Along the footpath below the family graveyard at Thackley, the great genealogist and industrial historian J.H. Turner (1878) told that, “at the right hand side of the wood, at the bottom, is Scout Willie’s Well, formerly noted for its medicinal properties” – though whatever curative aspects it possessed have long since been forgotten. It was also known as the Sweet Willie Well. I perused the woodlands here searching for the well in my younger days but could find no trace of it; nor is anything shown on the early OS-maps of the area.
Turner, J. Horsfall, Idle Upper Chapel Registers and Graveyard Inscriptions, Bingley 1878.
Healing Well (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SE 45 21
Archaeology & History
The waters of the once-renowned Organn Well goes down in history as being one of the first wells in Britain whose waters were used in a town pump. Written minutes from an early council meeting described how people gathered in the market place to discuss the objective of making such a pump in the times of Queen Elizabeth 1, in 1571. It was completed a year later and, some 450 years on, this old relic can still be seen. The Well used to be found off Penny Lane (now Wakefield Road), some 4-500 yards to the southwest and as such it’s exact position has been difficult to locate. But the fact that the waters were piped such a distance strongly suggests that the water supply from the Well was damn good – and most probably damn refreshing too! The old charter told us, in that wonderfully dyslexic manner of the period,
“…that a conduit in the Markett Place with lead pipes leading to water from Organ Well to the said conduit shall bee cleansed and repayred at the charge and contribution of severall inhabitants of the Towne and espetially by those that fetch water from the same conduit. And according to the auncient custome of the said Towne, whoe shall not beare theire p’t of the chardge p’portionable to what water they from the same at the discretion of the Majo’ for the time being and his brethren shall be debarred from the benefitt of the said conduit except they shall be poore people. And likewise that none shall receive any water from the said conduite for to brewe or steep barley w’thall at such time or times as others have need the same for meat water and water to washe w’hall, but onely at such times as there is water to spare over and besides what is convenient for meat and washing.”
More than two hundred years later the water pump was in dire need of attention, as George Fox (1827) told:
“Being in a ruinous state about the year 1810 and the supplies of water being insufficient for the public use; a clause was inserted in the act of parliament… wherein the pump, its pipes, and all other appurtenances belonging to it were vested in the power of the commissioners of the streets, who where bound to see it kept in proper repair.”
And so the water from the Organn Well continued to supply the townsfolk.
The etymology of this well—along with another of the same name near Harrogate—truly puzzled me for a long time; that was until I came across, quite by accident, records from early texts on herbalism. As a result, it seems very likely that it derives its name from the old English ‘organe,’ which, according to Stracke (1974) and others relates to both varieties of the indigenous herb marjoram (Origanum vulgare and O.marjorana) — a grand medicinal plant that’s pretty common in northern England (I used to go out gathering it each year in my younger days). There were obviously profuse supplies of this herb growing in and around the well and, as all good herbalists will tell you, when they grow by an old spring or well, their medicinal properties are much better than normal. The waters and the plant obviously had a good symbiosis; or, as the old women who’d collect the waters and the herbs in days prior to the pump would have told us, “the spirits of the water here are good”, or words to that effect…
Fox, George, The History of Pontefract in Yorkshire, J.Fox: Pontefract 1827.
Padgett, Lorenzo, Chronicles of Old Pontefract, Oswald Homes: Pontefract 1905.
Stracke, J. Richard (ed.), The Laud Herbal Glossary, Rodopi: Amsterdam 1974.
This little-known iron-bearing spring can still be found in the woodland known today as the Heugh of Mawse, a mile north of Blairgowrie. It was included in the Object Name Book of 1863, where they referred to an earlier account in the New Statistical Account, which told that,
“On the south end of it is a chalybeate spring much resorted to by the people of the locality. “There are one or two chalybeate springs in the parish; but they have never been chemically analyzed. There is one very fine spring called the “Heugh Well” It springs from the face of the “Heughs of Mause” (a mortar cliff of singular appearance; which descends abruptly into the bed of the river with an almost perpendicular declivity of about 200 feet) and judging from its colour, contains a considerable quantity of ferruginous matter. The use of its water has been found to be very beneficial in cutaneous eruptions, & affections of the Stomach.””
Subsequently highlighted on the 1867 OS-map, a singular footpath led to the site and no further. It was mentioned by the regional historians J.G. McPherson (1885) and John MacDonald (1899), albeit briefly, where they respectively told that its waters were “formerly much resorted to by persons in the neighbourhood.” It possessed considerable medicinal properties which, according to tradition, were “found very beneficial for skin diseases and derangement of the stomach”! Doubtless such attributes will still be effective.
This old water supply had no direct ‘holy’ nature, despite its proximity to the cathedral, the old market cross and St Clement’s Well some fifty yards away! Most odd. A much more mundane story lies behind this long lost water source. The Dundee historian William Kidd (1901) told us,
“When the public wells were erected, about the year 1749, to supply the town with water from the Lady-well reservoir at foot of Hilltown, one was placed on the High Street, on the east side of the Cross, and was called the Cross Well.”
It didn’t have too long a life either—much like the old Market Cross, for,
“In the year 1777 that quaint structure was demolished. The platform and octagonal tower were carted away as rubbish, the least decayed stones being selected to be used in other buildings. The stone shaft, also, was preserved, and placed beside the Old Steeple. With the demolition of the Cross, the Cross Well was cleared away from the High Street, but, as water was an essential to the people, the well was re-erected behind the Town House in St. Clement’s Lane. In that situation it remained for nearly one hundred years, when, being rendered unnecessary by the introduction of the Lintrathen water supply, it was also demolished, along with the old buildings in the Vault and St. Clement’s Lane, to make room for the additions to the Town House.”
Colville, A., Dundee Delineated, A. Colville: Dundee 1822.
Healing Well (destroyed): OS Grid reference – TQ 330 827
Also Known as:
Archaeology & History
In that typically rambling style beloved of early writers on medicinal springs, Timothy Byfield (1687) narrated the tale of uncovering this well in an almost alchemical discourse. It was located when digging out the cellar of a house near Charles Square in the 1680s. Upon investigation, the waters were found to possess a good quantity of sulphur and a small amount of iron, leading Byfield to proclaim it could cure a whole army of medical disorders, from cleaning out blockages in the alimentary canal, to treating kidney stones, scurvy, ulcers, headaches, migraines and more. If used correctly and in the right amount,
” There is,” he says, “no unwholesome glebe (concretion) or any dangerous mineral or metal (in them) that casts one unhappy ray into this healing fountain.” On the contrary, they set up ‘* such a pretty bustle or ferment in nature that makes gay a well-temper’d Healthy Body.”
In the early days when Spa Wells were in vogue, the Balsamic Well became a competitor to the nearby St Agnes le Clear Well, which is probably the reason why one doctor dissuaded the toffs of the time to avoid it!
The waters possessed a slight vinegar-esque flavour—hence the name. In John MacPherson’s (1871) work, he described it as a “chalybeate well” and despite it having that typical “bituminous scum on it, strange to say,” it yielded “a pleasant aromatic flavour.” The site has long since been covered over.
Byfield, Timothy, A Short and Plain Account of the late-found Balsamick Wells at Hoxdon, London 1687.
Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
Hembry, Phyllis, The English Spa 1560-1815, Athlone Press: London 1990.
MacPherson, John, Our Baths and Wells, MacMillan: London 1871.
Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.
A curious little-known site with more of a Scottish genealogical history behind it. Mentioned in McCormick’s (1906) fascinating survey of tinkers in the Galloway region, the site was given a more succinct description in the Morris survey (1982), where they told that,
“a mile from the town in Black Moray (formerly Morrow) Road, a short distance from the road…was this well that the MacLellan family are said to have derived their crest of a Moor’s head impaled on a sword. The local story is that James II wanted to get rid of some gypsies infesting Galloway and offered the Barony of Bombie to anyone who could do so. MacLellan filled the well with potent liquor which the gypsy chief drank to excess and while he was in a drunken stupor MacLellan killed him, cut off his head and presented it to the King on the point of his sword, immediately receiving the barony as his reward.”
This story goes way back and was first mentioned in 1680. According to McCormick (1906), the name Black Morrow derived from the “More”, the title given to the leader of the so-called gypsy clan, “or, as tradition suggests, a man named Black Morrow, of Irish tinkler descent.”
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.”
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.
Addison, William, English Spas, Batsford: London 1951.
Brown, G.H., Walks, Drives and Excursions around Settle, Craven Printing: Settle 1880.
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.
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.