ago, a quantity of human bones were discovered”
But what was going on here before this hangman stalked the land? The well—a spring actually—is at the top of the ridge above the Tay beside the Muthill to Kirriemuir Roman road (the most northerly Roman road in the Empire apparently, says Ivan Margary), and so would have been a welcome stopping point for men and horses using that road; and this being the Roman Empire, the well may have acquired some cultic significance.
In the mediaeval period the Cistercian monks of Coupar Angus built their own Abbey Road adjacent to the well which went from their Tayside estate at Campsie to the Abbey, and which would again have been a welcome stopping point for monks and pilgrims. In the parish there was a local cult of a St Hunnand, this name being thought to be a corruption of Adamnan (and if Adamnan can be corrupted through oral tradition to ‘Hunnand’ then Hunnand can be corrupted to ‘Hangie’?). If this was once a holy well that continued to be venerated after the Reformation, did the wily Presbyterians ‘taint’ it by coming up with a tale of an executioner using it to wash the blood of his victims off his hands? But enough of this speculation, in the absence of proof it must just remain plain old Hangie’s Well! When you’re in the area, give it a look and see what you think.
This story was given by the locals to the Ordnance Survey inspectors around 1860:
‘A small well a little to the south west of Gallowhill. According to the tradition of Mrs. Manson & Boyd the Executioner made use of this well for washing his hands after he had performed his duty towards criminals that were condemned to be executed on Gallowshade.’
William Rose writing in the New Statistical Account of 1845:
‘Near the Village of Gallowhill is a field called the Gallowshade, which was a place of execution under the feudal system. And in a field about 100 yards north from the school house is a well, said to have been used by the executioner for washing his hands after being engaged in his bloody work, and which still goes by the name of “Hangie’s Well.”‘
We don’t know for certain the precise whereabouts of this long lost healing well, but it would seem to be the one highlighted here (right) on the 1855 OS-map. However, I think it equally possible that the small unnamed building, roughly halfway between the highlighted ‘Well’ and Spring Cottage, where the walling meets, could be the site in question. It’s one or the other!
When Thomas Blashill (1896) wrote of the Blind Well in his standard history work of the area, memory of it was already falling away. In discussing where local people could wash and look after their health, he told that
“There was one place in the parish where washing seems to have been practised as a curative measure. Down in the East Field, near to Spring Cottage Farm, was the Blindwell, to which the people had access. If they used its waters freely when suffering from sore eyes, their faith would probably be rewarded.”