Along the B808, between Beith Street and Byres Road, where it meets the main Dumbarton Road, the memory of Cooper’s Well is preserved in the street-name. It was one of more than a dozen springs in the area, but was one of the most renowned by local people.
Although not shown on the early OS-maps, thankfully the local historian and folklorist—and early environmentalist, it must be said!—James Napier (1873), gave a good account of it in his excellent work on the traditions of the area:
“Cooper’s Well was situated on the side of the road at the north-west end of Well Street, at the corner of where the Gas-work wall now is. It was about three feet deep, and had two steps leading down to the water from the road. Two sides and back were walled up higher than the road, and covered with a stone slab. It was celebrated in the neighbourhood as a drinking water, being strongly chalybeate, and therefore could not be used for cooking purposes. Although shallow, it was never frozen during winter (so that it must have come from a considerable depth), and it was cold in summer. On a warm summer Sunday evening we have seen people, not only from all parts of the village, but from the gentle houses in the neighbourhood, carrying water from the Cooper’s Well to drink. It is from this well the street has its name. The Gas-work dried up the well. There was a story current of some Glasgow people who were visiting at Mr. Sharp’s of Horslethill. Mrs. Sharp had been baking some oatcakes with butter or dripping in them, which caused them to be very fine and short. The Glasgow gentlemen were anxious to know how they were baked, and were told that they were baked with the Cooper’s Well water, some of which they had got a drink of. Shortly after some of the gentlemen sent out their servants to Partick for a supply of the water, but the servants could not succeed in making the cakes so nice as those got from Mrs Sharp. For long after this, butter-cakes were known in and around Partick as Cooper’s Well bread.”
I have to admit I’ve not visited this site, but presume that all trace of the site has disappeared.
St. Oswald’s Well was described in Hew Scott’s (1920) magnum opus as being beside the parish church of the same name, but other references to it are scant. An old well-house was built besides or over the waters, which subsequently became known as the Kirk Well due to its proximity to the church, 125 yards to the northwest. All trace of it appears to have gone. The road to the west of the site also 125 yards away, called Kirkwell Road, seems to be the last piece of folk memory that remains.
St. Oswald himself was a British tribal leader of Northumbrian descent who, legend tells, went to Iona and became a christian. He had to leave the island eventually and go back into Yorkshire to bring peace back into the northern counties. Whether this Well of his was dedicated to him as a result of his journey from back south from Iona, we do not know. His saint’s day is August 5—very close indeed to that old heathen celebration time of Lughnasadh or Lammas. Most likely this is not just a coincidence, but will have related to what local folk were doing before the christian impositions.
Taking its name from the local dialect word relating to Alder trees (Alnus glutinosua) that grew above the source of the waters, Arns Well had already been destroyed by the end of the 19th century, but prior to this it was renowned as one of the social gathering places in Glasgow Green. Highlighted on the original Ordnance Survey of the area in 1865, Arns Well was also a place where artists and poets gathered – and a number of old prints of Glasgow were drawn from here.
Originally the waters emerged from marshy ground and used to be known as “the Peat Bog,” but by 1777 a small well house was built to contain the waters and make it a feature in the wider architectural landscape of the Glasgow Green park area. Once the spring had been channelled, its waters “were considered to be amongst the best to be had in Glasgow, particularly for making tea and adding to whisky.” In James Clelands’s (1813) municipal survey of the area he told how some thought that the water supply from Arns Well was “inexhaustible.”
Whilst I’m in Glasgow (big thanks to Aisha!) I thought I’d check out any remaining heathen sites that might still be visible. Many have perished of course, beneath the weight of religious industrialism—this one included. Even when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1858, it had already been destroyed. All that we now know of it comes from the writings of the earlier historians like Walker (1883), Renwick (1921) and co.
Known in early records as St. Theneu (mother of the legendary St. Mungo, who also had sacred wells dedicated to him in Glasgow, Gleneagles and much further afield), trackways and burns hereby were also named after this curious character, and a chapel was also commemorated to her, which fell into ruin several centuries ago. Its position was highlighted on a late-16th century sketch of Glasgow village—as it was then—immediately south of the chapel, just north of the River Clyde. The best description we have of it comes from a detailed paper on the holy wells of Glasgow by a Mr Brotchie (1920), who told:
“Where the subway station of St. Enoch’s Square stands…there was at one time the well of St. Tenew, the mother of St. Kentigern or Mungo. It is thus described by a writer in 1750, “The ruins of a small chapel stood beside the well whose waters were sheltered by a bush, on which were to be seen, especially in early summer, bits of rags of all kinds and colours, while in the well itself enterprising boys were wont to get small coins. The rags and the coins were the offerings of people, principally women, who came to drink of the waters of St. Tenew’s Well, and left these trifles as thank offerings.”
“This ancient well of St. Tenew stood near a chapel erected over the tomb of St. Tenew, and the ground in its vicinity remained sacred in the eyes of the faithful as the last resting place of the holy woman who had watched the infant steps of the great apostle of the Cambrian Britons, St. Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow. The Trongate and Argyle Street, which now stretch westwards from the cross, were in old times a country road leading to St. Tenew’s chapel, kirkyard and holy well. In a deed of 1498 mention is made of “the blessed chapel where the bones of the beloved Tenew, mother of the blessed confessor, Kentigern, rest.” When M’Ure wrote his History of Glasgow in 1736, the remains of this old chapel and kirkyard were described as standing “in a solitary spot in the country surrounded by cornfields.” Looking westwards from St. Tenew’s Well in 1750, a writer describes the scene as “open country, pastures and cornfields, rude-looking country homesteads, barns and other farm buildings, and enclosed kailyards,” where now stand the busy arteries of Jamaica Street, the Caledonian Railway Station, and the miles of tenements that stretch westward to Anderston, Finnieston and Partick.
“We have a comparatively recent record of the holy well of St. Tenew in the statement of the late Mr Robert Hart, who told M’George that he had been informed by an old man, a Mr Thomson, who had resided in the neighbourhood of St. Enoch’s Square, that in the beginning of the last century, say 1800, he recollected the well being cleaned out, and of seeing picked from the debris at the bottom many old coins and votive offerings. St. Tenew’s Well was a holy well. For centuries it was a place of pilgrimage and was much resorted to for cures, especially in pre-Reformation days. In 1586, James VI, addressed a letter to Mr Andrew Hay, commissioner for the west of Scotland, condemning the practice of people making pilgrimages to wells and chapels, but the royal edict was powerless to stop the practice and St. Tenew’s Well was resorted to by people in trouble as long as it was in existence. The road that led to it was known up to the 15th century as St. Tenew’s Gait or path. Indeed, it was so named till 1540, when the name of Trongate begins to make its appearance in old city deeds. This name, of course, owes its origin to the granting in 1490 by James IV, to the Bishop of Glasgow of the privileges of a free tron in the city—hence our Trongate of today.”