Public Wells and Fountains

We are all so accustomed to an abundant and convenient flow of fresh clean water that it is difficult to imagine what life would be without it.  Yet until the end of the 20th century there was little piped water in the houses of the Falkirk district.  People had to rely upon streams and wells, public and private, and women and children in particular spent hours carrying water from them to their homes.  Wells were far apart and often this meant trekking long distances.

Speaking of the period around 1890-1900 the late burgh engineer, David Ronald, said that:

Falkirk at that time was a dirty place, and with the exception of the large houses there was no inside water supply.   They carried their water from wells in the street.   These wells, of course, were supplied from the town mains and the water was pure.   The water was carried in buckets known as stoups, which were really miniature barrels of wood about two feet high and about ten inches or so in diameter.  There was a check on the top of the stoup and a handle, and the owners had a round hoop, which was called a “girr”.  They placed this on the stoups and carried them by the handles, the girr keeping the stoups from get­ting in contact with their legs, and making the carrying much easier.  Many of the houses had a stone shelf known as a stoup stand.  I suppose the stone was for easy cleaning and would help to keep the water cool.  There were very few houses with a hot water supply.  They washed in a basin and hot water had to be obtained from a kettle on the fire.  They bathed in a tub and many of them, I think, never bathed.

The wells of this late period were artificial in that the water was piped in from elsewhere for distribution at the well-heads, a process that in Falkirk dated back to the installation of the Cross Well in 1682.  In Bo’ness it probably went back a little earlier to 1669 when the Town Well or St John’s Well was created.  In each case the well-head sat over a stone tank or reservoir and the water had to be pumped out using a hand operated mechanism.

Illus 2: The Cross Well at Falkirk with gas lamp.

Wells were meeting places where people congregated to obtain water and exchange news at all times of the day.  Often they were the place where public notices were placed and official announcements made by tuck o’ drum were pronounced.  It was here that the young boys and girls met and many a romance was initiated.  Women gossiped and strangers stopped on their journeys.  Here too waterborne diseases like cholera found a home and spread.  Even in the good old days many preferred not to be out on their own in the dark and it was at the public wells that the first public lighting was installed.

Not surprisingly, given their essential nature and popularity, there are numerous names associated with the location of wells.  Old Well Close was the alley on the south side of the High Street in Falkirk leading to the original site of the Cross Well.  Wellside, Wellbank, Wellpark and Well Brae all speak for themselves.  Wellstrand is explained below.  In place names “well” often becomes “wall,” as in Walton near Bo’ness.  The most common name for a well was “Cross Well” due to their locations adjacent to the mercat crosses of burghs.  “Lady Well” is found at Airth, Larbert and probably Kinneil and is connected to the early church.  Some wells are also named after saints – such as St Alexander’s (Alchenter) and Sclander’s in Dunipace and Denny.  The use of the name St Modan’s Well for the Minister’s Well in Falkirk is poorly documented and may have been a late affectation.

The difference in the quality of water from different wells was recognised from an early date and some were so well thought of that they were considered to have medicinal properties and were known as spaw wells.  Often the healing powers were attributed to specific illnesses – so one might cure gout and another anaemia.  Johnston of Kirkland in 1723 tells us that St Alchenters Well in Dunipace was

famous in old times for severall cures, then much frequented; but at this time not much yet it does service against the collick”. 

Iron deficiency was treatable by visiting the wells with reddish water.  Some of the wells attracted religious connotations.  People would travel long distances to visit such holy wells and these pilgrimages were not unusual prior to the Reformation.  Thereafter the Established Church frowned on such activities as signs of papacy or older religions.  In the 1620s the kirk session of Falkirk brought before it a number of persons who were accused of going to Christ’s Well near Blair Drummond on the Sundays of May to seek their health.  They were asked to

mak their public repentance in linninges (linen) upon the piller in tyme of divyne service ane Sabathe, and that gine in onie tyme cuminge onie uther p’soune or p’sounes within the paroche salbe fund to repair to the said well to the effect in onie tyme ciminge that ilk p’soune being fund to be guiltie  sall pay xx, libs. penaltie, toties quoties, for ilk fault, and sall mak yr repentance publictlie in seckclaithe or linings upone the piller thrie seberall Sabathes, and in caise it sall happin the saids p’sounes transgresseris of this puttis, not to be solvend for payt of yr penaltie that they sall be incarcerat in waird to be fed wth bread and watter for the spaice of aucht days

(Murray 1887, 12 June 1628).  

This was pretty severe punishment even for those days.

It is doubtful that this superstitious practice stopped, though its practitioners would undoubtedly have been less public about the act.  In 1657 a similar injunction was brought against parishioners for visiting the Lady Well at Airth (see below).  On that occasion it turned out that the participants had been advised, by the keepers of local tradition, that for the preservation of the charm they had to keep strict silence on the way to and from the well, and not to allow the vessel in which the water was to touch the ground.

Despite the church some springs were officially recognised for the medicinal qualities of their waters.  In 1683 the Earl of Callendar was

advised for his health to repaire to the wells of Spaw, Monipillion, Bourbon, or other wells that may be most conduceing for his health

(Reg. Privy Council vol. 8, 220). 

He went to Harrogate in Yorkshire.

The practice did not die out until the end of the 19th century.  In 1805 the Falkirk publisher, Thomas Johnston, printed a chapbook snappily entitled “Pitcaithly Wells; a Poem in two parts, composed by Allan Campbell of Falkirk, while attending these Wells for the cure of his sore leg.  To which is subjoined, a Description of the Wells, from Mr Heron’s journey through the Western Counties of Scotland, in the year 1792.”

For most of history the majority of the wells in the Falkirk district were dipping wells, that is to say they were natural springs where the water gathered in hollows.  By the end of the 18th century most of those used by the public had been lined with stones so that the users did not stir up the mud.  They were open to the elements which meant that all sorts of detritus could find its way in and was one of the reasons why their use had to be strictly regulated.  With a small pond there was a tendency for the population, who had no understanding of modern hygiene, to use them to wash their feet, or food substances such as tripe.  Four-legged animals too had to be stopped from using the wells.

One of the first acts of the baron court in Falkirk after the construction of the Cross Well was announced on 11 July 1682,

the baillies statutes and ordanes that no person nor persones qtsomever shall wash at the sd well nor to throw any roties… or any oyr unclean creators nor to wash any fish clouts or any oyr thing that is discharged be former acts and yt under the pain of tuentie shillings Scots and with power to the officers to poynd for the same they being apprehendit in doing thereof qch fine is to be exacted toties quoties for ilk failzie and qlk is applayed for the use of the well.

(Barony Court Book of Falkirk, vol. 2, 20). 

The administration of this act and the maintenance of the well led directly to the formation of the Stintmasters, and eventually to Falkirk Council.

Such regulation was normal in other burghs and a similar act of the Regality Court of Borrowstounness in 1669 forbade bleaching and the washing of clothes at the town well.  These restrictions were possible because both the Cross Well and St John’s Well were newly created and there was no dispute over their ownership.  Older wells used by the public through use and wont from time immemorial were more difficult to control and legal disputes regarding them continued until the end of the 19th century.  The Boghead Well in Denny made legal history in 1878 when Adam Smith, who owned the land around it, took the Denny Police Commissioners to court for making essential alterations to it.  The Commissioners claimed the right to act as they had done by virtue of the well being a public well and used as such from time immemorial.  The case was tried at the Supreme Court before Lord Adam, who decided against the Commissioners.  An appeal was put forward.  The Appeal Court was divided, Lords Justice Clerk, Moncrieff and Gifford were in favour of the Commissioners and Lord Ormidale against.  Smith now appealed to the House of Lords where it was heard by Lord Chancellor Cairns, Lords O’Hagson, Blackburn and Hatherley.  They decided in favour of the Commissioners and forever settled this important point, that the right of the inhabitants of any locality to draw a supply of water from wells was by the Public Health Act of 1867 transferred to, and vested in, the Local Authority, and that right could be protected and vindicated by them. 

The case is a precedent, and to Denny belongs the honour of establishing the principle applicable throughout the length and breadth of the land, it having been contended and supposed that no mere community or collection of people could establish such a right.”

(Falkirk Herald 23 April 1890, 2).

Falkirk was fortunate in being surrounded by streams.  On the west naturally was the West Burn, on the south the Gote or Adam’s Burn, and on the east the appropriately named East Burn.  These, however, were prone to pollution from the animals in the fields upstream and from human cess pouring out of the town.  It would seem that at the time that the Cross Well in Falkirk was established there was already a well at the east end of the town called Marion’s Well, much used by travellers.  It was supposedly named after a nun.  Kiln’s Well was also early and served the west end of the town.  To the north was the Minister’s Well, which appears in some accounts as the Monk’s Well or St Modan’s Well.  All these names were derived from its location on the glebe.

Well committees were established in the 18th century at Larbert, Camelon and Redding.  That at the old village of Larbert constructed a substantial cylindrical well-head over the long-used natural spring known as the Lady Well which was located near the Cross.  The date of construction is not known but it is likely to have been early that century.  On the other hand, the village of Camelon was newly created in the middle of that century and so the well was an early feature of it.  It was located at the major road junction of Union Street and the Main Street and was built by public subscription.  The water came from South Bantaskine.  A Well Committee made up of feuars was established to maintain it and the pipes leading to it.  In 1791 several of these feuars formed a School Committee and three years later erected a school.  The two committees were amalgamated into the “School and Well Committee” in 1799 and from then on Camelon was subjected to a regular system of local taxation.  For this purpose stent masters were appointed whose duty was to determine the assessment of each inhabitant by judging their ability to pay.  Notice was then pronounced by the village bellman and the stent master called to collect it.  The income was spent on periodically re-thatching the school or repairing the well and introducing hand pumps.  Less is known about the administration of the public wells in the contemporary model village at Laurieston, but the fact that rights to use these wells was established in the feu deeds suggests that Lord Napier and then the Earl of Zetland were initially responsible for them.

At times of drought people had no choice other than to use the streams but these became more and more polluted as time went on.  Even without a proper knowledge of bacteria and microbes it was evident to those using such water that it smelled and tasted disgusting.  With the passage of time the Stentmasters at Falkirk began to provide more wells from its pipes.  In 1790 there is reference to one on the north side of the High Street at the West Port (Reid 2004, 21).  By 1830 there were at least eleven in the town and in that year these each received an accompanying gas lamp so that they could be used late into the night (Reid 2001, 28).  Despite that the water supply was cut off to most of the wells at night.  Access to the inner workings was usually by a cast iron plate or door in one side of the stone structures and these had to be kept locked to stop people tampering with or vandalising them  In 1848 H. Cochrane was paid 4s 7d for locks for wells in Falkirk.  In 1859 the Falkirk Police Commissioners took over the assets of the Stintmasters which included the buildings, reservoirs, cisterns, pipes and public wells.

As the demand for water increased, due to industrialisation and the consequent influx of huge numbers of people, additional sources had to be found.  The urban centres of Falkirk and Bo’ness were fortunate in having abandoned coal works under the hills to their south and these acted as huge subterranean reservoirs.  The Stintmasters reached an agreement with Forbes of Callendar that they should have exclusive rights to all of the water in these underground workings.  They therefore launched a legal challenge to the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company when, in 1842, it sunk a well upon its own ground at the High Station in the vicinity of the char kilns or coke ovens for the purpose of supplying its engines and coke ovens with water.  The case was found in favour of the Stintmasters.  Industrialisation had another impact upon the wells as mining operations often altered the hydrology of an area causing wells to dry up and there were several cases of this in the Falkirk district, the last being at the Curly Doo at Airth in 1913.  Water from the Union Canal was used for washing purposes in Falkirk as an essential supplement to the water supply.  The Forth and Clyde Canal was used to flush sewers in Camelon.  By the 1860s the search was on for places to construct surface reservoirs where the water could also be gravity fed and that endeavour occupied a vast amount of human effort and resources and its story is told elsewhere.

Water can be classified as “hard” and difficult to work into a soapy lather, but was fine for drinking, or “soft” water which was preferred for cooking and washing – and for mixing with whisky!  Wells provided a diverse range of such waters.  In Denny, for example, the well at the Cross yielded hard water and people would walk further to get the soft water from the Boghead Well or Sclander’s Well.  As the distances increased many people had casks or butts in which they collected “soft” rainwater from the rhones of their houses.  During the winter the water in the butts often froze over and John Anderson recalled his father

would then take a hammer to break the ice, to obtain wash water – not a pleasant task at six o’clock in the morning.  Work commenced then at 6.30am.  Sometimes in the summer months the garden well would dry up and Father had to carry pails of water from the canal to our cottage in Dalderse Avenue.  Life was hard.”

(Anderson 1980).

Whatever the source, quality as well as quantity was a problem.  Constant use of the roof-fed water butts kept the water from turning stagnant.  The dangers of using such water are illustrated by an incident that happened to a Denny calico printer’s wife in 1828.  One Saturday night in September she worked up a great thirst and quickly quaffed down a drink of water from the butt.  Almost immediately she felt her stomach moving and realised that she had swallowed some manner of creature with the water.  The movement did not cease and so she obtained some medicine to make herself sick and eventually, on the Monday morning, she coughed up a 4 ins lizard!  It was still alive (Edinburgh Evening Courant 11 September 1828, 3).

Falkirk’s supply was occasionally “muddied” by colliers working in the vicinity of the underground supplies, or from holes in the pipes, or even from creosote leaking from the works of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company.  These problems tended to be intermittent, but some things could be overcome.  Instead of using storage tanks or cisterns at the wells it was possible, due to the relatively high water pressure in the Falkirk pipes to do away with them, as was pointed out in this letter of 1851:

“the rude but substantial stone wells of our forefathers, which, at all times, contained in their capacious bowels – the wells, I mean, not our forefathers – at least “twa raikes” of water ready for removal when wanted.  They not infrequently, however, were also the repository of various specimens of the viviparous tribes, & c.  These, especially the defunct ones, were objected to by some people fastidious about their beverage, and hence, a few years ago, two of the stone wells with large cisterns were taken down and replaced by the neat fluted iron kind, in order that the inhabitants might have the choice of the two sorts of waters, i.e., the pure or the winged, for you know, Mr Editor, it is not every one who likes tadpoles either in his tea or grog”

(Falkirk Herald 15.5.1851).

This popular resistance to removing the traditional form of well-head was of longstanding.  As early as 1802 the Stintmasters in Falkirk had decided to do away with the Cross Well because the causewaying of the High Street had lowered the ground level, leaving the well standing proud and inconvenient.  A pipe was led from the old well to the stair in front of the Steeple and a spring cock placed at a height of 4ft to avoid raising another well.  However, both William Glen, who owned property nearby, and the public objected.

Whilst the towns were grappling with larger scale artificial gravity-fed systems the villages and rural areas were still reliant upon wells.  It is rare to get an idea of the numbers of wells in some of the outlying villages, and even rarer to have them named and described.  So, as an example it is worthwhile reproducing the “Report by the Sanitary Inspector of the Parish of Denny bearing upon the condition of the several wells and upon the water supply in the Stoneywood District of said parish” dated 30 October 1888.

“The first well of importance arrived at after passing the western boundary of the Burgh of Denny and Dunipace is a pump well situated to the south side of that property at Stoneywood owned by Mr John Edgar and occupied by several tenants.  The well cannot be free from impurities as there is an ashpit situated within about five yards distance from it, and as the subsuce is very open “being chiefly sand and gravel” I have no doubt that the foul water from the ashpit must be to a certain extent percolating into, and consequently contaminating the water of this well.

The next come to is a dipping well situated on the roadside at the workmen’s houses at Stoneywood paper Mill, and the water supplying it runs through an underground drain, which is always muddy and in a contaminated state during wet weather and thus rendering it unfit for human use.

There is another dipping well situated in the garden ground to the south side of Mrs Jack’s property in the immediate neighbourhood of the last mentioned well, which also in my opinion is not free from contamination, as there is an ashpit on the rising ground a distance of seven yards from this well.

Further on westward, but still in Stoneywood, there are two small properties (the one owned by Mr Lamont, and the other lately owned by Mr Graham) that have each a pump well the water of which may be good enough for culinary purposes.

The Herbertshire Paper Mill Workers get their drinking water by means of a small crane fixed onto the end of a small pipe leading from a tank or cistern placed on the rising ground above the said mill, which cistern is supplied with water from a neighbouring field.

Carrongrove paper Mills have no drinking water for the use of their workers.  The drinking water used in this case is carried from the pump well at the property at Stoneywood lately owned by Mrs Graham, above mentioned, a distance of three hundred and twenty yards or thereby from said mills.  There are also several workmen’s houses (all occupied) situated westward from said mills and belonging to the said Carrongrove Paper Mill Company, which have no proper supply of drinking water, their only supply is from an underground tile pipe drain which dries up in summer causing great inconvenience to the inhabitants.

Further on westward, and on the north side of the Denny to Fintry Road, are several workmen’s houses, situated in what is known as the Fankerton district, which houses accommodate fourteen families, and are also belonging to the Carrongrove Paper Mill Company.  At these houses there is a very deep pump well the water of which, in my opinion, is totally unfit for human use, because of the great depth of the well and of its relative surroundings, it being placed in the midst of strongly manured garden ground with an ashpit here and there in its immediate neighbourhood.

There is another pump well from which water is taken by the Fankerton people situated a distance of five hundred yards or more, on the roadside, eastward from the said workmen’s houses at Fankerton, the water from this pump is got from a brick built cistern into which runs an underground stone-built drain, which passes though a field of Fankerton farm a distance of about six hundred yards or so, and is open at the west end, where the cattle and other bestial on Fankerton Farm pass through and muddies the water, which is frequently pumped in this muddy condition by the inhabitants.

Every summer season (but the present, which was exceptionally wet and cold) both of the last mentioned wells run dry, and the only recourse left for the Fankerton people is the water of the River Carron, which is also polluted in the summer season by miners and others bathing therein.

Considering the foregoing facts, I know not of any place that stands in need of a proper supply of water than the Stoneywood, Carrongrove and Fankerton district.

Andrew Fraser. (Falkirk Archives a6.98/5).

The proximity of sewage and wells was only too common.  In 1890 the County Council took over the control of Camelon’s lighting and water supply.  The six public wells and ten private wells were condemned as unsafe and the following year Camelon got a supply from the Falkirk and Larbert Water Trust. 

The medical Officer stated that in Laurieston

the common prejudice in favour of old wells exists in a very remarkable degree and the suggestion that a special water district should be formed was received with the strongest opposition, so that the proposal had to be temporarily put side.  But during 1893 the schoolmaster, in the guise of enteric fever, has been abroad, and his teaching certainly ought to be effective.  A single case occurred in March.  The water supply was from the Cross Well.” 

The number of cases registered from March up till the end of the year was 40, and it is stated that

with the exception of one or two secondary cases practically all the 40 were grouped round two wells,”

the Cross Well and a pump well a short distance further down the hill.  Dr McVail further remarked that

usually in the presence of fever one has little difficulty in getting people to agree to give up drinking infected water or milk.  Here, however, it was different.  The private well was easily dealt with, but when Mr Denholm proposed to close the Cross Well he assured me that a public riot was threatened.  A house to house visitation was then made in the neighbourhood, people were individually coaxed or reasoned with into discontinuing the use of water or else boiling it before use; placards of instructions were posted through the village, and these means, along with the rapid increase of cases of the disease, ultimately brought the well into disuse and the epidemic came to an end…”  By that time three deaths had occurred

(Falkirk Herald 30 June 1894, 6).

The burgh engineer at Falkirk met similar resistance from the owners of the properties: “

A year or two after the Burgh Police Act came into force (1892) Mr Neilson, as Sanitary Inspector, decided to serve notice on numerous owners calling on them to introduce a water supply to their houses and to fit sinks and WCs.   They were  to  construct a water closet with a window of not less  than  six  square feet,  one  half  of which was to open;   and other minor improvements such  as repairing  broken plaster,  defective stairs,  lime washing of closes  and  the repairing  of surfaces in back yards.   He must have issued several hundred of these notices and they were posted to the owners in registered envelopes.  There was a tremendous howl from landlords.   Several of them were Town Councillors.”

(Ronald 2004).

Again Falkirk was in a fortunate position and had already been using piped water for decades.  In the village of Redding one of the wells was found to have been contaminated by a leaky sewerage pipe in 1901, but although both the medical officer and the analyst declared the water to be contaminated, the Council was unable to shut the well because they had no other supply to give the people.  Hence they sought to introduce an external water supply to the area, but again there was significant local opposition (Falkirk Herald 27 November 1901, 5).  In the meantime, many schools had their own wells.

The water supply for the large private school at Blairlodge came from a stream on the high ground to the south-west and it became a bone of contention for the locals who thought that they should have the use of it.  The populous district of Reddingmuirhead with a co-operative store and baking society that furnished bread to three-fourths of the parish had no proper supply.  That district for about two months during the summer of 1887 was entirely dry and Cooke-Gray, the school proprietor, was blamed (Falkirk Herald 18 August 1888, 6).

Droughts in the area were common and in 1894 one of the wells at Redding belonging to the North British Railway Company was repaired to provide water for the village (Falkirk Herald 13 January 1894, 5).  The following May new pumps and other repairs were carried out to several of the Redding wells.  Pipes were laid from the fountain head to the well at Burnside Farm which was also renovated

(Falkirk Herald 22 June 1895, 5).  These alterations helped Redding, but the outlying areas suffered considerably in the severe drought that summer.  In Brightons water had to be taken from “the level” or water issuing from one of the coal pits, but it was found that “if it lies in the house for a couple of hours it smells, and it can scarcely be used”.  A well in a field known as Mr Cameron’s Well was just a hole in the ground and cattle drank from it.  Despite this “A good many people were glad to use that water, but it was not a reliable source of supply and the well was a private one.”

The 1895 drought was so bad that the Falkirk Herald sent a reporter to find water.  He reported that:

  • At Polmont the private wells in use were mostly old dipping wells placed in gardens and supplied from springs.
  • Maddiston – no wells.
  • Redding village – several public wells well supplied.
  • Reddingmuirhead – The Wester Well had been dry for some time.  One woman got a small amount there at four o’clock in the morning.  People went to Redding.
  • Wallacestone – had a few dipping wells but these were all dry.  Had to go to Redding.
  • Avonbridge – two public wells, one of which was some distance out of the village.  Both dry during the day, but some water could be got first thing in the morning.
  • Shieldhill – locals carried the water from the Plantin’ Well, the Bank Well, Anderson’s Well and from Baird’s Well, the two former being fully half a mile from some of the houses.  The wells were low and although the water was far from good it was all they had.  The Bore Well was practically dry.

How things have changed!  Today few wells are still in use in the Falkirk area and these are usually in connection with industry or agriculture.  For some time the British Geological Survey has kept a record of such wells and boreholes in compliance with the Water Act and its records consist of around 5000 wells and springs in Scotland, mostly lodged by drillers.  These records are variable in quality.

Jas. Aitken Brewery, Bore No.1158.2m1910, brewery.
Grahamston Foundry113.5mIron foundry
Falkirk Iron Works100.6mIron foundry
Castlelaurie Iron WorksIron foundry
Prince Charlie’s Well
Scottish Meal Manufacturing Co., Rough Castle7.9m1943
The Heatherfield, Myrehead2015
Glenavon House76.2m1956
Carriden Colliery No.1 + 2 Pits
Imperial Chemical Industries53.3mChemical works
Carron Co., No. 17 Chisel Bore (Letham)37.0m1929
Carron Co., No. 3 Bore (Glenbervie)334.8m1926
South Westfield Farm No. 1, Airth45.7m1927
South Westfield Farm No. 231.7m1927
South Westfield Farm No. 317.4m1927
John Luke Mill No. 2 bore, Headswood6.8m1933, paper mill
Langlands Farm
Vale Mill, Denny151.8mPapermill
Table: Wells and Boreholes in the Falkirk Area recorded by the British Geological Survey.

It was just as wells were being replaced by water from the mains supply that ornate public drinking fountains were in vogue.  The better known ones in the Falkirk district are;

Gentleman Fountain, Falkirk1871
Dunmore Well1879
MacPherson Fountain, Zetland Park, Grangemouth    1882
Allan Memorial or Jubilee Fountain, Bo’ness1887
White Memorial Fountain, Denny1892
The Point, Stenhousemuir1896
Diamond Fountain, Victoria Park, Bo’ness1897
Greenhorn’s Well       1905
Dollar Fountain, Victoria Park, Falkirk           1912
Charing Cross Drinking Fountain1906 & 1912
Illus 3: Computer generated Model of the MacPherson Fountain in Zetland Park (AOC Archaeology).

They were a triumph in design, combining decorative cast iron and finely crafted stone to form public spaces of very high standards.  Curiously, while the contemporary generation of local officials welcomed their arrival, the very next generation seemed to do its utmost to eradicate them!  Some, thankfully, survived.

Illus 4: Water Fountains at Falkirk and Bo’ness Cemeteries.

At the same time as these fountains were being installed smaller versions in polished granite were introduced into the new cemeteries for use by those attending funerals.  Good examples were to be found at the municipal cemeteries of Bo’ness, Falkirk, Larbert & Stenhouse, and Denny & Dunipace.  They were also of use in providing water for graveside floral tributes.  The large fountain near the entrance at Falkirk was erected in 1895.  The two at Denny Cemetery cost 73s each in 1896.

The Boer War Memorial at Slamannan incorporates drinking troughs for horses and after the First World War some of the new ones had water features.  Just as wells for drinking water were being phased out in the mid 1890s an animal welfare movement arose to increase the number of horse troughs.  In 1893 one was installed at the busy road junction south of Dunipace Bridge.  The shortage of such troughs in Falkirk had compelled a number of carters there to erect one at their own expense at the south end of the Cow Wynd near the Poorhouse in 1869.

Illus 5: Erecting the new Fountain at the west end of the High St (Falkirk Herald 11 June 1930, 16).

The problem was not confined to Falkirk.  The small drinking fountain of 1933 close to the open-air swimming pond in Zetland Park was soon smashed to pieces using a long wooden batten

Thankfully it did not stop generous individuals from gifting new ones for public use.  During 1937 a new drinking fountain appeared in Lawrie Park, Brightons, the gift of Thomas Mathieson, plumber, Polmont.  Falkirk Council installed its last public well at the west end of the High Street opposite to the former site of the Gentleman Fountain in 1930.

The latest public drinking fountain/well to be installed in the Falkirk area is that in Callendar Park.  Part of a nationwide programme by Scottish Water, it taps directly into the water main below.

Unfortunately public drinking fountains were an easy target for vandals.  After years of lobbying by the public for a well in the central section of Grahams Road, Falkirk Council installed a polished red granite drinking fountain made by William Roberts and Son early in 1908 at the roadside near to the Oddfellows’ Hall.  Within weeks the top was wrenched off and thrown into the roadway. 

The following year much the same happened in Prince’s Park where the newly erected fountain was destroyed the very first day after completion by vandals.  Its predecessor on the site had been rendered inoperable in 1900. 

Illus 6: Water Bottle Filling Station in Callendar Park.

An Inventory of the Wells and Fountains of the Falkirk District.

For the purposes of this inventory the Falkirk district has been divided into the following sub-areas:

  1. Airth – Lady Well, High Airth Village Well, Curly Doo Well
  2. Bainsford – Main Street
  3. Blackness – Cross Well, Blackness Square, East Well
  4. Bo’nessSt John’s Well & the Jubilee (Victoria) Fountain, Barrel or Boslem Well & Diamond Fountain, Brae Well, Cauld Wells, Cross Well, Maggie’s Well, Well o’ Spa.
  5. Bonnybridge – Bonnybridge War Memorial Park, Smith & Wellstood Offices
  6. Camelon – Camelon Village Well
  7. Denny – Bessie’s Well, Boghead Well, Brewster Burn Well, Cross Well & White Memorial Fountain, Davie’s Row Well, East Boreland Square Well, Erskine’s Well (Dunipace), Goat Loan Well, Lady’s Well, Rosebank Well (Dunipace), St Alexander’s Well (Dunipace), Stripeside Well, Wellstrand Well, Wright’s Well.
  8. Dunmore – Dunmore Well, Red Well
  9. Falkirk – Bower’s Well, Chapel Well, Pilliwanton Well, Cross Well, Dollar Park Fountain, First Battle of Falkirk Monument, Gentleman Fountain, Grahams Road Well, Greenhorn’s Well, Marion’s Well, Minister’s Well, Prince Charlie’s Well.
  10. Falkirk Stintmasters – wells at Bank Street, Cow Wynd, Garrison, Glebe, Hospital, Howgate, Kills, King, Kirk Wynd, Meadow, Meeks Road, Pleasance, Randygate, Roberts Wynd, Wallace Street.
  11. Grangemouth – Charing Cross Fountain, Grange Street, Zetland Public Park Fountain,
  12. Larbert – Lady Well, Little Well, The Point, Stenhousemuir
  13. Laurieston – Tammy Mills Well, Cross Well, Icehouse Well, Mary Square Fountain.
  14. Polmont – Crow Well.
  15. Redding – Redding Public Well.
  16. Slamannan – St Laurence Well, High St Laurence Well, Birnie Well, Black Loch Well, Bog Well, Brownrig Well, Castlehill Well, Pirnie Lodge Well, Quarry Well.

Illus 7: Some Local Cast Iron Products:

(a) Wall-Mounted Fountain by Falkirk Iron Co.
(b) Pumps by Falkirk Iron Co.
(c) Drinking Fountain and Dog Trough by Carron Co.
(d) Horse Trough – Carron Co.
(e) Horse Trough set on a stone base – Carron Co.

The Aitken Memorial Fountain

The beautiful ornate Aitken Memorial Fountain at Govan Cross was produced by Cruikshank & Co at the Denny Iron Works in 1884.  It is the only known example by that foundry.  Dedicated to the memory of Doctor John Aitken – a local doctor who worked tirelessly to serve the medical needs of the area’s poor – it stands at the head of Water Row.

Its eastern Oriental style reflects that of the Pavilion at Brighton then in vogue.  The arabesque arches stand on six slender columns and support a facetted domed canopy with scale-patterning between the ribs topped by a golden fretwork crown.  Above each arch a pediment bears an oval plaque:

  3. The Govan coat of arms.
  4. The Freemasons.
  5. Manchester Unity of Oddfellows
  6. The Ancient Order of Foresters.

Photograph courtesy of Glasgow City Council.

Under the canopy the drinking bowl sits on a baluster pedestal and is surmounted by the figure of a boy holding an oar and sitting on an urn.  The boy is known locally as the “Govan cherub or baby.”  The water flowed from the urn and was collected from the bowl using a chained cup.

After years of neglect it was restored in 2011.

Other features of the fountain:

1. Boy with paddle and urn (Sun Foundry pattern no.8).

2. Alligator column connectors.

3. Column finials.

4. Arch faceplates with drip fret detail.

5. Sectional fish scale roof.

6. Crown terminal or finial.

7. Memorial plaques/roundels/lunettes.

8. Acanthus leaf capitals.

9. Cast iron columns.

Photograph courtesy of Glasgow City Council.


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G.B.Bailey, 2022