NS6065 : The Lady Well

taken 7 years ago, near to Glasgow, Great Britain

The Lady Well
The Lady Well
The well gives its name to NS6065 : Ladywell Street, Glasgow, at whose south-eastern end it is located. It is not isolated, standing as it does near the Wellpark Brewery, but most people are unlikely to come across it unless they already know that it is there. The well is capped by an urn: NS6065 : The Lady Well (detail); above it are the inscriptions "The Lady Well" and "Restored 1836 / Rebuilt 1874 / by the Merchants House of Glasgow". The small plaque to its left, on the wall, says "The Lady Well / Restored by Tennant Caledonian Breweries Ltd / 1983". The wall is the southern boundary of the Glasgow Necropolis.

There is some confusion in the literature about the Lady Well; in the following description, the sources that were consulted will, for that reason, be set out at length.

More than one book published in the twentieth century claimed that McUre, in his very early "History of Glasgow", lists the Lady Well among the city's sixteen public wells. In fact, although McUre mentions a few wells by name in his book (the Lady Well is not among them), he merely notes that "in the City there is plenty of Water, there being sweet Water Wells in several Closses of the Town, besides Sixteen publick Wells which serves the City Night and Day, as Need Requires, all with Pumps in them for drawing the Water" [on page 144 of John McUre's "A View of the City of Glasgow, etc." (1736); reproduced on page 122 of McUre's "The History of Glasgow" (1830), which is the same work, but presented with modernised typography and spelling].

The misunderstanding mentioned above perhaps arose because a subsequent work, James Cleland's "Annals of Glasgow" (1816), does include a list of wells. On pages 392 to 394 of Volume 1 of the "Annals", under the heading "Public wells in the city", Cleland writes: "The following is a list of the Public Wells in the City, specifying the Depth of the Pits, the Height of Water, &c. as taken in February 1816". He then lists thirty wells, including:

"No. 20. Lady-Well Street.– This Well is known by the name of the Lady-Well; it is five feet deep; the water stands one foot eleven inches, leaving three feet one inch from the causeway to the surface of the water".

[It is clear from this description that the well had not then been capped.]

This part of the city comes under scrutiny in an issue of the journal "The Builder" (subtitled "an illustrated weekly magazine for the architect, engineer, archæologist, constructor, sanitory reformer, and art-lover"). The issue of March 26, 1870 (volume XXVIII, No.1416, page 239) has an article under the heading "Glasgow, Sanitary and Social: A Glance". After making unfavourable comments about the state of the Drygate area, the article continues:

"We wind round by Lady's Well, and its houses are on a par with the last-named. Here, in an angle, niched into the churchyard-wall, a fountain, in shape like a sepulchral urn, is seen. The fount of inspiration, however, is dry here. Nothing wells forth, as far as we can see. An inscription above tells us, in pretentious wording, that "The Lady's Well" was erected, in pursuance of the request of the citizens of Glasgow, in 1833."

If nothing else, this shows that an urn was, in 1870, present on the site of the well. The inscription above it was clearly different (the present one records a rebuilding in 1874), but the article in "The Builder" gives no helpful information about its text.

The archaeological journal "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland" (PSAS) contains, in pages 152 to 210 of Volume 17 (1882-83), an article by J. Russel Walker, called "Holy Wells in Scotland". On page 184, there is a brief discussion of the Lady Well. The author writes that "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 detail and design. The cross and urn are of cast metal. 'Lady Love' or 'Lady Well', so called after a fountain at the bottom of the Craigs (now included in the Necropolis), sacred in" [pre-Reformation] "times to the Virgin".

The accompanying figure shows the structure looking much the same as at present, with the same inscription on the lintel. The cross that is referred to in the article was at the top of the structure, and is no longer present. The urn shown in the figure looks fairly similar to the one that is now there, but its upper half is sufficiently different as to suggest that it is a different one.

The PSAS article quoted above cites the book "Merchants' House of Glasgow" as a source, but misquotes one part of the text (see below). As for the Merchants' House of Glasgow, they had, as the inscription above the well records, rebuilt and restored it, so they were better placed than most to comment on its history. The book that the PSAS report cites is "View of the Merchants' House of Glasgow" (1866). The relevant section (pages 537 to 538) is a discussion of the Wester Craigs, one of whose subdivisions was "'The Craigs Park"', now forming the principal portion of the Necropolis". The book goes on to describe the planting of that area with fir trees, giving rise to the name "the Fir Park"; regarding subsequent improvements of the area, the book says that:

"These improvements rendered the place a favourite evening promenade at a time when Botanic Gardens in this part of Scotland were unknown. Military bands from the adjoining Barracks enlivened the scene, and their heart-stirring notes awoke echoes from the solemn and grand old Cathedral. The Gate and modest-looking little Lodge were down in the quaint 'Lady Lone', or 'Lady well' Street, so called after a fountain at the bottom of the Craigs, sacred ... to the Virgin" in the pre-Reformation era.

It is clear from that extract that the "Lady Love" mentioned in the PSAS article is a misreading of "Lady Lone", and that the latter was an alternative name, not for the well itself, but for Ladywell Street; if the name was still in use, we would probably now spell it "Lady Loan".

Given the well's name, it is certainly plausible that it was viewed as a holy well in the pre-Reformation era, although I am not aware of any mention of it in documents from that period.
The Lady Well
The well is thought (based on its name) to have been a holy well in the pre-Reformation era. It gives its name to Ladywell Street, in which it is located. It has been restored and rebuilt on more than one occasion.
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NS6065, 560 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Monday, 15 August, 2011   (more nearby)
Wednesday, 24 August, 2011
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts 
Former (from Tags)
Holy Well 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 6037 6533 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:51.6521N 4:13.9513W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 6037 6533
View Direction
NORTH (about 0 degrees)
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