Cruckles Well, Manningham, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SE 160 339

Archaeology & History

Which one is the Cruckleswell?

Which one is the Cruckleswell?

In an essay by great regional historian Harry Speight (1912) on the ancient tracks of Bradford and district, he mentions this “Cruckleswell” which was first described in 1602.  Mentioned again in 1612 land deeds and several times thereafter, the site has long gone (been built over), but may have been a place where local people ascribed there being water spirits, or naiads.

Although the local historian W.E. Preston (1932) described the place as being in fields between Manningham Stoop (an old boundary stone, now lost) and Hallfield Cross (perhaps an old stone cross site, also lost), a more detailed article appeared a few years later by Wilfrid Robertshaw (1935), telling of its approximate location.  He wrote:

“The interesting field-name of Cruckleswell occurs in 1664.  Cruckleswell was situated between Manningham Stoope and Hallfield Cross.  The latter name is here applied to some closes of land near the Bradford-Manningham boundary and not to a monument; but from this qualifying statement must not be inferred the opinion that a stone or wooden cross of the name never existed.  From Manningham Stoope, whose location I have not traced, a lane led to Fair Gapp, which was just within the town of Bradford; but in 1686 there was a close called the Stoope, which adjoined Manningham Lower Lane on the left-hand side from Bradford to Manningham.  The occupiers of Cruckleswells were ordered by the jurors of the Bradford Manor Court to take in the water which ran by their premises.  The occurrence of a water-course thereabouts, together with the name, Cruckleswell, suggests that here, as in the Panewell Feilde, was a holy well of a kind.  Perhaps the derivation of the name may be found in the Yorkshire dialect word ‘crukle,’ meaning to make crooked, or to bend or twist.  In a sense, therefore, Cruckleswell was another pin well, into which bent of ‘cruckled’ pins were cast.  Cruckleswells, or Crookewells, as the three closes of land were called in a deed of 1658, were then granted by Tempest Brighouse, of Bilbie in the county of Nottingham, to James Mitchell of Bradford, yeoman.  But…I have found a deed of sale by Christopher Pighells of Bradford, yeoman, to John Nicholls of Horton, clerk, of the close of land called Cruckleswell… Nicholls purchased Cruckleswell in 1612, the year before Saxton produced his plan, on which the small field is shown adjoining others belonging to Pighells.  Thus the plan fixes the location of Cruckleswell; it adjoined the east side of the highway leading from Bradford to Frizinghall and was just within the Manningham township.”

This would put it close to the Holy Well Ash well and its long-lost standing stone.  The 1852 OS-map of this area shows an unnamed well between the Holy Well Ash and the boundary line, as highlighted above; but another unnamed well is to the north of the holy well.  If we cross over the boundary line south and out of Manningham, three other wells existed less than 200 yards away.  Anyone of these may have been the Cruckleswell.

Mr Robertson’s idea on the word ‘cruckle’ is echoed in A.H. Smith’s (1961) place-name analysis of the site, where he relates how the word is “possibly connected with the obsolete crookle, ‘to crook, bed.'”  This is shown to be the case in Thomas Wright’s (1898) gigantic tome. And as “cruckling” pins was a common animistic practice in earlier centuries, this derivation of it—as being a well where offerings were given to the spirit of the waters—is not unlikely.

References:

  1. Preston, W.E., ‘Some Local Holy Wells,’ in Bradford Antiquary, June 1932.
  2. Robertshaw, Wilfrid (ed.), West Yorkshire Deeds (2 volumes), Bradford Historical & Antiquarian Society 1936.
  3. Shepherd, Val, Historic Wells of Bradford, Heart of Albion: Wymeswold 1995.
  4. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1961.
  5. Speight, Harry, ‘Ancient Streets and Lanes of Bradford as Portrayed in the Manor Court Rolls,’ in Bradford Antiquary, New Series 3, 1912.
  6. Wright, Thomas, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, Henry Frowde: Oxford 1898.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Posted in Brigantia (Northern England), Holy Wells, Yorkshire, West | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

St. Margaret’s Well, Old Pentland, Midlothian

Holy Well (covered):  OS Grid Reference – NT 26388 66338

Archaeology & History

St Margarets Well at Pentland

St Margarets Well at Pentland

Described in Hope & Telford’s (1813) rare work, this little-known holy well has escaped the attention of all surveyors since then.  It was one of four sacred and healing sites in the village and “the most copious” of them all, they said.  Located a little to the east of the old churchyard, chemical analysis showed its water to contain carbonates and sulphates of lime, “muriate of soda and a magnesium salt in very minute proportion, and carbonate of iron in a still smaller” amount.

Covering slabs on the well

Covering slabs on the well

Until recently, the waters of St. Margaret could still be seen in the small copse of trees, just off the footpath, but they have now been covered in large stone slabs.  Underneath them, you can clearly hear the sound of the rushing water still pouring out of the ground, quite copiously, as Hope & Telford said!  A little further down the slope—into which the waters have cut a tiny glen—the ground is very boggy and marshy due to the outflow from the well.  However, the waters here seem very dodgy indeed and it isn’t recommended that you try to drink them! (in the adjacent trees is a large dump site)

It is likely that the St. Margaret dedication here relates to the 11th century Scottish Queen, who was believed to have landed at nearby North Queensferry, known as St. Margaret’s Hope.  Literary history tells that she became a Roman Catholic.

References:

  1. Hope, Thomas C. & Telford, Thomas, Reports on the Means of Improving the Supply of Water for the City of Edinburgh, A. Constable: Edinburgh 1813.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Queen’s Cairn, Farr, Strathnaver, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 7247 5687

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6212
  2. Skelpick

Getting Here

The great Queen's Cairn

The great Queen’s Cairn

From Bettyhill village, take the road east towards Tongue and Durness.  A half-mile out of the village, at the bottom of the hill, just before you cross the small metal bridge across the River Naver, a very minor road, left, takes you to Skelpick. Go down here and follow the directions to reach the giant long cairn of Skelpick Long.  Once there, walk east up the moorland hill (there are no footpaths) for about 150 yards.  Once on top of the rise, the moorland levels out a little and there, before you, amidst the small overgrown undulations of many old cairns, a giant one rises up to greet you about 100 yards away.  Y’ can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Neolithic in nature, this giant circular cairn, standing on the ridge above the hugely impressive chambered long cairn of Long Skelpick, isn’t quite as grandiose as its neighbour below, but it’s still an impressive feature in this beautiful moorland landscape.  Comprised of tens of thousands of small stones raised to a height of 10 feet above the moorland peat, several ‘pits’ have been dug into the top of this undoubted tomb of regal nature; but whether it was originally the burial-place of a single person, to which were later added members of the same family, is simply unknown.

queens-cairn35

Large rock-covered capstone

Depression atop of the cairn

Depression atop of the cairn

On the top of the cairn, at least one of the ‘pits’ that drop into the centre is covered by a large heavy tombstone with a small upright monolith at its side.  Although the late great Miss Henshall (2005) thought no ‘chamber’ was here, it is very likely that a chamber will be found beneath this large rock-covered flat stone (see photo).  In our visit, a hollow seemed to be apparent beneath this.

Mass of cairns on 1878 map

Mass of cairns on 1878 map

Highlighted on the earliest Ordnance Survey map, it was shown to be just one cairn amidst the mass of other smaller surrounding tombs—most of which were probably built for people from the same tribal group.  None of these small cairns have been excavated, but they were probably built after the construction of the major Queen’s Cairn.

The Royal Commission lads visited the site in 1909, but said very little of the place (probably over-awed by Long Skelpick, Coillie na Borgie and other nearby giants!), merely that this large circular cairn has

“a diameter of about 54′.  It is about 8′ high, and though the stones have been pulled about here and there on the top, it does not appear to have been excavated.”

Queen's Cairn, looking north

Queen’s Cairn, looking north

And so it remains to this day—although the cairn is slightly larger than the dimensions given by the Commission boys.  Beneath the encroaching heather, the cairn is closer to 67 feet (10.23m) across, with a circumference of 210 feet (64.25m).

Line of ancient walling nearby

Line of ancient walling nearby

The monument sits on a plateau immediately above the giant Long Skelpick cairn—although neither can be seen from each other.  But if you walk only a short distance from the Queen’s Cairn towards the long cairn below, a very notable and extensive line of ancient walling runs along the edge of the geological ridge separating the two tombs, as if deliberately keeping them apart.  Other lines of ancient walling run closer to the cairn, seeming to indicate that a settlement of some form was also apparent on this ridge, in close connection with the group of smaller burial cairns.

It’s a gorgeous arena with many prehistoric sites and puzzles to behold, and plenty of unrecorded ones nestling quietly in the heather.  It’s bloody superb to be honest!

References:

  1. Gourlay, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S. & Ritchie, J.N.G., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 2005.
  3. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland, HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  4. Stuart, John, “Report to the Committe of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Appointed to Arrange for the Application of a Fund left by the Late Mr A. Henry Rhind, for Excavating Early Remains,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1868.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to Aisha & Lara Domleo for our meandering day out to this olde place… Gorgeous! x

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Posted in Cairns, Tombs, Tumuli, Scotland, Sutherland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wallace’s Oak, Larbert, Falkirk, Stirlingshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NS 847 836?

Also Known as:

  1. Wallace’s Tree

Archaeology & History

The archaeology and traditions ascribed to this ancient tree (exact position unknown) is based on words that were first penned two hundred years ago.  It was thankfully recorded with a reasonable description when William Nimmo wrote about the great Sir William Wallace in the second edition of his Stirlingshire (1817) work.  Known about in oral tradition by local people, Nimmo told how:

“Torwood was a place where he and his party, when engaged in any expedition in this part of the country, often held their rendezvous, and to which they retreated in the hour of danger.  Here is still to be seen an aged oak, well known by the name of Wallace’s Tree; which seems to have been, even then, rotten and hollow within, and is said to have often afforded a lodging to him and a few of his trusty friends. It is supposed to have been one of the largest trees that ever grew in Scotland.  It is now almost quite decayed; but, from its ruins, appears to have been of an uncommon size. The remaining stump is no less than eleven or twelve feet in diameter. It stands upon the summit of a small eminence, which is surrounded on all sides by a swamp.  A rugged causeway runs from the south through the swamp, and leads up to the tree.  Some other vestiges of the stonework are discernible, surrounding the tree in a circular form, and leading to the conjecture that this oak is of a very high antiquity; and that, having been much frequented by Druidical priests, amongst whom the oak was sacred, the causeway had been laid for their approach to it, and the performance, underneath its branches, of religious rites.”

Nimmo may have a point here.  Not necessarily of druids (although druidic traditions and reality is known from many old tracts to have continued in many of the hidden places in Scotland), but certainly in relation to the paved track leading to a what may have been a recognised moot-hill, on top of which this great oak once stood.  Great trees and ancient meeting places were held in high esteem, not only in the legends of druidism and more established animistic pantheons, but in the recognised pragmatism of local tribal gatherings, in Scotland, Wales, England and in traditional cultures all over the world. (Gomme 1880) The traces of stonework leading to the hill strongly implies an archaeological site in the paving alone; but moreso, as an important site in the traditions of the Scottish people.  The fact that these stone ruins were still visible when Nimmo visited the site in the latter-half of the 18th century in the context he describes, implies it may have been the remains of a possible crannog; or a moot hill; or even, with its great oak surmounting, a sacred grove!  In my mind, it was probably being used as a gathering place long before William Wallace and his men gathered here…

In 1880, a 3rd edition of Nimmo’s Stirlingshire was published and edited by R. Gillespie.  Herein were additional notes about Wallace’s Oak that had been uncovered by Mr Gillespie.  Although he’d visited the place,

“Not the smallest vestige…of the Wallace oak remains. Even the ” oldest inhabitant” can say nothing of it save what he has gathered from tradition.  Sir Walter Scott, in his Tales of a Grandfather, speaks of having seen some of its roots eighty years ago; and recently we were shown a treasured morsel of the tree in the Chambers’ Institute at Peebles. Wallace, undoubtedly, often chose the solitude of the Torwood as a place of rest for his army, raised and roused to oppose the tyranny of Edward.  Here he concealed his numbers and his designs, sallying out suddenly on the enemy’s garrisons, and retreating as suddenly when afraid of being overpowered. While his army lay in these woods, “the oak” was his head-quarters. Within it, the illustrious hero generally slept, the hollow trunk being huge enough to afford shelter both to himself and one or more of his associates.”

When John Gibson (1908) came to write about it, he told that “Wallace’s Oak, which stood on another part of Woodside (low Torwood), has…vanished.” No roots, no lingering trunk—nothing.  But although the tree has long since gone, William M. Stirling pointed out n 1817 that,

“A young tree is pointed out in the neighbourhood, as having sprung from an acorn of Wallace’s Oak.”

If and when we can locate the old toll-house of Broomage at Larbert, we get much closer to identifying the exact location of this long lost oak.  Then, perhaps, a commemorative plaque should surely be placed there to remind people of their great history, and included on tours of sites relating to Sir William Wallace.

References:

  1. Gibson, John C., Lands and Lairds of Larbert and Dunipace Parishes, Hugh Hopkins: Glasgow 1908.
  2. Gomme, George L., Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Low: London 1880.
  3. Nimmo, William, The History of Stirlingshire (2nd edition), John Frazer: Stirling 1817.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Leckie Broch Carving (02), Gargunnock, Stirlingshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 6926 9399

Getting Here

Ornate face of Leckie-2 carving

Ornate face of Leckie-2 stone

Take the A811 road between Stirling and Kippen and go up into Gargunnock, From the village centre, go along the Leckie Road (not the Main Street!) for half-a-mile, then turn left up the tiny road. ¾-mile (1.15km) along, a small bridge crosses the Leckie Burn (a.k.a. St Colm’s Burn).  From here, walk up the footpath into the woods for 100 yards or so and cross the waters.  When you see the large overgrown rocky rise of the Leckie Broch covered in pesky rhododendrons, walk up its left-side where (presently) a clearing has been made and the carved rocks stand out.

Archaeology & History

A very curious design here!  Possibly carved at the same time as the Leckie broch to which it is attached—possibly not—we have here a curious amalgam of Nature’s incisions and human design, culminating in cup-and-rings and cups-and-squares no less!  When we came to visit it a few days ago, Lisa Samsonowicz found the stone hiding away, buried beneath a thin layer of natural cover.  The rest of the team thereafter enabled a much clearer pictures of the carving.

Star motif & other cups

Star motif & other cups

Allison McLaren sitting on the new find

Young Allison on the new find (photo courtesy John McLaren)

We’re not quite sure who first rediscovered the carving. In an early photo of the site taken in the late ’70s or early ’80s, a young Allison McLaren sits highlighting the design.  But she wasn’t the fortunate lass who discovered it!  One account describes a local woman, Lady Younger of Leckie House, who was out walking her dog, accidentally dislodging some of the rocky debris of the Iron Age broch and unearthing the petroglyphs, thereafter taking Allison along to see it.  The other account tells of it being noticed for the first time during an excavation of the broch by Euan MacKie and his team.  Whichever it was, Prof Mackie (1970) was certainly the first person to write about it.  He told:

“Part of the sandstone face of the northern end of the promontory on which stands the Leckie dun is covered with well preserved cup-marks, presumably much older than the dun.  They were discovered when rubble and soil fallen from the dun was removed.  Some of the cup-marks stand alone and some are surrounded by what appear to be incised rectangles in a ladder pattern.  There are other, less clear markings.”

Ron Morris' 1981 sketch

Ron Morris’ 1981 sketch

Small & large cupmarks

Small & large cupmarks

There then followed a series of written accounts, small and large, about the Leckie broch—but little else was said of the carvings.  It wasn’t until Ronald Morris (1981) came to see them a few years later that they gained a slightly lengthier description.  He described how the petroglyph was,

“carved over about 3m (yds) at heights of 1-2m (yds) on faces now sloping mostly 0-90º NW, with 3 cups-and-one-near-hexagonal-ring up to 12cm (4½in) diameter, a ‘sun-burst’ and other grooves, and at least 40 cups up to 12cm (4½in) diameter and up to 8cm (3in) deep.  On a vertical E-facing slab there are also many grooves, some of which connect lines of cups. Some grooves resemble a ‘sea-horse’, an ‘axe’, etc. All except the cups are probably incised, but some may be natural.”

Large cupmarks on sloping face

Large cupmarks on sloping face

Looking down the spine of 2 rocks

Looking down the spine of 2 rocks

The entire design in fact covers two separate sections of rock.  On the vertical face of one stone is a curious conjoined cup-and-rectangle, attached to a cup-and-square, attached to a traditional cup-and-ring.  A cluster of other cups, large and small, are immediately left of this odd geometric pattern.  The ‘cups’ within this section of the petroglyph are quite deep and, it would seem, were geological in nature and have been touched-up by human hands.  Immediately below this rectangle-square-circle sequence, faint carved lines run a little further down the face of the rock.  They were difficult to see clearly and require subsequent visits to enable a more complete picture. Along the top of this section of rock are several cups, one or two of them seeming to have faint rings around them.  (at the very bottom of this vertical carved face, at ground level, a small section of man-made walling is visible, which was no doubt a section of the huge broch)

Above the top of this vertical carved face is a gap between this and a second, larger earthfast stone.  This has a series of cups, some with faint rings around them, but most of them are just cups, both shallow and deep, running down the slope of the rock.  A notable ‘star’ of five cups surrounding a single-cup stands out on this section.  Some of them seem to have been geophysical in nature, but again have been touched-up and added to.

Cluster of curious peck-marks

Cluster of curious peck-marks

Slightly higher still, on another third section of rock, a curious cluster of weird ‘pecks’, almost in a square pattern, with a possible cup-mark close to the edge of the stone is clearly visible.  The edge of this rock seems to have been quarried and the markings here may just be mason marks preceding the breaking of the stone in the Iron Age.

Walk around to the south-side of the broch and there, in the walling, on a vertical stone face, is the small cup-marked Leckie 1 carving.

One final note of concern: the carving (and the broch) have become overrun with rhododendrons, to the point where they are severely damaging the monuments here. They need to be curtailed before further archaeological destruction occurs. Help!

References:

  1. MacKie, Euan, “Leckie, Cup-Marked Rock,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1980.
  2. MacKie, Euan, “The Leckie Broch, Stirlingshire,”, in Glasgow Archaeological Journal, volume 9, 1982.
  3. McLaren, John, Personal Communications, 7.2.17 & 16.2.17.
  4. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.

Links:

  1. Gargunnock Village History

Acknowledgements:  Immense thanks to Lisa Samsonowicz, Fraser Harrick, Nina Harris, Frank Mercer and Paul Hornby for all their work, enabling a clear picture of the site.  And a huge thanks to John McLaren of the Gargunnock Village History site for allowing us to include the early photo of the carving here – thanks John! :)

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Leckie Broch Carving (01), Gargunnock, Stirlingshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NS 69259 93985  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Cup-marked stone in south wall of broch

Cup-marked stone in south wall of broch

Take the A811 road between Stirling and Kippen and go up into Gargunnock, From the village centre, go along the Leckie Road (not the Main Street!) for half-a-mile, then turn left up the tiny road. ¾-mile (1.15km) along, a small bridge crosses the Leckie Burn (a.k.a. St Colm’s Burn).  Walk up the footpath into the woods for 100 yards or so and cross the waters.  When you see the large overgrown rocky rise of the Leckie Broch covered in pesky rhododendrons, walk up its left-side and, as it levels out, note the walling on your left.  It’s just a few yards along.

Archaeology & History

This cup-marked stone is only for the mad petroglyphic puritans amongst you! Rediscovered by Nina Harris on February 5, 2017, it can be seen when you look at the main southern wall of this rhododendron-infested broch, near the middle of one of the large cut-and-squared stones built into the upright face.  The carving has at least two cup-markings on its vertical face—which are clearly visible on the photo.  One is quite deep, whilst the other is quite faint.  At either end of the stone are what may have been two other cups that were started but never finished, or just natural-occurring holes in the stone (I’m more of the opinion that they’re just natural, but would love to be wrong!).  A possible third cup-mark can be seen along the top-edge of the stone.

There is no mention of this carving in Dr Mackie’s various writings on the Leckie Broch, which he excavated in the 1970s; only the recognised cup-and-ring stone (Leckie 02) on its northeast edge.  The intriguing element (which can also be applied to the Leckie-2 carving) is that the Leckie Broch was constructed in the 1st century AD—and these cup-markings were probably carved around that time, much later than many others.  It is likely that other unrecorded carvings will be hiding away nearby.

References:

  1. MacKie, Euan, “The Leckie Broch, Stirlingshire,”, in Glasgow Archaeological Journal, volume 9, 1982.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Cloven Stone, Colinton, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 2139 7001

Archaeology & History

Cloven Stone on 1855 map

Cloven Stone on 1855 map

Highlighted on the earliest OS-map of 1855 and the Knox Map of 1816 in non-antiquated lettering as a ‘Standing Stone’, the Edinburgh historian Stuart Harris (1996) thought it was an authentic site.  He was probably right.  First named in land rentals in 1631, it was known by local people as the Clovenstone and used to stand in a park of the same name, before quarrying works extended into the area and destroyed it in the 1870s. Mr Harris thought that it may have been a pair of uprights, but the term ‘cloven’ could just as well mean it was a stone that had a split in it.

References:

  1. Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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Borgie Well, Cambuslang, Lanarkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 64412 60194

Getting Here

Borgie Well on the 1859 map

Borgie Well on the 1859 map

There must be an easier way to visit this site than the method I used.  Which was:  along Cambuslang’s Main Street (A724), turn up the B759 Greenlees Road for nearly 500 yards, turning left onto Vicarlands Road.  Notice the grass verge and steep slope immediately to your left.  Walk into the tree-lined gorge, following the left-side along the edges of the fencing.  About 150 yards down the steep glen, note the very denuded arc of stone-walling and rickety fencing on the other side of the burn.  That’s it! (broken glass and an excess of people’s domestic waste are all the way down; very difficult to reach, to say the least!)

Archaeology & History

Found in a dreadful state down the once-beautiful Borgie Glen, this is one of the most curious entries relating to sacred and healing springs of water anywhere in the British Isles.  Indeed, the traditions and folklore told of it seem to make the site unique, thanks to one fascinating factor…..which we’ll get to, shortly…..

Remains of the Borgie Well

Remains of the Borgie Well

The name ‘Borgie’ is an oddity.  Local historians J.T.T. Brown (1884) and James Wilson (1925) wondered whether it had Gaelic, Saxon or Norse origins, with Brown thinking it may have been either a multiple of a simple bore-well, or else a title given it by a travelling minister from Borgue, in Kirkcudbright.  Mr Wilson took his etymology from the very far north where “there is a stream called the Borgie” (just below the Borgie souterrain).  This is said to be Nordic in origin, with

“borg, a fort or shelter, and -ie, a terminal denoting a stream. It is almost certain that our Borgie has the same origin; that is, ‘the fort or shelter by the stream.’”

The Borgie Well was described by a number of authors, each of whom spoke of its renown in the 19th century and earlier.  One of my favourite Glasgow writers, Hugh MacDonald (1860), had this to say about the place:

“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.”

Borgie Well, looking south

Borgie Well, looking south

It’s somewhat troublesome to reach, but a beautiful landscape indeed is where, today, only remnants of the Borgie Well exist.  A very eroded semi-circle of walling and iron bars protects what was once the waters of the well—which have long since fallen back to Earth.  Behind it, right behind it, overhangs the cliff and a small cave: a recess into the Earth with its very own feeling.  It has the look and feel of a witch’s or hermit’s den with distinct oracular properties.  This geomancy would not have gone unnoticed by our ancestors.  In this enclaved silence, the once bubbling waters beneath the cliffs give a feel of ancient genius loci—a memory still there, despite modernity.  Whether this crack in the Earth and its pure spring waters was some sort of Delphic Oracle in days gone by, only transpersonal ventures may retrieve… Perhaps…

In the 19th century a path took you into the glen from the north, and a commemorative plaque was erected here by a Dr Muirhead, where now lie ruins.  It read:

The Borgie Well here
Ran many a year.

Then comes the main verse :_

Wells wane away,
Brief, too, man’s stay,
Our race alone abides.
A s burns purl on
With mirth or moan,
Old Ocean with its tides,
Each longest day
Join hands and say
(Here where once flowed the well)
We hold the grip
Friends don’t let slip
The Bonny Borgie Dell.
1879.

At the base was carved an appeal to the local folk:

Boys, guard this well, and guard this stone,
Because, because, both are your own.

The plaque has long since gone; and according to the local historian J.T.T. Brown (1884), the waters went with it due to local mining operations around the same time.  But there was an additional rhyme sang of the Borgie Well which thankfully keeps the feel of its memory truly awake (to folk like me anyway!).  It is somewhat of a puzzle to interpret.  Spoken of from several centuries ago, it thankfully still prevails:

A drink 0′ the Borgie, a taste 0′ the weed,
Sets a’ the Cam’slang folks wrang in the heid.

Meaning simply, if you drink the waters of this well, you’ll get inebriated!   It’s the derivation of the word ‘weed’ that is intriguing here.  In Grant’s (1975) massive Scottish dialect work we are given several meanings. The most obvious is that the weed in the poem is, literally, a weed as we all know it.  But it also means ‘a fever’; also ‘to cut away’ or ‘thin out’; to carry off or remove (especially by death); as well as a shroud or sheet of cloth.  These meanings are found echoed, with slight variants, in the english dialect equivalent of Joseph Wright. (1905)  Hugh MacDonald told that the Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) grew hereby—which, initially, one might think could account for this curious rhyme.  But the Enchanter’s Nightshade has nothing to do with the psychoactive Nightshade family, well-known in the shamanistic practices of our forefathers.  However, in the old pages of one Folklore Society text, William Black (1883), in repeating the curious rhyme, told us:

“The Borgie well, at Cambuslang, near Glasgow, is credited with making mad those who drink from it; according to the local rhyme —

A drink of the Borgie, a bite of the weed,
Sets a’ the Cam’slang folk wrang in the head.”

The weed is the weedy fungi.”

A mushroom no less!  In John Bourke’s curious (1891) analysis of early mushroom use, he repeats Mr Black’s derivation.  If this ‘weed’ was indeed use of mushrooms that made the local folk “go mad” or “wrang in the head” (and if not – what was it?), it’s an early literary account of magic mushroom intoxication!  If this interpretation is correct, the likelihood is that the Borgie Well was a site used for ritual or social use of such intoxicants.  Many sites across the world were used by indigenous people for ritual intoxication, and this could be one of the last folk remnants of such usage here. We know that Scotland has its own version of cocaine, used extensively by our ancestors (even the Romans described it) and which was still being used by working Highlanders in the 20th century—but early descriptions of mind-affecting mushrooms are rare indeed!

Psilocybe semilanceata

Psilocybe semilanceata

Amanita muscaria

Amanita muscaria

Mr Black gives no further folklore, nor the source of his information, other than to suggest that the madness incurred by the Well typified the people of Cambuslang!  “Weedy fungi” may have been ergot (Claviceps purpurea), but the incidence of the grasses upon which it primarily grows, rye, here seems unlikely—and the folklore would certainly have included the ‘death’ aspects which that fungus brings!  Fly agarics (Amanita muscaria) however, may have grown here.  Old birches are close by, which produce nice quantities of those beautiful fellas.  On the fields above the gorge, where now houses grow, Liberty Caps (Psilocybe semilanceata) may have profused—as they do in the field edges further out of town—but this species has no local cultural history known about from the early period.  We must, however, maintain a healthy scepticism about this interpretation—but at the same time we have to take into account the ‘intoxicating’ madness which the combination of the “waters and the weed” elicited.

One final note I have to make before closing this site entry:  despite the beautiful location, this small gorge is in a fucking disgraceful state.  Some of the people who live in the houses above the gorge should be fucking ashamed of themselves, dumping masses of their household rubbish and tons of broken glass into the glen.  If these people are Scottish, WTF are you doing polluting your own landscape like this?  This almost forgotten sacred site needs renewing and maintaining as an important part of your ancient heritage.  Have you no respect for your own land?!?

References:

  1. Armitage, Paul, The Ancient and Holy Wells of Glasgow, TNA 2017.
  2. Black, William George, Folk Medicine: A Chapter in the History of Culture, Folk-lore Society: London 1883.
  3. Brotchie, T.C.F., “Holy Wells in and Around Glasgow,” in Old Glasgow Club Transactions, volume 4, 1920.
  4. Brown, J.T.T., Cambuslang, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1884.
  5. Bourke, John G., Scatalogic Rites of All Nations, W.H. Lowdermilk: Washington 18981.
  6. Grant, William (ed.), The Scottish National Dictionary – volume 10, SNDA: Edinburgh 1975.
  7. Hansen, Harold A., The Witches’ Garden, Santa Cruz: Unity 1980.
  8. MacDonald, Hugh, Rambles round Glasgow, John Cameron: Glasgow 1860.
  9. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  10. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  11. Walker, J.R., ‘”Holy Wells” in Scotland”, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 17, 1883.
  12. Wilson, James A., A History of Cambuslang, Jackson Wylie 1925.
  13. Wright, Joseph, The English Dialect Dictionary – volume 6, Henry Frowde: Oxford 1905.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks again, in various ways, to Nina Harris for getting us here; and Paul Hornby, for reminding me of my literary sources when I needed them! Thanks too to Travis Brodick and his beautiful photo of the Amanita muscaria cluster.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Staniston Hill, Stainburn, North Yorkshire

Standing Stone (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SE 2522 5010

Archaeology & History

Staniston Hill on 1851 map

Staniston Hill on 1851 map

This long-lost standing stone gave its name to the small hill between the geological giants of Little Almscliffe and Almscliffe Crags, ‘Staniston Hill.’  Described as early as the 13th century in the Cartulary of Fountains Abbey as ‘Standandestan’, its precise whereabouts is unknown—but it’s damn close to the grid-reference cited here.  As the early OS-map shows, a small rounded hill occurs a short distance northwest of the small copse of trees now growing.  The monolith may have been felled by some grumpy christian, or it could be standing in some nearby walling.  Local antiquarians, dowsers or archaeologists may or may not find a search for it worthwhile…

Its position between the two Almscliffe Crags makes it very close to marking the midway point of a natural solstice marker: the Winter sunrise from Little Almscliffe and summer sunset from the greater Almscliffe.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 5, Cambridge University Press 1961.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Wanstead Spa, Redbridge, London, Essex

Healing Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 40 87

Also Known as:

  1. Wanstead Spring

Archaeology & History

The exact location of this site remains a mystery.  Addison (1951) mentions it as being “close to the Blake Hall Road” where a drinking fountain was erected, but notes that this was not the original site of the spring.  It was obviously a medicinal spring of some renown to the local people, before it was appropriated by the wealthy to turn it into a ‘spa well’.  In doing so, it brought the attention of those curious lords and ladies, along with King James himself, adorning themselves in usual view as important people, and playing the part in social gatherings, as folks did at those spa wells.  But the fad didn’t last long and the spa never really caught on.  One account tells how it was a dangerous place for the rich and wealthy to visit!  Locals can and do get pissed-off if you steal their basic water supplies!

The primary description of the site is that afforded by Christy & Thresh (1910) in their excellent survey of Essex waters.  With no mention of the unimportant local people (!), they told how it was “first discovered” in the early 17th century:

“John Chamberlain, the news-letter writer, writing from London to Sir Dudley Carleton, on 23 August 1619, says:

“‘…We have great noise here of a new Spaa, or spring of that nature, found lately about Wansted; and much running there is to yt dayly, both by Lords and Ladies and other great companie, so that they have almost drawne yt drie alredy; and, yf yt should hold on, yt wold put downe the waters at Tunbridge; wch, for these three or foure yeares, have ben much frequented, specially this summer, by many great persons; insomuch that they wch have seene both say that yt [i.e., Tunbridge] is not inferior to the Spaa [in Belgium] for goode companie, numbers of people, and other appurtenances.”

“We have been quite unable to ascertain anything as to the part of Wanstead parish in which this spring was situated. In all probability, it was quite a small spring. One may infer as much from Chamberlain’s statement that, within a short time of its discovery, the company resorting to it had “almost drawn it dry.” If such was the case, the spring was, no doubt, soon deserted and ultimately forgotten.

“Mr. Walter Crouch, F.Z.S., of Wanstead, whose knowledge of the history of the parish is unequalled, writes us : —

“I have always had the idea that this Mineral Spring was not at the Park end of our parish, which abuts on Bush wood and Wanstead Flats, but in the vicinity of Snaresbrook and on the road which leads to Walthamstow; but it is possible that it was in the grounds of ‘ The Grove ‘ (now cut up and built over). The spring is not marked on Kip’s View (1710), nor on Rocque’s large Map (1735), nor on Rocque’s still larger map of a few years later.”

“Under the guidance of Mr. W. Ping, F.C.S., of Wanstead, Mr. Christy has visited two springs at Snaresbrook — namely, that known as the ‘Birch Well’, in the Forest, near the Eagle Pond, and a spring in the grounds of ‘The Hermitage’; but neither of these is credited locally with being a mineral spring and neither has any appearance of being such. Since then, Mr. Ping has written us as follows: “I have spoken with the oldest inhabitant of Wanstead, a Mr. Merryman, whose knowledge, both local and national, is remarkable and accurate. He tells me that the only Mineral Spring he ever heard of in Wanstead was in the grass bordering the roadside nearly opposite the house, in the Blake Hall Road, formerly occupied by Lord Mayor Figgis, and now by Sir John Bethell, M.P.  This spring he remembers well. Its water was chalybeate and left considerable reddish deposit. People came and drank it to give them an appetite. They used to kneel down and drink it from their hands, and also took it away in bottles. Others used to bathe their ankles in it to make them strong. Mr. Merryman adds that, about 1870, drainage operations deprived the spring of its water. The fountain, which has since been put up near its site, supplies waterworks water only.”  Mr. Ping adds that, recently when deeper drainage operations were in progress at the spot, water of a very markedly ferruginous character was encountered. This is no evidence that this spring was identical with that which came into prominence in 1619, but very likely it was.

“Mr. Dalton expresses the opinion that, if either surmise as to the position is correct, seeing that the comparison with the Tunbridge Wells chalybeate water was sound, the well in question probably yielded a ferruginous water from the Glacial (?) gravels of the Snaresbrook plateau at their contact with the pyritous London Clay.”

References:

  1. Addison, William, English Spas, Batsford: London 1951.
  2. Christy, Miller & Thresh, May, A History of the Mineral Waters and Medicinal Springs of the County of Essex, Essex Field Club: Stratford & London 1910.
  3. Hembry, Phyllis, The English Spa 1560-1815, Athlone Press: London 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

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