Spa Well, Davidson’s Mains, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 2049 7524

Also Known as:

  1. Spaw Well
  2. Well of Spaw

Getting Here

Well of Spa on 1853 map

From the west end of Prince Street in Edinburgh central, take the (A90) Queensferry Road.  Go along here for 2.2 miles (3.5km) where the A90 meets the A902. Keep going west along Hillhouse Road for literally 1km (0.62 miles) where you reach a crossroads with the B9085 and there are trees on the right (north) side of the road.  Go into these trees and, before you come out into the fields on the other side, about 150 yards in, walk to your right and zigzag about in the undergrowth.  A small muddy pond is what you’re looking for!

Archaeology & History

Out towards old Lauriston Castle on the northwestern outskirts of the city, these all-but forgotten healing waters became renowned for a short period of time in the latter-half of the 18th century.   They were described in John Law’s Parish of Cramond (1794) where, with some brevity, he told that,

“On the lands of Marchfield is a spring of mineral water called the well of Spaw, reckoned beneficial in scorbutic cases, and highly purgative if drunk copiously.”

It was highlighted in the trees on the earliest OS-map (above) and its ruined remains can still be found.  Stone-lined, the watery remains of this old healing well (undoubtedly a place used by local people before the toffs named it as a ‘spa’) are thankfully still running.  Two other spa wells could be found not far away: one at Lauriston castle, and the other at Barnton.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA: Alva 2017.
  2. Campbell, B.,”Some Notes on the Antiquities and Natural History of Cramond,” in Transactions of the Edinburgh Field Naturalists, volume 5, 1907.
  3. Geddie, John, The Fringes of Edinburgh, W. & R. Chambers: London 1926.
  4. Law, John, The Antient and Modern State of the Parish of Cramond, John Paterson: Edinburgh 1794.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  55.963545, -3.275353 Spa Well

St. Helen’s Well, Holbeck, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 295 329

Archaeology & History

In the Holbeck area of Leeds, one of the three spa wells was previously patronised to this mythical saint, whose wells profuse in this part of the world.  St. Helen’s Well (later becoming the Holbeck Spa Well) was found at the appropriately named St. Helens Bridge.  Ralph Thoresby (1715) wrote of the place: a supposed medicinal holy well, it previously had a chapel by it, of which no trace is seen today. John Mayhall (1860) also mentioned this “medicinal well,” but told little more. It was Andrea Smith (1982), more than a century later, who wrote the most about the place:

“In connection with the well by St.Helen’s Bridge, Holbeck, (Thoresby) refers to “another ancient fabrik called St. Helen’s,” but there is a difficulty in deciding exactly what he means by ancient; it is taken here as meaning more than two hundred years old. This suggests, then, that by St. Helen’s Bridge there was once a well and chapel which gave rise to the dedication and which was probably a Medieval foundation, considering the popularity of St. Helen at that time.”

Both of these sites have long since disappeared. The well eventually became known as a local Spa Well, and was found to possess a high sulphur content.

References:

  1. Mayhall, John, The Annals of Yorkshire, Joseph Johnson: Leeds 1860.
  2. Smith, Andrea, ‘Holy Wells Around Leeds, Bradford & Pontefract,’ in Wakefield Historical Journal 9, 1982.
  3. Thoresby, Ralph, Ducatus Leodiensis: or the Topography of the Ancient and Populous Town and Parish of Leedes, Robinson & Holdsworth: Leeds 1816.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.791584, -1.553685 St Helen\'s Well