Cairney Mount, Carluke, Lanarkshire

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 855 507

Archaeology & History

The Well & the field-name on the 1860 OS-map

An ancient standing stone on the eastern side of Carluke isn’t something that most local people are aware of.  Sadly it’s long gone, but we find what seems to be a reference to it, both in the place-name Stanistone Road and the adjacent Standing Stone Well.  The monolith would seem to have stood immediately east of the well, as a description of it by Rev John Wylie (1845) in the New Statistical Account (1845) indicates.  Wylie told us that:

“Till lately, one of those remarkable monuments of antiquity, called standing stones, stood at Cairney Mount; but the hope of finding a hidden treasure induced some rude hand to destroy it.”

Cairney Mount is a field-name 300 metres east of the well, so it would seem highly likely there was an association between them, and the stone obviously stood somewhere between these two points.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Lanarkshire: An Inventory of the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments, HMSO: Edinburgh 1978.
  2. Wylie, John, “Parish of Carluke,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 6: Lanarkshire, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Martin’s Well, Looe, Cornwall

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SX 2569 5407

Archaeology & History

St Martins Well on 1888 map

An early dedication to the St Martin of this well is from the 13th century, when referring to the “church of sanctus Martinus” in 1282, whose building is a half-mile to the north.  The well itself is located on the old parish boundary, on the footpath today known as the North View.

In earlier days, the water from this site came “flowing out of a rock” giving birth to St Martin’s stream (Quiller-Couch, 1894).  “It was much used by the villagers,” they wrote, “because of the excellent quality of the water; now it is covered in with an ordinary wooden lid, and is used to supply the town of Looe with water.”

Things hadn’t changed when Mr Lane-Davies (1970) visited the place, who was far from pleased at its status.  “The spring,” he told, “has been enclosed in an ugly shed and the water piped away.”

Despite this, when Meyrick (1982) came here, he thought the site had “a romantic and grotto-like air” to it, but he was equally displeased by barbed wire preventing folk from easily accessing the waters and “spoilt by a certain amount of rubbish.”  Unfortunately due to a dreadful accident here in 1993, when a young child fell into the waters and drowned, the site is now completely enclosed by railings to prevent this happening to anyone else.

References:

  1. Bond, Thomas, Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Boroughs of East and West Looe, J. Nichols: London 1823.
  2. Lane-Davies, A., Holy Wells of Cornwall, FOCS: St Ives 1970.
  3. Meyrick, J., A Pilgrims Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, Falmouth 1982.
  4. Quiller-Couch, M. & L., Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, C.J. Clark: London 1894.
  5. Straffon, Cheryl, Fentynyow Kernow: In Search of Cornwall’s Holy Wells, Meyn Mamvro: Penzance 1998.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Heugh Well, Blairgowrie, Perthshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NO 17103 46984

Also Known as:

  1. Mineral Well

Archaeology & History

This little-known iron-bearing spring can still be found in the woodland known today as the Heugh of Mawse, a mile north of Blairgowrie.  It was included in the Object Name Book of 1863, where they referred to an earlier account in the New Statistical Account, which told that,

“On the south end of it is a chalybeate spring much resorted to by the people of the locality. “There are one or two chalybeate springs in the parish; but they have never been chemically analyzed. There is one very fine spring called the “Heugh Well” It springs from the face of the “Heughs of Mause” (a mortar cliff of singular appearance; which descends abruptly into the bed of the river with an almost perpendicular declivity of about 200 feet) and judging from its colour, contains a considerable quantity of ferruginous matter. The use of its water has been found to be very beneficial in cutaneous eruptions, & affections of the Stomach.””

Heugh Well on 1867 map

Subsequently highlighted on the 1867 OS-map, a singular footpath led to the site and no further.  It was mentioned by the regional historians J.G. McPherson (1885) and John MacDonald (1899), albeit briefly, where they respectively told that its waters were “formerly much resorted to by persons in the neighbourhood.”  It possessed considerable medicinal properties which, according to tradition, were “found very beneficial for skin diseases and derangement of the stomach”!  Doubtless such attributes will still be effective.

References:

  1. MacDonald, John A.R., The History of Blairgowrie, Advertiser Office: Blairgowrie 1899.
  2. McPherson, J.G., Strathmore: Past and Present, S. Cowan: Perth 1885.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Ninian’s Well, Blairgowrie, Perthshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 180 452

Archaeology & History

The Well Meadow in the middle of Blairgowrie was once the place where the 5th century Apostle of the Southern Picts, or St Ninian, baptised local folk into the so-called “new faith”.  It’s long since gone.  The local historian John MacDonald (1899) told that it was located opposite the buildings on the north-side of the square, adding:

“St Ninian, one of the earliest Christian Celtic missionaries, on his tour through Scotland, pitched his camp where the Wellmeadow now is, and quenched his thirst at an old well or spring which ever afterwards bore the name of “St Ninian’s Well,” until it was covered in and the water led into the town drains.”

Old Ninian’s saint’s day is September 16.

References:

  1. MacDonald, John A.R., The History of Blairgowrie, Advertiser Office: Blairgowrie 1899.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Small Wells, Louth, Lincolnshire

Sacred Wells (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TF 32603 87555

Also Known as:

  1. Little Wells

Archaeology & History

Small Well on 1834 map

Of the three wells in old Louth around which local ceremonies occurred, the Small Wells were apparently the least impressive.  Its ritualised compatriots south of the River Lud in St. Helen’s Well and the Ash Well (the Aswell in modern Louth place-names) were reportedly the much better water supplies in bygone times.  The site was highlighted on a map of the town in Robert Bayley’s (1834) history of the area, showing it as a small pool just below the Cistern Gate road; but when the Ordnance Survey lads came here later in the 19th century it had already gone.

It’s category here as a “sacred” well is due to it being annually decorated with garlands of flowers, commonly known today as well-dressing.  Such wells tend to be places of pre-christian rites, attended by local people at dawn usually at Beltane or at Midsummer (St John’s Eve); but I’ve been unable to find out which was the sacred day when the waters here were honoured.  All that we have left to tell us of the rites is from old township notes that said how,

““The small wells,” a cluster of little springs on the north of the town, shared in the honours of green boughs and popular huzzahs” the traditions held at the wells of St. Helen and Aswell a half-mile to the south.

A brief 16th century account told of a local man being paid for the adornment of the Small Wells: one “Henery Forman received for dressing small wells for a yeare – xiid” – or 12 pennies in old money.  Not bad at all in them days!

References:

  1. Bayley, Robert S., Notitiae Ludae; or Notices of Louth, W. Edwards 1834.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Cross Well, Dundee, Angus

Healing Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NO 4032 3025

Archaeology & History

This old water supply had no direct ‘holy’ nature, despite its proximity to the cathedral, the old market cross and St Clement’s Well some fifty yards away!  Most odd.  A much more mundane story lies behind this long lost water source.  The Dundee historian William Kidd (1901) told us,

“When the public wells were erected, about the year 1749, to supply the town with water from the Lady-well reservoir at foot of Hilltown, one was placed on the High Street, on the east side of the Cross, and was called the Cross Well.”

It didn’t have too long a life either—much like the old Market Cross, for,

“In the year 1777 that quaint structure was demolished.  The platform and octagonal tower were carted away as rubbish, the least decayed stones being selected to be used in other buildings.  The stone shaft, also, was preserved, and placed beside the Old Steeple. With the demolition of the Cross, the Cross Well was cleared away from the High Street, but, as water was an essential to the people, the well was re-erected behind the Town House in St. Clement’s Lane.  In that situation it remained for nearly one hundred years, when, being rendered unnecessary by the introduction of the Lintrathen water supply, it was also demolished, along with the old buildings in the Vault and St. Clement’s Lane, to make room for the additions to the Town House.”

References:

  1. Colville, A., Dundee Delineated, A. Colville: Dundee 1822.
  2. Kidd, William, Dundee Market Crosses and Tolbooths, W. Kidd: Dundee 1901.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Dud Well, Skircoat Green, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well: OS Grid Reference – SE 0957 2281

Archaeology & History

This curiously-named old water source may have an equally curious history behind it – albeit forgotten.  Shown on the 1854 OS-map of the area and giving its s name to Dudwell Lane, we can see how an old path led from the road to the well and nowhere else.

It’s the word “dud” that holds our attention here; for if we hasten to the immensely erudite Joseph Wright (1900) in his gigantic survey of northern dialect, we find that the word relates to “a rag, piece of cloth; pl. clothes, esp. shabby, ragged, or dirty clothing.”  This is echoed in another Yorkshire dialect work by Morris (1892) who told that the word meant “clothes (or) rags.”  Several other Victorian writers tell us variations on this meaning (one adds old shoes to the list!), but in all instances it relates to dud being a rag, whereas the plural duds are rags or scruffy clothes.  Naathen (to use another old dialect word), those of us who know a thing or two abaat olde wells are very very familiar with their association to old rags that were hanged on the surrounding trees as offerings to the spirits of the water—the genius loci—to aid in the hope or desire of something, or merely as respect to the waters for their beneficient properties. (this sometimes occurred ritually at set times in the calendar)

Dud Well on 1854 OS-map

The Dud Well was obviously of considerable local repute, for just a couple of years after it was shown on the earliest OS-map, a local bailiff called Samuel Rhodes built The Dudwell house close to the waters, which he named “in honour of the magnificent and never-failing spring of pure, bright, sparkling water in the wells close by.”

There is a possible alternative meaning to the word dud, which is that some dood called ‘Duda’ left his name here!  This seems much more speculative and unlikely than the use of a local dialect term.  Hopefully a local historian amongst you might perhaps be able to find out more.

References:

  1. Morris, M.C.F., Yorkshire Folk-Talk, Henry Frowde: London 1892.
  2. Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 2, Henry Frowde: London 1900.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Old Wives’ Well, Stape, Pickering, North Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid-Reference – SE 7944 9406

Also Known as:

  1. Nattie Fontein

Archaeology & History

Old Wives Well, 1848 OS-map

The history of the site is scanty to say the least.  It first seems to have been recorded when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in the 1840s, although they left no record as to why the site was given such a dedication.  It’s a decidedly pre-christian title as the name “old Wife” is usually indicative in northern counties as being related to the primal Earth deity of northern England and lowland Scotland (when we reach the Highlands and Ireland, She becomes known—amongst other names—as the cailleach).  However, apart from its name we have no additional information.  Neither the holy wells writer Edna Whelan (1989; 2001), nor hydrolatry researcher Graeme Chappell were been able to find anything about the place in their own researches.  And so we must go on name alone…

The waters bubble up into a small stone-lined chamber with the words Nattie Fontein carved into the lintel.  This is something of a mystery in itself, for, as Edna Whelan (1989) told,

“it would be most unusual for the word fonten to be used for a spring in North Yorkshire: ‘keld’ is the local word.  The rather roughly inscribed word may be a corruption of Fons Natalis, the name of a Celtic water nymph.”

Graeme Chappell (2000) meanwhile, noticed in a visit to the site in June 1999,

“that the N and A in “NATTIE” are carved in such a way that the word could be read as “MATTIE FONTEIN” perhaps meaning “Mother Fountain”. This might then be another reference to the Old Wife?”

He then goes on to note how,

“the latin word ‘natalis‘ meaning ‘birth’ and its link with the roman Festival ‘Dies Natalis Sol Invictus‘ (day of the birth of the unconquered sun) which took place on the 25th December. Natalis also gave rise to the welsh word ‘Nadolig‘ – meaning Christmas.”

This Yuletide element has an intriguing relationship with the name of the well; for to the west of Yorkshire’s borders into Cumbria there was annual gathering known as Old Wives’ Saturday that took place on the first Saturday after Christmas, or first Saturday of the New Year in a person’s house or inn, where a feast was had to bring in the New Year; but there is no known written lore of such a tradition here.

Nowadays the old tradition of hanging rags on the trees surrounding the well as offerings to the spirit of the place (known as memaws in parts of Yorkshire, and clooties in Scotland) has become a regular practice of those who hold such sites as sacred in their own way.  Whelan mentioned seeing memaws here in the 1908s, but the Northern Antiquarian contributor Jon Barker told that, “The rags are a comparatively recent addition to the well, it is not a tradition there. When I used to go in the ’60s therewere no rags.”

On an even more curious note: very recently (from when this profile was written), the Northern Antiquarian contributor and photographer James Elkington visited Old Wives’ Well for the first time.  It was a grey overcast day and when he arrived here, there was a woman ahead of him at the head of the well.  I’ll let him tell the rest of it in his own words:

The Old Wives Well, Stape  (James Elkington)
Old Wives Well at Stape (James Elkington)

“In front of the well was a lady dressed in what looked like a white nighty, she had her back to me.  There was a candle lit nearby, and her hands were in the water moving slowly about like she was washing something.  She had long dark shoulder length hair.  As I was about 25 feet away I was sure she wasn’t aware of me, and I thought it would make a good photograph.  I quietly put my bag on the ground and got my camera out, and looked up and…she was gone!  I couldn’t have taken my eye off her for more than 5 or 6 seconds.  I looked all around and there was no sign of her.  Even if she had legged it through the woods I would have seen her.  I think it was then that I realized that I may have had ‘an encounter’.  I quickly took three pics of the Well and got the hell out of there!”

He rang me once he had regained his senses in a somewhat emotional state and recounted over and over what had just happened.  Whether this was a visual manifestation of the genius loci of the we can’t say.  But such encounters are not unknown at numerous sacred water sites all over the world.  We can only hazard a guess that this is what he was fortunate to encounter.

Just a few hundred yards north is the old Mauley or Malo Cross, which may or may not have had some mythic relationship with our Old Wives…

References:

  1. Chappell, Graeme, “Old Wives’ Well, Stape,” YHW 2000.
  2. Elgee, F., Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  3. Whelan, Edna, The Magic and Mystery of Holy Wells, Capall Bann: Chieveley 2001.
  4. Whelan, Edna & Taylor, Ian, Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, Northern Lights: Dunnington 1989.

Links:

  1. Yorkshire Holy Wells

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Glastonbury Well, Sunny Corner, Truro, Cornwall

Holy Well (lost?):  OS Grid Reference – SW 837 434

Archaeology & History

There’s a minor discrepancy of opinion as to the exact location of this site, so I’ve chosen to go right in-between the positions cited by Leggat (1987): SW 836 433, and Meyrick (1982): SW 838 434.

The site was mentioned by Charles Henderson, who told that around the year 1750 there was a medicinal well at Sunny Corner, known as “Glastonbury Well”.  Its waters had the ability to “cure all disorders,” but its reputation was apparently short-lived, which would suggest that its fame beyond local villagers was concurrent to the rise of Spa Wells amongst the upper- classes at that time.

In the Leggats’ (1987) survey, no locals they spoke with had ever heard of the place; but that they “found a spring halfway up the lane adjacent to Sunnyside House which had been used in the past from time immemorial as a domestic water supply to a scattering of local cottages” and wondered if this might have been the long long Glastonbury Well…

References:

  1. AdamsJ.H., “The Mediaeval Chapels of Cornwall,” in Journal Royal Institution of Cornwall, volume 3 (new series), 1957. 
  2. Henderson, Charles, One Hundred and Nine Parishes of the Four Western Hundreds of Cornwall, Oscar Black: Truro 1955.
  3. Leggat, P.O. & D.V., The Healing Wells: Cornish Cults and Customs, Dyllansow Truran: Redruth 1987.
  4. Meyrick, J., A Pilgrims Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, Falmouth 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St. Andrew’s Well, Coldingham, Berwickshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NT 8967 6600

  1. Archaeology & History
Site on the 1858 map

By the side of the stream known as St Andrew’s Burn, in the small wooded glen to the rear (west) of the Crosslaw Caravan Park (right by the side of the A1107 road), you can still find the flowing waters of this all-but-forgotten holy well that was dedicated to  Scotland’s patron saint, god knows how long ago!  The first description I’ve come across relating to the site is in William King’s  (1858) early work on Coldingham Priory, where he told that,

“In a dean a little westward from the village, and on the border of the property of Bogangreen, is a spring of excellent water, called St Andrew’s Well, from which the monastery was supplied by leaden conduits, portions of which are occasionally turning up to view. These pipes are thick and well made.”

Fifty years later when Adam Thomson (1908) penned his magnum opus on Coldingham parish, the well was still in a good state of affairs.  Hereby there grew much chamomile which, he thought, “the monks were wont to cultivate for the healing of the sick.”

Folklore

St Andrew’s feast day is November 30 and is known as Anermas.

References:

  1. Hunter, William K., History of the Priory of Coldingham, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1858.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  3. Thomson, Adam, Coldingham: Parish and Priory, Craighead Brothers: Galashiels 1908.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st Edition OS-maps, reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian