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.
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.
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.