Holy Well (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TQ 332 911
Also Known as:
My Lady’s Hole
Archaeology & History
Long since gone after drainage operations on Tottenham Cemetery made the waters dry-up, this was one of several holy wells in the Tottenham area. Its history has been described in various old tomes, but the most definitive is found in William Robinson’s (1840) classic on the parish of Tottenham, when the well was still visible. He told us:
“There is a spring which issues from the side of a small hillock on the south side of the Moselle, nearly opposite the Vicarage, leading thence to the Church, called Bishop’s Well. This spring was formerly considered famous for many strange and wonderful cures performed on the diseased by the use of this water. It has been for some years neglected, but of late the owner of the field in which this well is, had it cleansed, and planted some trees round it, and put up posts and rails to prevent the cattle treading down the sides of it. It is said that the water of this well never freezes. In former times this well was in great repute from the purity of its water. The ladies in the vicinity of it were accustomed to send their servants in the morning and evening for water for their tea, from which circumstance it was for many years known by the name of “My Lady’s Hole.” The water of this well is not only esteemed for its medicinal qualities, but particularly for curing disorders of the eye.
“There were formerly many other springs about the village, especially one which issued out of the hill on which the Church stands; and another in Spottons Wood otherwise Spottons Grove, on the north side of Lordship Lane, which in the fifteenth century was of considerable notoriety; but none of which have in former times been so much frequented and held in such repute as Bishop’s Well.”
(Please note: the grid-reference for this site is an approximation)
Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
Take the Heptonstall road up from Hebden Bridge, going round the village (not into it) and head through Slack and onto Colden. Just as the road begins to go downhill to Colden, note the small single-track road on your right called Edge Road. Go on here for a good mile until it becomes a dirt-track and there, on your left, is the half-run-down old farmhouse called New Edge. Just yards past it, off to the right by the trackside, you’ll see this large copper-coloured stone basin oozing with the same-coloured liquid.
Archaeology & History
This is one of what Thomas Short (1724) called “the ten thousand chalybeats”, or iron-bearing springs, inhabiting the Yorkshire uplands — but he didn’t include this site in his huge survey. But it’s a beauty amongst chalybeates, as a visit here clearly shows! The well is one of two found on either side of the old building known as New Edge (as contrasted with Old Edge, a little further along the lane), and its waters trickle gently from the old stone trough.
The waters are undoubtedly enriched with large amounts of iron, as the photo here shows, giving the waters clear medicinal value. In tasting them, not only do the waters give you that copper-coloured hue, but you can clearly taste the minerals in the water. As with other iron-bearing springs, the water from the New Edge spring is good for the blood, good for anæmia, loss of energy and a low immune system.
Short, Thomas, The Natural, Experimental and Medicinal History of the Mineral Waters of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, privately printed: London 1734.
Not too difficult to find really. Get to the northern part of the road which encircles Arthur’s Seat and when you get to St. Margaret’s Loch (near St. Margaret’s Well), look up the slopes where you see the remains of St. Anthony’s Chapel. You need to head up the footpath here and you’ll get to a large-ish ovoid boulder, with a small circular trough into which the waters run (the drawing of the place here, with the rock in the lower-left, just in front of the fella walking towards it, is just right!). You’re here!
Archaeology & History
Tradition tells that the remains of St. Anthony’s Chapel was built on the northern ridge by Arthur’s Seat, “mainly for guardianship of the holy well named after the saint” — which sounds rather like the christianization story of a heathen site. Francis Grose (1797) told that “this situation was undoubtedly chosen with an intention of attracting the notice of seamen coming up that Frith; who, in cases of danger, might be induced to make vows to its tutelar saint.” If this was the case, it sounds even more like a site that had prior heathen associations. Grose also told us that just a short distance from the chapel, were the remains of an old hermitage:
“It was partly of masonry worked upon the natural rock. At the east end there are still two niches remaining; in one of which formerly stood a skull, a book, an hour-glass, and a lamp, which, with a mat for a bed, made the general furniture of the hermitage.”
I like the sound of the place! Just up my street! Little other archaeological info has emerged from this tiny spot — but the healing waters of the well would obviously have been of importance to our indigenous inhabitants (anyone who wants to think otherwise is simply a bit dim!) as there is a wealth of archaeological sites and relics all round Arthur’s Seat.
A number of writers have described this old well, which has sun-lore, healing properties, and Beltane rites surrounding its past. Local people of all social classes frequented this ancient spring, particularly on that most favoured of heathen days, Beltane. The site was of considerable mythic importance with a certain order about it. As Hone (1839) said:
“…the poorer classes in Edinburgh poured forth at daybreak from street and lane to assemble on Arthur’s Seat to see the sun rise on May-morning. Bagpipes and other musical intruments enlivened the scene, nor were refreshments forgotten. About six o’ clock a crowd of citizens of the wealthier class made their appearance, while the majority of the first-comers returned to the town. At nine o’ clock the hill was practically deserted.”
Another early account describing St. Anthony’s Well is from an article in the great PSAS journal of 1883. Here, J.R. Walker wrote:
To an incident which showed that the faith and belief in the healing virtues of the wells is still strong, the writer was but a few months ago an eye-witness. While walking in the Queen’s Park about sunset, I casually passed St. Anthony’s Well, and had my attention attracted by the number of people about it, all simply quenching their thirst, some possibly with a dim idea that they would reap some benefit from the draught. Standing a little apart, however, and evidently patiently waiting a favourable moment to present itself for their purpose, was a group of four. Feeling somewhat curious as to their intention, I quietly kept myself in the back ground, and by and by was rewarded. The crowd departed, and the group came forward, consisting of two old women, a younger woman of about thirty, and a pale, sickly-looking girl — a child of three or four years old. Producing cups from their pockets, the old women dipped them in the pool, filled them, and drank the contents. A full cup was then presented to the younger woman, and another to the child. Then one of the old women produced a long linen bandage, dipped it in the water, wrung it, dipped it in again, and then wound it round the child’s head, covering the eyes, the youngest woman, evidently the mother of the child, carefully observing the operation, and weeping gently all the time. The other old woman not engaged in this work was carefully filling a clear flat glass bottle with the water, evidently for future use. Then, after the principal operators had looked at each other with an earnest and half solemn sort of look, the party wended its way carefully down the hill
Earlier still we find more lore of the place in Wilson’s Edinburgh  where he told:
“The ancient Hermitage and Chapel of St. Anthony, underneath the hangings of Arthur’s Seat, are velieved to have formed a dependency of the preceptory at Leith, and to have been placed there, to catch the seaman’s eyes as he entered the Firth, or departed on some long and perilous voyage; when his voews and offerings would be most freely made to the patron saint, and the hermit who ministered at his altar. No record, however, now remains to add to the tradition of its dedication to St. Anthony; but the silver stream, celebrated in the plaintive old song, ‘O waly, waly, up yon bank,’ still wells clearly forth at the foot of the rock, filling the little basin of St. Anthony’s Well, and rippling pleasantly through the long grass into the lower valley.”
Votive offerings made here eventually turned the waters into a simply wishing well for incomers, even in Victorian times (oh how the locals must have hated such trangression…). The great Scottish holy wells writer J.M. MacKinlay (1893) told in his day the tale of,
“a little girl from Aberdeenshire, when on a visit to Edinburgh, made trial of the sacred spring. She was cautioned not to tell anyone what her wish was, else the charm would have no effect. On her return home however, her eagerness to know whether the wish had…been fulfilled, quite overcame her ability to keep the secret. Her first words were, ‘Has the pony come?’ St. Anthony must have been in good humour with the child, for he provided the pony, thus evidently condoning the breach of silence in deference to her youth.”
In the middle of the 20th century, the great folklorist F.M. MacNeill (1959) wrote:
“Even in Edinburgh, little bands of the faithful may be seen making their way through the King’s Park to Arthur’s Seat, and, as in the eighteenth century:
On May-Day, in a fairy ring,
We’ve seen them round St. Anton’s spring,
Frae grass the caller dew-drops wring,
To weet their een,
And water clear as crystal spring,
To synd them clean.”
And when Ruth and Frank Morris (1982) got round to their excellent survey, they found that this old well was still being used “by youths and maidens, who come to wash their faces with the dew on May Day mornings, a wish at St. Anthony’s being a part of the ritual.” But this final remark may have the simple prosaic coincidence of them observing people like I, when younger, who frolicked with girlfriends around May morning, in the grasses near the old well — though at the time I knew nothing about the old sacred waters on the slopes just above us!