Robin Hood’s Oak, Great Horkesley, Essex

Legendary Tree (lost):  OS Grid Reference –TL 96 28

Archaeology & History

In more than twenty volumes about Robin Hood in the Northern Antiquarian library, no mention can be found of this all-but-forgotten site, first recorded (I think) in September 1637, in the boundary perambulation account of northern Colchester.  In days of olde, folk walked the boundaries annually and so the description given here follows their very footsteps – although the landscape has obviously been altered in places since then.  Because of the length of the entire perambulation their account is rather long, so I’ve cut to the piece relating to our legendary oak tree, which gives a good idea of its location.  We meet up with them at a place called Motts-Bridge, just above a place that is today called Seven Arches Farm (TL 9630 2595):

“…and so over Mott’s-bridge, and so cross the river by Nicholas Ayleward’s howse into the meadowe crossinge over to the lower ende of West-fielde, and from thence to Buttolph’s brooke leavinge the Brooke alwais upon the left-hand, and so along to Thomas Abrige (which is righte against Robin Hood’s oake). And from thence to Black-brooke under Chesterwelle and so along the Rampiers by Horkesley Heathe to the brooke that is under Langham-park-corner…”

P.H. Reaney (1935) proposes that the ‘Rampiers’ in this account is the Iron Age hillfort of Pitchbury Ramparts.

The description of its whereabouts isn’t too clear, but in a subsequent and much longer perambulation account from August 1671, some extra topographical features are mentioned.  Starting not far from Mott’s Bridge, down Shett’s Hill to Newbridge,

“and then into the Fields in the occupation of Matth. Ayleward…through a gate a little above the Bridg: and soe along to Matth. Ayleward’s Yard, crosse the River into Matth. Ayleward’s Meadowe, and crosse that Meadowe into the lower part of Westfields, neare to which is a Foote-bridge cross the river, which is called Mott’s-bridge.  And soe along through West-fields to a Gate in a lane at or neere the north ende of a Meadow of one Mrs —, now in Samuel Duglet’s occupation, which lane parts West-fields from Bergholt, as the Parsons of each Parish, whoe were both present, affirmed; and, upon a Tree standing neere to which Gate is set a crosse.  And from thence to Butolph’s brooke, leaveing the brooke allwaies  upon the left-hand; and soe along through Mr Leming’s Meadows and Woods at the ende of them to a Bridge called Thomas Abridge, leading on to Horkesley Heath, which bridge is right against Robin Hood’s Oake, that stood on the pitch of the hill. And from thence along the Naylande Roade over Horkesley-heathe to Blackbrooke under Chesterwell, which Brooke runnes crosse the way at the foote of Horkesly cawsy…”

This second account seems to speak of the tree in the past tense, telling us that “Robin Hood’s Oake, that stood on the pitch of the hill”, but we can’t be completely sure.  I presume that there’s no longer any trace of this legendary oak tree; however, considering the fact that oaks can live to an incredible age, it may be worthwhile for a local antiquarian to follow this ancient boundary and see if, perchance, any remaining tree stump might still be there.  Y’ just never know…..

There are several other place-names in Essex relating to our mythical outlaw, including Robinhood End at Finchingfield described in 1699, and a farm of the same name nearby; plus a Robin Hood’s Inn near Loughton. (Reaney 1935)  There are probably a few more hiding away in field-name records…

NB:  The grid-reference map linked to this site is an approximation.  If someone can find the exact spot where the tree stood, we’ll update its position.   

References:

  1. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of the Most Ancient Town and Borough of Colchester, W. Bowyer: London 1748.
  2. Reaney, P.H., The Place-Names of Essex, Cambridge University Press 1935.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.920339, 0.856044 Robin Hood\'s Oak

Temple Tree, Templeton, Newtyle, Angus

Sacred Tree: OS Grid Reference – NO 31339 42894

Getting Here

The tree is at Templeton on the west hand side of the Newtyle to Balkeerie Road travelling north, just before the bend in the road at Templeton Farm.

Archaeology & History

The only written record of the tree is in Strathmore Past and Present by the Reverend J.G. M’Pherson (1885): 

Standing Proud

“After driving two miles eastward from the village of Newtyle along a most excellent level road, we enter the united parishes of Eassie and Nevay.  The time-honoured boundary-mark is a conspicuous old ash, which popularly goes by the name of the Temple-tree. Tradition cannot guess its age. It is of considerable diameter, but quite hollow from the ground upwards for twenty feet. The bark is stripped off in several parts, and the thin shell of wood exposed is quite worm eaten; here and there being quite worn through, forming a rude door and rugged windows for the weird like interior.

“Large branches spread out, half dead-and-alive, with some foliage, scantily furnished with the life-giving root-sap. Could it speak it would tell of many a strange incident in its vicinity or underneath its arms. Its appearance might almost take one back to the time when the Templars left the neighbourhood; thus fixing its curious appellation”.

Sadly the tree described in the above quotation from 1885 has perished, but, just as it was not growing at the time of the Knights Templars’ local involvement, it is not unreasonable to speculate that it was a daughter of an ash tree that had formed a parish boundary marker of the original estate at the time of the Templars or even before.  And now a daughter tree of that venerable 1885 tree grows in its place, the Temple-tree of the present day.

Various writers have attested to the Templar presence in Meigle, indeed M’Pherson writes:

“When the Knight Templars were in pomp…they had considerable interest in Meigle, several lands in the parish still being known as the Temple Lands. We prefer this derivation to the common one of templum, any religious house”.

In describing the now famous Meigle Pictish stones in the New Statistical Account, the Reverend William Ramsay (1845) writes;

“…A more satisfactory account of them has been suggested by Captain T.P. Mitchell, …He considers them as neither more nor less than the monuments of the Knights Templars, who unquestionably had a burying-ground at Meigle”.

While Mitchell was wrong in his attribution of the carved stones, he was clearly aware of the continuing memory of the Templars.

Modern research has shown that many of the Templar estates and lands in Scotland remained as separate fiscal entities within the Hospitaller lands up until at least the Reformation, which may explain the enduring Templar nomination of our tree.

Note: The tree formed the 19th century boundary of the parishes of Eassie and Nevay to the north, and Newtyle, both in Angus.  We must assume the Templar lands boundary has been incorporated into the later parish system.

Note: This is not a clooty tree – please treat her with respect.

References:

  1. Rev William Ramsay, Parish of Alyth, The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845. 
  2. Rev J.G. M’Pherson, Strathmore Past and Present, S. Cowan & Co: Perth, 1885. 
  3. Robert Ferguson, The Knights Templar And Scotland, The History Press: Stroud 2010

© Paul T Hornby 2020, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.572946, -3.119094 Temple Tree

Holland’s Well, Smalley, Derbyshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SK 4077 4436

Also Known as:  

  1. Holly Well

Archaeology & History

Hollands Well on 1881 map

Once visible near the middle of the village, references to this local water supply seem pretty scant.  According to Kenneth Cameron (1950) it gained its name from a local man called Robert Holland.  This may be the case; but there is a curious entry found in a notice regarding the Land Enclosures of Smalley from November 6, 1784.  In it we read that the land here was at that time owned by one Samuel Kerry (well known in the village as he built The Rose and Crown pub in 1768) who was living “upon the Common” and had “part of a croft” here.  Therein was mentioned a water source named the ‘Holly Well’ instead of the Holland Well.  I can only assume that the two are the same, as the proximity of them are very close indeed.  The account told that,

“a disused well in the triangular croft at the back of the sixth milestone in the village marks the site of (Samuel Kerry’s) original home, and he is said to have dug the “Holly Well” close by for brewing purposes, which has long supplied the vicinity with good water.”

The name ‘Holly’ may infer that a holly tree grew by the side of the well, and that the title ‘Holland’ was a corruption later grafted onto the site.  Are there any local historians out there who know more…?

References:

  1. Cameron, Kenneth, The Place-Names of Derbyshire – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1950.
  2. Kerry, Charles, Smalley in the County of Derby, Bemrose: London 1905.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  52.995023, -1.394027 Holland\'s Well

Broad Oak, Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – TL 5352 2083

Also Known as:

  1. Doodle Oak

Archaeology & History

Hatfield’s Doodle Oak, 1807

Erroneously ascribed by the reverend Winsland (1952) as being the ‘Doodle Oak’, the ancient and giant tree called the Broad Oak was, as records show, always known by this name, but was subsequently replaced by another after its demise.  It was this second tree that became known as the Doodle Oak.  Winsland described it as “an immense and famous oak tree”, under whose “spreading branches in olden days the Lord of the Manor probably held his court and dispensed justice.”

The tree was described as early as 1136 AD and was probably an early tribal meeting site, or moot spot.  In Philip Morant’s (1763) work, he described it as,

“A tree of extraordinary bigness. There has been another since…called Doodle Oak.”

The old Oak in 1890

The Doodle Oak was thought to date from around 10-11th century and its predecessor may have been upwards of a thousand years old before this one took its place.  In 1949, one patient botanist, Maynard Greville, investigated the Doodle Oak tree-rings and found it to be 850 years old.  Other estimates suggest it was a hundred years older than that!  Whichever was the correct one, a measurement of its trunk found it to be some 19 yards in circumference – one of the largest trees ever recorded in Britain!

Sketches of its dying body were thankfully made near the beginning and the end of the 19th century: one in Mr Vancouver’s (1807) Agriculture of Essex, and the other by Henry Cole of the Essex Naturalist journal.

Doodle Oak on 1896 map

Some speculate that the Broad Oak of ancient times and the subsequent Doodle Oak were at very different places in the parish, but without hard evidence this idea is  purely hypothetical.  And whilst the name ‘broad’ oak is easily explained, the name ‘doodle’ is slightly more troublesome.  However, a seemingly likely etymology is found in the Essex dialect word dool, which Edward Gepp (1920) told,

“seems to mean, (1) a landmark; (2) a path between plots in a common field.”

The former of the two would seem to be the most likely.  This is echoed to a greater degree in Wright’s (1900) magnum opus, where he found the dialect word dool all over the southeast, meaning,

“a boundary mark in an unenclosed field.”

Giant trees on ancient boundaries, like the Broad Oak of earlier times, would seem to be the most probable reason for its name.  Today, all that’s left of the site is a small plaque on a small tree-stump, telling us what once stood here…

References:

  1. Gepp, Edward, Contributions to an Essex Dialect Dictionary, George Routledge: London 1920.
  2. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex – volume 2, 1763.
  3. Reaney, P.H., The Place-Names of Essex, Cambridge University Press 1935.
  4. Vancouver, Charles, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Essex – volume 2, Richard Phillips: Blackfriars 1807.
  5. Winsland, Charles, The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Hatfield Broad Oak, Anchor: Bishop Stortford 1952.
  6. Wright, Thomas, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 2, Henry Frowde: London 1900.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Broad Oak, Hatfield

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Broad Oak, Hatfield 51.865151, 0.228285 Broad Oak, Hatfield

Witch Tree, Aberuthven, Perthshire

Sacred Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 9621 1587

Getting Here

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Just off the A9 between Stirling and Perth is Aberuthven village.  Down the Main Street and just south of the village, turn west along Mennieburn Road.  A half-mile on, just past Ballielands farm, you reach the woods.  Keep along the road for another half-mile, close to where the trees end and go through the gate where all the rocks are piled. Walk up to the tree-line 50 yards away and follow it along the line of the fence east, til it turns down the slope.  Naathen – over the barbed fence here, close to the corner, about 10 yards in, is the tree in question…

Archaeology & History

Witch Tree03

Looking along the fallen trunk

Laid down on the peaty earth, fallen perhaps fifty years ago or more, are the dying remains of this all-but forgotten Witch Tree.  To those of you who may strive to locate it—amidst the dense eye-poking branches of the surrounding Pinus monoculture—the curious feature on this dying tree are a number of old iron steps or pegs, from just above the large upturned roots.  About a dozen of them were hammered into the trunk some 100 years or more ago and, were it to stand upright again, reach perhaps 30 feet high or more.  These iron pegs give the impression of them being used to help someone climb the tree when it was upright; but their position on the trunk and the small distance between some of them shows that this was not their intention.  Their purpose on the tree is a puzzle to us (does anyone have any ideas?).

Embedded pieces or iron from roots...

Embedded iron from the roots

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

The fallen trunk has broken into two main sections, each with iron pegs in them.  The very top of the tree has almost completely been eaten back into the Earth.  Unfortunately too, all the bark has completely rotted away and so identifying the species of the tree is difficult (though I’m sure there are some hardcore botanists out there who’d be able to enlighten us).  The possibility that the early map-reference related to a Wych-elm (Ulmus glabra) cannot be discounted, although this would be most unusual for Ordnance officers to mistake such a tree species with a ‘witch’.  Local dialect, of course, may have been a contributing factor; but in Wilson’s (1915) detailed analysis of the regional dialect of this very area, “wych elm” for witches does not occur.  Added to this is the fact that the indigenous woodland that remains here is an almost glowing birchwood (Betula pendula) in which profusions of the shaman’s plant, Amanita muscaria, exceed.  There were no wych elms hereby.

The tree was noted by the Ordnance Survey team in 1899 and was published on their maps two years later, but we know nothing more about it.  Hence, we publish it here in the hope that someone might be able top throw some light on this historical site.

Folklore

Looking along the fallen trunk

Halfway along the fallen tree

We can find nothing specific to the tree; but all around the area there are a plethora of tales relating to witches (Hunter 1896; Reid 1899)—some with supposedly ‘factual’ written accounts (though much of them are make-believe projections of a very corrupt Church), whilst others are oral traditions with more realistic tendencies as they are rich in animistic content. One of them talks of the great mythical witch called Kate McNiven, generally of Monzie, nearly 8 miles northwest of here.  She came to possess a magickal ring which ended up being handed to the owners of Aberuthven House, not far from the Witch Tree, as their associates had tried to save her from the crazies in the Church.  This may have been one of the places where she and other witches met in bygone centuries, to avoid the psychiatric prying eyes of christendom.

Until the emergence of the Industrialists, trees possessed a truly fascinating and important history, integral to that of humans: not as ‘commodities’ in the modern depersonalized religion of Economics, but (amongst other things) as moot points—gathering places where tribal meetings, council meetings and courts were held. (Gomme 1880)  The practice occurred all over the world and trees were understood as living creatures, sacred and an integral part of society.  The Witch Tree of Aberuthven may have been just such a site—where the local farmers, peasants, wise women and village people held their traditional gatherings and rites.  It is now all but gone…

References:

  1. Gomme, Laurence, Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Lowe: London 1880.
  2. Hunter, John, Chronicles of Strathearn, David Philips: Crieff 1896.
  3. Reid, Alexander George, The Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn, Davdi Philips: Crieff 1899.
  4. Wilson, James, Lowland Scotch as Spoken in the Lower Strathearn District of Scotland, Oxford University Press 1915.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Witch Tree

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Witch Tree 56.323789, -3.679771 Witch Tree

Goose Oaks, St. Fillans, Comrie, Perthshire

Legendary Trees (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NN 693 242

Folklore

A fascinating story of this forgotten site is detailed in Alex Porteous’ (1912) history book on this tiny parish at the eastern end of Loch Earn.  It’s a peculiar tale—and unless the story was little more than the local people ripping the piss out of the patronising incomers, its nature remains a mystery.  Porteous wrote:

“What were known as the Goose Oaks grew by the loch-side about two or three hundred yards west from the hotel.  The story is told of a celebrated goose which attained to the great age of 160 years and finally gave up this life in 1818.  It is solemnly averred by Mr (John) Brown that the history of this goose was well authenticated and that the families and individuals who successively were owners of the goose were highly respectable, and that its history was preserved entire for the period back to 1658, while he naively adds—”How long it was in being prior to that date is uncertain.”  The goose was buried at the spot indicated, and the oaks trees, two in number, of which only one remains now, planted over its grave; but the story, as regards the age, must be looked upon as apocryphal.”

One wonders what on Earth Sir James Frazer might have made of this tale!

References:

  1. Porteous, Alexander, Annals of St. Fillans, Crieff 1912.
  2. Porteous, Alexander, Forest Folklore, Mythology and Romance, George Allen: London 1928.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Goose Oaks

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Goose Oaks 56.392636, -4.120011 Goose Oaks

Bogle Bush, Collace, Perthshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NO 19 32

Also Known as :

  1. Bogle Busk
  2. Bogle Buss

Archaeology & History

1867 Map Bogle Bush

The site on the 1867 OS Map

Perusal of a 25″ OS map of  1867 shows, in almost microscopic lettering, a feature marked ‘Bogle Bush’.  I transferred the approximate location onto a modern map and set off to make a field visit, honestly not expecting to find anything almost a century and a half later.

Bogle bush 1

The Bogle Bush

As I walked down the designated road I was drawn to an ancient multi branched or trunked tree, the trunks held together by a hefty iron band. The band had been placed there many years ago as it was being absorbed by the growth of the tree. Unlike the other trees in the road the foot of this tree had crocus and grape hyacinth in flower, as if deliberately planted.

The band was forged and fitted by Kinrossie Blacksmith and Kirk Elder David Gray at the end of the nineteenth century, following the collapse of one of the three trunks then standing.

Bogle Bush 2

The band holding the tree together

The online Ordnance Survey Name Books for Perthshire, compiled prior to the survey of the 1867 map, list Robert Millar of Flowerdale, Mr James Stewart of Kinrossie and Mr Fraser of St Euchans as the informants that ‘This name is applied to a Birch Tree situated on the north side of the road leading from Saucher to Kinrossie. Mr Millar says that there is a superstitious tradition existing in the locality that Bogles have been seen &c at this tree’.

Whether Mr Millar and his co-informants were trying to mischievously mislead the (probably) English Ordnance Survey officials, we will never know, but the tree is in fact a Sycamore! And the 1901 25″ OS map shows the tree as the ‘Bogle Busk’.

Folklore

There has been speculation that the Bogle Bush may have long forgotten links with Macbeth whose fortess at nearby Dunsinnan Hill overlooks it, adding the rider that Sycamores only live 200 years or so before falling and then regenerating on the same spot, implying that a mother tree could have been on the same spot in Macbeth’s time.

David Gray, Blacksmith and Kirk Elder of Kinrossie.

David Gray, Blacksmith and Kirk Elder of Kinrossie.

Local folklore states that ‘a great calamity will befall Kinrossie’ should the Bush collapse. The tree is a local icon that’s ‘aye been there’ according to a local resident and it seems to be a local geo-caching site, judging by the small container of ‘stuff’ hidden in a plastic container underneath a couple of pieces of bark at the base of the trunk on my visits.

Please note that if you decide to visit, this is not a wishing tree, so do not hammer coins into the bark or suspend rags from the branches. Respect the Bush and the local people to whom this is an iconic tree.

My thanks to local resident Morag Hislop for leading me to further information on this site.

References:

  1. Scotland’s Place Names
  2. Collace Parish Millenium Committee, Off The Main Road, 2nd edition: Kinrossie District Recreation Club, 2010

 © Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.473334, -3.316698 Bogle Bush

Lund Well, Bingley, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 0973 4091

Archaeology & History

Lund Well on 1852 map

Lund Well on 1852 map

Once found in a cluster of three little wells all very close to each other near the top of the field where the Crossflatts roundabout joins up with the Aire-Valley trunk road, this is an intriguing site if you happen to be a pagan, or have an interest in druidism — and for one main reason: its name.  When I first came across a reference to the place about 25 years ago, the only piece of information I could find about it came from the arduous detailed researches of the Victorian industrial historian J. Horsfall Turner who, unfortunately, neglected to record much of the fading folklore in the region at his time.  Marked on the 1852 6-inch Ordnance Survey map, ‘Lund’ was a bit of an etymological curiosity, and Mr Turner (1897) thought the well’s name was little other than that of a local mill owner, whose nickname was ‘Lund’ Thompson.  He was guessing of course…and I thought little more about it…

Years later when looking through A.H. Smith’s (1961-63) magnum opus on the place-names of West Yorkshire, I found that he didn’t include the Lund Well in his survey.  However, an eventual perusal of Kenneth Cameron’s (1996) work told that in Old Norse place-names (and there is a preponderance of such places scattering Yorkshire and Lancashire), lund or lundr was a “‘small wood, grove,’ also had a meaning, ‘sacred grove’.” The word is echoed in old French, launde, meaning ‘forest glade’.  In A.H. Smith’s (1954) earlier etymological magnum opus he said that the word derives from a “small wood, grove, also a sacred grove, one offering sanctuary.”  However, Margaret Gelling (2000) urged caution on the origin of lund as a sacred grove and erred more to the usual English tendency of depersonalizing everything, taking any animistic attribution away from its root meaning; but we must urge caution upon her caution here!  Neither Joseph Wright (English Dialect Dictionary vol.3 1905) nor William Grant (Scottish National Dictionaryvol.6, 1963) have entries for this word, so we must assume the Scandinavian root word origin to be correct.

One vitally important ingredient with the Lund Well is its geographical position.  For across the adjacent River Aire the land climbs uphill—and a few hundred yards above we reach the well-known and legendary Druid’s Altar, with its Druid’s Well just below.  This association is what suggests our Lund Well may have had a real association with a “sacred grove of trees”, as—despite us knowing very little about them—we do at least know that druids performed rites in sacred groves.  In Greenbank’s (1929) historical analysis of the Druid’s Altar, he was left perplexed as to the origin of its name as all early accounts and popular culture assigned it this title, and so he opted for the probability that the druids did indeed once perform rites here.  If this was true, then our seemingly innocuous Lund Well once had a much more sacred history than anyone might have thought.  Sadly, those self-righteous industrialists destroyed it….

References:

  1. Cameron, Kenneth, English Place-Names, Batsford: London 1996. 
  2. Gelling, Margaret, Place-Names in the Landscape, Phoenix: London 2000.
  3. Greenbank, Sydney, The Druid’s Altar, Bingley, R.G. Preston: Bingley 1929.
  4. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1954.
  5. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 8 volumes, Cambridge University Press 1961-63.
  6. Wainwright, F.T., Scandinavian England, Phillimore: Chichester 1975.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Lund Well

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Lund Well 53.864317, -1.853532 Lund Well

Marriage Well, Carmyle, Lanarkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 66765 62063

Getting Here

Marriage Well on 1864 map
Marriage Well on 1864 map

Get onto the A763 road several miles east of Glasgow city centre and go along Gardenside Avenue onto the Carmyle estate. A few hundred yards on, turn right down Carmyle Avenue, then left onto River Road. Follow the footpath along the edge of the River Clyde for nearly a mile—past the recently destroyed John’s Well—until you hit the remnants of Kenmuir Woods. You’ll reach some large polluted pools and when you reach the gap between the first and second pool, walk into the trees above the river and the Well is there.

Archaeology & History

The decaying remains of this old well can still be seen, incredibly, in the small copse of trees that are Kenmuir Woods, just a few yards above the River Clyde, 160 yards below the M8 and the same distance west of the Daldowie sewage treatment works, with polluted water treatment pools just yards away!  Not the sort of place you’d take a partner for any sort of marriage ceremony whatsoever nowadays!  But it wasn’t always like this of course. Only since the Industrialists stamped their mark…

When Hugh MacDonald (1860) wrote the finest narrative of this arena in the middle of the 19th century, his evocative words painted the entire landscape with a veil untouched since his days.  Indeed, it is truly like another world compared to the sacrilege of what we see today:

“It is a wild and bosky scene, covered with a picturesque profusion of timber, and is the habitat of flowers innumerable. The weaver herbalists of Camlachie and Parkhead find it a perfect storehouse of medicinal rarities; and on Sundays they may be seen in sickly groups prying into every green recess in search of plants which old Culpepper would have loved for their rare qualities, or carrying them home in odorous bundles, confident of having obtained a mastery over “all the ills that flesh is heir to.” The botanist may also occasionally be seen lurking here, vasculum in hand, or on bended knee, examining the structure of some strange flower. But even the mere general lover of flowers will here find much to reward his attention.  At present the May-flower (Caltha palustris), the wild hyacinth, the craw-flower of Tannahill, the red campion (Lychnis dioica), the odorous woodruff (Asperula oderata), the globe-flower or lucken gowan (Trollius europœus), and many others are in full bloom, and so thickly strewn that even as the poet says, “You cannot see the grass for flowers.”

“At the foot of the bank, near its upper extremity, there is a fine spring, which is known by the name of the ‘Marriage Well,’ from a couple of curiously united trees which rise at its side and fling their shadows over its breast. To this spot, in other days, came wedding parties, on the day after marriage, to drink of the crystal water, and, in a cup of the mountain-dew, to pledge long life and happiness to the loving pair whom, on the previous day, old Hymen had made one in the bands which death alone can sever.  After imbibing a draught of the sacred fluid from the cup of Diogenes, we rest a brief space on the margin of the well.”

One wonders how far back in time the attribution of ‘Marriage Well’ from the animism of the trees went; and whether marriage ceremonies were performed here, quietly, away from the prying eyes of the Church and invading english in centuries much earlier under the guidance of the Moon.  It’s probable…

Nature’s cloak was still intact here when, many years after Hugh MacDonald’s visit, the local writer Dan McAleer (1930) informed us that,

“Shy bridesmaids and their groomsmen used to visit after a wedding to drink the mystic waters of the Marriage Well.  Certain places about the woods were well adapted for picnics, etc. After tea and refreshments the lads and lassies passed hours in amusement trying to step over the well and anyone soiling the water in any way while stepping across it would not get married that year.”

Much of the beauty of the landscape and Her waters, and the rich romance that arises from Her cyclical forms are long gone from here now… Cold ‘progress’ bereft of the necessity of Nature’s sanctity is no progress at all…  Although the genius loci of the place may have long since gone, at the very least the regional council—or decent locals, if the council can’t be arsed—could erect some memorial and save the failing Marriage Well from what seems to be its close and final demise….

References:

  1. Carpenter, Edward, Civilization: Its Cause and Cure, George Allen & Unwin: New York 1914.
  2. McAleer, Dan, A Sketch of Shettleston, 1930.
  3. McDonald, Hugh, Rambles round Glasgow, John Cameron: Glasgow 1860.
  4. Michell, John, The Earth Spirit: Its Ways, Shrines and Mysteries, Thames & Hudson: London 1975.
  5. Michell, John, Simulacra, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  6. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  55.833326, -4.128755 Marriage Well

Pear Tree Well, Kelvinside, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 56728 67797

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 164370
  2. Three Tree Well

Archaeology & History

Site of the Pear Tree Well
Site of the Pear Tree Well

The demise of this old healing spring of water occurred a few generations ago by the look of things.  Marked on the earliest Ordnance Survey maps—erroneously as the ‘Three Tree Well’, as Mr McDonald (1860) will soon explain—it was located on the west side of the River Kelvin, halfway between the Kirklee footbridge and the ancient ford, but the only remains we can see of it now appears to be the brick-walling above which a pair of sycamore trees rise, or perhaps beneath the man-hole cover on the path lower down.

Three Tree Well on 1865 map

…But it wasn’t always this way… Known to be a chalybeate, or iron-bearing spring (which are always regarded as tonics in local lore, fortifying the blood general health), when the local writer Hugh McDonald (1860) wrote about it in his wonderful Rambles round Glasgow in the middle of the 19th century, he cast a picture of the area that few Glaswegians would recognise today—and a damn good swipe at the incomers trying to alter the names of traditional places:

“At the western extremity of the Botanic Gardens a narrow passage, in popular parlance called “the Kyber Pass,” leads over a green knoll to the volley of the Kelvin at the famous “Pear-tree Well.” …The scenery of the Kelvin in the vicinity of the Pear-tree Well is of the most romantic and beautiful description.  The banks are bold, and in many places fringed with masses of foliage to the water-lip; while the rustic bridge, the lonely cottage, and the picturesque mill, seem planted by the very hand of taste, along the meanderings of the rippled and murmuring stream, wherever they are likely to produce a telling effect… Altogether the scene and its accessories present the very choicest of those harmonious combinations of colour and form which the landscape limner loves to gaze upon, and fondly endeavours, in the pride of his skill, to transfer to the living canvas.  No wonder it is that Kelvin Grove has long been the favourite haunt of our City lovers, and the favourite theme of our local poets; for Nature has, indeed, strewn its recesses with charms as fresh and beautiful as though it were situated far from the dwellings of men, instead of almost under the wing of our most dinsome and dusky of towns.

“The Pear-tree Well issues from the bottom of a steep and thickly-wooded bank, which, at this point, rises gracefully from the rocky bed of the streamlet.  The crystalline and deliciously cool water is collected into a considerable cavity in the earth; immediately over which three large trees—a plane and two handsome ashes—raise on high their umbrageous heads, while their sturdy roots, in serpent-like convolutions, twine around the watery hollow beneath, as if to defend it from the intrusion of the penetrating noonday sun.  Some suppose that it is from this trio of sylvan guardians that the fountain has received its name — and that the ‘Three-tree’ and not the ‘Pear-tree’ Well is its proper denomination.  The advocates of the latter theory further remark, that there is no pear-tree in the vicinity, and that consequently the popular name is probably but a corruption of “Three-tree.”  There is high authority for saying that names are things of slight consequence; but however that may be, we are inclined, in the present instance, to be conservative of the old name for this favourite well, and to retain it in spite of all attempts at innovation.  Whether from langsyne associations or not, we shall not attempt to discover, but Pear-tree Well sounds most musically on our ear — and we should be loath to have it suppressed by the word-coinage of any crotchety theorist; and besides, who can tell what kind of trees may have formerly graced the locality?  A perfect orchard of the pear tribe may, at some past period, have clothed the banks of Kelvin for anything that these violators of a time-honoured name—”these men who are given to change”—know to the contrary.  No, no!  Pear-tree Well it has been, and Pear-tree Well to us, at least, it must remain.  We had as lief meet an old friend with a new face, as an old haunt with a new name.

“Having done our devoirs to the spirit of the fountain, by draining a bicker of the translucent water, which, by the way, is slightly impregnated with iron, we sit ourselves down on the bank above, under the ashen tree, when one of two friends with whose company we have been honoured, inspired by the half-gelid beverage, bursts suddenly out with—

“Let us haste to Kelvin Grove, bonnie lassie, O.”

“We of course join heartily in the measure, which has for many years been highly popular in the west of Scotland, and which we naturally enjoy with double zest, amid the scenery to which it refers…”

Pear Tree Well in 1896

The great historian and romantic, J.A. Hammerton (1920) even passed here, telling how sufferers of disease relied upon its curing waters to heal them.  It is just such a pity that this picturesque medicinal spring and its rivulet are with us no more…

References:

  1. Brotchie, T.C.F., Glasgow Rivers and Streams: Their Legend and Lore, John Maclehose: Glasgow 1914.
  2. Brotchie, T.C.F., “Holy Wells in and Around Glasgow,” in Old Glasgow Club Transactions, volume 4, 1920.
  3. Hammerton, J.A., Wonderful Britain: Its Highways and Byways – volume 1, EBC: London 1920.
  4. McDonald, Hugh, Rambles round Glasgow, John Cameron: Glasgow 1860.
  5. Millar, A.H., By-gone Glasgow, Morison Bros: Glasgow 1896.
  6. Pagan, James & Stoddart, J.H., Relics of Ancient Architecture and other Picturesque Scenes in Glasgow, David Bryce: Glasgow 1896.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Nina Harris for guiding us to the spot where this old well could once be seen.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.881988, -4.291917 Pear Tree Well