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

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

Bride’s Well, Ballintemple, Wicklow

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – T 17340 77380

Archaeology & History

The earliest OS-map of this area shows this well a hundred yards or so northwest of an old church and just a few yards east of the stream that is now in woodland; but unlike today, when the early survey was done there were no trees, enabling a clear view of the waters.  When Myles Ronan (1927) wrote of the place, he told that it was still visible.  The site was added to the Grogan & Kilfeather (1997) county inventory where they suggested it’s probable relationship with the legendary St Brigid.  This seems highly probable.  Does anyone know if the Well is still there?

References:

  1. Grogan, Eion & Kilfeather, Annaba, Archaeological Inventory of County Wicklow, Stationery Office: Dublin 1997.
  2. Ronan, Myles V., “The Ancient Churches of the Deanery of Arklow”, in Journal Royal Society Antiquaries, Ireland, December 1927.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Pipers Stones, Blessington, County Wicklow

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – N 96998 14582

Archaeology & History

This stone circle was found close to the roadside and is remembered today only by the street-name of ‘Pipers Stones’.  Shown on the first OS-map of the area, the site was destroyed sometime before 1838.

Folklore

In a folklore motif found at a number of megalithic rings, Grogan & Kilfeather (1997) tell us that the name of this circle,

“refers to a tradition that people caught dancing on a Sunday were turned to stone.”

References:

  1. Grogan, Eion & Kilfeather, Annaba, Archaeological Inventory of County Wicklow, Stationery Office: Dublin 1997.
  2. o’ Flanagan, Michael, Letters Containing Information Relative to the Antiquities of the County of Wicklow, Bray 1928.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Lochan Hakel (02), Tongue, Sutherland

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NC 56995 52656

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5375
  2. Lochan Hacoin
  3. Ribigill carving

Getting Here

Carving on the 1878 map

Whether you take the A836 or A838 into Tongue (through truly beautiful wilderness), make sure you go into the village itself—and then keep going, south, along the tiny country road.  Nearly 2½ miles along, note the small loch of Lochan na Cuilce on your right.  A few hundred yards past this, on the other side of the road (barely visible at first) is Lochan Hakel.  Walk around to the south-side of the loch until you find the Lochan Hakel 1 carving.  Then look up at the rock right above you.  That’s the one!

Archaeology & History

In James Simpson’s (1867) primary work on British petroglyphs, he mentions this site as being in the lands of “Ribigill, near Tongue”, although it is a little further to the south.  A certain “Mr Mitchell” had come across it in one of his many rambles in the hills.  Simpson told that he had:

“discovered cups and circles upon a large stone, about nine feet square, apparently lying in its original position, close to the edge of a loch, which contains the remains of an old castle… The surface of the stone shows eighteen or twenty round cup excavations, about an inch deep.  There is a ring of ‘hollow around each cup.'”

Although there aren’t rings around every cup, a great number of clear and impressive rings exist around many of them and are, thankfully, still reasonably visible amidst the mass of lichens.

Around the same time as Mr Simpson’s description, James Horsburgh (1868) wrote about the carving, telling us:

The rock and its island
Some of the cup-and-rings

“On the edge of the precipitous bank of the loch, and exactly opposite the island, there is a large boulder with a flat top, and on this there are a number of cups and rings… This stone is not generally known. Old Ross, the gamekeeper at Tongue, first told me of it, and he and I scraped off the moss and exposed the whole. He thought it was for playing some game. On the left of the stone, on a bit separated by a crack, there is a sort of a figure which appears to have been formed by cutting away the stone around it and leaving it in relief, and also some artificial cutting on the right, a sort of circular groove.”

A better description of the carving came near the beginning of the 20th century, when the Scottish Royal Commission (1911) lads included the site in their inventory.  They told:

From the rock, looking N
The carving from above

“At the S end of Lochan Hacoin, to the SE of the islet on the top of the bank, is a large earth-fast boulder, on the flat upper surface of which are a number of cup and ring marks placed irregularly over it.  The total number of undoubted markings is thirty-four, of which those surrounded by a ring number eleven.  No cup with a double ring round it is observable.  The best defined cup-mark measures 3″ across by 1¼” deep, and the enclosing ring is 7″ in diameter.  Eight of the markings are well defined; the others less noticeable.  At the S end there is a boss or projection, roughly rectangular, measuring 12″ x 6″.  A sketch of this stone, made about the year 1866 by Mr James Horsburgh, is preserved in the library of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.”

Does anyone know if this drawing still exists?

Folklore

In Horsburgh’s essay on the prehistoric remains of the area, he said how local people told that the cup-and-rings “were made by the high heels of a fairy who lived in the castle” on the island of Grianan about 40-50 yards away.

References:

  1. Close-Brooks, Joanna, Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Highlands, HMSO: Edinburgh 1995.
  2. Horsburgh, James, “Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 7, 1868.
  3. o’ Reilly, Kevin, What to See Around the Kyle of Tongue, privately printed 1980.
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments & Constructions of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland., HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  5. Simpson, J.Y., “On Ancient Sculpturings of Cups and Concentric Rings,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 6, 1866.
  6. Simpson, James, Archaic Sculpturings of Cups, Circles, etc., Upon Stones and Rocks in Scotland, England and other Countries, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1867.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Sarah MacLean for guiding me to this carving, and also for the kind use of her photos in this site profile.  Cheers Sarah!  And to Donna Murray again, for putting up with me whilst in the area!  Also – 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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Hilda’s Well, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NZ 9006 1102

Archaeology & History

Virgin’s Pump, c.1890

This is one of at least five wells dedicated to St. Hilda in North Yorkshire that my old colleague Graeme Chappell has uncovered over his many years of research.  It’s sadly been destroyed, and accounts of it seem to be few and far between; but from the short description of it by Mr J.C. Atkinson (1894)—and helped out by its later title—we at least know where it once was.

In his account of the old roads in the village, Grape Lane was mentioned as far back as 1396, and close by, he wrote,

“is a spring called Seynt-Hild-keld, possibly where the so-called “Virgin pump” stands, or stood, not so very long since.”

This ‘ere “virgin pump” is shown in an old photo taken about 1890, just round the corner from Grape Lane where, today, is the car park on Church Street, opposite The Endeavour.

Folklore

St Hilda was a 7th century saint who was reputed to have founded Whitby Abbey.  Her festival date was November 17.

References:

  1. Atkinson, J.C., Memorials of Old Whitby, MacMillan: London 1894.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Wallace’s Thorn, Dunfermline, Fife

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NT 090 873

Archaeology & History 

This little-known tree, said to have been planted in memory of Sir William Wallace’s mother, is long gone.  The only notice I can find of it, is in the writings of Pete Chalmers (1844), who told us:

“There is a tradition that the mother of Sir William Wallace was buried in the old church-yard, on the spot where the present thorn-tree is growing, but how she came to die here history seems to be silent.  It is added that her son wished afterwards to erect a monument to her memory, but being in pursuit of, or flight from, his enemies, had not time to do so, and, as a substitute, planted a thorn-tree.”

Much of what constitutes “the old church-yard” has long been covered by the new cathedral and so the precise location of this old thorn tree will never be known, which is a pity, for as Chalmers told,

“This tree had reached an immense size, and was seemingly of great age about 60 years ago (c.1784), when it was blown down by a storm and replaced by a stem from the old tree, now advanced to a considerable height and magnitude—the only living and remaining memorial of the filial affection of the Scottish Patriot.”

Due to a lack of writings from the viewpoint of Wallace and the Scottish people, we are only left with fragments regarding the why’s and wherefores of Wallace and his mum being in Dunfermline.  Chalmers thought,

“Possibly the occasion of their being here is referred to in the following lines of the poet, an account of a pretended pilgrimage of Wallace and his mother to St Margaret’s shrine.”

He then cites a more assured account of Sir William being in the area, saying:

“It is recorded of this renowned person, that, on one occasion, in 1808, when he was surrounded by his enemies, he came from the fastnesses where he had taken refuge, to the Forest of Dunfermline, and by the mediation of his friends, proposed, on certain conditions, yiz., the assurance of safety in life, limbs, sad estate, to surrender himself.  These conditions were indignantly refused by the haughty and infuriated Edward (the Tosser), who cursed him, by the fiend, for a traitor, and even set a price on his head. On hearing this, the Patriot ” betook himself again to the wilds and mountains, and subsisted on plunder.”

References:

  1. Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Wallace’s Well, Dunfermline, Fife

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 08782 87275

Also Known as:

  1. Spa Well
  2. Wallace Spa

Archaeology & History

The ruins of this little-known site, dedicated to the legendary Sir William Wallace, can still be seen in the form of an overgrown stone ruin just off the footpath that runs through the Pittencrieff Glen out of the town centre.  In earlier times the waters were evidently of some repute, as a Council meeting in May 1773 reported with some disdain the closure of the waters by a Mr Chalmers:

“This Day the Council considering that the entry from the Town to the Well of Spaw is now shut up by Mr. Chalmers, which was a particular privilege to ye Inhabitants of the Burgh, Do hereby appoint the Provost to intimate to Mr. Chalmers that the Town will not give up that privilege, and to require him to oppen an entry thereto as formerly.”

We don’t know whether the miserable Mr Chalmers gave access to the well, as there seem to be no Council meeting notes telling us the outcome.  My guess would be that the local people got their way, hopefully at Chalmers expense!  More than 70 years later, another Mr Chalmers (1844) wrote about the well in a more respectful light:

“On the north edge of the rivulet, a little below this bridge, at the foot of the Tower Hill, there is a famous well, named the Wallace Spa, or well of Spa, which was formerly much resorted to by the inhabitants of the town for its excellent water, but which has been long since disused. It is noticed here simply on account of the traditionary antiquity of its name, Sir William Wallace, it is said, having once, in the haste of a flight, drank a little of it, out of the palm of his hand.”

In spite of there being local folklore of William Wallace, the local historian Ebeneezer Henderson (1879), in his giant work on Dunfermline, thought there was a more prosaic origin to the well’s name. He told,

“This well is still in existence, about fifty yards south of the ruins of Malcolm Canmore’s Tower — Tower Hill.  The water is reported as being “very cold at all times.” The water should be analysed.  The well during the period of its being used was known as the “Spaw Well,” and the ” Well of Spaw,” and, by and by an easy, natural transition, ” Wallace Spa;” and thus the name of the well has sometime been connected with that of the great Scottish hero.”

The Well after 1900
pre-1900 image

By the end of the 19th century, the well had become almost buried by earth and foliage, but was subsequently brought back to life following architectural improvements of the glen around the turn of the 20th century.  In Patrick Geddes’ (1904) work he gives us “before and after” portraits (attached here) showing how it had been restored.  He also mentioned “its tradition of medicinal value”, but could give no further information regardings the ailments it was reputed to cure…

References:

  1. Chalmers, Peter, Historical and Statistical Account of Dunfermline, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1844.
  2. Geddes, Patrick, City Development: A Study of Parks, Gardens and Culture-Institutes, St George Press: Birmingham 1904.
  3. Henderson, Ebenezer, The Annals of Dunfermline, John Tweed: Glasgow 1879.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Oliver’s Mound, Richmond Park, Surrey

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 192 735

Also Known as:

  1. Oliver’s Mount

Archaeology & History

Roque’s 1746 map

Oliver’s Mound was highlighted as early as 1746 on John Roque’s map of the Country Near Ten Miles Round (London) as still standing.  One hundred and fifty years later, when the Ordnance Survey lads came to map the area, it had gone.  We don’t know exactly when it was demolished, so Historic England (not necessarily a good measure of accuracy) tell us its demise occurred “between 1760 and 1868”, so giving themselves at least some degree of safety!

As we can see in Mr Roque’s old map, an avenue of trees led up to the barrow.  This avenue will have been created when Richmond Park and its gardens were laid out.

The round barrow was most likely Bronze Age in origin.  The historian and folklorist Walter John (1093) reported that in 1834, three skeletons were found at a  depth of a yard beneath the surface.

Folklore

Site shown on 1873 map

Traditional tells that the name of this barrow comes from when the religious extremist, Oliver Cromwell, and his men, set up camp here.  A slight variant tells that Cromwell stood here to watch a skirmish.

References:

  1. Cundall, H.M., Bygone Richmond, Bodley Head: London, 1925
  2. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Metheun: London 1936.
  3. Johnson, Walter, Neolithic Man in North-East Surrey, Elliot Stock: London 1903.
  4. Johnson, Walter, Folk Memory, Clarendon: Oxford 1908.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Fillan’s Tree, Killin, Perthshire

Sacred Tree (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NN 5708 3249

  1. St Fillan’s Ash

Archaeology & History

Long since gone, this great olde ash tree could once be found on the south side of Killin’s Mill building, close to the bridge at the Falls of Dochart.  It was deemed to be ‘sacred’ by local people – just as all trees were, once upon a long time ago.

In John Shearer’s (1883) wonderful book on the ancient ways of the Perthshire people, he described the tree as being adjacent to the earthfast rock known as St. Fillan’s Seat:

“At the side of it grows a large ash tree which is held sacred by the natives as no person will burn any of the branches although fallen to the ground nor destroy them in any manner.  However, there was one who had the hardihood to take one of the branches for a caber to repair his house.  Strange to tell the first fire that was kindled burned it to the ground as a punishment for this impious sacrilege.  Of course no person since has troubled it or taken any of the wood.  The branches that fall lie till they rot.”

The brilliant Killin historian, W.G. Gillies (1938) reported that the tree was still standing until it was “blown down by a gale in 1893″—but it didn’t quite kill it off for good; for in September 1911, C.G. Cash visited Killin and this was one of the many places he looked for and, despite local folk telling him about the more famous St Fillan Stones (still in existence and found at the Mill), he saw the last remnants of this great Ash, telling simply that,

“the mere dead stump of St Fillan’s Ash-tree still stands against the south post of the mill gate.  And quite near it is a young ash, said to be its descendant.  This younger tree has an out-curving branch that was said to have been the gallows-branch in olden days; but it is obviously too young and too weak.”

…So, does anyone know precisely which is the “descendant” of St. Fillan’s Ash and where happens it to be growing?

In Norse myth, the ash tree Yggdrasil was the tree of Odin and was one of the primal ingredients in their Creation myths.  It stood at the centre of the cosmos: an axis mundi no less, linking the many worlds and was the abode of the gods.  Its mythologies are extensive.  In Scotland, the myths of the ash are not so well known, but there’s little doubt that it possessed a sanctity and certainly has many traditions of it own, which are unfortunately outside the remit of this site profile.

References:

  1. Cash, C.G., “Archaeological Gleanings from Killin,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, volume 46, 1912.
  2. Elders, E A., “Saintly stones in a Perthshire village,” in Country Life, December 1962.
  3. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  4. Shearer, John, Antiquities of Strathearn, D. Phillips: Crieff 1883.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian