St. Francis’ Well, Dundee, Angus

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 4007 3046

Also Known as:

  1. Grey Friar’s Well

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1776 map

This is another one of Dundee’s lost holy wells (see also the Lady Well, the Nine Wells, St Clement’s Well, St Mary’s Well and Sinavey Well), around which the town was first built.  Its cold fresh waters were located less than a hundred yards north of the old Houff graveyard in the middle of town, or where Alex Maxwell (1884) described as upon “the sunny slopes of the Gray Friars’ meadows.”

Maxwell told us that this sacred site was the most favoured of the the holy wells in the area, having been dedicated to St Francis of Assisi by the monks who built the  medieval Grey Friars monastery, whose ruins lie beneath the Houff graveyard.  After the destruction of the priory in the 16th century, the holy well and surrounding meadows came under the ownership of the local council.  The well had become ruinous and so was repaired back to its old condition, but a few decades later had become very neglected again and was ordered to be closed.  It was mentioned in several early land rental documents, including this from 1630 which told,

“That haugh or meadow lying on the south side of the Tentour Hill, and on the east side of the meadow called Monorgan’s croft, togidder with the lands lying about St. Francis’ well, were set for the yearly penny mail of fifty-ane pounds.”

The most extensive description of it came from Alex Maxwell’s own pen, and I reproduce it here in full.  He began by speaking of the other holy wells of Our Lady and St. Clement’s in Dundee, but told us that,

“The most important of them was the Gray Friars’ well, which came out of the rising ground westward from where the High School is built, and had been dedicated to the honour of St. Francis, the founder of the order — a man of exalted character, whom Dean Milman calls “most blameless and gentle.”  The water, which ran perennially and was of singular purity, had no doubt been highly venerated in the days of the old Church, and it continued to be much esteemed, and even to maintain somewhat of its traditional sanctity, long after the memory of the good man whose name it bore had become forgotten.

“When the Friars’ house was in ruins, and the gardens laid waste, St. Francis’ well did not escape unharmed.  One austere iconoclast—James Patrie was his name—had probably been offended at its sculptural reminiscences of the old faith, and he cast it down.  When arraigned to answer for this,

“he confest and grantit that he took down the common well callit the Friar well, quhilk servit the haill town with guid and wholesome water, and referrit him in the Bailies’ and Council’s will thereanent; and they being advisit with his offence, declarit that he sail pay for the reparation of the said well and common warks the soum of ten pounds; always, gif he big and repair the well as Weill as it wes of before with lime mortar, or Pasch next, this pain to be remitted; otherwise, the day past and the well nocht biggit, to pay the said soum but favour.”

James, however, proved contumacious; the day did pass, and the well still lay in ruins.  But he got further time, for the Council not yet having possession of the monastic lands, had not chosen to act arbitrarily, and 

“James Patrie was ordained to repair the Friar well conform to the last act, under the pain contenit thereintil, betwix the date hereof and Whitsunday;”

and he probably then proceeded to restore it into good condition, as we do not find any other ordinance on the matter.  He had not, however, erected it very substantially; for, before thirty years had elapsed, the structure was again ruinous, and the Council resolved

“that St. Francis’ well be of new biggit and made close, so that na common access be had thereto.”

“The meadow land of the Gray Friars which lay around the well, formed a pleasant open space for the use of the old burgh, and it was always held in much regard. Early in last century, the water from the Lady well was impounded and conveyed in pipes for supplying other cisterns throughout the town ; but St. Francis’ spring, which was softer and purer, was left undisturbed to flow down the grassy slope in its natural course ; and when the place became appropriated for homely purposes, and upon

“Its verdant braes,
The lasses used to wash and spread their claes,”

“the gossiping naiads made the meadow very lively as they plashed in the brimming basins of the Friars’ old well, or filled their pitchers at the fresh fountain, or sprinkled the water in crystal showers over their snowy linen. About the time that the ground was sacrificed for the erection of buildings, a dyer in the neighbourhood sank a well which evidently reached the source of the spring and drained it off. Years afterwards, when the place had been overbuilt, he ceased to use his well, and the stream, returning to its old course, found access into the lower part of a church which now covers the site of the fountain, much to the dismay of the deacons. The water was then carried off elsewhere, and will be seen no more ; and the remembrance of those virtues which belonged to the once famous well will soon have passed away.”

In Christian lore, St Francis’ festival day was October 4.

References:

  1. Maxwell, Alexander, The History of Old Dundee, David Douglas: Edinburgh 1884.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Trunnion’s Well, Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TA 026 223

Archaeology & History

This curiously-named, lost holy well was to be found somewhere between the old terrace at West Field and the old road of West Acridge, but even when Henry Ball (1856) wrote about it, the site had passed into history.  He told that,

“In the old enclosures to the west of the town was a spring of clear water called St. Trunnion’s well, and in a field in the West Acridge a very old thorn tree called St, Trunnion’s tree, which was standing in 1736; but who St. Trunnion was is not known…”

The close proximity of the tree with the well is highly likely.  Throughout the British Isles there are many relationships where sacred trees and wells of the same name are next to each other and we have little reason to doubt this was the case here.  However, unless local historians can uncover some old field-name maps, the exact location of the site seems to have been lost.  It was named as St Tronians in 1665; with his sacred tree mentioned in early enclosure awards dated 1681 and 1697 respectively.

The enigmatic saint ‘Trunnion’ is thought to derive, not from some old hermit or heathen holy dood, but from the corruption of an early word: “a perversion of Trin-union or Tri-union, used as an asservation or oath”; although another option cited by Cameron (1991) is that it derives from “trinune, trin-une, referring to the Trinity”—which would explain the sanctification of the waters.

References:

  1. Ball, Henry W., The Social History and Antiquities of Barton-upon-Humber, M. Ball: Barton-upon-Humber 1856.
  2. Cameron, Kenneth, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire – volume 2, EPNS: Nottingham 1991.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Catharine’s Well, Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TA 032 222

Archaeology & History

Not far from the middle of this small town there lived, many centuries ago, a sacred spring of water dedicated to St. Catharine.  Described in local field-names from 1697 (as St. Catherin’s Well), all trace of it has long since vanished.  Indeed, even when Henry Ball (1856) wrote about it, local knowledge of it had already fallen into obscurity.  He could merely tell us that,

“At the end of Newport, in what was called “the Colony,” was St. Catharine’s Well, and the road from thence to Finkle lane was named Catharine street.”

Folklore

St Catharine’s festival date—known as Cattern Day in some parts of England—is November 25.

References:

  1. Ball, Henry W., The Social History and Antiquities of Barton-upon-Humber, M. Ball: Barton-upon-Humber 1856.
  2. Cameron, Kenneth, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire – volume 2, EPNS: Nottingham 1991.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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 


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 

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 Faith’s Well, Leven, East Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TA 09126 45628

Also Known as: 

  1. Humber Historic Environment Record HER 3714

Archaeology & History

The site of the well is on the Carrs to the west of Leven village, immediately north of the old cemetery adjoining Hall Garth house.  Reverend William Smith, writing in 1923, told us:

St Faiths Well on 1855 map

“St Faith’s Well lay on the left of the road known as St Faith’s Lane, which leads to the old churchyard to which the spring was near.  St Faith belonged to France, and when quite a young maiden, was martyred because of her christianity.  She lived and died in the third century….

“St Faith’s Well was filled in about a hundred years ago and the site lost.  This, however, has lately been approximately fixed by the aid of water divining.  A Leven man, who can wield the hazel wand, went over the ground near to which the well was thought to have been, and the wand indicated a spot under which, on digging to the depth of about three feet, “the water fairly bubbled up”, and it was judged this was the place where the well lay.  St Faith’s Well is said to have given water both pure and abundant, and to have been in the old days the only supply of drinking water to the people of the Carrs.”

St Faith’s Saint’s day is the 6th October and she was a saint whose patronage was invoked by pilgrims, prisoners and soldiers.  From this, is it perhaps reasonable to infer that St Faith’s Well may have been a station for pilgrims to the local shrines of St John of Beverley and St Philip Ingleberd at Keyingham?  Also a stopping point for fugitives seeking sanctuary at Beverley?

There was another holy well dedicated to St Faith at Hexton in north Hertfordshire.

References:

  1. Cox, J.Charles, The Sanctuaries & Sanctuary Seekers of Mediæval England, George Allen: London 1911.
  2. Farmer, David H., Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press: Oxford 1987.
  3. Smith, Rev. William, Ancient Springs & Streams of the East Riding of Yorkshire, A. Brown: Hull 1923.

© Paul T Hornby 2021

St. Leonard’s Well, Dunfermline, Fife

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 0976 8666

Archaeology & History

Site shown on 1856 map

There seems to be very little information available about this holy well, lost long ago and now hidden beneath the foundations of a food superstore!  It was found in close association with both a chapel and a hospital in St. Leonard’s name—both of which have also been destroyed.  The water from here may have been used by the monks for patients in the hospital, but that’s purely speculative.  St. Leonard was known to be connected with lepers, which may be something that the waters here were used to treat.  But again, I’m speculating…

When the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1853, the waters were still running and they subsequently added it to their map a few years later.  The site was still visible when Erskine Beveridge (1917) came here, telling us briefly that,

“St. Leonard’s Well still remains a little to the south-east, and, though now built up, is recognisable.”

But a few years later it had been destroyed and its position was shown on the updated OS-map of 1926 as “Site of.”  The old well had gone…

References:

  1. Beveridge, Erskine, The Burgh Records of Dunfermline, William Brown: Edinburgh 1917.
  2. Simpkins, John Ewart, Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning Fife, with some Notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Sidgwick & Jackson: London 1914.
  3. Walker, J. Russel, “‘Holy Wells’ in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.17 (New Series, volume 5), 1883.

Acknowledgements:  Big 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. Brendan’s Well, Abernethy, Perthshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NO 191 161

Also Known as:

  1. Brendan’s Well
  2. Brendi’s Well

Archaeology & History

In 1897, when Butler wrote his history of the village, he told that a certain well, “adjacent to the Gattaway stream” (thought to be the Nethy Burn which passes Gattaway farm) was known to old locals as Brendan’s Well, with the name still surviving as ‘Bredni Well’.  There were a number of large boulders around it that had been scattered by blasting, but which Butler thought were, “in all probability placed originally near the wall as a guide for pilgrims.”

The site was included in Ruth & Frank Morris’ (1982) survey, adding simply that the site was named “after the saint who lived here in the seventh century.”  In the christian calendar, St. Brendan’s day was May 16.

When the local antiquarian Paul Hornby looked for the well, a local lady told him that she thought an occasional but regular boggy patch that appeared in her garden was due to the underground waters from St Brendan’s Well.

References:

  1. Butler, D., The Ancient Church and Parish of Abernethy, Edinburgh 1897. Page(s): 102
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Bennet’s Well, Cromarty, Ross & Cromarty

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NH 7923 6502

Archaeology & History

St Bennets Well 1880 map

An old church dedicated to St Bennet once existed on the hill above where this spring of water emerges, but little is now left of the building.  Thankfully the holy well hasn’t quite followed in the footsteps of the church.  Miss Riley (1935) told us that it can be found “near the high-water mark…situated at the foot of a beautiful little glen which runs inland from the coast” – and from all accounts it is still there.

Shown on the 1880 OS-map of the region, the dedication to St Bennet is obscure.  Mr Pullan (1927) suggested it derived from the 6th century St Benedict of Nursia, but this is improbable.  The Royal Commission lads thought it more likely derived from “a Celtic foundation.”

Folklore

The earliest description I’ve found regarding the traditions surrounding this well are by Hugh Miller (1835).  He wrote:

“It is not yet twenty years since a thorn-bush, which formed a little canopy over the spring of St. Bennet, used to be covered anew every season with little pieces of rag, left on it as offerings to the saint, by sick people who came to drink of the water.”

But the tradition didn’t die out, as evidenced by a short article by Miss M.D. Riley (1935) in Antiquity journal where she gave us further valuable information about its folk history, saying:

“In order to insure the fulfilment of the wish it is essential that the wisher should drink the water and leave something of his personal attire.  When the writer visited the spot there was a heterogeneous collection of ‘rags’ hanging on the branches.

“Mr Francis Scott tells me that the site is locally supposed to be the place of judgement.  It is close to the ruins of St Bennet’s Chapel and the ground is said to be cursed as it was stoeln by the Church. Even at the present day the owner has to provide each year at Christmas-tide 8 cwt of oatmeal free for the poor of the parish.  This has been operative since 1630 and though the owner has tested the matter in the highest court of law in Scotland, his appeal was not allowed.”

The tradition of giving offerings to the spirit of this well was still recorded in 1966.

References:

  1. Hiley, M.D., “Rag-Wells,” in Antiquity, volume 9:4, December 1935.
  2. Innies, Cosmo, Origines Parochiales – volume 2:2, W.H. Lizars: Edinburgh 1855.
  3. Miller, Hugh, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; the Traditional History of Cromarty, William Nimmo: Edinburgh 1835.
  4. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  5. Pullan, L., The Banner of St Boniface, London 1927.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian