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'Holy' Wells in Scotland

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:18 pm    Post subject: 'Holy' Wells in Scotland  Reply with quote

There are ancient wells (holy or otherwise) in many parts of Scotland, here is a short history of the ones I've came across so far in the Glasgow area. The first part contains some page scans from a book I bought recently called 'Old Glasgow Club (transactions) 1918-1923 vol IV':

The second part is mostly derived from scouring the internet for photos & references. If anyone has information regarding wells in other parts of the country, please post it up.

Last edited by Hollowhorn on Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:25 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mungo's Holy Well, Saracen, Gallowgate: 1870-1900:
St. Mungo's Holy Well was located in the courtyard of the Saracen's Head Inn on the Gallowgate.
It was also known as Little St. Mungo's Well, named after. Glasgow's patron saint. He is believed to have met Christian converts, and St. Columba, near to its location. The well has not survived redevelopment of the area.
In the early 20th century it was considered to be the oldest surviving draw-well in Glasgow, and at one time it would have been a major source of water. Its circular wall was capped by a heavy wooden lid.

The Lady Well is a holy well in Glasgow in Scotland.
When Christianity came to Britain, pagan holy and healing wells were aggressively rededicated to the Virgin Mary and other saints while remaining places of Old Religion practice. Also known as 'Our Lady's Well', Glasgow's Ladywell is an artesian spring noted on early city maps and can be reliably assumed to predate the city. It lay just outside the city wall and Drygate Port in medieval times and will have refreshed Romans travelling the old Carntyne Highway east-west between forts along the Antonine Wall. Today it is erroneously believed to have been sunk for use of commoners denied access to a nearby Priest's Well, and/or to have been capped in the early 1800s out of fears of pollution or plague.
In fact, its wellhead was jointly rebuilt by the Merchants House and City Council in 1835-6 for enclosure in a new wall when the Fir Park behind it was turned into a gardened burial ground. The Ladywell was still in public use while most wells in Glasgow were closed, after fresh water piped from Loch Katrine transformed the city's health and sanitation in the 1860s. An old article says the Ladywell was the last public well to be closed but gives no date. The classical wellhead installed by the 1836 restoration bears no resemblance to the original - an open round one - and remains there today. The current lintel stone (its second) notes the 1836 rebuild and another by the Merchant's House in 1874. A plaque commemorates its most recent refurbishment by Tennant Caledonian Breweries in 1983. The Ladywell remains capped.



Ladywell Street, Glasgow.
This well has been restored and rebuilt, as it bears. I have not been
able to find any drawing showing the original structure. I cannot
possibly imagine that the present building (fig. 11) bears any resemblance
to the former, it being now strictly classic in design and detail. The
cross and urn are of cast metal. "Lady Love" or "Lady Well," so
called after a fountain at the bottom of {he Craigs (now included in the
Necropolis), sacred in Popish times to the Virgin.—Merchants' House
of Glasgow.

Listed Building Report

The Lady Well 1955:

The Lady Well 1960:

Lord Provost Michael Kelly after unveiling the rebuilt Lady Well

Glasgow Cathedral.
This well is curiously situated, and points, I think, to the spring having been well known and possibly regarded with feelings of veneration before the building of the present structure. It is exceedingly simple, the window at the back being as much the result of accident as design in its relationship to the well.

ST. ENOCH or THENEW, mother of St Kentigern—Glasgow. The following
references to this well are taken from the Glasgow Burgh Records :—" 16th
March 1573.—Johne Blakwod is fund in the wrang, and amerchiament of
court for del vying doun of the erd besyde St Thenewis Woll, quhilk is commcran,
purposyng to appropriat the samyn to himself, and dwme gevin
heir upon." " 13th June 1595.—The baillies ordanes the maister of W***
to repair the brig at St Tinewis Well besyde the Greyn to be ane futte
rod in tyme cumying." Macgeorge, in his History of Old Glasgow says—" It was shaded by an old tree, which drooped over it, and which
remained till the end of the last century. On this tree the devotees who
frequented the well were accustomed to nail as thanks-offerings small bits
of tin-iron, probably manufactured for the purpose by a craftsman in the
neighbourhood, representing the parts of the body supposed to have been
cured by virtue of the blessed spring, a practice still common in Roman
Catholic countries. The late Mr Robert Hart told me that he had been
informed by an old man, a Mr Thomson, who had resided in the neighbourhood,
that at the end of last century or the beginning of the present
he had recollected this well being cleaned out, and of seeing picked out
from the debris at the bottom several of those old votive offerings which
had dropped from the tree, the stump of which at that time was still

St Thenew's Well is shown (in the area NS 589 648) S of St Thenew's Chapel (NS56SE 26 q.v.) on Renwick's plan. Walker quotes references to this well in Glasgow burgh records of 1573 and 1595. Macgeorge states that a tree stood besi de the well, and pieces of metal were inserted into it as offerings. Some of these were recovered when the well was being cleaned out at the end of the 18th century. (This area is now built up.)
J R Walker 1883; A Macgeorge 1880; R Renwick and J Lindsay 1921.

The Marriage Well:
Kenmuir bank is a steep acclivity which rises directly from the margin of the Clyde to the height of some sixty or seventy feet. 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 Farkhead 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 beaded 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 (caitha 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 europceus), and many others are in full bloom, and so thickly strewn that even as the poet says. 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

The riverside path along the banks ends at Kenmuir Woods at the place called the "Dooket" at the foot of the wood. 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.

The 'Arms' Well or is it 'Ams' or even 'Arns'  Confused
Of these wells, those still in existence, though now closed, are the famous Arns Well, [Named from the "am" or alder trees which grew about it near the Humane Society House on Glasgow Green

From Hugh MacDonald’s ‘Rambles Around  Glasgow’:

Glasgow Green:
Passing Arn’s Well, which is famed for the quality of its water, and which received its name from a group of alder (Seduce, "arn") trees, which formerly graced the spot, we arrive at the Humane Society House.

Other (non holy) wells from the same source ('scuse the pun)

Ladle Well, Fleshers’ Haugh:
Great alterations have been effected on the Fleshers’ Haugh within the memory of persons still living. We remember, in our own boyish days, a fine spring, called the "Ladle Well," on the northern declivity, with a considerable ditch or marsh in its vicinity. The well and marsh, however, have long disappeared, the water of both being now conveyed away by a covered drain, while the grass waves green on terra firma where the lasses of Brigtown came to fill their cans, and adventurous urchins, miscalculating their leaping powers—as we from sad experience can testify— were often plunged to the waist in mud.

Robin's Well, Glasgow Green:
But to return to the Green itself. At the foot of the bank on which we are standing, and within a few yards of each other, are two fine cool crystalline springs, which, although so near each other, possess very opposite qualities. The one, locally denominated "Robin’s Well," is famous for bleaching purposes and for the dilution of "gude Scots’ drink;" while the other, being moderately impregnated with a solution of ferruginous matter, is strictly avoided alike by the washerwoman and the connoisseur of punch.

Pear-tree Well, Botanic Gardens:
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 valley of the Kelvin at the famous "Pear-tree Well."
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 beads, while their sturdy roots, in serpentlike 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.

NB: The Pear-Tree Well was just beside the present Kirklee Bridge Gate of the botanic Gardens. It exists no longer, but its waters (diverted from their original channel) may be seen entering the river higher up.

The Borgie Well, Cambuslang:
There are several fine springs in the glen, at which groups of girls from the village, with their water pitchers, are generally congregated, lending an additional charm to the landscape, which is altogether of the most picturesque nature. One of these springs, called "the Borgie well," is famous for the quality of its water, which, it is jocularly said, has a deteriorating influence on the wits of those who habitually use it. Those who drink of the "Borgie," we were informed by a gash old fellow who once helped us to a draught of it, are sure to turn "half.daft," and will never leave Cambuslang if they can help it. However this may be, we can assure such of our readers as may venture to taste it that they will find a bicker of it a treat of no ordinary kind, more especially if they have threaded the mazes of the glen, as we have been doing, under the vertical radiance of a July sun.

“A drink o’ the Borgie, a taste o’ the weed,
Sets a’ the Cams’lang folks wrang in the heid”

I found this in the Southern Necropolis the other week:

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 30, 2009 9:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very good! :clap:

I think I had the very same book from the library several years ago, but had no copying or scanning capability back in the dark ages, so it's lovely to read this.

I do have some books on myth, folklore holy wells, special trees,  etc but all are still in a box.  I don't think I have any that specialise in Scotland, though.   Hmm, I might feel a book-buying fit coming on.    Shocked
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PostPosted: Fri May 08, 2009 11:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Brilliant stuff - well done!
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PostPosted: Fri May 08, 2009 1:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Haw Paisley reject dae you yesel hiv some kinda wattuur fetish or whit?
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A Nonny Moose

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PostPosted: Sat May 16, 2009 10:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thur yaised tae be a Ladywell in Dundee an'a'.  Hink it's jist commemoratit beh a pub o' the semm nemm noo.
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Boudleaux C Merkin

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PostPosted: Sat May 16, 2009 3:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent stuff HH. Ah'm tempted tae say well well well, but Ah'll no. Aw fuckit Ah wulll ... well well well. Cool
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PostPosted: Sat May 16, 2009 7:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great post, Hollowhorn!

Good to see another wells enthusiast around the place!

Most of my visits to sacred wells have been in Cornwall, Wales and Ireland. I've chalked up about 47 of the 143 Cornish sacred wells listed in Cheryl Straffon's 'Fentynyow Kernow' so far and am hoping to visit more this summer.

There is an email list for wells and spa people called Water Talk and you can join at the website

The list is only sporadically active, but the people on it are very knowledgeable. They're a nice bunch and come up with some really interesting stuff from time to time including special offers on new books on wells.

There also used to be a magazine called Source, which is no longer produced, but all the articles of past editions are online at

Janet Bord has produced two nice books - 'Holy Wells in Britain: A Guide' and 'Cures and Curses' - which I am looking forward to reading on holiday.

Jeremy Harte published Volume 1 of English Wells: a sourcebook in March, which includes Vols II and III as CDs.

Another book I like is "Ancient and Holy wells of Cornwall" by M&L Quiller Couch, neices of Sir Arthur Quiller Couch. Their father, Thomas, was a GP in Bodmin and used to visit sacred wells while he visited his patients. His daughters put together all his notes and published them after his death. They add some fascinating local insights which are missing from Cheryl Straffon's book.

Patrick Logan has written a book on "The Holy Wells of Ireland".

You may have come across 'Holy Wells in the British Isles' by Christina Martin which is one of the Wooden Books series. It's an ok introduction if you've never read a wells book before but is far too short and covers too large a geographical area

Terry Faull has produced a guide to Sacred wells in Devon and has a website at  

David Furlong is researching the sacred wells in London and has a website  

So far I've written two articles about sacred wells - one for The Cauldron a couple of years ago - a general article telling how I became interested in them and another on bowsenning for Meyn Mamvro, which I'll post here is anyone is interested in ancient mental health treatments.
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PostPosted: Sat May 16, 2009 9:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah wid think Boo wid be innerestit in ancient mentil helth treetmints hen as he suffirs frae maist o thum   Very Happy
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PostPosted: Sat May 16, 2009 9:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great links there, ta muchly. I for one would be more than happy to see the articles you mention, post away! It would also give me something to read out loud tae Heidbanger when I take him up his horlicks of an evening.

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