St. Mungo’s Well, Peebles, Peeblesshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 2523 4045

Archaeology & History

St Mungo’s Well, 1858 map

Highlighted on the 1858 OS-map, two-thirds the way up the High Street, this long forgotten sacred well was described by the Ordnance Survey lads in their Name Book (1856) as “an excellent spring”—and no doubt an ever-flowing one, even in the greatest of droughts.  But it had already been destroyed when they came here.  It was mentioned in passing by William Chambers’ (1856), who described it as a “public fountain” dedicated to old Mungo, a.k.a. St Kentigern.  But its position in the High Street wasn’t where it originally emerged.  Local tradition told it was once on the slopes of Venlaw immediately north of the town, possibly making it into the folklore category of “Wells that Move”—usually because the spirit of the place has been offended.

But in truth, little is known about its mythic history.  Its origin seems, as with so many ancient sites, entangled in what Dr Gunn (1908) in his definitive work on the history of Peebles church explained, the heathen “superstitious regard for fountains”, pre-dating the christian dedications.  St Mungo himself, said Gunn,

“is remembered in Peebles to-day by his holy well upon the slopes of Venlaw, hallowed by its use in the Sacrament of Baptism.”

It’s profane history tells simply that, in 1728, its waters were piped into the trough on High Street for public use.  It became damaged sometime in the early 19th century, but some remains of the  stonework were found when roadworks were done here in 1845.  It would be good if we could recover further information about this important holy well.

References:

  1. Chambers, William, A History of Peeblesshire, W. & R. Chambers: Edinburgh 1864.
  2. Gunn, P., The Book of Peebles Church, A. Walker: Galashiels 1908.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 


Bishop’s Well, Stow, Midlothian

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 4598 4454

Archaeology & History

At the edge of the ruins known as the Bishop’s Palace, up the slope behind the ruined church in Stow, could once be seen the waters of the Bishop’s Well which, wrote Thomas Wilson (1924), fed the palace hereby and was used by the clergy.  Apart from a barely discernible circular depression at the edge of the old manse ruins, no trace of this site remains.

References:

  1. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Midlothian and West Lothian, HMSO: Edinburgh 1929.
  2. Wilson, Thomas, The Stow of Wedale, Aberdeen Newspapers 1924.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Columba’s Well, Derry, Co. Derry

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – C 43117 16615

Archaeology & History

Long since gone, there are very few references to this once sacred site, which seemed to comprise of three sacred wells next to each other, each with its own formal dedication.  This would have made it one fuck of an important place in early- and pre-christian times.  But even when Thomas Colby (1837) and his mates surveyed the area, it seems like it was on its last legs.  He told that:

Site on Colby’s 1837 map

“As connected with the ancient history of Derry the sacred springs, called St. Columb’s Wells, claim some notice in this place.  They are, or rather were, three in number — for one has been dried up, or diverted from its original locality — and are situated near the Roman Catholic chapel, outside the wall.  It appears from the Irish annals that each of these wells had its peculiar name, one being called Tobar Adamnam, another Tobar Martain, and the third Tobar Colum — but the two former names are now quite forgotten, and the springs are popularly called St. Columb’s Wells.  They are regarded with much superstitious veneration by the Roman Catholic peasantry, but no celebration of St. Columb’s festival is now held at them.”

The wells were found very close to St. Columba’s bullaun stone, which possessed its own healing abilities.  The two sites had symbiotic ceremonial relationships with each other, doubtless performed in bygone centuries on St. Columba’s old festival date of June 9.

References:

  1. Colby, Thomas, Ordnance Survey of the County of Londonderry, HMG: Dublin 1837.
  2. Doherty, William, Derry Columbkille, Brown & Nolan: Dublin 1899.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

St. Columba’s Stone, Shantallow, Derry, Co. Derry

Petroglyph:  OS Grid Reference – C 4386 1934

Also Known as:

  1. Chieftain’s Installation Stone
  2. Inauguration Stone
  3. St Columb’s Footprints
  4. St Columb’s Stone

Archaeology & History

St Columb’s feet carving

To be found in the grounds of Belmont House School, just 1¾ miles (2.8km) north of Derry’s other Columba’s Stone, this is one of the many petroglyphic “footprints” that folklore ascribes to Ireland’s saint Columb/Columba/Columbkille (and other variants).  Said to have originally been carved at the great fortress of Grianan of Aileach, 4½ miles (7.2km) to the west, this great block of stone—roughly 6 feet square on top—has the distinct sculpturings of two feet, each about 10 inches long, etched into its sloping surface.  Archaeologically speaking, there’s little more to say about the stone; but its traditions are another thing altogether and are of considerably greater importance…

Folklore

Like the carved footprint on top of Dunadd in Argyll with its association of tribal initiations, the traditions relating to this footprint follows the same path, so to speak.  It was H.P. Swan (1938) who gave us a good summary of the olde lore here, telling that,

“It is almost absolutely certain that it was brought from the Grianan of Aileach after its destruction, probably by an O’Doherty for his own installation.  If so, the task of removal was no joke, for the stone weighs some seven tons.  It was the “crowning stone” of the Kinel-Owen, or, in other words, the stone upon which the chieftains of the great O’Neill clan were inaugurated.  They reigned in Aileach for many centuries.

“At his installation, as supreme head of the clan, the newly-chosen chief was placed upon this stone, his bare feet in the footmarks; a peeled willow wand was put into his hand, as an emblem of the pure and gentle sway he should exercise over his tribe; an oath was administered to him by the chief ecclesiastic in the neighbourhood, that he should preserve inviolable the ancient custom of his country, and deliver the succession peaceably to his tanist (successor); after which, descending from the stone, he turned himself thrice backwards and thrice forwards, to signify that he was ready to meet all foes, from whatever quarter they might come; and was then, with wild acclamations, hailed as their chief by his assembled clan.

“At the time of Ireland’s conversion to christianity by St Patrick, that holy man visited the Grianan (about AD 443), where this stone had been so used for centuries before; Owen was then King; he was converted from Paganism to the new faith and baptised by Patrick; at the same time, the saint consecrated this stone, and blessed it as the crowning-stone of the Kinel-Owen for ever.  Time, however, has proved his blessing futile, as may be read in the account of the Grianan, which was deserted by the Kinel-Owen after its destruction by the O’Briens in 1101.”

The ritual described here cannot be taken lightly, nor seen as a presentation of fiction, for its ingredients are found echoed in kingship rites in many cultures.

References:

  1. Swan, Harry Percival, The Book of Inishowen, William Doherty: Buncrana 1938.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


St Columbkille’s Footprints, Drumcavany, Co. Donegal

Bullaun Stone:  Grid Reference – C 093 154

Also Known as:

  1. St. Columb’s Stone
Photo thanks to Catherine of We Love Donegal

Archaeology & History

St Columbkille’s place in Irish history was considerable and, said Maghtochair (1867), he was said to have “founded more than one hundred churches and religious houses.”  His feet, also, have been carved or burned into a number of rocks scattering the Irish landscape.  Not to be confused with his ‘feet’ that are carved near Londonderry, the ones here have been classed in the archaeological inventories as a bullaun and, wrote Brian Lacy (1983) in the Donegal Archaeological Survey, can be found on,

“A 2m long ledge of rock outcrop containing two depressions, c.0.33m in diameter x ).1m deep.  They are known locally as St. Columbkille’s footprints.”

As can be seen in the above photo, the ‘footprints’ seem to have been artificially outlined at some time long ago, to make them more notable.

References:

  1. Lacy, Brian, Archaeological Survey of County Donegal, Donegal County Council 1983. p.307
  2. Maghtochair, Inishowen – Its History, Traditions and Antiquity, Journal Office: Londonderry 1867.
  3. Sconce, James, “Cup-Marked Stones,” in Transactions of the Edinburgh Field Naturalists, volume 5, 1907.
  4. Swan, Harry Percival, The Book of Inishowen, William Doherty: Buncrana 1938.

AcknowledgementsBig thanks to Catherine, of the We Love Donegal website.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

College Well, Brechin, Angus

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 5945 6006

Archaeology & History

College Well on 1865 map

Highlighted on the 1865 OS-map, this lost water source was located between the Brechin cathedral/round tower and the curiously-named St. Michael’s Mount, whose history seems to be lost.  It would seem to be the well which Ruth & Frank Morris (1981) name as the ‘Ancient Well’ in their survey.

Folklore

The reason behind this site being classified as a sacred (or holy) well is based on the tradition that the Culdees had a religious convent here in the 12th century and, according to David Black (1839),

“This convent is believed to have stood a little to the west of the present parish church, in the gardens now belonging to the kirk-session, still called “the College Yards.”  A small well of delightfully pure water in these gardens receives the name of the College Well, and is reported, by tradition, to have been the well of the Culdee convent.”

On the issue of St. Michael, students of folklore will know that, in the christian cult, he was an early dragon-slayer.  His annual commemoration day is September 29.  One of his shamanistic functions “relates to the very old tradition of Michael as the receiver of the souls of the dead.” (Attwater 1965)

References:

  1. Black, David D., The History of Brechin, Alexander Black: Brechin 1839.
  2. Gibson, Colin, Folklore of Tayside, Dundee Museum c.1968.
  3. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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

Dragon Well, Eccleshill, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 17567 35473

Also Known as:

  1. Pendragon Well

Archaeology & History

Site on the 1893 map

A most curious place:  this ‘Well of the Dragon’ as it was first called (on the 1852 OS-map) and subsequently the ‘Pendragon Well’ (on the 1922 map) just off Pendragon Lane, seems to have been forgotten in both folklore and history.  I grew up round here and no legends of dragons were known, either in my life, nor that of the old folks I knew; nor any pub of that name that might account for it.

Equally unexplained is the name of the adjacent ‘Pendragon Lane’, which has been known as that for some 175 years.  We have no Arthurian myths anywhere in West Yorkshire that remains in folk memory—and certainly nothing hereby that accounts for it.

As for possible landscape associations (i.e., serpentine geological features), nothing in the vicinity has any bearing on the name.  Indeed, the only thing of any potential relevance was the former existence of a healing rock known as the Wart Stone, some 100 yards to the east at Bolton Junction.  Such stones are usually possessed of naturally-worn ‘bowls’ of some sort on top of the rock—akin to large cup-markings—into which water collected that was used to rid the sufferer of warts or similar skin afflictions.  But such an association seems very unlikely.

The only thing we can say of this Dragon Well is that probably, in times gone by, a folktale or legend existed of a dragon in the neighbourhood that had some association with the waters here.  Dragons are invariably related to early animistic creation myths, and this site may have been all that remained of such a forgotten tale.  The nearest other place in West Yorkshire with dragon associations is six miles northwest of here on the south-side of Ilkley Moor.  In Britain there are a number of other Dragon Wells, the closest of which is in South Yorkshire.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St Peter’s Well (1), Leeds, West Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 2894 3382

Archaeology & History

St Peters Well on 1852 map

Not to be confused with the other St. Peter’s Well that once existed in the city centre, this site was shown on an 1815 map of Leeds (which I’ve not been able to get mi hands on!), known as the Waterloo Map.  But when the Ordnance Survey lads visited the place in 1846, it had been covered over.  Immediately west of here, the saint’s name was also given to a nearby hill, whose folklore seems has been forgotten.

Although Ralph Thoresby mentioned it in passing, Edward Parsons (1834) gave us a brief description of its qualities, telling us that,

“Near North Hall is the celebrated spring called St. Peter’s Well ; the waters are so intensely cold that they have long been considered very efficacious in rheumatic disorders.”

Bonser (1979) reiterated this in his survey, also telling that, like its nearby namesake, its waters were “intensely cold and beneficial for rheumatism, rickets, etc.”  An old bathing-house that was “annexed to the Well” may have been used specifically to treat such ailments, but we cannot say for sure.

Interestingly, Andrea Smith (1982) told that 400 metres away a well was sunk in 1838 and a quantity of petrified hazelnuts were recovered from a broken red jar which had a female head painted on it.  Such a deposit is not too unusual, as a number of sacred wells in bygone days were blessed with nuts and signified the deity Callirius, known by the Romans as Silvanus, the God of the Hazel Wood – though we have no direct tradition here linking St. Peter’s Well with this ritual deposit.

St. Peter’s festival date was June 29.

References:

  1. Bonser, K.J., “Spas, Wells and Springs of Leeds,” in The Thoresby Miscellany – volume 54, Leeds 1979.
  2. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  3. Parsons, Edward, The Civil, Ecclesiastical, Literary, Commercial and Miscellaneous History of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Otley – volume 1, Frederick Hobson: Leeds 1834.
  4. Smith, Andrea, ‘Holy Wells Around Leeds, Bradford & Pontefract,’ in Wakefield Historical Journal 9, 1982.
  5. Thoresby, Ralph, Ducatus Leodiensis, Maurice Atkins: London 1715.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Gerchew Well, Balfron, Stirlingshire

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)

References:

  1. Buchanan, D.S., Buchanan’s Popular Illustrated Guide to Strathendrick, Aberfoyle and District, J. & C. Buchanan: Balfron 1903.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Pancras’ Well, Scampton, Lincolnshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid reference – SK 9542 7853

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1886 map

Mentioned in Thompson’s (1999) survey but without comment, it was, curiously, Skyring Walters’ (1928) that drew my attention to this site.  He added it to his list of St Pancras sites, telling how even in his day, it had fallen into memory.  Indeed, it had already gone when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1885.  Thankfully we were left with an albeit piecemeal account of the place by Cayley Illingworth (1810) before its destruction. It was an iron-bearing well that existed some fifty yards from an ancient Roman villa and was probably the water supply for the Romans who lived here.  He told us:

“The circumstance…of the chalybeate spring within a few yards from the entrance of the villa, and still called Saint Pancras Well…favours the conclusion of a chapel having been erected on its site.  (This) is supported by the strong evidence of a discovery, upon record, that a chapel dedicated to Saint Pancras did actually exist on this spot, so early as the beginning of the twelfth century; about which period Richard Fitz-Robert of Scampton gave to the monastery of Kirksted three selions of land in that lordship, two of which are described in the gift as lying in the south field, on the south side of the chapel of Saint Pancras.”

He further told that at the bottom of the well an oak floor had been laid, which had been dug up “several years ago.”

St Pancras’s festival date is April 3.

References:

  1. Cameron, Kenneth & Insley, John, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire – volume 7, English Place-Name Society: Nottingham 2010.
  2. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells: A Sourcebook – volume 2, Heart of Albion Press: Loughborough 2008.
  3. Illingworth, Cayley, A Topographical Account of the Parish of Scampton in the County of Lincoln, T. Cadel & W. Davies: London 1810.
  4. Thompson, Ian, Lincolnshire Springs and Well, Bluestone: Scunthorpe 1999.
  5. Walters, R.C. S., The Ancient Wells, Springs and Holy Wells of Gloucestershire, St Stephens Press: Bristol 1928.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian