St. Patrick’s Well, Dunruchan, Muthill, Perthshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 77905 17365

Getting Here

St Patricks Well on 1863 map

Take the B827 road between Comrie and Braco. If you’re coming via Comrie, going uphill for 3.1 miles (5.1km); but if from Braco Roman Camp go along and eventually downhill for 6.6 miles (10.6km), watching out for the track to Middleton Farm by the roadside.  Walk along for 125 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for the boggy ground below on your left. You’re there!

Archaeology & History

Immediately east of the prodigious megalithic complex of Dunruchan, bubbling up amidst the usual Juncus conglomeratus reeds, are the boggy remnants of St. Patrick’s Well—one of two such sacred wells dedicated to the early Irish saint in Muthill parish. We’re at a loss as to why this Irish dood has such sites in his name in this area.  No doubt some transitional shamanic character was doing the rounds in this glorious landscape, muttering words of some neo-christian animism, eventually settling a mile from the great megalithic complex, perhaps hoping—and failing—to convert our healthy heathen populace into ways unwise.

The site of St Patricks Well

The shallow boggy waters

Whatever he may have been up to, a small stone chapel was built hereby and, it was said, even a christian graveyard, to tempt folk away from the ancient plain of cairns whence our ancestors had long since buried their dead.  But the christian’s chapel and graveyard has long since gone; and when historians before me had visited the place, St Patrick’s Well had also fallen back to Earth in the drier summers, taking the blood of the Earth back into Her body.  The heathen megaliths still remain however, standing proud on the moorland plain in clear sight from these once healing waters, whose mythic history, on the whole, has long since been disregarded….

Folklore

St Partick’s day on March 17—”a date very near the Spring Equinox,” as Mrs Banks (1939) reminded us—may have been the dates when the waters here were deemed particularly efficacious, although we have nothing in written accounts to tell us for sure. But in the 19th century Statistical Account we find that the site was “much frequented once, as effectual in curing the hooping cough.”  E.J. Guthrie (1885) told of an ancient rite regarding the drinking of the waters for effect of the cure, saying:

“In the course of this century a family came from Edinburgh, a distance of nearly sixty miles, to have the benefit of the well. The water must be drunk before sunrise or immediately after it sets and that out of a “quick cow’s horn”, or a horn taken from a live cow, and probably dedicated to this saint.”

Also in Muthill parish, Guthrie told, St Patrick’s memory was held in such veneration that farmers and millers did not work on his day.

References:

  1. Banks, M. MacLeod, British Calendar Customs: Scotland – volume 2, Folk-lore Society: Glasgow 1939.
  2. Booth, C. Gordon, “St Patrick’s Well (Muthill Parish),” in Discovery & Excavation, Scotland, New Series volume 1, 2000.
  3. Guthrie, E.J., Old Scottish Customs, Thomas D. Morison: Glasgow 1885.
  4. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  5. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St Patricks Well

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St Patricks Well 56.332868, -3.976376 St Patricks Well

Lady Well, Airth, Stirlingshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 89801 86524

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46862
  2. Lady’s Well
  3. Spaw Well

Archaeology & History

Site of the Lady Well, Airth

Once to be seen flowing on the south-side of the Pow Burn below Airth Castle, all traces of this once sacred site has fallen prey to the usual advance of the so-called ‘civilized’.  In literary terms, the site was first described in church records from 1657—as Ladieswell—and the accounts we have of the place from then are most revealing in describing the traditional use of the place by local people.  It was a sacred site, obviously, chastised by the madness of the christian regime of the period, in their attempt to destroy indigenous customs and societal norms.  William Hone (1837) gave an extended account of what some people were up to here in his Everyday Book:

“In 1657, a mob of parishioners were summoned to the session, for believing in the powers of the well of Airth, a village about six miles north of Falkirk, on the banks of the Forth, and the whole were sentenced to be publicly rebuked for the sin. –

“”Feb. 3, 1757, Session convenit. Compeared Bessie Thomson, who declairit scho went to the well at Airth, and that schoe left money thairat, and after the can was fillat with water, they keepit it from touching the ground till they cam horm.”

“”Ffebruary 24. — Compeired Robert Fuird who declared he went to the well of Airth, and spoke nothing als he went, and that Margrat Walker went with him, and schoe said ye beleif about the well, and left money and ane napkin at the well, and all was done at her injunction.”

“”Compeared Bessie Thomson declarit schoe fetch it horn water from the said well and luit it not touch the ground in homcoming, spoke not as sha went, said the beleif at it, left money and ane nap-kin thair; and all was done at Margrat Walker’s command.”

“”Compeired Margrat Walker who denyit yat scho was at yat well befoir and yat scho gave any directions ”

“”March 10. Compeared Margrat Forsyth being demand it if scho went to the well of Airth, to fetch water thairfrom, spok not by ye waye, luit it not touch ye ground in homcoming? if scho said ye belief? left money and ane napkin at it? Answered affirmatively in every poynt, and yat Nans Brugh directit yem, and yat they had bread at ye well, with them, and yat Nans Burg said shoe wald not be affrayit to goe to yat well at midnight hir alon.”

“”Compeired Nans Burg, denyit yat ever scho had bein at yat well befoir.”

“”Compeired Robert Squir confest he went to yat well at Airth, fetchit hom water untouching ye ground, left money and said ye beleif at it.”

“”March 17. Compeired Robert Cochran, declairit, he went to the well at Airth and ane other well, bot did neither say ye beleif, nor leave money.”

“”Compeired Grissal Hutchin, declairit scho commandit the lasses yat went to yat well, say ye beleif, but dischargit hir dochter.”

“”March 21. Compeired Robert Ffuird who declairit yat Margrat Walker went to ye well of Airth to fetch water to Robert Cowie, and when schoe com thair, scho laid down money in Gods name, and ane napkin in Robert Cowie’s name.”

“”Compeired Jonet Robison who declairit yat when scho was seik, Jean Mathieson com to hir and told hir, that the water of the well of Airth was guid for seik people, and yat the said Jean hir guid sister desyrit hir fetch sum of it to hir guid man as he was seik, bot sho durst never tell him.”

“”These people were all 44 publicly admonishit for superstitious carriage.””

The practices continued.  In 1723, a Mr Johnstoun of Kirkland, writing about the parish of Airth, also told of the reputation of the well, saying,

“Upon the south side of the Pow of Airth, upon its very edge, is a spaw well famous in old times for severall cures, and at this day severalls gets good by it, either by drinking or bathing. Its commonly called by the name of Ladies well. Its about two pair of butts below Abbytown bridge.”

The fact that he told us it was “good for bathing” suggests a pool was adjacent, or at least the tiny tributary between it and the Pow Burn gave room for bathing and had a curative reputation. (there are many pools in the Scottish mountains with this repute – some are still used to this day!)

It was then described by Robert Ure in the first Statistical Account of 1792, where he told how the people were still using the waters, despite the crazy early attempts to stop them.  “There is a Well, near Abbeytown Bridge,” he told,

“called Lady-Well, which is thought to be medicinal.  Numbers have used it, and still use it as such.  It is supposed to have obtained that name, from the holy water, in the time of Popery, being taken from it, to supply the abbacy, or Catholic Church, then at Airth.”

Lady Well on 1865 map

But we know that its origins as a celebrated well pre-date any christian overlay.  People were reported visiting the site from as far away as Edinburgh, such was its repute!

Much later when the Ordnance Survey lads came here, showing it on their first map of Airth, they made their own notes of the place, saying briefly,

“A small well close to the Pow Burn – it is supposed to have derived its name from the Custom of dedicating wells to the Virgin Mary – so Common prior to the Reformation. It is not a mineral well.”

Ugly plastic pipe is all that remains

But its demise was coming.  In the wake of the christian Industrialists and their myth, subsuming the necessary integral sacrality of the Earth, the waters of the well were eventually covered.  When the Royal Commission (1963) lads gave the site their attention in October 1954, they reported that “no structural remains” of any form could be seen here, and in recent years all trace of the well has vanished completely.  When we visited the site a few months ago, perhaps the very last remnant of it was a small plastic pipe sticking out of the muddy bankside, dripping dirty water into the equally dirty Pow Burn.

It would be good if local people could at least put a plaque hereby to remind people of the history and heritage that was once so integral to the way they lived their lives.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Stirling, TNA 2018.
  2. Fraser, Alexander, Northern Folk-lore on Wells and Water, Advertiser Office: Invermess 1878.
  3. Frost, Thomas, “Saints and Holy Wells,” in Bygone Church Life in Scotland (W. Andrews: Hull 1899).
  4. Hone, William, The Every-day Book – volume 2, Thomas Tegg: London 1837.
  5. MacFarlane, Walter, Geographical Collections Relating to Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh Universoty Press 1906.
  6. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  7. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  8. Murray, G.L., Records of Falkirk Parish – volume 1, Duncan & Murray, Falkirk 1887.
  9. Reid, John, The Place-Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire, Falkirk Local History Society 2009.
  10. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 2, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.058779, -3.771173 Lady Well

Bell Stane, Queensferry, Midlothian

Legendary Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 1292 7840

Bell Stane on 1896 map

Bell Stane on 1896 map

Archaeology & History

An intriguing site that needs adding to the Northern Antiquarian due to the foraging research of the Edinburgh historian Stuart Harris (1996).  Although the Bell Stane has been ascribed by the Canmore researchers to be just,

“a stone near the Mercat Cross on which the hand bell was set (rung to herald the opening of the weekly market or annual fair),”

Mr Harris dug deeper and found other references which led him to think that the site was “a conspicuous boulder or standing stone.”  I have to agree with him.  In his outstanding work on the historical place-names of Edinburgh and district, Harris wrote:

“The Bellstane…is noted on Ordnance Survey 1854 as the name of an object just outwith the burgh boundary and in the southwest corner of the little square that now bears the name.  Whilst it has been surmised that it was a stone named for a handbell rung beside it on market days, in point of fact a burgh council meeting of 1642 (quoted in Morison’s Queensferry, p.131) records that a piece of ground hitherto waste and unused, within the burgh but near the bellstane, was to be set aside for markets and fairs in times coming; and the clear inference is that the name belonged to the stone before any markets were held near it.  In absence of a reliable description of the stone or of early forms of its name, the origin of the name can only be guessed at.  Similar names (of sites) in Kirknewton and Whitburn are no better documented, but the early forms of Belstane in Lanarkshire (BellitstaneBellistaneBelstane and Bellstane prior to 1329 and Beldstanein 1452) suggest that its first part may be Anglian ballede or early Scots bellit (from a Celtic root, ball, white), making the name ‘the stone with a white or pale patch or stripe on it’ — such as one with a band of quartz running through it.  A conspicuous boulder or standing stone of this sort on this spur of higher ground above the shore would have been a useful meith or landing mark for boats making for the narrow landing place at the Binks.”

If anyone uncovers additional evidence about this Bell Stane that can affirm it as a standing stone (or otherwise), we will amend its status.

References:

  1. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh: Their Origins and History, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Morison, Alexander, Historical Notes on the Ancient and Royal Burgh of Queensferry, West Lothian Courier: Bathgate 1927.
  3. Orrock, Thomas, Fortha’s Lyrics and other Poems, privately printed: Edinburgh 1880.

© Paul Bennett,  The Northern Antiquarian 2016

 

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  55.990624, -3.397520 Bell Stane

Moor Lane Well, Gomersal, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 2071 2677

Archaeology & History

Moor Lane Well on 1847 OS-map

Moor Lane Well on 1847 OS-map

Not far from the old maypole, the Moor Lane Well was the innocuous-sounding site where legend told that a phantom horse was once seen running up and down the lane—said by old locals to be a “very ancient highway”.  It was also a place where we find an intriguing tale of local disrepute, that brought humiliation to the culprit from the entire village.

There used to be a custom called ‘Riding the Stang’ which persisted in Yorkshire until the end of the 19th century. Thought to be of Scandinavian origin, it involved the culprit being hoisted onto a platform, held up by poles, then carried around the village where the person lived in a most ignominious procession. It was invariably described as being a public punishment and humiliation for faults made by one’s wife. Anyway, in the early 1840s, said H.A. Cadman (1930),

“there were two families who lived at Brecks Farm.  I will not of course divulge their true names, so will describe one of them as the Jones family and the other as the Smith family.  Jones’ wife accused Smith’s wife of having polluted the drinking water and the Smith family left the farm and removed to the top of Moor Lane.  The Jones family wishing to make the most of the affair resolved that Mrs Smith’s effigy should ride the stang.  A long pole was obtained and the effigy was affixed to the centre.  Two men then took hold, one at each end, and walked up Moor Lane, folowed by a huge concourse of people.  The procession stopped opposite Mrs Smith’s house and repeated the nominee.  My informant, a dear old lady, would not tell me the whole of the verse, but it commenced thus:

“It’s neither your fault nor my fault that I ride this stang.”

“After all the verses had been repeated, the stang was taken round Gomersal, when ultimately the effigy was burned with the usual solemnities.

“The other instance of riding the stang occurred also in thge early ‘forties and I believe this was the last occasion of the stang being ridden.  On this occasion a man…was in the habit of beating his wife harder than his neighbours thoughts proper with the result that he had to be punished. Now Jim was a most religious man, but the same rites had to be observed as in the other instance,

“It was for Jim Vasey that religious man
He paid her, he paid her indeed and
If Jim doesn’t alter his manners
We will take his skin “…….” to the tanners.
And if the tanner doesn’t tan it well,
We’ll send it to…”

“One must regret that the old custom of riding the stang has died out, as it must have had its good points.”

Local people could, of course, simply bring it back again!  The Moor Lane Well was one of the main water supplies for the old villagers in bygone times, but seems to have disappeared under the modern houses.  There is, however, a small narrow band of trees where the old waters once ran, amidst which it might still be found—if luck is on our side…

References:

  1. Cadman, H. Ashwell, Gomersal, Past and Present, Hunters Armley: Leeds 1930.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.736910, -1.687520 Moor Lane Well

Gomersal Maypole, West Yorkshire

Maypole (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 2068 2672

Archaeology & History

As in countless villages and towns across the British Isles, Gomersal also once had its maypole near or at the village centre.  We don’t know when the first maypole was erected in the village and many local sites were openly destroyed by rampant christian puritans and similar idiots.  It stood not far from the Moor Lane Well and was described by the regional historian H.A. Cadman (1930), who told:

“The Maypole was at the top of Moor Lane and one can imagine the welkin echoing to the very old song:

‘Come lasses and lads take leave of your dads
And away to the maypole hie.
For every fair has a sweetheart there
And the fiddlers standing by.
For Willy shall dance with Jane
And Johnny has got his Joan.
To trip it, trip it, trip it, trip it,
Trip it up and down.’

Yet as with maypoles up and down the land, testosterone-fuelled Springtime fall-outs happened.  Mr Cadman told:

“Very often May Day gatherings ended up with fights.  Great jealousy always existed between the inhabitants of Great Gomersal, Little Gomersal and Spen.  There is a tradition which has been handed down that the last Maypole in this district stood on Liversedge Green.  This Maypole was demolished in a fight by the Gomersalians and there is a similar tradition about the Maypole on Cleckheaton Green, so as Mr Frank Peel says, “It is evident that ancient inhabitants of Gomersal were more pugnacious than their neighbours.”  I have no evidence when the Gomersal Maypole ceased to exist, but there is abundant evidence to prove that there was one in Gomersal, the proof being that the vane is now in Batley Museum.  It is in the form of a fish.”

If anyone has any further information on this important relic, or its history, please let us know.

References:

  1. Cadman, H. Ashwell, Gomersal, Past and Present, Hunters Armley: Leeds 1930.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Gomersal maypole

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Gomersal maypole 53.736462, -1.687978 Gomersal maypole

Ancient & Holy Wells of Edinburgh

Ancient & Holy Wells of Edinburgh

by

Paul Bennett

Northern Antiquarian: Alva 2017.  Kindle edition – 123 pages. 

Price – £3.99

This is the first detailed guide ever written on the holy wells and healing springs in and around the ancient city of Edinburgh, Scotland. Written in a simple A-Z gazetteer style, nearly 70 individual sites are described, each with their grid-reference location, history, folklore and medicinal properties where known. Although a number them have long since fallen prey to the expanse of Industrialism, many sites can still be visited by the modern historian, pilgrim, christian, pagan or tourist.

The book opens with two introductory chapters: the first explores the origin and nature of holy wells and what they meant to local people in earlier centuries; and the next is a comparative overview of water cults worldwide. It is an invaluable guide for any student or tourist who wants to look beneath the modern history of the city and get a taste of the more archaic customs that once belonged here…

Clach na Ba, St Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – NN 70318 24159

Clach na Ba, from roadside

Also Known as:

  1. Stone of the Cattle

Getting Here

Along the A85 road at the east-end of Lochearnhead, head out of the village east towards Comrie. Just above the main-road, maybe 50 yards after passing the small road to St Fillan’s Golf Club, on the north side of the road you’ll see a huge boulder resting in the edge of the garden of the large detached house that was known as The Oaks.  That’s the fella!

Archaeology & History

Clach na Ba, from the rear

Almost fallen out of history, oral tradition has thankfully kept the name and brief history of this huge boulder alive.  Found in association with the prehistoric standing stones just yards away, the Clach na Ba lives beside the ancient drover’s road (and probable prehistoric route before that) just yards east of the old cottage known as Casetta.  This occupies a site where an old toll-house stood, and the drovers would have to stop and pay a toll before continuing onwards past the Clach na Ba, or Stone of the Cattle.

Folklore

When the drovers passed their highland cattle here, the animals rubbed themselves against the stone to ensure good health and fertility (as well as just having a good scratch, no doubt).

References:

  1. Porteous, Alexander, Annals of St Fillans, David Philips: Crieff 1912.

Acknowledgements:  With huge thanks to Nina Harris and Paul Hornby for the day out and for use of their photos in this site-profile; and to the lovely couple (we didn’t get their names – soz) who live in the house behind the Clach na Ba, for their help with the fascinating local history .

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.391839, -4.102239 Clach na Ba

Maypole, Hemswell, Lincolnshire

Maypole: OS Grid Reference – SK 92954 90947

Historic photo from Church Street
Historic photo from Church Street

Also Known as:

  1. English Heritage ID: 196736

Getting Here

In Hemswell Village at the junction of Church Street and Maypole Street.

History & Archeaology

According to a 2010 report in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, the Hemswell villagers,

“claim to be the hosts to one of the oldest maypole celebrations in the world, dating back to at least 1660”.

The then clerk to the parish council, Dianne Millward is quoted as saying:

“Hemswell is widely regarded in historical circles as having one of the oldest if not the oldest celebrations for May Day. We have pictures of the pole being prepared for the big day in the very early 1900s.”

Hemswell maypole on 1906 map

This writer has not yet been able to independently verify these claims.

May Day is still celebrated in the village with dancing around the maypole and an accompanying fete. Recent online photographs show that it is now only children, in ‘historic’ fancy dress who ribbon-dance around the Pole.

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian

Hemswell maypole

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Hemswell maypole 53.407173, -0.603181 Hemswell maypole

The Maypole Tree, Little Paxton, Huntingdonshire

Maypole & Ritual Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference TL 18831 62757

Getting Here

Imposing trunk of The Maypole Tree, right background
Imposing trunk of The Maypole Tree, right background

The road layout of the village has changed since the destruction of the Tree, but its approximate position was on the north side of the present High Street, at the junction with the east side of St James’ Road.

Archaeology & History

The Little Paxton Maypole Tree was a very late survival of a tradition where Mayday revellers danced around an actual tree rather than a symbolic tree in the form of a maypole.  It was described as “a tall straight elm tree” that stood in front of what was then the village Post Office, and from what may be the only surviving photograph, it appears that only the very substantial trunk survived of what was clearly a very old tree.

The 1887 6" OS Map, showing the Maypole Tree outlined in red
The 1887 6″ OS Map, showing the Maypole Tree outlined in red

A Miss Ethel Ladds, who had been born in Little Paxton, recalled in the early 1940s:

I remember the old tree very well, it was always called ‘the Maypole’, but I don’t know any more about it, except that they used to dance round it“.

The St Neots Advertiser recorded that the Maypole Tree was blown down in a great gale on 24th March 1895.

Folklore

While this writer has been unable to find direct folklore relating to the Little Paxton Maypole Tree, it may be worth remarking that botanically the Elm tree is a cousin of the Stinging Nettle, the Hop and Cannabis.  Another Elm Tree used for May revels was the Tubney Elm, near Fyfield in Berkshire and recorded by Matthew Arnold, in his ‘Scholar Gipsy’.

References:

  1. C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VI, Part V, 1942
  2. C.F. Tebbutt, “Huntingdonshire Folk And Their Folklore”, in Transactions of the Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society, Volume VII, Part III, 1950
  3. Gerald Wilkinson, Epitaph For The Elm, Arrow Books, London, 1979

© Paul T. Hornby 2016 The Northern Antiquarian 

Little Paxton Maypole

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Little Paxton Maypole 52.250192, -0.260697 Little Paxton Maypole

Nanny’s Well, Chapel le Frith, Derbyshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid-Reference – SK 061 810

Getting Here

Nanny's Well, Chapel-le-Frith
Nanny’s Well, Chapel-le-Frith

To find Nanny’s Well, take B5474 out of Chapel and take the right hand turning called Crossings road (which goes to Chinley) which is before Frith view on the left. Continue until the small wall surrounding the site can be seen on the right.

Archaeology & History

The name it is said to be either from St Ninian (less likely) or St Anne (more likely as she is also considered the mother of Mary and thus Grandmother of Jesus).

copyright Pixyled
The Nanny well pump

 

It is described in M.J.B Baddeley’s Peak district of Derbyshire (1913) and the neighbourhood as:

“a valuable but neglected spring of chalybeate water.”

 

Yet in 1895, a Manchester firm of Grace, Calvert and Thompson  analysed it and found it:

“not polluted to any extent with organic matter of animal or vegetable origin and comes from a spring of considerable depth and that no surface water has become mixed with it’…in same respects the water of this well is of the same nature as that from the Tunbridge Wells springs.”

The site is now an iron pump by the side of Crossings Road, known as Nanny Well Road, enclosed in a low wall along which. The pump no longer works and the well capped but it can be heard and just about seen through a crack beneath.

Copyright Pixyled
A peer through the crack shows running water!

Folklore 

copyright Pixyled
Nanny well plaque

It was visited on Easter Morning, with sugar or licorice to make Spanish Water, and then the bottles were hung around their necks. The site is one of four wells dressed annually since the 1980s in July and the site is blessed.

Extracted from Parish, R. B., (2008) Holy Wells and Healing springs of Derbyshire

http://insearchofholywellsandhealingsprings.wordpress.com

© R.B. Parish, The Northern Antiquarian

Nanny Well

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Nanny Well 53.326532, -1.909063 Nanny Well