Greenhorn’s Well

Greenhorn’s Well is first mentioned in 1778 and is believed to be named after the family of that name who lived nearby at Culloch Brae.  James Greenhorn, collier, is known to have resided there in 1753.  The well was evidently older than 1778 but in that year its water was meant to be led into the town’s pipes (Falkirk Herald 27 January 1906, 5).  The Stintmasters received estimates for the water to be fed into the cistern in the Woodpark for £80, but the contractors failed.  As the name Culloch suggests, the area to the south was riddled with coal mines and it is probable that the “cave” from which the spring originated was in fact a coal audit or level.  This was amongst the first areas of the coalfield to be worked and the audit may have been abandoned early in the 18th century.  By 1820 this scene of industrial activity had become a tranquil backwater on the road that skirted the northern side of the South Muir.  The water was stained red from the underground minerals and became renowned for its medicinal properties.  The pleasant walk from the town to the spa’s water was much frequented.  Over the following few years the landscape around the well was transformed by the construction of the Union Canal.  The road was cut asunder and its western stump, Gartcows Road, turned to the north before reaching the well.  A spur road led from the turn to the well and it remained a popular destination.

In 1824 Robert Keir wrote the following lengthy description:

“Surrounded by the bleak and barren moor along the south of Falkirk, the stranger is agreeably surprised to find in a sequestered vale on the west a small delightful stream trickling from a moss-covered fountain, and on its way mingling its waters with a sister stream flowing from a cave upon the south, which of yore gave shelter to the patriotic Wallace.  Greenhorn’s Well, the fountain, so called from a person named Greenhorn, collier, resident and working near the spot, is situate to the south-east of Bantaskine, and immediately north of the Union Canal; and on the fields to the east the first crop (oats) has been raised by Mr James Wyse, builder, Falkirk.  It has long been a favourite haunt of the inhabitants of Falkirk, and the real or supposed salubrity of its waters attracting great numbers to the spot, it at length fell into a state of such disorder that the paths around it were rendered nearly impassable.  Its dilapidated state drew the attention of a few of the ‘Bairns o’ Falkirk,’ who, with a laudable and patriotic zeal, began about mid-summer, 1824, to improve and ornament it.  Working only from eight o’clock evening till dusk, it was not finished till September, on the 10th day of which the stone and basin, gratuitously furnished by Mr James Hume, apprentice mason, will be laid in presence of the whole ‘club,’ who will afterwards adjourn to spend the evening in a convivial and appropriate manner, when the following toasts are expected to be given…”

The members of the ‘club’ will be found below.

Sixteen years later work began on the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway and the line of the large embankment for it ran to the north of the Union Canal, necessitating modifications to the well and compromising its setting.  In 1877 the Railway Company put pipes from the source to the well-head to prevent contamination.  Subsequently water from it was connected to supply the town at 60-80 gallons an hour.  This additional supply meant that the town water did not need to be turned off at night.

Eighty years after the Club’s work, the well was again in desperate need of renovation.  In 1905 Falkirk Town Council resolved to remove Greenhorn’s Well to a place in front of the wall of the new poorhouse in Major’s Loan at the entrance to the road leading up to its former site.  At the old well a concrete reservoir was constructed on the Railway Company’s land and it was walled off from the public.  A pipe led from the new tank to the new site where a large surround was placed in the boundary wall.  The old basin was inverted over a new granite basin and placed between two polished granite slabs.  The water flowed from the centre of the stone to which a drinking cup was affixed.  A large slab above the well contained one of the longest inscriptions found on any wellhead, and on the slabs at the sides were engraved the names of the members of the Town Council who authorised the changes.  The inscription is as follows:

“GREENHORN’S WELL.  Surrounded by the bleak and barren moor along the south of Falkirk, the stranger was at one time agreeably surprised to find in a sequestered vale a small, delightful stream trickling from a moss-covered fountain, and on its way mingling its waters with a sister stream flowing from a cave, which of yore gave shelter to Sir William Wallace.  This interesting spot, immediately to the south thereof, was for many generations a favourite haunt of the inhabitants of Falkirk, who were also attracted thither be the salubrity of the waters.  About 80 years ago the ‘Well’ had fallen into such a dilapidated state that with the view of repairing it, and the roads thereto, a few of the ‘Bairns o’ Falkirk’ formed themselves into a ‘club,’ the members of which were: J. Melville, Robt. Ronald, Robt. Keir, Archibald Wyse, Robt. Cowie, John Graham, Adam Cowie, Matthew Middlehurst, William Crawford, James Hume, and Alexander Reid.  The young men, with a laudable and patriotic zeal, began about mid summer, 1824, to improve and ornament the ‘Well’ and its surroundings, and on the 10th September, 1824, the stones and basin, gratuitously furnished by James Hume, apprentice mason, were laid in an appropriate manner, and these gifts are preserved herein.  The Falkirk Town Council, imbued with the same commendable spirit as the former ‘Bairns,’ ordered the further restoration to be made for the benefit of the inhabitants, to whom they now entrust this erection for preservation.  Members of Town Council:- Archd Christie, Provost. Bailies – Captain James Bogle, James G Russell, Robert Whyte, Alexander Mitchell. Treasurer – R.H. Lochhead. Dean of Guild – W.W. Neilson. Councillors – Judge Flannigan, John Wilkie, H. Russell, A. Stevenson, Hugh Dillin. William Webb. J. Fairlie, William Muirhead. Town Clerk – A. Balfour Gray. 9th September, 1905”.

William Roberts and Sons, West End Monumental Works, Falkirk, undertook the work which was opened on 23 December by Bailie Bogle who had overseen the project at a total cost of £50.

Illus: Greenhorn’s Well in the 1930s.

The new well had a water pressure of 13 lbs per square inch, whereas in its former position there was no pressure at all. Grangemouth Town council mocked the length of the inscription and the cost, but the well was still much frequented.  Inevitably, there is no longer water flowing from the monument – regulations and public health put paid to that.

Illus: Greenhorns Well in 2016.

(SMR 1518) – NS 8784 7943

G.B. Bailey, 2022