Sulphur Well, Wigglesworth, North Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SD 8055 5677

Also Known as:

  1. Spa Well
  2. Wigglesworth Spa

Archaeology & History

Spa Well on the 1852 map

In William Addison’s (1951) standard work on the history and development of Spa Wells, he told us that “the spas began as holy wells”; yet in spite of him listing the Wigglesworth Spa in his work, such “holiness” wasn’t a feature found here and, sadly, we have no written records that tell of any.  But that doesn’t mean to say it had no sense of importance or animistic sacrality to local people.  The earliest written record we have of this Sulphur Well is to be seen on the stone-work at the top of the small well-house, where the year “1666” was carved, marking the year when the structure was built under the directions of a local rich dood.  But earlier knowledge of these healing waters would have been passed to the land-owner by local people, as indicated in Thomas Short’s (1765) words where he told that “it has been used time out of mind.”

Mr Short (1724) makes mention of this Sulphur Well in his gigantic early work, but only in its similarity in both taste and smell to the Sulphur Well at Harrogate and letting us know that, “I have tried carefully” the waters of the two sites.  We had to wait another forty years before he gave us a more detailed account of the medicinal properties here.  He wrote,

“Now come we to a sulphur water of a very peculiar nature, such as I never met with or heard of in England besides, and deserves to be much more strictly examined and enquired into, viz. Wigglefworth Spaw, near Settle, in the parish of Long-Preston.  It has been used time out of mind, and more formerly than at present, because it is little known; rains and drought affect it not.  Country people drink four or five pints of it in a morning to vomit them, and six or seven pints to purge them.  The water is very black, smells strong of sulphur, has a very small stream, but stagnates not, bubbles not, but springs up; it is always covered with a white scum, (and) dies all in its course white.  It rises out of a great stone soil, near much lime-stone, at the foot of a hill.  It tastes salt, yet curdles not soap, and boils with milk.  A phial glass, one third part full of it, well corked, and tied down with a bladder, and set in the cold water to be evaporated; when the water began to boil, it was taken out and poured a little of it on solution of silver, which turned black and curdled.  The phial was corked again, and set half an hour longer in the boiling water, it still turned solution of silver black.  It was corked a third time, and set half an hour longer in the boiling water, then tried, but was not so black as before, and caused little curdling.  This last stood all night, next day its precipitation was blackish; the water was clear above.  This is the only blackish sulphur water I have met with (as Rippon is a greenish yellow) and retains its sulphur the longest, from its contained oil.”

Consistent with other writers of his time, Mr Short then wrote at length on how the Wigglesworth waters reacted to various chemical tests, many of which were done in order to indicate the veracity, or otherwise, of any medical qualities.  He also made comparative studies between this and the sulphur wells at Harrogate and elsewhere, and concluded that the Wigglesworth Spa would successfully deal with the following ailments or conditions:

“Sloth, idleness, too violent slavish exercise or labour, too great affluence, or plenty of nourishing rich high foods, spices, forced meats, acrid, stimulant and aromatic viands; the earthy viscid dregs of fermented liquors, or the parching, drying, shriveling spirits of wine, sugar, fruits, grain, or fermented liquors, as well as poverty and unwholesome diet, irregular hours, etc, are the parents of many diseases, whose cure lies in relieving oppressed nature from the unwieldy load (brought upon her by indolence, gratifying the vitiated taste, intemperance and debaucheries) by cleansing and rousing the vessels, restoring the juices to a healthy state; rectifying and establishing the secretions and excretions of the body, and restoring vigour and activity to the fibres, vessels and solids.  To the above causes of diseases, we may add pride, luxury, sensuality, inverting the natural course of time, turning day to night, and night to day.  These give birth to many chronic diseases, as well as acute, from acidities, crudities, viscidities in the stomach, communicated thence to the bowels, and so to the whole habit; hence are vitiated juices, great obstructions, and a long train of diseases affecting sundry parts of the body, and therein the whole nervous system, with hypo, hysterics, melancholy, costiveness, or looseness, suppression of natural necessary discharges, etc., which require thinning, relaxing, resolving, opening, or invigorating remedies.”

Photo of the well, c.2008
Howson’s 1850 sketch

For about two centuries this well had a very favourable reputation.  It’s therefore slightly curious as to why the great spa-writer, A.B. Granville, in his visit to this part of Ribblesdale to seek out some of the medicinal springs in the 1830s (including a petrifying well), made no mention of our Sulphur Well.  Whether this down to his patronizing attitude towards local people isn’t known, but it certainly wouldn’t have helped him in Yorkshire!  One might suggest it was due to the fact that the spa had fallen into disuse, but this wasn’t the case as, subsequent to Granville’s visit, the local writer William Howson (1850) later told that,

“In the woody dingle to the north of the village is a sulphurous spring, protected by a neat and antique stone canopy bearing the date 1666, and the initials of Sir Richard Sherburne and Isabella his wife, a daughter of John Ingleby of Lawkland Hall.  Of this well, Dr (John) Murray the well-known analytical chemist says, ” It is a most valuable and unusually strong sulphuretted water, and as far as I have examined mineral waters, second to none.”  From his analysis and that of Dr. Garnett it appears that a gallon of the water contains seventeen cubic inches of sulphuretted hydrogen, four of azote, and a small portion of carbonic acid, sulphate of magnesia in the proportion of seventy five grains to a gallon, a considerable quantity of muriate of soda, and a minute proportion of carbonate of lime.”

(The aforementioned Dr Garnett was a renowned 18th century authority on medicinal wells in Yorkshire, best known for his works on the spa wells of Halifax (1791) and Harrogate (1791, 1792), along with some in Scotland.)

Messrs Short (1765) and Howson (1850) mentioned other medicinal springs very close by, including the Chalybeate Well in the field immediately north on the other side of the stream.

References:

  1. Addison, William, English Spas, Batsford: London 1951.
  2. Brown, G.H., Walks, Drives and Excursions around Settle, Craven Printing: Settle 1880.
  3. Howson, William, An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven, Whittaker: London 1850.
  4. Short, Thomas, The Natural, Experimental and Medicinal History of the Mineral Waters of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, privately printed: London 1724.
  5. Short, Thomas, A General Treatise on Various Cold Mineral Waters in England, privately printed: London 1765.
  6. Anonymous, Water for Life, North Craven Building Preservation Trust 2010.

AcknowledgementsMany thanks to the North Craven Building Preservation Trust for use of their photo.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Chalybeate Well, Wigglesworth, North Yorkshire

Healing Well (destroyed?):  OS Grid Reference – SD 8047 5700

Archaeology & History

In Thomas Short’s (1765) description of the once-renowned Wigglesworth Sulphur Well, he mentioned briefly that there were “some (other) chalybeates near it.”  Thankfully 85 years later, with the aid of William Howson (1850) who gave us a marginally better description, we were able to locate the whereabouts of one of them!  From the Sulphur Well, this one could be found,

“two hundred yards above, on the other side of the rivulet there is a chalybeate spring, but (it was) of no unusual strength.”

In fact it’s a little closer to being 300 yards than 200—but that’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things!  The place in question was marked on the 1852 OS-map, marked simply as a “Well.”  …This iron-bearing spring would have been a good pick-me-up and, as with all such wells of this nature, fortifies the blood and the immune system.  Mr Howson also told us that “ferrugineous springs, stronger than this, are of frequent occurrence in the neighbourhood,” echoing Short’s earlier remark.  Sadly, it seems that all trace of this Well has disappeared.

References:

  1. Howson, William, An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven, Whittaker: London 1850.
  2. Short, Thomas, A General Treatise on Various Cold Mineral Waters in England, privately printed: London 1765.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Gerchew Well, Balfron, Stirlingshire

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)

References:

  1. Buchanan, D.S., Buchanan’s Popular Illustrated Guide to Strathendrick, Aberfoyle and District, J. & C. Buchanan: Balfron 1903.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Chalybeate Well, Blockley, Gloucestershire

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.

References:

  1. Soden, Alfred J., The History of Blockley, J.W. Parbury: Coventry 1875.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Blind Well, Blockley, Gloucestershire

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.”

References:

  1. Soden, Alfred J., The History of Blockley, J.W. Parbury: Coventry 1875.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Rob Roy’s Well, Aberfoyle, Perthshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference –  NN 43172 04274

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1866 map

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Wood Well, Batley, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 2369 2422

Archaeology & History

Wood Well on 1854 map

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…

References:

  1. Binns, Isaac, From Village to Town: Random Reminiscences of Batley, F.H. Purchas: Batley 1882.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Sore Eye Well, Eldwick, West Yorkshire

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 1286 4007

Also Known as:

  1. Loadpit Well

Archaeology & History

Sore Eye Well on 1852 map

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.

References:

  1. Shepherd, V., Historic Wells in and Around Bradford, Heart of Albion: Wymeswold 1994.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Eyebright Well, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 2986 3331

Archaeology & History

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).”

Location of Eyebright Well on 1852 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.”

References:

  1. Bonser, K.J., “Spas, Wells and Springs of Leeds,” in The Thoresby Miscellany – volume 16, Leeds 1979.
  2. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  3. Parsons, Edward, The Civil, Ecclesiastical, Literary, Commercial and Miscellaneous History of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Otley – volume 1, Frederick Hobson: Leeds 1834.
  4. Thoresby, Ralph, Ducatus Leodiensis, Maurice Atkins: London 1715.
  5. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Wallace’s Well, Dunfermline, Fife

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 08782 87275

Also Known as:

  1. Spa Well
  2. Wallace Spa

Archaeology & History

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.”

The Well after 1900
pre-1900 image

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…

References:

  1. Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.
  2. Geddes, Patrick, City Development: A Study of Parks, Gardens and Culture-Institutes, St George Press: Birmingham 1904.
  3. Henderson, Ebenezer, The Annals of Dunfermline, John Tweed: Glasgow 1879.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian