Boghead Well

Illus: 1862 Ordnance Survey Map showing the Boghead Well (National Library of Scotland).

Boghead well had been used since time immemorial.  This public well was sited immediately to the south of Sclanders Burn at the end of a public lane extending from Broad Street to the stream.  It appears to have been a small spring which filled a hollow in the ground with water.  Around 1808 a hewn stone cradle was inserted into the pit, creating a circular water tank about 3ft in diameter.  The walls seem not to have risen above ground level and the work was paid for by public subscription.  Water was taken by dipping a pitcher, stoup or pail into it and it was not unknown for people to fall in.  The very activity of taking the water stirred up the mud in the pool, but the lining considerably reduced this.  The water was soft and was considered to be of good quality, especially for tea-making or mixing with spirits such as whisky.  Consequently it was used by the inhabitants from the whole southern half of Denny – the water from the well at the Cross being hard.

A horseshoe-shaped rickle dyke of whinstone, open on the north side against the burn to allow access, kept cattle out, but was slowly denuded by time and wear.  A simple bridge made of flat paving stones was sufficient to cross that stream.  However, if the burn was not kept free of weeds and blockages downstream it would pond back and pollute the well.  This was exacerbated by the presence of a small overflow channel that ran from the well to the stream.

The land around the well was owned by the Cuthill family and a few referred to it as Jean Cuthill’s Well, but the name was never popularised.  Sometime before 1870 the well head was raised using brick with a stone cope, but this was soon damaged along the front edge by use and vandalism.  Silt and debris had to be cleaned out from time to time and public spirited citizens would go from door to door to collect small subscriptions to pay for the work to be done.  Latterly this was executed by James Kelly, a shoemaker who lived in Broad Street, and this earned him extra money.  In 1874 the Parochial Board for Denny replaced the overflow channel with glazed ceramic pipes, intending to do more work the following year.  However, Adam Smith, the new owner of Boghead threatened them with legal action and so the work was put off.

The Police Act Scotland was adopted in Denny in March 1877 and one of the first priorities was sorting the burgh’s wells.  On 2 August that year workmen carried out improvements to the well.  The height of the wall on the front side was increased by 10-12 inches and some stones at the back were removed to create a level for a thick iron plate which was then placed within the outer perimeter of the wall to cap it and prevent foreign objects from entering the water.  At the same time the ground level in front of the well was built up by 10-12 inches with ashes to fill a hollow caused by erosion from the burn which had once again been responsible for pollution.  In the centre of the 4½ft diameter iron plate a pump was placed.  Upon completion of the work Adam Smith took the Police Commissioners to Court and an account of this can be found above.

Many of the neighbouring properties sank their own wells in the years from 1840 to 1880 and so the usage of the Boghead Well declined, though it was always needed when the new wells stopped functioning properly.  Even with the advent of gravitationally fed water the well continued to be popular and people were reluctant to abandon it altogether.  In 1890 analysis of the water from the well showed that it was unfit for consumption and it was abandoned by the Police Commissioners shortly afterwards.

(NS 8145 8255)

G.B. Bailey, 2022