Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – NT 2640 7008
Also Known as:
- Canmore ID 52100
- Lady’s Well
Archaeology & History
In Thomas Whyte’s (1792) lengthy survey of Liberton village, as it was in the 1790s, we come across what seems to be the earliest description of this long-lost holy well, on the northwest side of the parish. In writing of the beauty of the countryside hereby in his day, he told how,
“on the north by the rivulet called Braid’s-burn, near which there is a well which has the appellation…of the Lady’s or Virgin Mary’s well, famous for its large current, and the salubrity and lightness of its waters.”
Mr Whyte believed that its dedication to Our Lady went way back, probably before Liberton parish was given to St. Cuthbert in the 11th or 12th century (whose own holy well could once be found several miles north, near Leith). Generally, wells that are dedicated to ‘Our Lady’, refer to the Virgin Mary; but prior to any christian affectation, the animistic genius loci of the waters would have been a local spirit.
It was visited and described by the Ordnance Survey lads in the Name Book of 1851, in which they said that Our Lady’s Well was,
“The site of a celebrated well situated in a hollow on the farm of Liberton Tower Mains, and dedicated to St. Mary, as it and the field is well known to be called to this day, “The lady’s Field” & Well”. This well however about 50 years ago underwent a drainage during some improvements that were making on the land. In its covered condition it takes a S.E. course till its Confluence with the Braid Burn where it is shown to this day as the water coming from the Lady’s Well, and from which a body of crystalized water flows copiously. It was supposed that a chapel was somewhere Convenient which gave rise to the name, but all traces have long since disappeared….”
“There is no tradition recorded among the County people as to whether this was a holy well, or resorted to for superstitious purposes. But it is well ascertained to have been once a remarkable well & an object well known and though now covered-in, the place is still well known, as is also the name.”
Although this holy well was shown on early and late 19th century OS-maps as ‘covered’, trying to find its exact position today has proven difficult. When Paul Hornby and I visited the site after some heavy rains in June, 2017, we found a large pool of water in the field exactly as shown on the old map. This was, however, misleading, as the owner of the land and the Blackford Glen Western Riding school—a Mr John Fyfe—told us that they had, for years, always wondered about its exact position, but been unable to ascertain it with any certainty. The pool in the field always appeared after the rains, he said. He did tell us however, that many years ago when he was digging in order that the Braid Burn stopped flooding his property, he came upon a length of ancient piping running in the direction of the burn, some 5 or 6 feet down, whose use he could not ascertain—but which might have once conducted the waters from the Lady Well away. No water was running through it though.
Near the middle of Liberton village a century or so ago, another holy well of the same name could once be seen less than a mile to the east.
- Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA 2017.
- Good, George, Liberton in Ancient and Modern Times, Andrew Elliot: Edinburgh 1893.
- Walker, J. Russel, “‘Holy Wells’ in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.17 (New Series, volume 5), 1883.
- Whyte, Thomas, “An Account of the Parish of Liberton in Mid-Lothian, or County of Edinburgh,” in Archaeologia Scotica, volume 1, 1792.
Acknowledegments: Huge thanks to John Fyfe and his wife for their help when we were exploring this site.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian