Holy Well (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NS 667 653
Archaeology & History
Information on this long forgotten holy well that once flowed a few miles east of Glasgow city centre, beneath what is now Wellhouse estate, is all but lost. Local history works of the area tell us little (though there must surely be something somewhere?) and even the place-name surveyor of this area—Peter Drummond (2014)—could find nothing. Noted by the Ordnance Survey lads in 1858, when they came to re-survey the area again in 1899 its waters had, it seems, been covered and carried into the ‘Well house’ less about 50 yards to the southwest (another ‘Wellhouse’ found 150 yards further west is the site that gives the estate its present name). From thereon, this wellhouse and St. Mark’s Well fell into the forgotten pages of history and, sadly it seems, even its oral tradition has died…
The origin and nature of the ‘well house’ isn’t too troublesome, as Drummond (2014) explains:
“The name Wellhouse exists in several places in Scotland, and could indicate a ‘house beside wells’, or a protective ‘house over wells’; the early record here suggests the former, since the first Glasgow Water Company’s Act was obtained in 1806, many years later.”
However, the reasons behind the dedication to St. Mark at this probably heathen arena in times gone by, seems to be quite a mystery. Perhaps the folklore of the saint concerned may be of some help.
Customs practiced on St. Mark’s Eve and St. Mark’s Day (April 24-5) are replete with animistic elements throughout and are certainly not christian! Six months after the old New Year, we find rituals once more allowing, not for the passing of, but the emergence of the dead: bringing the spirits into the Spring and Summer. Divination rites were practiced with Cannabis sativa no less! Prophecy and wise-women were advisors to the young. Walking backwards around wells were known at some St. Mark’s wells; whilst others without his name—but on this saint’s day—were leapt across, symbolizing the crossing of danger and darkness in the ritual calendar. All around this period of time, up to and including Beltane, the end of the dark cold year has passed, and these plentiful rites are prequels to the lighter days, warm spring, summer and good autumn: all vital rites for the people in their myths of the eternal return…
St. Mark’s Well at Glasgow meanwhile, seems to have lost its old tales… Surely not?
- Banks, M. MacLeod, British Calendar Customs: Scotland – volume 2, Folk-lore Society: Glasgow 1939.
- Drummond, Peter, An Analysis of Toponyms and Toponymic Patterns in Eight Parishes of the Upper Kelvin Basin, University of Glasgow 2014.
- Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, Arkana: London 1989.
- Greene, E.A., Saints and their Symbols, Sampson Low: London 1897.
- Hole, Christina, Saints in Folklore, M. Barrows: New York 1965.
- Wright, A.R., British Calendar Customs: England – volume 2, Folk-lore Society: London 1938.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian