Marion’s Well

Well was situated on the east side of the valley of the East Burn a little to the north of the Cladden’s Brae.  Until 1832 the road from Linlithgow passed along the top of the hill in Callendar Park and then descended the steep hill near Eastburn Tower to East Bridge Street.   Just before the bridge a small spur road branched off to reach the well which was conveniently situated for the use of travellers and was much used by these strangers.  A metal cup was attached to it for their use.  When Callendar Road was built in 1832 this spur road was continued north to meet it so that those using the new road could continue to access the well.  Shortly afterwards a pipe was led from the well to a horse trough on Callendar Road.

The water came from a natural spring and because it was filtered by the gravel is remained clean for most of its working life.  It was also reliable and did not dry up during droughts.  The water was soft, making it excellent for cooking and washing.  People were paid small sums for carrying soft water into the town from Marion’s Well.

According to tradition the well got its name from Marion Livingstone – a nun of the house of Callander, who in the performance of her sacerdotal vow which kept her from the world, visited the well at intervals and used its soft waters as a pediluvium.  The spring was soon augmented by a round stone tank so that it acted as a dipping well.  It was further protected by a circle of upright slabs (Gillespie 1868, 16) which may have been used to retain the hill to the east.  Its use for washing feet continued for most of its history.  In the early nineteenth century two teenage girls (later Mrs Laing and Mrs Gibson) would take off their boots and stockings at Marion’s Well  and walk barefoot to Edinburgh, only putting their boots on again at Haymarket.  On return they divested themselves of their footwear at Haymarket and walked back to Falkirk where they washed their feet at Marion’s Well before replacing their stockings and boots (Falkirk Herald 7 October 1908, 5).

Both the well and the spur road (which became Corporation Street) became the responsibility of the Stintmasters.  In May 1851 it was reported to their meeting #

that parties of young men and women were in the habit of assembling at Marions Well in the evenings and injuring the well.  It was resolved to bring this matter unto the notice of the Fiscal and to solicit him to allow Peter Crawford to keep an outlook on those proceedings with a view to their prevention.” 

Gambling in the vicinity of the well was common.  That November John Malcolm represented to a meeting of the Stintmasters that Marion’s Well had long been a great service to the inhabitants in the East end of the town but was much dilapidated.  Even though he possessed a good well in his own property, he volunteered to collect subscriptions to get Marion’s Well put into an efficient state, and to give a considerable sum himself to this laudable object.  John Malcolm farmed nearby and held the roups of his crops at the well.

In 1859 this “most useful well” required more attention and Provost Kier arranged for William Hume to undertake the necessary mason work and Henry Draper the plumbing.  This implies that a pump was erected at this time.  It was probably then too that a deep bore was sunk and an underground cistern created which was about 10ft deep.  The repairs were timely as in June 1860 the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway Company polluted the town’s main water supply at the High Station with creosote from its railway sleeper works there.  The inhabitants at the east end of the town had to resort to Marion’s Well.  The heavy usage inevitably led to further problems and the following year it was noted that the well was not operating.

Illus: The Pump Housing of Marion’s Well can be seen on the left next to the Callendar Estate wall that runs alongside Corporation Street. In the centre is the drinking trough on Callendar Road.

One consequence of the fouling of the local water supply by the Railway Company was that the partners of the Falkirk Brewery had to cart its supply from Marion’s Well.  This required the employment of several horses and men.  James Aitken & Co therefore decided to sink a new well in the brewery grounds and this task was entrusted to an experienced well sinker called William Borland.  The interior brickwork was delegated to William Hume and was needed because of the sandy soil in the upper levels.  It was to be an open-hole well, meaning that only the upper section was to be 4ft 6ins in diameter and lined, whilst the much narrower bore continued below that.  The brickwork rested on a wooden crib at a depth of 28ft and had been completed when it was decided to take the lining down a further 7ft.  Normally this would have been done by adding the extra courses to the top and allowing the whole to sink gradually.  On this occasion the crib was held up by ropes in the knowledge that the stresses in the tube of brickwork would hold it together.  Early on the morning of 16 August 1864 Hume and Borland descended the shaft accompanied by James Morrison, mason, and James Laurie, labourer.  They started to undercut the brickwork for the insertion of the new courses.  Shortly after they had commenced, about 7.30am, the uneven pressure on the crib caused the ropes to snap.   The men first became alerted to the impending danger by the rushing sound of the sand and Borland shouted “all to the centre” and immediately stood back from the side.  Laurie leapt up and caught the bucket chain.  The wall and crib gave way and they were enveloped in a mass of falling bricks.  Hume was beneath the crib and was hit by falling bricks. 

Experienced men helped in the rescue effort.  Laurie was got to the surface first, badly injured.  Borland was cut about the head and bruised on the back and was next brought above ground.  Two men then ventured down and were able to rescue Morrison who had been buried up to the waist with bricks and debris.  He was able to use his trowel to assist in the removal of the bricks.  Strangely he was little injured.  Amongst the rescuers was Henry Hume who soon discovered that his father was dead.  Shortly after Henry too was hit on the head by a further fall of bricks and had to be taken out for his own safety.  Eventually the body of William Hume was recovered (Falkirk Herald 20 August 1864, 2).

By this time the town’s water supply from the old coal workings under the hill to the south had been much improved.  It, however, was hard water and people still preferred the soft water of Marion’s Well in the east and Kilns Well in the west.  This dependency was considerably reduced in 1868 when soft water was taken from the Union Canal.  In the first two weeks of tapping this source some 11,500 gallons were used. 

The water supply and drainage of the town developed piecemeal with the result that one scheme often interfered with another.  The use of the East Burn as an open sewer meant that there was a possibility of sewerage from it seeping into Marion’s Well at times of flood, as occurred in April 1871.  It may have been for this reason, as well as simply for convenience, that the populous areas of East Bridge Street and the Howgate asked to be connected to the town’s piped water in October 1873.  They were told that pipes were too expensive at that moment in time and that the request would be considered once prices had settled.   In view of an outbreak of fever at Laurieston, the water at Marion’s Well was tested in 1876 and found to be okay.

Between 1878 and 1883 various proposals were put forward to augment the supply of water from Marion’s Well with water from Callendar Wood and the Meadows in order to supply Grahamston and Bainsford from a new tank at Bell’s Meadow.  The scheme ended when William Forbes refused access to his water in the wood.

Then, in 1884, analysis of water from Marion’s Well showed that it was polluted.  It was found that a culvert running close to the well was in a deplorable condition and the bottom of the well was 7ft  below the bottom of the culvert.  It was agreed to pump the cistern out, clean it and cement the walls as well as cleaning out and repairing the culvert; during which time the well was obviously closed to the public (Falkirk Herald 6 September 1884, 2).

The repairs may have seemed unnecessary in the light of major improvements that were about to take place in the town’s supply.  A reservoir at Little Denny was constructed to provide a plentiful supply and in August 1890 it was inaugurated.  Water from the reservoir was to be filtered and then temporarily stored in tanks to ensure its cleanness.  However, by an oversight, the tanks at the reservoir, which had been filled with unfiltered water some time before, were fed straight into the pipes.  The result was muddy water and

a liberal admixture of live stock of the most varied nature.  Worms are in abundance

(Falkirk Herald 9 August 1890, 4)

In many quarters of the town the inhabitants are abstaining from using the water for household purposes, preferring to carry water from such sources as Marion’s Well, Bleachfield, and several private wells which have been placed at the service of the public”.

Inevitably the usage of Marion’s Well slowly declined.  The plentiful horse-drawn traffic along Callendar Road still used the drinking trough at Marion’s Well and became synonymous with the name.  It was still in use in April 1895 when an unusual incident happed there.  Bostock’s menagerie or circus was due to set up shows on the Callendar Riggs and on their way into Falkirk the caravans stopped at Marion’s Well so that the horses could drink.  The first caravan had an elephant yoked to it – a great advertisement.  It too stopped at the trough, but when a four-wheeled dogcart was passing, the horse pulling it took fright and ran into the wall on the side of the road, dashing the cart to pieces and injuring several people bystanders (Falkirk Herald 1 May 1895, 4).

In 1896 the Falkirk and Larbert Water Trust agreed to supply the trough from its pipes and a new wider trough was installed.  It was not long before it too fell into disuse and one observer in 1906 noted that

from its painted exterior at a distance [I] expected it was upheld in good order.  However, I found it was two-thirds full of filthy stagnant water and useless

Falkirk Herald 28 July 1906, 5).

(NS 8926 7976)

G.B Bailey, 2022