The origin of the Cross Well which was located in the centre of Broad Street in front of Denny Parish Church is not known. This wide triangular area was evidently the market place and the traditional gathering place for the community and the well must have been a feature of the medieval townscape. Unlike the other early wells it was a properly excavated shaft. The water from it was hard which made it fine for assuaging the thirst and for use by the baxters in baking bread. It was not so good for washing and cooking and for those purposes the Sclanders Well and that at Boghead were preferred.
The original shape of the wellhead is not known but the 1862 Ordnance Survey map shows it as a pump on a square base. Around 1867 it was hit by a dogcart and badly damaged resulting in its removal (Falkirk Herald 27 December 1873, 3). This action was not sanctioned by the Sanitary Committee of the Parochial Council and it was opened again early in 1873. It was, however, condemned by the inspectors and soon closed. Plans to upgrade it were delayed until 1878 when a new pump was installed. By taking the water from 3ft above the bottom it was hoped to avoid any problems with silt. The following year Mr Oliphant agreed to pay £2.10s per annum for the use of the Cross Well by drawing water from it through his own pipe (Falkirk Herald 17 May 1879, 4). Then, at a meeting of the Water Committee in December 1880 it was resolved to remove the Cross Well to the kerb on the south side of Broad Street.
In 1892 a son of Denny, James B White, and members of his family, residing in Indiana, USA, paid to have a large ornate cast iron drinking fountain placed on the site of the old Cross Well. It stood on a low square stone plinth. The cast iron base was also square with four cusped conjoined basins at knee level. From the centre rose a pyramid stem with lion-headed spouts near the top, then an acanthus scroll and a column with simple collars at either end. Water was supplied from the town’s reservoir. The whole was surmounted by a large single gas lamp, flaring outwards at the top and mounted by a knob finial. In 1894 this was followed up by a gift of £100 to Denny Town Council to pay for the well’s maintenance from the annual income. A plaque commemorated the presentation and the monument was known as the White Memorial Fountain. It read:
“PRESENTED/ BY/ THE FAMILY OF THE/ LATE/ JOHN WHITE/ IN/ SCOTLAND & AMERICA/ 1892.”
Many of the locals still referred to it as the Cross Well, such as in 1914 when one complained at the loss of the drinking cup. The maintenance fund meant that the fountain was well looked after. It was painted in 1908, 1915 and 1930. In 1908 a substantial red concrete base was added to keep traffic away from it. This base provided a convenient seat for the residents to relax and chat about the news of the day – a hark back to days long before. When, in 1911, a direction plate was attached to the fountain the council insisted that it be of an ornamental nature. By 1917 the single large light had been replaced by three small lights. Not everyone respected the fountain and during New Year celebrations at the Cross it was prone to damage. In May 1920 it was reported that the water to it had been cut off due to the taps having been maliciously destroyed (Falkirk Herald 29 May 1920, 6).
The monument presented a conspicuous and practical feature where people were prone to congregate. Unfortunately this may have been in part the reason why the town council began to look on it as a problem as the volume of traffic grew exponentially. With corresponding changes in street lighting the gas light was also no longer required.
The Second World War provided the Council with an excuse to rid itself of what it now saw as an obstacle to traffic. Under the pretence of using the iron of the fountain to help the war effort the town clerk wrote to the sole known remaining member of the family in America to ascertain whether he would object to the removal of the fountain on condition that the Council made other suitable arrangements for commemorating the White Family and their generosity. This, it was suggested, might be achieved by the erection at the Cross, and possibly at other points in the Town, of modern hygienic drinking fountains on which they would affix plates bearing the same inscription as the present fountain. The Town Council would undertake to maintain them at public expense and it was proposed to transfer the capital of the maintenance fund to be used at the discretion of the Town Council for the common good of the Burgh (Denny Town Council Minutes, a814.001/20).
Mr W T White agreed to the proposals, only asking to be sent a photograph of the fountain before it was demolished. Having weathered 60 years it was finally removed after the war in April 1949 and two unsightly pedestrian islands were put in its place – a lack of taste and sensibility!
(SMR 1932) – NS 8123 8274