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.”
Various ways here. From Keighley, go up the A629 Halifax Road, first left after the Ingrow West train station, uphill; then turn right, and up the long, cobbled, zizaggy road past the little hamlet of Hainworth and uphill till you reach the solitary farmhouse of Goff Well Farm (where its friendly owners can sell you organic fresh eggs!). It’s the field just before here on your left (if you reach the Guide Inn pub further uphill by the crossroads, you’ve gone too far). Alternatively start at the Guide Inn pub and walk across the road and downhill till you reach the farm. It’s in the first field on the right just past it.
Archaeology & History
Little is known about the history of this water source. The first description of it seems to be in 1852. Harry Speight (1898) mentions it briefly when he talks about the holy wells of the locale, saying simply:
“Goff Well, close to the road on Harden Moor leading to Hainworth, has given name to a neighbouring farm, but the purpose or virtues of this water are not now known.”
Today the well is much overgrown and in need of attention. It’s near the bottom corner of the field where the larger of the elder tree grows (the witch’s tree par excellence) and could do with being cleaned out. When the owner of Goff Well Farm, Barry, took us to see the site, the waters couldn’t be seen but we could hear the water running clearly just beneath the surface, so it just needs a few hours work to bring it back into life. Twouldst do the land and the genius loci the world of good!
The very name of the well is something of an anomaly. There are several possibilities and we (as yet) cannot say which is the more likely derivation. We know in northern dialect that Goff is a simpleton or fool, and although we can apply that definition in some cases, it’s unlikely to apply here. If we could ascertain there was ever an apple tree growing here, the mystery would be solved, as a goff was an old word used for the common apple. In West Yorkshire dialect the word was also used to denote “a hammer worked by water-power”; aswell as it being a corrupted form of the word ‘God.’ Take your pick!
The early Victorian historian William Keighley (1858) thought Goff Well was named after a long-forgotten hermit called Goff who, at some time in the past, gave his name to the old hamlet of Hermit Hole, a half-mile downhill from this water source. Mr Keighley wrote:
“On the skirts of Harden Moor is a farmhouse known by the name of Goff Well; and as goff is said to be the Danish word for red, it would probably be no great stretch of the imagination to suppose that the hermit was so named on account of his red hair, and the spring or well designated after him from the frequency and sanctimonious nature of his visits.”
But this is pure supposition on Keighley’s part — nice idea though it is! The only tangible piece of folklore we have is that the well “was a famous resort of gypsies before the moor was enclosed in 1861.” (Speight 1898)
Keighley, William, Keighley, Past and Present, Arthur Hall: London 1858.
Speight, Harry, Chronicles and Stories of Old Bingley, Elliott Stock: London 1898.