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


Fortingall Churchyard, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7417 4703

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25003
The stone & the yew
The stone & the yew

Getting Here

Go into the Fortingall churchyard, turning left through the gates (walking across in front of the enclosed sacred yew tree), towards the dip in the walling past the graves.  Go over this wall, turning left and through another small gate.  Immediately through the gate, note the small upright stone on your right, below an offspring of the old yew tree.  That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

In the legendary churchyard at Fortingall — home to remains from a panoply of beliefs — below the sacred yew tree we find the remains of this hewn piece of stone, recovered from the Earth beneath the roots of the old tree more than 100 years ago.  Upon its crown we see a cluster of cup-markings: Fred Coles (1910) counted 14, I counted 13, the Ordnance Survey boys counted 9, and other surveyors are somewhere in between.

Fred Cole's sketch of the stone
Fred Cole’s sketch of the stone
Photo of the cup-markings
Photo of the cup-markings

Described and illustrated in the Strathtay rock art survey of Sonia Yellowlees (2004), it seems that the earliest mention of the stone was by our Perthshire megalith hunter Fred Coles (1910).  When he wrote about it, the site had only recently been rediscovered.  He told that he was,

“informed by Rev. W. Camphell, minister of the parish, that in 1903, when some alterations were being made in that portion of the burying-ground belonging to the late Sir Donald Currie of Garth, the workmen came upon this Stone lying at a depth of 8 feet, at a point not many feet distant from the stem of the famous Yew-tree. Noticing the cup-marks on the Stone, the workmen raised it and set it up erect on the site it now occupies, close to the western wall of the Garth burial-ground — about 25 feet from the spot where it was unearthed: In the plan annexed (fig.2) the oblong bounded by the letters A B C D shows the dimensions of the base, and the small cup-marked surface, evidently much broken, and 2 feet 10 inches above ground, shows all that now remains of the work of the prehistoric artificer. There are no rings or grooves, and the cups, except for clearness and neatness of finish, do not present any special features.”

...and another angle.
…and another angle.

Mr Coles then made some intriguing suggestive remarks regarding the position of the carving beneath the ancient yew tree (which to those of you who aren’t aware, is believed to be the oldest yew tree in Europe and has a pagan altar next to it), wondering whether the animistic tradition of the tree had anything to do with the carving itself.  It would certainly make sense.  But there is also the possibility that the carving was brought from elsewhere and placed by the tree at a later date.  We simply don’t know.

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
  2. Yellowlees, Walter, Cupmarked Stones in Strathtay, Scotland Magazine: Edinburgh 2004.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 


Gill Head, Blubberhouses Moor, North Yorkshire

Enclosures:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1338 5493

Getting Here

Upright stone in prehistoric walling

ON the A59 Harrogate to Skipton road, right on top where it crosses the barren moors, get to the parking spot right near where the road levels out at the highest point (2-300 yards past the turning to the derelict Dovestones Quarry). From here, go thru the gate onto the moor for about 100 yard. Then turn straight east (left) for another few hundred yards till y’ reach the spot marked as Gill Head Peat Moor on the OS-map. This small standing stone (right) is where you need to start – the other remains continue east of here.

Archaeology & History

Richard’s original photo, with walling clearly visible

The discovery of this site began in April 2005, when rock art student Richard Stroud and I were exploring the moors here and he called our attention to what seemed like a singular upright standing stone, some 3 feet high, with a debatable cup-marking on top, standing amidst a scatter of smaller stones running north and south from here, implying that the stone may have been a part of some much denuded walling from our ancient past.  But we weren’t sure—and simply noted its location (at SE 13378 54924) and carried on our way.  But in revisiting this site after looking at some old archaeology papers, Paul Hornby and I chanced to find a lot more on the burnt heathland running east of here.

The upright stone found by Mr Stroud is certainly part of some ancient walling, but it is much denuded and falls back into the peat after only a short distance.  A short distance west of this stone is a small cairn which seems of more recent origin; but due east, along the flat plain on the moorland itself, the burnt heathland showed a scattering of extensive human remains, comprising mainly of walling, hut circles and possible cairns—lots of it!

One issue we have to contend with on this moorland is the evidence of considerable peat-cutting in places, which was being done on a large scale into the Victorian period.  Scatterings of medieval work are also found across this moor, in places directly interfering with little-known Bronze Age monuments in the middle of the remote uplands.  There is no doubt that some of these medieval and later workings have destroyed some of the uncatalogued prehistoric archaeological remains on this moor.  But thankfully, on the ridge running west to east along Gill Head to above the source of the Black Dike, scattered remains of human habitation and activity are still in evidence.  The only problem with what we’ve found, is the date…

Two rows of straight walling, with stone scatter all round
Another overgrown curve of walling

In 1960, Mr J. Davies first mentioned finding good evidence of flint-workings at a site close by; then described his discoveries in greater detail in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal (1963) a few years later — but contended that the remains were of mesolithic origin.  A few years earlier, Mr D. Walker described a similar mesolithic “microlith site” a bit further north at Stump Cross.  Earlier still, Eric Cowling (1946) and others had made similar finds on these and adjacent moors.  Yet all of them missed this scatter of habitation sites, perched near the edge of the ridge running east-west atop of the ridge above the A59 road.  It’s quite extensive and, from the state of the walled remains, seems very early, probably neolithic in origin.

A number of small hut circles, 2-3 yards across, are scattered amidst the heather, with lines of walling—some straight, some not—broken here and there by people who came to gather their peat for fuel.  The walling and hut circle remains are very low to the ground, having themselves been robbed for stone it would seem.  The area initially appeared to be little more than a mass of stones scattered across the Earth (and much of it is), but amidst this are very clear lines of walls and circles, although they proved difficult to photograph because of the excessive growth of Calluna vulgaris.

Curious man-made structure in dried peat-bog

A couple of hundred yards south there are remains of one of the many dried black peat-bogs—with one large section that has been tampered with by humans at some point in the ancient past.  Over one section of it there has been built a small stone path, or possible fish-trap; plus elsewhere is a most curious rectangular walled structure (right) obviously made by people a long time ago.  Also amidst this dried peat-bog are the truly ancient remains of prehistoric tree-roots emerging from the Earth, a few thousand years old at least – and perhaps the last remnants of the ancient forests that once covered these moors.

How far back in time do all these walled remains take us?  Iron Age? Bronze Age?  Or much much further…?  Excavations anyone!?

References:

  1. Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
  2. Davies, J., “A Mesolithic Workshop in Upper Wharfedale,” in Bradford’s Cartwright Hall Archaeology Group Bulletin, 5:1, 1960.
  3. Davies, J., “A Mesolithic Site on Blubberhouses Moor, Wharfedale,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 161 (volume 41), 1963.
  4. Walker, D., “A Site at Stump Cross, near Grassington, Yorkshire, and the Age of the Pennine Microlith Industry,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 22, 1956.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 


Holy Ash Well, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference SE 15942 34208

Also Known as:

  1. Ash Well
  2. Holy Well Ash Well
  3. Pin Well

Archaeology & History

Holy Well Ash on 1852 map

Either right next to, or perhaps now beneath Bradford City’s Valley Parade football ground, was once a very important sacred well site.  Known as the Holy Ash Well and variants thereof, this healing spring was of considerable renown to people all around Bradford district in bygone days.  The site was illustrated on the 1852 OS map, and there was also a sacred stone adjacent to the well known as the Wart or Pin Stone, which had some animistic healing properties related the waters.

The old well was described by local historian Abraham Holroyd (1873) who said that:

“In Manningham Lane there is a fine well, in old deeds called Hellywell, i.e., holy well, in a field now called Halliwell Ash, now a stone quarry… Near this is the ancient Pin Stone.”

A few years later, in Robert Charles Hope’s (1893) monumental study, he described how,

“This holy well, not far from Manningham Lane, probably derived its name from having at some time been dedicated to some saint.  The inhabitants of Bradford were wont in ancient times to resort on Sundays to these wells as a common place of meeting, to drink of the waters and partake of their preternatural virtues.”

Which was another was of saying that he didn’t really know too much about the place!

The Bradford historian William Preston (1933) described this site in one of his early essays, where he informed us that local people knew the accompanying rock hereby as the Ash Stone, due to its proximity and ritual relationship to a great old ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) that grew next to the well.  The mythic history of this particular tree should not be understated: it was a Creation deity par excellence in northern and Viking myths, but whatever old tales and power might once have been had here, in Bradford, they’ve long since been forgotten.  But it was the industrial historian William Cudworth (1896) who told the most of this all-but forgotten site, saying:

“On the sloping ground between Belle Vue and the Midland Railway there once existed a spring of water, supposed to have preternatural virtues. The name it bore within present recollection is probably a corruption of Holy-well. The holy wells of England as elsewhere had not all the same virtues attached to them. Some were blessed if used for baptisms, to others were attributed curative properties, especially for sore or weak eyes, while others were supposed to possess mystical powers, insomuch as any article dipped in them became charms or safeguards against witchery.  Any traditions associated with the spring at Halliwell (or Holywell) Ash are lost, but certainly in the early part of the present century the place was a favourite resort of the townspeople on Sundays.

“The derivation of the name is doubtful. In the survey of 1638 a close called ” Helliwell Ash” is mentioned as containing 2a. 3r. 26p., but without any indication as to its locality. The spelling of the name is of little moment.  Mr. James, in his “History of Bradford,” states that he had seen the place referred to in old deeds as “Helly-well.” By his will, dated May, 1685, Thomas Lister, of Manningham, devised to his two daughters, Juliana Lambrecht and Elizabeth Stapleton, equal shares in two closes of land called “Holywell Ash” and ” Delf Close,” besides other lands in Manningham. In the will disposing of the possessions of Juliana Lambrecht, her moiety of “Holywell Esh” was bequeathed to Francis Stapleton, her nephew.  In due course the lands in question were inherited by Francis Sharp Bridges, and have latterly belonged to Sir Francis Sharp Powell, M.P., in whose writings the form of spelling is given as ” Halliwell Ash.”

“Upon the ground in question there used to be a fine well of water issuing out of the higher ground, to which tradition assigned healing virtues. Might not the name of “holy” come from this circumstance?  Sufficient importance attaches to the tradition, however, to have led the farmers of the recent ordnance plan of Manningham to preserve the name, although the widening of the Midland Railway below Thorncliffe Terrace has almost obliterated the site.”

A more recent updated overview of the site was written by one of my old school-mates, Dave Pendleton (1997), who said of the place:

“Prior to 1886 the only feature of any real note in the Valley Parade environs was a holy well that emerged near the corner of the football grounds Midland Road and Bradford End stands; hence the road Holywell Ash Lane. Today the site of the well is covered by the football pitch.

Only the road name survives as a reminder of what was apparently one of the district’s foremost attractions. On Sundays and holidays people would gather to take the waters and leave pins, coins, rags and food as offerings to the spirit that resided in the waters.

Accounts suggest that the well was covered and had a great ash tree standing over it (hence ‘holy ash’). There was also a standing stone called the wart stone of unknown antiquity. The stone had a carved depression that collected water. It was believed that the water was a miraculous cure for warts. Indeed, as early as 1638 the Holy Well had been credited with healing powers.

The well suffered a decline in popularity during the late nineteenth century and its keepers resorted to importing sulphur water from Harrogate, which they sold for a half penny per cup. The well disappeared under the Valley Parade pitch during the summer of 1886 and the wart stone was moved to the top of Holywell Ash Lane – which then ran straight up to Manningham Lane. The stone was still there as late as 1911 but thereafter it seems to have disappeared into the mists of time.”

A night-club adjacent to the Valley Parade football ground—called Bibby’s—was said to have had an old well in its cellar, which the owner of the place, Mr Pearl Gladstone Minott, said was ‘haunted’.

Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find any old photos or drawings of this lost holy well – though I imagine that some local, somewhere must be able to help us out with this one.  Surely there’s more of this site hidden away somewhere….?

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Cudworth, William, Manningham, Heaton and Allerton, W. Cudworth: Bradford 1896.
  3. Holroyd, Abraham, Collecteana Bradfordiana, Saltaire 1873.
  4. Hope, R.C., The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliot Stock: London 1893.
  5. Pendleton, David & Dewhirst, John, Along the Midland Road, Bradford City AFC 1997.
  6. Preston, W.E., ‘Some Bradford Holy Wells’, in Bradford Antiquary, volume 7, 1933.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 


Elm Crag Well, Bingley, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1028 3907

Getting Here

From Bingley, take the B6429 road up to Harden.  After going up the wooded winding road for a few hundred yards, stop where it levels out.  Cross onto the right-hand side of the road and walk up the slope a little, veering to your right.  You’ll notice a small disused building just off the roadside, in overgrowth, with a pool of water.  You need to be about 100 yards up the slope above it!

Archaeology & History

Elm Crag Well, Bell Bank Wood, Bingley
Elm Crag Well, Bell Bank Wood, Bingley

This is a beautiful old place.  If you walk straight up to it from the roadside, past the derelict building, you have to struggle through the brambles and prickly slope like we did – but it’s worth it if you like your wells!  However, if you try getting here in the summertime, expect to be attacked on all sides by the indigenous flora!  The waters here emerge from a low dark cave, in which, a century of three ago, someone placed a large stone trough.  When I first came here about 25 years ago, some halfwits had built an ugly red-brick wall into the cave which, thankfully, someone has had the sense to destroy and rip-out.

Shown on the 1852 Ordnance Survey map and highlighted as a ‘spring,’ Harry Speight (1898) gives a brief mention to this site, though refers us to an even earlier literary source when it was first mentioned. In John Richardson’s 18th century survey of the Craven area, he makes reference to an exceedingly rare fern, Trichomanes radicans, which was later included in Bolton’s classic monograph on British ferns of 1785.  In it, Bolton wrote that the very first specimen of this plant was “first discovered by Dr. Richardson in a little dark cavern, under a dripping rock, below the spring of Elm Crag Well, in Bell Bank.”

Elm Crag Well
Elm Crag Well

The waters from here come from two sides inside the small cave and no longer run into the lichen-encrusted trough, seemingly just dropping down to Earth and re-emerging halfway down the hillside.  But the waters here taste absolutely gorgeous and are very refreshing indeed!  And the old elms which gave this old well its name can still be seen, only just hanging on to the rocks above and to the side, with not much time left for the dear things.

References:

  1. Bolton, James, Filices Britannicae: An History of the British Proper Ferns, Thomas Wright 1785.
  2. Speight, Harry, Chronicles and Stories of Old Bingley, Elliott Stock: London 1898.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian