Ellen’s Well, Angle, Pembrokeshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SM 86913 03483

Archaeology & History

Ellen’s Well on 1869 map

Very little seems to be known about this apparently lost site, deemed to be an authentic holy well in Francis Jones’ (1954) fine survey: the ‘Ellen’ in question here being the legendary St Helen.  It was highlighted on the first OS-map of the area in 1869 and subsequently included in the Royal Commission’s huge Pembrokeshire (1925) tome, but when they came to visit the site they reported that “it could not be traced, nor any information obtained about it.”  Has it truly fallen back to Earth, or do any local historians and antiquarians know where it is…?

References:

  1. Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, University of Wales 1954.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Wales, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales & Monmouthshire: VII – County of Pembroke, HMSO: London 1925.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.689556, -5.084312 Ellen\'s Well

St. Ninian’s Well, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 79690 93012

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46210
  2. St. Ringan’s Well

Getting Here

St Ninian's Well, Stirling

St Ninian’s Well, Stirling

A short distance south out of Stirling town centre, along Port Street where it meets with Ninian’s Road, walk across at the traffic lights then turn immediately left down Wellgreen Road.  Barely 100 yards down (before you reach the roundabout), note the path on your right.  Walk along here and as it bends round into the car-park, look to your left and see the small ivy-covered building hiding away in below you, with an information plaque at its side.

Archaeology & History

“St Ninian’s” is a district unto itself on the south side of the ancient city of Stirling—and it has this holy well (and the demolished chapel that once stood by its side) to thank for this. James Johnston’s (1904) place-name study of the region showed that it had acquired its association with St Ninian as early as 1242 CE when it was described, “Ecclesia Sancti Niniani de Kirketoune.”  It was mentioned again in 1301 CE as the site of “Saint Rineyan”, or St Ringan, which was the other name given to this saint who spent much of his time at Whithorn, Galloway, where he “preached the gospel among the southern Picts.” (Attwater 1965)

The waters in the building

The waters in the building

The old well building

The old well building

At some later date, Ninian is thought to have ventured north and sanctified this already renowned water source which, in his day, would have been open and surrounded by ancient trees and an abundance of wild flowers and healing plants.  But today, typically, it is hiding almost secretly away, behind locked doors and not in view for the general public.  This needs to be changed!  Standing outside of the unkempt and overgrown building, you can faintly hear these ancient waters still flowing within their darkened enclave.

It has been described in a number of local history books down the years, but a lot of the old stories and traditions have sadly moved into forgotten memories… The first major description of the site was by J.R. Walker (1883) who wrote freshly about it soon after his visit—despite being “disappointed” with the architectural features of the building built over the well; which is hardly the right attitude as far as I’m concerned!  The waters, their natural environment, feeling and genius loci are the primary features to sacred wells—nottheir dissolution, nor the artifice of humans to contain and reduce the natural world at such a place!  But, this aside:  for the architects amongst you, here’s what Walker had to say about the well-house:

“Mr T.S.  Muir, in his Characteristics of Old Church Architecture, mentions it as “a large vaulted building with a chamber above it, which is supposed to have been a chapel.” From this notice I was led to think something of interest would be found in the chamber; but as will be seen by the drawing…it is utterly destitute of any feature worthy of particular notice.  On looking at the surroundings, however, which are all modern, and mostly new houses and streets in course of erection, I came to the conclusion that at no distant date the well was doomed, and that consequently I had better make a correct drawing of it.

“The lower chamber measures 16 feet by 11 feet 1 inch, and is covered with a vault running from end to end, measuring from floor to springing 2 feet 9 inches, and from floor to crown of arch 6 feet.  At the end where the spring rises there is a square recess 1 foot 9 inches high and 1 foot 7 inches wide and 17 inches deep; and at the other end two recesses, the largest measuring 2 feet 7 inches in height, 1 foot 4 inches wide and 1 foot 4 inches deep, the other 8 inches high, 8 inches wide, and 8 inches deep.  To what purpose these have been put I have formed no idea; they are on an average 12 inches from the floor to the sill.  The side walls are 2 feet 9 inches thick, and the end gable 3 feet; the other gable, between the well chamber and the adjacent building, being about 2 feet 3 inches.  The room above is the same size as the vaulted chamber below, and is divided by timber partitions to form a dwelling-house.  There is an ordinary fireplace and press in the gable; the press, however, does not go down to the floor, but is simply a recess or “aumbry,” such as we see in old Scotch houses.

“The roof seems to have been renewed at no distant date, although some of the timbers are, without doubt, home-grown.  The ground rises rapidly to the back, so that the entrance door to the house is level with the top of the vault; this door is simply splayed in the Scotch manner, with a square lintel over, and a relieving arch inside.  The door to the well chamber is also splayed, and in like manner the windows; the largest window has been altered, and a new projecting sill put in.

“At present the well is used for washing purposes, and must have been so for a considerable length of time, if we may judge from the table of rates affixed to the building; and a channel has been formed down one side and along the bottom end to carry away the water, the floor being paved with stones.  The vault inside is roughly dressed, very little labour seemingly having been bestowed upon it.

“In the New Statistical Account it is suggested that the chamber was used as a bath, and it also states that, “it is celebrated for its copiousness and its purity. It is a hardish water, but of low specific gravity, and much used for washing. It has been calculated that were all the waters proceeding from this spring forced into the pipes that supply the town, it would afford every individual not less than 14.03 gallons per twenty-four hours.  Its temperature is very cold and it exhibits muriate of lime and sulphate of lime. It is also much used for brewing.”

“Externally the building is roughly cast, or in Scottish phraseology, harled.”

A few years later when J.S. Fleming (1898) wrote an account of the place in his survey of local holy wells, he described a number of other historical elements not included in Walker’s (1883) account, telling:

“RINGAN” is stated to be the Scoto-Irish form of Saint Ninian’s name. He is alleged to have come from Ireland in the fifth century. St. Ringan’s Chapel was one of three attached to St. Ninians, the others being at Skeoch—dedicated to the Virgin Mary—and at Cambusbarron.  The remains of St. Ringan’s Chapel, a simple, barrel-vaulted chamber, 11 feet by 14 feet, built over the spring, are situated a few yards off Pitt Terrace, the upper walls having been built, in 1731, by order of the Stirling Town Council, and formed into a house for the convenience of the town’s washerwomen.  A niche in the north-east wall has evidently been made to hold the image of the Saint; while there has also been a piscina in the same wall. The flow of water is enormous, and enters the building from under the south-west gable, and after passing through the little chamber, flows out at the east wall.  In 1740, the Town Council, considering the large volume of water of some value, entertained the idea of having it conveyed into the town by means of pipes, and consulted an Edinburgh engineer with regard to the feasibility of the project.  Nothing resulted from their efforts, however.  The water of this spring is stated to be so cold in summer that people cannot stand in it for any length of time; while in winter, again, it is so warm that it rapidly thaws whatever is thrown into it.  Smoke rises from it at times, hanging over it like a vapour on a frosty morning.  These characteristics indicate that the waters must issue from a great depth in the ground.

“This Chapel was apparently held in high repute by King James IV., as in the Exchequer Rolls we find the following entries: — “1497, April 24. — Item to the King’s offerand in Saint Ringans Chapel, besid Strivelin, 14/.” ” Samen day to Schir Andro to get say a hental of messes of Saint Ringans, 20⋅/.”

The site was mentioned in the standard surveys of MacKinlay (1893) and Morris (1981), but with very little additional information other than to cite how the larger surrounding building that once stood next to the well,

“was used as a powder magazine by Prince Charles after the battle of Falkirk, was blown up, and only the tower remains.”

Folklore

Ninian's Well on 1832 map

Ninian’s Well on 1832 map

St. Ninian’s festival date is September 16, but I’ve been unable to find any information about any practices here for that date. However, in 1659, St Ninian’s Well was mentioned as a site used in what the deluded criminal courts of the period called “a case of witchcraft”, against one Bessie Stevenson.  The lady concerned told of performing quite normal herbal practices and similar animistic healing traditions, typical of those found universally in peasant cultures, but which the crazed church-goers saw as something completely different.  Bessie told that for people who were either sick or bewitched, she would wash their clothes in the running waters of St. Ninian’s Well, to wash away any disease and cure the said person.  It is likely that the waters here were commonly used for such rites, much as the christian priesthood still do at many ‘holy waters’ to this very day.  Indeed, of the sacred waters here, St. Ninian himself was said to “have endowed it with peculiar virtues.” (Roger 1853)

References:

  1. Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1965.
  2. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.
  3. Johnston, James B., The Place-Names of Stirlingshire, R.S. Shearer 1904.
  4. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  5. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  6. Mould, D.D.C.P., Scotland of the Saints, Batsford: London 1952.
  7. Reid, John, The Place-Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire, Falkirk Local History Society 2009.
  8. Roger, Charles,  A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.
  9. Ronald, James, Landmarks of Old Stirling, Eneas Mackay: Stirling 1899.
  10. Simpson, W.D., St. Ninian and the Origins of the Christian Church in Scotland, Oliver & Boyd: Edinburgh 1940.
  11. Walker, J. Russel, “‘Holy Wells’ in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.17 (New Series, volume 5), 1883.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.114650, -3.936406 St Ninian\'s Well

St. Maha’s Well, Buchanan, Stirlingshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 4573 9180

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 43475
  2. Saintmaha Well

Getting Here

St Maha's Well on 1865 map

St Maha’s Well on 1865 map

Bittova walk to reach this one.  From The Square in Drymen village, take the long Old Gartmore Road north for 1.4 miles (2.25km) until you reach the West Highland Way track. Turn left and walk along the track for 1.75 miles (2.8km), making sure that you note crossing the large burn as a guide before your next turn, right, uphill and further north. About 400 yards up, you emerge from the forestry plantation and onto the open moorland. Walk about 200 yards (185m) up the track then walk left, right into the boggy moorland. Keep your eyes peeled for a small standing stone on the heath about 130 yards along, and just below this is a stone-lined spring of water.

Archaeology & History

St Maha's Well

St Maha’s Well, near Drymen

This little-known healing spring of water, high upon the moors overlooking the southern isles of Loch Lomond and the mountains beyond, is in a beautiful (if boggy) setting.  We visited here on a somewhat wet day, amidst a wealth of Nature’s downpours in previous days giving us the masks of grey overcast skies and soaking grounds.  Despite this, the setting is gorgeous and, if we’d have visited on a sunny day, the feel and views would be outstanding.  This mighthave been one of the reasons that this particular spring of water was chosen to be sanctified.  Certainly it has an ancient history, if christian tales are anything to go by…

Although listed in the parish of Buchanan, the well resides on the hills above the village of Balmaha more than 2 miles to the west, on the shores of Loch Lomond; and Balmaha is thought to have its origins enwrapped with an early christian characters of some prominence.  The element maha derives, said Watson (1926) from the Scottish Gaelic ‘Mo-Thatha’, from the earlier Irish name Tua, meaning “the silent one.”  The character known as St. Maha gives his name to the village and according to H.G. Smith (1896),

Bal maha may most probably retain the memory of St Mochai or Macai; Latin, Maccaeus, also known as St Mahew, a companion to St Patrick, to whom the church of Kilmahew in Cardross was dedicated.  Mahew lived at Kingarth in Bute, and Buchanan formed part of the district superintended by Kingarth.  He was a poet, physician, and noted in his day for his mathematical learning… (St Mahew’s day was 11 April).”

Close-up of the waters and stone surround

Close-up of the waters and its stone surround

It seems therefore probable that this poet-healer character underlies the old name at this well.  St. Maha’s attributes as a poet and healer would suggest he was trained in archaic techniques before declaring himself as ‘christian.’  In the landscape nearby are other early Irish christian traditions, pasted onto much earlier heathen ingredients.

When Mr Smith (1896) wrote about the well, the remains of an old tree still grew above the waters onto which local people left memaws and offerings for the resident spirit, maintaining the animistic traditions of popular culture that still endure.  He wrote:

“St Maha’s Well is in an upper field of the farm of Crietihall.  It was of old a healing well, and in the memory of man pieces of cloth used to be fastened to a tree which overshadowed it, votive offerings by the pilgrims who sought the saint’s favour.”

…Although in truth, “the saint’s favour” is mere window dressing for the more archaic and natural feel of the site: what John Michell (1975) would have termed the “resident Earth spirit.”

The well is surrounded by a small arc of stone masonry, which the ever-reliable Royal Commission (1963) lads tell us, “measures 2ft by 3ft internally and stands about 1ft above the surface of the water.”  Just above the well itself is a small rise with a standing stone at its edge—probably medieval in origin.  Barely three feet tall, it sits upon an overgrown arc of stones that curves around the hillock reaching down towards the well and was obviously a small building of some sort in previous centuries.  Its precise nature is unknown, but it has been suggested to have either been an earlier well-house or surround, or perhaps the remains of a hermit’s cell—even St. Maha himself—that has fallen away over time.  Without an excavation, we may never know what it was!

Little Leo by the little stone

Little Leo by the little stone

Aisha with Leo, shortly before he threw himself in!

Aisha with Leo, shortly before he threw himself in!

Whatever the origin behind the small standing stone and the overgrown scatter of rocks, one of our adventurers on the day we visited—little Leo—was fascinated by it, almost attaching himself to it and stroking his way round and round the old stone with playful endurance.  And then, when he got to see the sacred spring below, became so taken by it that he simply sat down in the waters without as much as making a gasp, despite the cold!  Aisha (his mum) would pick him up, only for him to walk right back over and sit himself right back into it again!  It was both comical and fascinating to watch and he seemed quite at home in the pool, despite being drenched and cold.  Indeed, he took exception to being lifted out of the water—and simply plonked himself back in it again!

Folklore

The Canmore website tells some intriguing folklore about the place, saying:

“The well is still a focus of local cult, and is visited by people who leave offerings in the water. A man dying recently in a local hospital refused to drink any water except water taken from this well.”

References:

  1. Edlin, Herbert L. (ed.), Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, HMSO: Edinburgh 1973.
  2. Johnston, James B., The Place-Names of Stirlingshire, R.S. Shearer 1904.
  3. Michell, John, The Earth Spirit: Its Ways, Shrines and Sanctuaries, Thames & Hudson: London 1975.
  4. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  5. Nicholson, A. & Beaton, J.M., “Gaelic Place-Names and their Derivations,” in Edlin’s Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, HMSO: Edinburgh 1973.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  7. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.
  8. Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland, Edinburgh 1926.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to Aisha Domleo, Lara Domleo, Leo (the stone-hugger) Domleo, Unabel Gordon, Nina Harris, Paul Hornby and Naomi Ross for their help and attendance in finding and falling about this ancient sacred well. A damn good wet day all round!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.094013, -4.481383 St Maha\'s Well

St. Anne’s Well, Strathaven, Lanarkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 7039 4438

Archaeology & History

St Anne's Well on 1865 map

St Anne’s Well on 1865 map

Long since lost it would seem, in a search for this legendary site over the weekend with Gordon, Aisha and Lara, I’m still not certain of the actual status of the site.  Although we found a very fresh water supply still running not far from where the old OS-map showed the original holy well to be, it may be a completely different water source.

There are hardly any references to the spring and those that exist are scant.  In the early 1860s, St. Ane’s Well was mentioned briefly in the Object Name Book of the area:

“This is a good spring well in the southern part of the town of Strathaven.  It is commonly called Tun’s (Tan’s?) Well, but this is an abbreviation of the name.”

Lara plays at a nearby well

Lara plays at a nearby well

Looking down on the waters

Looking down on the waters

More recently, thanks to a communication from the local historian Robert Currie, more information has come to light about the well.  It was described in the local history work by Mary Gebbie (1880).  Mr Currie told me:

“In her Sketches of Avondale and Strathaven…we read: “In a lane off Tod’s Hill was the famous Tann’s Well – obviously a corruption of the celebrated water saint, St. Anne. This spring has within a few years completely dried up. Access was easily had from the castle to it, over the draw-bridge, which is said to have rested on the ledge of the ground and rock on which the fifth house is built south of the bridge. Before this aperture was built up, the inhabitants around took advantage of the pathway for drawing water from the Pomillion, at a place called the Fairy Pool. A little above this comes the Dove Castle; and a half a mile further out is the Gallow Hill.”

He continued:

“That said, the current siting of St. Anne’s Well is located on Lesmahagow Road with (the) site being almost opposite the Council houses bordering on Station Road (there is currently a mini-roundabout near the locus). In recent years the site has become obscured but in my own living memory there was once a plaque authenticating the site and with a garden seat thereby.”

In searching through their own library, Mr Currie and his wife came across more about the site in William Downie’s (1979) book on Strathaven, in which he wrote:

“A small lane off Todshill went down to a cluster of houses called St. Anne’s Well nestling on the sloping ground beside the mill dam. In 1911 these houses were acquired and demolished by the Town Improvement Committee. A row of houses backing backing on to Powmillon Burn were also demolished at the same time and a retaining wall with railings erected, so opening up a very fine view of the castle and burn etc.”

The dedication here to the mythic figure of St. Anne (mother of the Virgin Mary and grandmother of Jesus) is isolated and mysterious.  No church is dedicated to her in the area, nor other relative christian remains.  Her appearance in Strathaven is something of an oddity.  There was a Duchess ‘Ann’ Hamilton of Strathaven Castle who lived 200 yards away at Strathaven Castle on the other side of the river that might have given her name to the well, but this is very unlikely.  More probable is that St. Anne was used as the mythic figure who covered an earlier dedication to the prima mater, or Cailleach—although there are no remains that relate to Her either.  However, the existence of St Mary’s church and an associated well to the north, along with a burn dedicated to a “maiden” in the same parish to the northwest add to the cailleach’s potential…..but all tales of Her have seemingly been forgotten.

…So it seems that the spring of water that Lara, Aisha, Gordon and I came across was obviously not the same place, but exists just below the roadside where the disused railway line is.  It’s close to St Anne’s Well – but is not the same water source.

References:

  1. Downie, Fleming, A History of Avondale and Strathaven, Eric Moore: Glasgow 1979.
  2. Gebbie, Mary, Sketches of the Town of Strathavon and Parish of Avondale: Historical & Traditional, John Menzies: Edinburgh 1880.

Links:

  1. Strathaven Past & Present

Acknowledgements:  Considerable thanks must be given to Robert Currie, BA Hons, who sent us additional information enabling a more informative and accurate site profile for this holy well.  Thanks Bob! Also huge thanks again to Aisha Domleo, Lara Domleo, Unabel Gordon and their frobbling Leonidus!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.675409, -4.062593 St. Anne’s Well

Lady Well, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 60376 65323

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45037

Getting Here

Lady Well on 1865 OS-map

Lady Well on 1865 OS-map

Get yourself to Glasgow Cathedral—wherein you’ll find St. Mungo’s Well—and walk down John Know Street.  A coupla hundred yards down, across the road is a small street called Ladywell Lane (there’s no signpost for it though), running below the cemetery and leading to the back entrance of the giant Tennent’s Brewery.  At the bottom of this, up against the wall on your left, is the Lady Well.

Archaeology & History

The origins and early traditional history of this once famous sacred well are sadly lost due to the intrusion of industrialism.  It was obviously a place of some considerable repute and lent its name to local quarries and fields hereby.  Used extensively by local people for countless centuries, things were to change in 1715 when the waters of this and other wells were to be kept clean by one John Black, “at a salary of 400 merks yearly.”  The Glasgow historian Eyre-Todd (1934) told that,

“Black was to furnish them with chains, buckets, sheaves, ladles, and other necessary graith, aswell as with locks and iron bands.  He was ‘to cleanse, muck and keep them clean,’ and to lock and open them in due time, evening and morning.  In case of failure he was liable to a penalty of £100 Scots.”

Lady Well in 2015

Lady Well in 2015

Lady Well in 1883

Lady Well in 1883

That’s a helluva lot of money in those days!  Even when M’Ure (1736) described it, only in passing, he had nothing to say about its curative properties or local rites.  Once the Industrialists take control, the ways of local people are sanitized, sterilized and ‘progress’ outlaws tradition.  The only reference to an earlier sacrality is in Mr Russel’s (1883) article, where he said simply, that the Lady Well was “so called after a fountain at the bottom of the Craigs…sacred in Popish times to the Virgin.”

The construction that we see today—of the well in its little enclave—was first built in 1835-6.  The waters became polluted after they were redirected below the Necropolis and have not been used since (although they still flow out of the wall a couple of yards to the right, stinking!).  The architectural feature was cleaned up and restored by the local brewery in 1983.

The site may have derived its name from one Lady Lochow, who lived nearby and built a hospital at the old Gorbels in the 14th century.  However, an intriguing ingredient relating to the dedication of the Lady Well is the incidence of a St. Anne’s Street that used to exist immediately to the east, as seen on the 1865 OS-map above.  St. Anne may well be the mythic character behind the naming of this Lady Well, although I can find no literature to prove this.  In the christian mythos, St. Anne was a very important character indeed: the mother of the Virgin Mary no less!  However, as hagiographers from Attwater (1965), to Baring-Gould (1898) and Butler (1866) all tell, her biography is piecemeal—which is most surprising considering she was JC’s granny!  Anne’s festival date was July 26 (a couple of days after Sirius enters the northern hemisphere); she was the patron saint of midwives, grandmothers and also miners, who invoked her as the deity who produced gold and silverakin to the Earth Mother Herself!  It’s obvious that Anne’s original mythic nature was subdued, as she represented an archaic root of matriarchal triplicity of the Virgin, the Lady and Old Woman and not the patriarchal triplicity of the incoming christian cult.  The christian mythos at this Lady Well (as elsewhere) replaced one facet of the indigenous prima mater in Glasgow, known as the Cailleach—as shown in her attributes of midwife, grandmother and the deep Earth.  If local historians can find field-names or wells dedicated to the Maiden, the Lady and the Carlin (or their variant titles) nearby, the lost layers of archaic Glasgow’s indigenous animistic folk memories could be mapped out once again…

References:

  1. Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin: Harmondsworth 1965.
  2. Baring-Gould, S., The Lives of the Saints – volume 8, J.C. Nimmo: London 1898.
  3. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Glasgow, TNA 2017.
  4. Brotchie, T.C.F., “Holy Wells in and Around Glasgow,” in Old Glasgow Club Transactions, volume 4, 1920.
  5. Butler, Alba, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and other Principal Saints – volume 7, James Duffy: Dublin 1866.
  6. Eyre-Todd, George, History of Glasgow – volume 3, Jackson: Glasgow 1934.
  7. Greene, E.A., Saints and their Symbols, Sampson Low: London 1897.
  8. MacIntosh, Hugh, The Origin and History of Glasgow Streets, James Hedderwick: Glasgow 1902.
  9. M’Ure, John, History of Glasgow, D. MacVean: Glasgow 1736.
  10. Walker, J. Russel, “‘Holy Wells’ in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.17 (New Series, volume 5), 1883.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.860841, -4.232425 Lady Well

St. Ouret’s Well, Brechin, Angus

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 5869 5904

Getting Here

‘Spring’ shown on 1865 map

Travel north towards Brechin on the B9134, and cross the River South Esk at Stannochy Bridge.  Immediately after crossing the bridge, go through the double tubular steel gates to your right, descend the steep slope and walk along the boundary fence dividing the riverside field from the sloping woodland until you reach a tubular steel pedestrian gate. Go through this gate, over the burn and keep walking 150 yards or so to the right and St. Ouret’s Well is seen near the top of the slope.

Archaeology & History

Alexander Penrose Forbes, Bishop of Brechin wrote in 1872 :

Ouret – Close to Brechin, on the north bank of the Esk, near the Stannochy Bridge, is S.Ouret’s Well.”

The spring flows south into a burn then into the river South Esk

Perusal of the 25″ OS map of 1865 shows an enclosure marked ‘spring’ with a short pathway to the north-east, as the only water feature answering the written description. My field visit just over a century and a half later found a spring issuing at that point from the embankment, with the remains of old rough stone walling on either side of the spring. There was no sign of the pathway. The walling around an otherwise unremarkable spring located away from habitation would imply to me that this is the Saint’s Well.

As the good Bishop mentions the Well as the last entry in the Auctaria of his 1872 book—an afterthought as you will—it seems reasonable that the knowledge of St. Ouret and his well may have been at that time on the point of oblivion. The well is not noted as such by the earlier Ordnance Survey map,  nor can I find his name in any other of the hagiographies at my disposal.

Old walling still visible low down

Intriguingly, ‘Ouret’ is a modern Basque surname, and while it is tempting to think of a Basque Holy Man walking the Pictland, the name is more likely a transliteration into Scots from a now lost Pictish or Gaelic name. Or possibly, the name has pre-Christian origins as a corruption of the Gaelic ùruisg , meaning inter alia ‘water god’ ‘diviner’. Unless anyone can add more.

A mile or so south of here is the holy well of St. Murdoch.

References:

  1. Forbes, Alexander Penrose, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edmonston and Douglas: Edinburgh 1872.
  2. Dwelly, Edward, Gaelic – English Dictionary, Garmin Publications: Glasgow 1988

© Paul T. Hornby,  The Northern Antiquarian 2016

 

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  56.721122, -2.676627 St Ouret’s Well

St. Peter’s Well, York Minster, North Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 6038 5219

Also Known as:

  1. Holy Well, York Minster

Archaeology & History

Old photo of the well

Old photo of the well

For people who like to visit the sacred sites that determined a cross-over from Earth-based animism to one which ceased sanctifying the Earth, this ancient water source in the cellars beneath York Minster would be a good example.  Sadly, the church has closed off access to this ancient heritage and you can no longer see it.  Yet despite the fact that the modern-day christians have closed off your encounter with this important heritage site (York Minster’s website doesn’t even mention its existence!), we should not forget its mythic history…

As you walk into the building (at some great expense, it has to be said), the location of the holy well is said to be at its more western end, albeit in the crypt underground—although there does seems to be some confusion with some authors about exactly where the well is positioned.

1850 sketch of the well

1850 sketch of the well

The earliest account we hear of the place relates to when the northern tribal King Edwin, along with his sons Osfrid and Esfrid, came here to be “baptized” in the waters of this clear spring “on Easter day, April 12, 627” CE.  Immediately thereafter a small wooden chapel was constructed next to or above the well.  From then on, as the centuries passed, the renown of the well grew and eventually the magnificent ritual temple of York Minster was eventually built.  The waters eventually became dedicated to St. Peter and an annual festival occurred here soon after the Midsummer solstice on what became known as St. Peter’s Day (June 29).  After the year 1462, a secondary festival date was also given to the site by the Church and another annual celebration occurred here on October 1 too.  Its waters remained accessible to people for drinking, healing and rites throughout the centuries.  It is only now, in the 21st century, that its sacrality and spirit has been closed-off.  This is a situation that must be remedied!

In Mr Goole’s (1850) survey of York Minster, his architectural illustration of the building showed that the water from the well had been brought up onto the ground floor, on the southeast side of the inner cathedral building in the easternmost vestry, and named as St Peter’s Pump.  This is illustrated in the 1850 drawing above-left.

A whole series of early writers mention the well in earlier centuries—of whom a brief sample is given here.  When Celia Feinnes came here in the 17th century, she said that,

“In the vestry of York Minster there is a well of sweet spring water called St Peter’s Well ye saint of ye Church, so it is called St Peter’s Cathedral.” (Smith 1923)

Mr Torre (1719) gave it equal brevity, saying simply that,

“at the south-west corner thereof is a draw-well (called St. Peter’s Well) of very wholesome clear water much drunk by the common people.”

In R.C. Hope’s (1893) national survey of sacred wells, he told that

“There is a draw well with a stone cistern in the eastern part of the crypt of York Minster… The Crypt is about 40 feet by 35 feet.”

The well was even included in Murray’s Handbook to Yorkshire (1892) as being “in the southwest corner of the Minster.” William Smith (1923) included the site in his fine survey, telling his readers that,

“The water is excellent in quality, which in measure, so chemists say, is due to the lime washed into it by the rain from the walls of the Minster.  The water has for centuries been used for baptisms, and is so used today.  The well has now for some years been covered with a pump.”

Folklore

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s famous early History, we find that King Arthur visited here. …And one final note, about which we know not for certain whether it was relevant to the holy well hiding in the crypt, but a fascinating heathen custom was enacted here in bygone days, almost above the spring.  Mistletoe, as Christina Hole (1950) told,

“was ceremonially carried to the cathedral on Christmas Eve and laid upon the high altar, after which a universal pardon and liberty for all was proclaimed at the four gates of the city for as long as the branch lay upon the altar.”

Mistletoe is one element that is known to have been sacred to the druids (not the present-day druids!) and was sacred to the ancient Scandinavians (who came here), and also possessed the powers of life and death in its prodigious folklore and phytochemistry.  Fascinating…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Cures and Curses: Ritual and Cult at Holy Wells, HOAP: Wymeswold 2006.
  2. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk-lore volume 2 – North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  3. Hole, Christina, English Custom and Usage, Batsford: London 1950.
  4. Hole, Christina, English Shrines and Sanctuaries, Batsford: London 1954.
  5. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  6. Murray, John, Handbook for Travellers in Yorkshire, J.Murray: London 1874.
  7. Parkinson, Thomas, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions, Elliot Stock: London 1888.
  8. Poole, G.A., An Historical and Descriptive Guide to York Cathedral and its Antiquities, R. Sunter: York 1850.
  9. Purey-Cust, A.P., York Minster, Isbister: London 1898.
  10. Rattue, James, The Living Stream: Holy Wells in Historical Context, Boydell: Woodbridge 1995.
  11. Smith, William, Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A. Brown: Hull 1923.
  12. Torre, James, The Antiquities of York, York 1719.
  13. Whelan, Edna, “Holy Wells in Yorkshire – part 1,” in Source, No.3, November 1985.
  14. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  15. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

St Peter’s Well, York Minster, North Yorkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 6038 5219

Also Known as:

  1. Holy Well, York Minster

Archaeology & History

Old photo of the well

Old photo of the well

For people who like to visit the sacred sites that determined a cross-over from Earth-based animism to one which ceased sanctifying the Earth, this ancient water source in the cellars beneath York Minster would be a good example.  Sadly, the church has closed off access to this ancient heritage and you can no longer see it.  Yet despite the fact that the modern-day christians have closed off your encounter with this important heritage site (York Minster’s website doesn’t even mention its existence!), we should not forget its mythic history…

As you walk into the building (at some great expense, it has to be said), the location of the holy well is said to be at its more western end, albeit in the crypt underground—although there does seems to be some confusion with some authors about exactly where the well is positioned.

1850 sketch of the well

1850 sketch of the well

The earliest account we hear of the place relates to when the northern tribal King Edwin, along with his sons Osfrid and Esfrid, came here to be “baptized” in the waters of this clear spring “on Easter day, April 12, 627” CE.  Immediately thereafter a small wooden chapel was constructed next to or above the well.  From then on, as the centuries passed, the renown of the well grew and eventually the magnificent ritual temple of York Minster was eventually built.  The waters eventually became dedicated to St. Peter and an annual festival occurred here soon after the Midsummer solstice on what became known as St. Peter’s Day (June 29).  After the year 1462, a secondary festival date was also given to the site by the Church and another annual celebration occurred here on October 1 too.  Its waters remained accessible to people for drinking, healing and rites throughout the centuries.  It is only now, in the 21st century, that its sacrality and spirit has been closed-off.  This is a situation that must be remedied!

In Mr Goole’s (1850) survey of York Minster, his architectural illustration of the building showed that the water from the well had been brought up onto the ground floor, on the southeast side of the inner cathedral building in the easternmost vestry, and named as St Peter’s Pump.  This is illustrated in the 1850 drawing above-left.

A whole series of early writers mention the well in earlier centuries—of whom a brief sample is given here.  When Celia Feinnes came here in the 17th century, she said that,

“In the vestry of York Minster there is a well of sweet spring water called St Peter’s Well ye saint of ye Church, so it is called St Peter’s Cathedral.”(Smith 1923)

Mr Torre (1719) gave it equal brevity, saying simply that,

“at the south-west corner thereof is a draw-well (called St. Peter’s Well) of very wholesome clear water much drunk by the common people.”

In R.C. Hope’s (1893) national survey of sacred wells, he told that

“There is a draw well with a stone cistern in the eastern part of the crypt of York Minster… The Crypt is about 40 feet by 35 feet.”

The well was even included in Murray’s Handbook to Yorkshire (1892) as being “in the southwest corner of the Minster.” William Smith (1923) included the site in his fine survey, telling his readers that,

“The water is excellent in quality, which in measure, so chemists say, is due to the lime washed into it by the rain from the walls of the Minster.  The water has for centuries been used for baptisms, and is so used today.  The well has now for some years been covered with a pump.”

Folklore

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s famous early History, we find that King Arthur visited here. …And one final note, about which we know not for certain whether it was relevant to the holy well hiding in the crypt, but a fascinating heathen custom was enacted here in bygone days, almost above the spring.  Mistletoe, as Christina Hole (1950) told,

“was ceremonially carried to the cathedral on Christmas Eve and laid upon the high altar, after which a universal pardon and liberty for all was proclaimed at the four gates of the city for as long as the branch lay upon the altar.”

Mistletoe is one element that is known to have been sacred to the druids (not the present-day druids!) and was sacred to the ancient Scandinavians (who came here), and also possessed the powers of life and death in its prodigious folklore and phytochemistry.  Fascinating…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bord, Janet, Cures and Curses: Ritual and Cult at Holy Wells, HOAP: Wymeswold 2006.
  2. Gutch, Mrs, County Folk-lore volume 2 – North Riding of Yorkshire, York and the Ainsty, David Nutt: London 1901.
  3. Hole, Christina, English Custom and Usage, Batsford: London 1950.
  4. Hole, Christina, English Shrines and Sanctuaries, Batsford: London 1954.
  5. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  6. Murray, John, Handbook for Travellers in Yorkshire, J.Murray: London 1874.
  7. Parkinson, Thomas, Yorkshire Legends and Traditions, Elliot Stock: London 1888.
  8. Poole, G.A., An Historical and Descriptive Guide to York Cathedral and its Antiquities, R. Sunter: York 1850.
  9. Purey-Cust, A.P., York Minster, Isbister: London 1898.
  10. Rattue, James, The Living Stream: Holy Wells in Historical Context, Boydell: Woodbridge 1995.
  11. Smith, William, Ancient Springs and Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A. Brown: Hull 1923.
  12. Torre, James, The Antiquities of York, York 1719.
  13. Whelan, Edna, “Holy Wells in Yorkshire – part 1,” in Source, No.3, November 1985.
  14. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  15. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.962277, -1.081200 St Peter\'s Well

St. Mary’s Well, Wallingwells, Nottinghamshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SK 572 840

Archaeology & History

Old photo of St Mary's Well

Old photo of St Mary’s Well

First mentioned in Pipe Rolls and referred to by the founder of Wallingwells Benedictine Priory (founded around 1150 CE) as ‘juxta fonts et rivum fontium’, the site Wallingwell or originally Waldon-by-the-Wells, may be significant.  The name refers to ‘bubbling wells’, but whether these wells were dedicated appears to be unknown, although it does seem likely.  Indeed, an anonymous article from the Worksop Guardian dated 1929 on the Wallingwell Estate, shows the well arising under a rough stone work arch beside the site of a lake.  Close by, appears to be a grotto of a similar construction. The article states that the grotto was built 250 years (from 1929 this suggests a date of 1679 which appears a little too early for this folly, a date in the 18th century being more likely). This was done by Thomas White using stone from petrified springs in Derbyshire. No reference is made of the well, but one assumes that it was built at the same time, but whether White was constructing a folly around an existing traditional site again is unknown.

Baker (2000) refers to the castle folly but fails to reference these sites suggesting that it had vanished. However, grotto and well still exist in the overgrown and forlorn garden to the back of the house.  The grotto is well-preserved, although signs of ruination are evident and the urn within has gone.

The internal brickwork

The internal brickwork

The overgrown well

The overgrown well

St. Mary’s Well is the most ruined. The archway appears to have fallen or been knocked down but the channel or basin the spring flows into still exists. Observation underneath a flattened stone covering the channel show that the spring flows from a pipe further up and under a series of neat brick arches. It is clear that the well structure was never accessible as it abutts onto the Lake, but was designed to be seen from the other side of the Lake. This view now is difficult due to the considerable plant growth obscuring the sites. It is good to see that the well still exists and hopefully the garden could be restored.

Extracted from R. B. Parish (2009) Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Nottinghamshire

Links:

  1. Holy & Healing Wells

© R.B. Parish, The Northern Antiquarian

St Mary's Well

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St Mary\'s Well 53.350112, -1.141413 St Mary\'s Well

St. Helen’s Well, Hemswell, Lincolnshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SK 932 911

Also Known as:

  1. Seven Springs

Getting Here

From the village lane at the east end of Brook Street, take the footpath through the first gate and then over the stile into the woods on your left (north).  Soon a clearing will appear on the left hand side as you climb the hill.  Careful as you scramble down (look for a swing set up by local children) on the left hand side will be the Devil’s Pulpit.

Archaeology & History

The village name deriving from ‘Helmes’, the genitive singjular of the Old English masculine name Helm, or from helmes, the genitive singular of OE helm ‘a helmet, the summit of a hill, a shelter’, so that the name is either ‘Helm’s spring’ or ‘spring at the summit or shelter’—which does rather neatly defines its topography.  However, other authorities suggest its gets its name from elm trees which once grew around the wells.

The site has an eerie but not unquiet atmosphere this is possibly due to the stone called the Devil’s Pulpit, a large approximately six-foot high piece of sandstone under which a small spring arises.

Folklore

This Thompson (1999) in his Lincolnshire Wells and Springs notes local opinion thought was St. Helen’s, he said it tasted sweeten than the other waters (a fact that I cannot testify as the spring has appeared to have almost dried up the year I went).  Binnall (1845) notes that the spring wells were regarded as possessing curative powers and rags were hung on the surrounding bushes.

The dedication of St Helen is an interesting one and can be seen as an outlier from those found widely distributed in Yorkshire (Whelan & Taylor, 1989), but rare in the adjoining counties of  Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  Harte (2008) in his English Holy Wells suggests that the name is spurious; and Rudkin’s (1936) Lincolnshire Folklore does not refer to it as such.  However, in support of the view, I had no problem locally detecting the well using this name in the village (incidentally Harte makes an error referring to the springs as Aisthorpe Springs, these are clearly another site).  There was supposed to be a chapel or church associated with the site, of which there is no trace or record.

Taken from R. B. Parish (2012) Holy Wells and healing springs of Lincolnshire

References:

  1. Cameron, Kenneth, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire – volume 6, EPNS: Nottingham 2001.
  2. Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells, Heart of Albion: Loughborough 2008.
  3. o’ Neill, Susanna, Folklore of Lincolnshire, History Press: Stroud 2012.
  4. Rudkin, Ethel, Lincolnshire Folklore, 1936.
  5. Thompson, Ian, Lincolnshire Springs and Wells: A Descriptive Catalogue, Bluestone: Scunthorpe 1999.
  6. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

Links:

  1. Holy & Healing Wells

© R.B. Parish, The Northern Antiquarian

St Helen's Well

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St Helen\'s Well 53.408964, -0.598561 St Helen\'s Well